Is That You, Dr. Cottrell?

February 11th, 2018 Sears Homes 4 comments

Last month, Steven Beauter was kind enough to share an incredible vintage photo album with me, which featured more than a dozen pictures from 1918-era Penniman, Virginia, a “ghost city” six miles from Williamsburg.

There are several unidentified folks within the pages of Steven’s photo album, but I’m asking your help in figuring out one image in particular.

Two years ago, the family of Dr. John Henderson (a physician at Penniman Hospital) sent me a photograph of the staff of Penniman Hospital. It was a wonderful discovery. Dr. Henderson’s family also shared the December 1918 edition of “The Penniman Projectile” which provided an insight into day-to-day life at The Camp (as it was known).

With this new knowledge, maybe we can stitch together more of the fabric of this story.

Please take a moment and look at the image below and give an opinion!

Thanks so much.

To learn more about Penniman, click here.

A note about watermarks: It saddens me to alter these images by adding a watermark, but unfortunately, it’s a necessity of these times in which we live.

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Within the pages of the Penniman Projectile, I found this picture, identifying Dr. Sam Cottrell as Pennimans Chief Physician.

Within the pages of the Penniman Projectile, I found this picture, identifying Dr. Sam Cottrell as Penniman's Chief Physician.

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This image above came from the family of Dr. Henderson, and I can now identify the second fellow from the left as Dr. Samuel Cottrell (Penniman's chief physician). And I'm still hoping to figure out that woman on the far right. She was a female physician, employed by DuPont to provide care to the overwhelmingly female work force.

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Cumberland
This image is from Steven Beauter’s photo album. My friend, Anne Robinson Hallerman, has posited that the man shown above is also Dr. Samuel Cottrell. I’m terrible with these type of judgments, but my first guess is, Anne is right about this.

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Here's a picture of all three images together. Is that fellow on the far right also Dr. Cottrell?

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Cottrell

Countless thanks to the family of Dr. John Henderson for sharing this 80-page magazine with me. It's the source of so much information about life at The Camp.

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To learn more about Penniman, click here.

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Nope, It’s Not a Sears Magnolia…

February 10th, 2018 Sears Homes 3 comments

In the last 20 years, I’ve probably received more than 200 emails and inquiries from folks who think they’ve found a Sears Magnolia. In the last 20 years, I’ve found four Magnolias as a result of these emails and inquiries.

That means that 2% of the time, these comments are correct.

And yet, I still feel a rush of adrenaline when someone leaves a comment stating that there is a Sears Magnolia at (fill in the blank).

This morning, as I was preparing to write a blog on Penniman’s people, I found a fresh comment from someone stating that there was a Sears Magnolia in Hawkinsville, Georgia. Immediately, I assumed that they must be right and abandoned the blog I’d been working on to investigate this purported sighting.

Again, it was not a Magnolia. And yet, this one was closer than most.

Please keep those cards and letters coming.  :D

To learn more about Sears kit homes, click here.

Even the little town of Poquoson has a few kit homes.

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The Sears Magnolia was probalby Sears fanciest model.

The Sears Magnolia was probably Sears fanciest model. It was offered from 1918 to 1922, and sold for less than $6,000. There are only nine known Magnolias in the country.

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First, the real deal. This is a known Magnolia in Benson, NC.

First, the real deal. This is a known Magnolia in Benson, NC.

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In 2003, I appeared on History Detectives (PBS) and this Sears Magnolia was briefly featured (Canton, Ohio).

In 2003, I appeared on "History Detectives" (PBS) and this Sears Magnolia was briefly featured (Canton, Ohio).

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A reader mentioned this alleged Magnolia in Hawkinsville, Georgia. Im sorry to say that this is NOT a Magnolia.

A reader mentioned this "alleged" Magnolia in Hawkinsville, Georgia. I'm sorry to say that this is NOT a Magnolia. This building is currently in use as "Clark Funeral Home" and this photo is from their website and here's hoping that they're okay with me promoting their beautiful old house on my blog. And it IS a beautiful old house, but it's not a Sears house.

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To learn more about Sears kit homes, click here.

Even the little town of Poquoson has a few kit homes.

Interested in learning more about Clark Funeral Home? Click here.

