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Richmond: Replete with Recherché Kit Homes

My late husband loved Richmond. In the beginning of his legal career, he had lived in Richmond and worked as a clerk for a judge with the Supreme Court of Virginia. I’m sorry to say that I don’t remember the judge’s name.

Wayne always seemed pleased that I could identify these homes at 60 paces. I would whip out the original catalog image so that he could see and compare the archival image with the extant property. He seemed to truly enjoy this.

“Well lookie there,” he’d say, almost whimsically. “I don’t know how you do this, Rosemary. It’s quite remarkable.”

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In October, I gave a well-attended talk in Onancock, Virginia (Eastern Shore). That was a good talk. Standing in front of that crowd, I felt alive again. My brain started coming back online. Old neural pathways fired up again. My heart felt a surge of joy it hadn’t experienced in some time. It was a lovely memory of who I was, and who I could be again.

Returning to my hotel that night, I laid in the brass bed with its luxuriant duvet and thought to myself, “I’m going to be okay.”

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My dear friend Dale tells me that maybe it’s time to expand my horizons. He’s usually right about these things. The revised (and improved) Penniman book will be out soon. And after I do a little promoting and lecturing on that topic, maybe I can find a job at a local hardware store. I like hardware stores.

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If you read the captions below, you’ll find that surveying the kit homes of Richmond was a collaborative effort (as it always is). In many cases, I consulted with co-author Dale Wolicki on the Gordon Van Tine and Aladdin Houses, who affirmed that some of my “suspects” were (or were not) kit homes.

Sometimes, I sent Rachel Shoemaker a few emails to ask if she recognized a design. Richmond artist Melissa Burgess went out into a busy road with her camera to get the perfect shot of a Sears Avalon for me.

Other Richmond folks shared pictures with me (and are credited below). Molly Todd gave up an entire day to drive me throughout the older Richmond neighborhoods. This wasn’t just my work. This involved many people over a period of years.

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To read one of the original blogs on Richmond, click here.

Read about Penniman and and Richmond here.

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This is one fine house: The Sheraton.

This is one fine house: The Sears Sherburne.

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I remember the day I found this house. It was such a thrill. My daughter was flying into the Richmond airport and I arrived extra early so that I could tool around and find the kit homes. This was Summer 2012, and my life was so different then.

I remember the day I found this house. It was such a thrill! A Sherburne right here in Richmond! My middle daughter was flying into the Richmond airport and I arrived extra early so that I could tool around and find the kit homes before her flight arrived. This was Summer 2012.

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In 2014, I was invited to Richmond to give a talk on Sears Homes, and several delightful women accompanied me on that tour of Richmond. The woman hosting the tour lived in this house. It tickled a memory, but it took me some time to find this house.

In 2014, I was invited to Richmond to give a talk on Sears Homes, and several delightful women accompanied me on that "tour of Richmond." The woman hosting the tour lived in this house. It tickled a memory, but it took me some time to identify this house.

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I spent countless hours in my home office, studying old catalogs to match Mollys house, but I found the house.

I spent countless hours in my home office, studying old catalogs to match Molly's house, but I found the house. It's a delightful Gordon Van Tine #628. Gordon Van Tine, based in Davenport, Iowa, started selling kit homes in 1910.

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GVT

To my surprise, there are many Gordon Van Tine homes in Richmond.

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Heres a lovely example of a Gordon Van Tine

Here's a lovely example of a Gordon Van Tine#507. Photo is copyright 2012 Taber Andrew Bain and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. There I go again with that silly copyright stuff. I'm such a silly girl.

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This was one of my favorite finds, and quite memorable! As I recall, Molly was driving us around in her Lexus SUV and I saw this sweet house peeking out behind some heavy vegetation.

This was one of my favorite finds, and quite memorable! As I recall, Molly was driving us around in her Lexus SUV and I saw this sweet house peeking out behind some heavy vegetation. Image above is courtesy of Rachel Shoemaker.

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And thanks to a slew of helpful researchers, we were able to establish that this GVT is the very same house featured in the testimonial

And thanks to a slew of helpful researchers, we were able to establish that this GVT is the very same house featured in the testimonial (lower left from the catalog image above). I well remember what a happy event that was - to find this very rare Gordon Van Tine home right there in Richmond.

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And Molly found this house on her own. When she first contacted me about it, I could hardly believe that this house - offered by Lewis Manufacturing in Bay City - was in Richmond, Virginia.

And Molly found this house on her own. When she first contacted me about it, I could hardly believe that this house - offered by Lewis Manufacturing in Bay City - was in Richmond, Virginia.

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According to my buddy Dale, this is a very rare house, and thats not surprising. Its quite massive for a kit home!

According to my buddy Dale, this is a very rare house, and that's not surprising. It's quite massive for a kit home! Photo is copyright 2014 Molly Todd and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Richonm

I've spent countless hours of my life playing with various artwork programs and creating "side-by-side views." This highlights the details around the front entry.

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assess

Aladdin kit homes are more prevalent here in southeastern Virginia. Aladdin had a mill in North Carolina (about three hours from Richmond). The "Madison" (shown above) was one of their best selling homes.

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And heres my little pretty in Richmond, Virginia.

And here's my little pretty in Richmond, Virginia.

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Heres another fun one.