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Pulchritudinous Poquoson and Its Kit Homes

February 5th, 2018 Sears Homes 5 comments

Several months ago, I went looking for a GriefShare group to join, and chose one in Poquoson (Virginia). The primary reason was this: I didn’t know anyone in Poquoson, so if I had a panic attack or started crying or acted like a fool, I could surreptitiously slip out the side door and no one would ever know I was there.

As the weeks passed, I started coming early on Wednesday nights for the church supper, and then I joined a group for weekly trivia night at a local bar after the GriefShare meeting.

After spending so much time in Poquoson, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take a drive around and see how many kit homes I could find. I drove through probably 75% of the area, and I found a few.

I did not find any Penniman homes, but I suspect there are (or were) a few of those too. (Penniman was a WW1-village just outside of Williamsburg, and is now a ghost city.)

What is a “Sears kit home”? In the early 1900s, you could order almost anything from the Sears Roebuck catalog, including a  house. These 12,000-piece kits were shipped by boxcar, and came with a 75-page instruction book that told the homeowner how all those pieces and parts went together. Click here to learn more.

Enjoy the pictures below, and please share this link with your history loving friends.

And if you’re on Facebook, please share the link there!

You can read more about Penniman here.

Want to read a story that will bring tears to your eyes? Read about my sweet daughter here.

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Poquoson is an Indian word for marsh which is appropriate, given the vast amounts of marsh found in this area.

According to several online sources, Poquoson is an Indian word for "great marsh" which is appropriate, given the vast amounts of marsh found in this area.

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This Sears Hamilton was one of the first Sears Homes I found in Poquoson. Its been through a lot of changes, but its definitely a Hamilton.

This Sears "Hamilton" was one of the first Sears Homes I found in Poquoson. It's been through a lot of changes, but it's definitely a Hamilton. Many of the houses in Poquoson have been elevated several feet due to flooding.

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The Sears Hamilton was a very popular house for Sears (1928 catalog).

The Sears Hamilton was a very popular house for Sears (1928 catalog).

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The Poquoson house has had its small porch enclosed, and its flipped (or reversed). More than 30% of Sears Homes were customized when built, and flipping the design was a very common alteration.

The Poquoson house has had its small porch enclosed, and its "flipped" (or reversed). More than 30% of Sears Homes were customized when built, and "flipping" the design was a very common alteration.

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Side by side, you can really

With the two images side-by-side, it's easy to see the similarities. The Poquoson house does not have the fireplace (which was an option).

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The Sears Conway is another model I found in Poquoson (1928 catalog).

The Sears "Conway" is another model I found in Poquoson (1928 catalog).

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The Conway has two floorplans, which are quite different.

The Conway has two floorplans, which are quite different.

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Because the Conway was a small home, its very common to see that those spacious porches were enclosed for more square footage.

Because the Conway was a small home, it's very common to see that those spacious porches were enclosed for more square footage. This is a really nice example of this popular bungalow.

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Sadly, the details around the front porch (on the subject house) were lost when that vinyl siding went up. Ick.

Sadly, the details and bracketing around the front porch (on the subject house) were lost when that vinyl siding went up. That's also a very common "renovation" (blech).

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1914 Moosejaw

I also discovered a couple "Aladdin kit homes" in Poquoson. Aladdin, based in Bay City, Michigan, was actually a larger company than Sears (in terms of kit house sales) but was lesser known. Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes during their 32 years in the business (1908 to 1940). Aladdin was in business from 1906-1981.

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Almost next door to that Sears Conway, I found an Aladdin Sheffield.

Almost next door to that Sears Conway, I found an Aladdin "Sheffield."

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It had been dramatically altered in the last 100 years, but its origins are unmistakable.

It had been dramatically altered in the last 100 years, but its origins are unmistakable.

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A close-up view of the scrolled rafter tails.

Those oversized hipped dormers are a dead give-away.

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And

And the scrolled rafter tails are also quite unique.

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The view down the other side also gives many clues.

The view down the other side also gives many clues.

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I also discovered a couple Aladdin kit homes in Poquoson. Aladdin, based in Bay City, Michigan, was actually a larger company than Sears (in terms of kit house sales) but was lesser known.

And just across the street is the Sheffield Grocery! It's a sign!

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Further down Poquoson Road, I also found something that looks a lot like an Aladdin Sunshine.

Further down Poquoson Road, I also found something that looks a lot like an Aladdin "Sunshine."

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Is this an Aladdin Sunshine? Maybe my dear friend Dale Wolicki will weigh in with an opinion. Its close, but not quite right. And yet its only 1/4 mile away from that Sheffield.

Is this an Aladdin "Sunshine"? Maybe my dear friend Dale Wolicki will weigh in with an opinion. It's close, but not quite right. And yet it's only 1/4 mile away from that Sheffield.

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This house is another head-scratcher. Its very close to the Wardway Sheridan (sold by Montgomery Ward). And yet, it lacks the boldness of the Wardway model.

This house is another head-scratcher. It's very close to the Wardway Sheridan (sold by Montgomery Ward). And yet, it lacks the boldness of the Wardway model.

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Is it a Wardway Sheridan? Its darn close!

Is it a Wardway Sheridan? It's darn close!

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Its another house thats really, really close.

It's another house that's really, really close. If I were a betting man, I'd say it's 92% likely that this is a Wardway "Sheridan." I do know that this house is very shy about getting its picture taken. I made three trips to Poquoson at three different times in the day and every time, the pictures came out poorly.

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And this one is missing in action! Years ago, I made a quick trip through Poquoson and saw an Aladdin Pasadena. Ive been unable to find in more recent visits. Have you seen this house? Its quite distinctive!

And this one is missing in action! Years ago, I made a quick trip through Poquoson and saw an Aladdin Pasadena. I've been unable to find in more recent visits. Have you seen this house? It's quite distinctive!

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While I was in Poquoson, I was also looking for Penniman houses. If you are a faithful reader of this website, youll know that Penniman was a Ghost City just outside of Williamsburg. At its peak, more than 15,000 people called Penniman their home, and yet after The Great War, the town was abandoned and all of the houses were wrecked (disassembled) or moved intact to other locations.

While I was in Poquoson, I was also looking for Penniman houses. If you are a faithful reader of this website, you'll know that Penniman was a "Ghost City" just outside of Williamsburg. At its peak, more than 15,000 people called Penniman their home, and yet after The Great War, the town was abandoned and all of the houses were wrecked (disassembled) or moved intact to other locations. Given its location, it seems likely that a few of these Penniman houses landed in Poquoson.

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In 1938, the Richmond News Leader did a comprehensive article on The Ghost City of Penniman, and in that article, we learn that several Penniman houses were moved to nearby cities.

In 1938, the Richmond News Leader did a comprehensive article on The Ghost City of Penniman, and in that article, we learn that several Penniman houses were moved to "nearby cities."

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One of the most popular houses at Penniman was the Georgia. These houses were designed by DuPont (which created the town during WW1), and after the war, many of these houses were moved to Norfolk, where theyre still standing. Have you seen this house in Poquoson or nearby cities?

One of the most popular houses at Penniman was the Georgia. These houses were designed by DuPont (which created the town during WW1), and after the war, many of these houses were moved to Norfolk, where they're still standing. Have you seen this house in Poquoson or nearby cities?

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The Haskell was another Penniman house that may be lurking somewhere in Poquoson.

The Haskell was another Penniman house that may be lurking somewhere in Poquoson.

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And the Arlington was another house built at Penniman.

And the Arlington was another house built at Penniman and moved to other areas.

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You can read more about Penniman here.

How did they move the houses? Learn more about that here.

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Penniman: We Have Alleyne’s Last Name!

January 27th, 2018 Sears Homes 4 comments

After that last blog, Milton, Mark and David (three faithful researchers that have been with me since the start of this project) went to work to find Alleyne’s last name.

This morning, I found an email from Mark Hardin, explaining that he’d found Alleyne.  Her full name was Alleyne Litell Conn, born in 1886 in Virginia (see full information below). Was she a “canary” at Penniman? (Canary was the name given to women who worked on the shell-loading line, pouring molten TNT into 75mm and 155mm shells. The highly toxic TNT would turn their skin a bright yellow.)

These women sacrificed so much, and yet due to strict censorship laws, published accounts of their life at Penniman were vague and almost polyannish.  There will be a day - hopefully - when I discover that one of these “Canaries” at Penniman left behind a written journal of her life at work, that tells what it was like to work at a WW1-era munitions plant.

And Mark explained here, he’s still trying to track down “Freckles.”