Harris Brothers was originally known as Chicago Wrecking Company, and later became "Harris Brothers Company."

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Im not sure which trip it was when I first spotted this house, but it was a very popular model for Harris Brothers.

I'm not sure which trip it was when I first spotted this house, but it was a very popular model for Harris Brothers. It's a beautiful match to the original catalog page - stucco finish and all!

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We found a Harris Brothers 1513 in another part of town.

We found a Harris Brothers 1513 in another part of town.

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F

Every detail on this Harris Brothers 1513 is spot on.

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Finding this kit home offered by Aladdin was another happy moment in Richmond.

Finding this kit home offered by Aladdin was another happy moment in Richmond. I wasn't sure that we'd found this rare "Ardmore" so I corresponded with my co-author Dale, and he affirmed that it was the real deal.

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When I spotted this house, I had Molly go forward, and backward, and forward and backward, as I struggled to eyeball the many details. She was a wonderful chaffeur and as I recall, we circled the block many times until I was satisfied with my many pictures.

When I spotted this house, I had Molly go forward, and backward, and forward and backward, as I struggled to eyeball the many details. She was a wonderful chauffeur and as I recall, we circled the block many times until I was satisfied with my many pictures.

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The Sears Avalon was found in several spots throughout Richmond.

The very popular Sears "Osborn" was found in Richmond.

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The Sears Avalon

This Sears Osborn looks much like it did when built in the 1910s.

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Several Sears Avalons were found throughout Richmond.

Several Sears "Avalons" were found throughout Richmond. Check out the detail on the chimney. Those three vents on the cross gable are also distinctive.

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And

My oh my, what a match. And thanks to Melissa for taking that ladder out to that road for the perfect shot! Picture is copyright 2014 Melissa Burgess and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. So there.

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Another Avalon in Richmond, Virginia.

Another Avalon in Richmond, Virginia, also a delightful match to the catalog image.

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This is my favorite Avalon in Richmond. It retains its original details, right down to the railing!

This is my favorite Avalon in Richmond. It retains its original details, right down to the railing!

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The Sears Westly was one of their most popular models.

The Sears Westly was one of their most popular models. If a neighborhood has only five Sears Homes, chances are one of them is a Westly.

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I identify so well with this Westly. Its had a hard life but its still standing.

I identify so well with this Westly. It's had a hard life and bears a few scars, but it's still standing.

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This is another fun house.

This is another very rare pre-WW1 Sears Home. I've seen only one other "190" and that was in Illinois.

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Here

The polygon bay - first floor and second floor - is its defining feature. Also notice the cornice returns on steroids. This house (as is shown in the catalog) has a stucco finish.

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The Sears Stratford is one of my favorite designs. This neo-tudor is so pretty and has such pretty lines.

The Sears Strathmore is one of my favorite designs. This neo-tudor is so pretty and has such pretty lines and is well proportioned.

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My husband and I were driving through Richmond together when I spotted this house. He was duly impressed that I spot these homes at 60 paces. I would always whip out the original catalog image so that he could compare the two images. Well lookie there, hed say to me. I dont know how you do this, Rosemary. Its quite remarkable. That was a good day.

My husband and I were driving through Richmond together when I spotted this Strathmore. It's in beautiful condition and it has a Buckingham Slate roof. Buckingham Slate is the finest slate roof, and weighs about 1,400 per square.

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W

Sometime in early 2014, Wayne and I traveled to Richmond, where he appeared before the Supreme Court of Virginia to try a case involving a police recruit that died during training exercises. We arrived the day before and strolled around Richmond. We both went out shopping the week before to buy new clothes for this occasion. Never for a moment did I take him for granted. Never for a moment.

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My first trip through Richmond was July 4th 2010, and it was my 51st birthday. I saw this flag draped across a residential street and snapped a photo. I knew that I would like Richmond. That was my thought in 2010.

My first trip through Richmond was July 4th 2010, and it was my 51st birthday.

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To read one of the original blogs on Richmond, click here.

Read about Pennimand and Richmond here.

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  1. Gemma
    February 14th, 2018 at 07:03 | #1

    There you go, Rosie! Keep LIVING!

    I’ve never been to Richmond, but would certainly love to visit for the sake of Civil War research.

  2. Jenny
    February 14th, 2018 at 13:54 | #2

    I’m glad you found joy in giving a talk and I hope you have infinitely more moments of joy.

    I admire the dedication of you and your fellow kit home hunters. Standing on a ladder in the street to get the right picture is an extra effort.

    The Madison house looks familiar. I’m wondering if I’ve seen one somewhere. Is there a book like “Houses by Mail” for Aladdin?

  3. Dale Wolicki
    February 14th, 2018 at 16:07 | #3

    I did not say “go get a job at a hardware store”. I said lets find a new adventure! Geez there are parts of the United States you have never visited yet.

    And you don’t have to go there looking for Sears Homes. Just go visit somewhere and find us something cool to blog about.

  4. Sabina Pade
    February 17th, 2018 at 16:31 | #4

    If Rosemary Thornton takes a job at a local hardware store, people will travel from far and wide to supply themselves there!

    PS to Jenny, above: Yes, Dover offers a reprint of at least one Aladdin catalogue, and the Internet Archive offers access to several.

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