Below, you’ll see a few more of Steven Beauter’s wonderful photos. Steven - a sagacious and thorough historian - purchased these postcards and photos several years ago and shared them with me recently.

All vintage images below are courtesy of Steven Beauter. The newspaper clipping (about Alleyne) was found by Mark Hardin at newspapers.com. The death certificate for Alleyne was obtained by Milton Crum at ancestry.com.

Thanks to Steven Beauter for allowing me to use these images below.

To read the prior blog, click here.

Want to learn more about this fascinating “Ghost City”? Click here.

Learn more about the “Canaries”!

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Perhaps one day, well know more about the women who worked at Penniman.

Perhaps one day, we'll know more about the women who worked at Penniman. The workforce was overwhelmingly female. Twenty-four hours a day, women loaded TNT into 75mm and 155mm shells at Penniman. TNT poisoning was a persistent problem, with multitudinous side effects. Some women were rendered sterile by exposure to this toxin.

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FFF

The caption within the 100+ year old photo album tells us that this is "Edith" (last name unknown) at Penniman. I am more than a little curious about her watch. I've never seen a wrist watch on a woman in this time period. It almost looks like she's used a leather strap to put a man's watch on her wrist.

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The occasion is "Jean's birthday party" on August 2nd, 1918. These women are sitting by the York River at Penniman, Virginia.

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Hanging out at the beach (York River) was a frequent theme in all of these 100-year-old photos.

Hanging out at the beach (York River) was a frequent theme in all of these 100-year-old photos. The water was apparently very shallow for some distance. Those suits are delightful!

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From a postcard (also purchased by Steven Beauter), this is a view of H Street in Penniman. This model of house (covered in Ruberoid siding) is known as the six-room bungalow. Yes, thats its given name.

From a postcard (also purchased by Steven Beauter), this is a view of "H Street" in Penniman. This model of house (covered in Ruberoid siding) is known as the "six-room bungalow." Yes, that's its given name!

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And

All we know is that this is Penniman. There were no captions within the photo album for this fellow.

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If  you look behind this gent, you can see a couple posters.

If you look behind this gent, you can see a couple posters.

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The poster on the left

The poster on the left states "Kan the Kaiser."

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And

This seems to be an especially appropriate poster for Penniman.

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Thanks to Mark Hardin, we have a full name for Alleyne.

Thanks to Mark Hardin, we have a full name for Alleyne (Times Dispatch, March 1919).

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Haggerty

This photo, titled "Harvest," shows "Mrs. Haggarty, Jean and Alleyne." We now know that Jean's birthday was August 2nd (see photo at top of blog) and that Alleyne's last name was Conn.

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DD

Alleyne Conn died in 1953.

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When researchers study our times (21st Century), there will be no more postcards.

What a treasure to find a post card mailed from Penniman! The war had just ended five days prior. When researchers study our times (21st Century), there will be no more postcards.

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And the text is legible.

And the text is legible.

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First, my favorite. This is a picture of Freckles and the caption reads The trial of all of Penniman.

Freckle's genealogical records remain elusive.

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To read the prior blog, click here.

Want to learn more about this fascinating “Ghost City”? Click here.

Why were they called “Canaries”?

The People of Penniman - We Have Pictures!

January 25th, 2018 Sears Homes 4 comments

Now we just need some names.

Thanks to Steven Beauter, a sharp-eyed and devoted historian and lover of history, we have pictures of the people of Penniman. A few years ago, Steven purchased an early 20th century photo album that he’d found on eBay. More recently, he discovered that I was seeking more information on Penniman. He contacted me through Facebook, and two weeks ago, we met at the Williamsburg Public Library and had a lovely visit.

As yet another testimony to the goodness of people, Steven permitted me to take his much-beloved photo album back to my home in Suffolk, where I carefully scanned more than two dozen images.

Below are a few of those wonderful images.

We have pictures, and I’m going to share all the captions and names within these pages. If there are any genealogists that can help us learn more about these people, please leave a comment! All photos are circa 1918.

Thanks so much to Steven for sharing this treasure. Thanks to him, we now have another insight into this ghost city.

Lastly, I would welcome the opportunity to do lectures. If your historical society/group would like to make arrangements to have a lecture on Penniman, please contact me at pennimanva@gmail.com.

All photos are courtesy of Steven Beauter and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

Please forgive the obnoxious watermarks. After countless and blatant theft of images, I must resort to this.


Want to learn about one of my personal heroes? Click here.

Did you know that the Great Atlantic Fleet remained anchored near Penniman throughout the Great War?

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First, my favorite. This is a picture of Freckles and the caption reads The trial of all of Penniman.

First, my favorite. This is a picture of "Freckles" and the caption reads "The trial of all of Penniman."

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Name given

The caption reads, "You might think that Charlotte might be afraid of being bombed by that aeroplane but being in a munition plant, one gets used to that sort of thing. Besides, it was only a spot on the negative." In other captions, Edith and Charlotte are identified as close friends.

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Dick and anme

This photo is captioned "Effie and Dick."

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people

The office staff at Penniman.

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Bank

"First National Bank of Penniman."

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Penniman

"Lodge 9 at Penniman."

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This photo is identified as Mr. Benesh's home. He was the superintendent of the plant.

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"Noontime at Penniman." Check out those clothes! Were these women loading shells? Judging by their clothing, I don't think so. The shell loaders wore a company issued uniform.

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Cumberland

No information is given with this photo, but that's a Penniman house ("The Cumberland") behind this young couple. To read more about the houses at Penniman, see the link below.

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Haggerty

This photo offers the most clues. It's titled "Harvest" and reads, "Mrs. Haggart, Jean and Alleyne." You'd think with names like "Alleyne" these people could be found.

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To learn more about Penniman, click here.

Read one of my first blogs about Penniman here.

Want to learn more about the houses at Penniman? Here’s the link.

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Love, Prayers and “Standard Bilt” Sears Homes

January 23rd, 2018 Sears Homes 9 comments

Yesterday started out tough but ended up on a lovely note. There were several decisions to make, hard things to do, and then, after breakfast, I discovered a jagged edge on my bottom front tooth. It had been feeling a little odd for about a month, but I’d ignored it.

Upon closer examination, I discovered it was a chipped tooth, with a vertical crack to the gumline. The panic over a big dental mess hit me hard. Thankfully, my wonderful dentist Dr. Weisberg was able to see me yesterday afternoon. After x-rays and an examination, he determined that the “crack” was a typical dental craze line. I did have a chipped tooth, but that was easily repaired.

The best guess was that it was caused by the car accident on December 15th, when an off-duty cop rear-ended me, as I sat at a light. (Although the cop told the officer on the scene that he was doing “about 3 mph,” damage to my Camry showed that it was more than 15 mph.)

Speaking of cars…

Last night, I was looking at used cars and found one that was very pretty. The stress of making a decision brought a fast return of the upset stomach, and I got fogged in by the angst.

I contacted two very dear friends to seek out their advice, and called my daughter. All three responded in seconds, offering sagacious counsel and wise insights. They patiently and lovingly explained that this wasn’t the car (or the deal) for me. Back at home, as I drifted off to sleep, I felt grateful that I had such loving and clear-minded friends, willing to drop everything and help me.

When I awakened in the wee hours, unable to sleep, I went to my website and re-read some of the beautiful comments left there by “online friends.” These are people that I’ve never met, and yet they have so much love in their heart that they’re willing to pray for a stranger’s return to health and wholeness. That is a reason for much gratitude.

This has become a habit: When I can not sleep, I revisit the “comments” section of my blog, and read each and every one, again and again. These comments mean a lot to me.

More than anything, the purpose of today’s post is to thank each and every kind soul that has helped me through the hard days. Every comment here brings me much joy, and assuages the nagging fear that I’m alone.

In 2002, this website was launched to share the good news and joy of Sears Homes. Sixteen years later, it has become a place where I am the recipient of countless blessings.

Thank you for keeping me here. And thank you for drawing that circle of love and taking me in.

PS. If you’d like to buy a slightly used Camry, please leave a comment! ;)

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While

The above is a comment written by Emily about three months ago (at a blog titled "Thank you for your prayers."). "While your husband's behavior shocked you, it'd didn't surprise our Savior..." That line touched my heart.

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The

Sears offered "Honor Bilt" and "Standard Bilt." The Hudson was a "Standard Bilt" Sears house. The Standard Bilt houses were never really intended to be permanent houses. They were quite modest. Framing members were spaced at 24" and doors and windows did not have double headers. There was no exterior sheathing, bur just the clapboard (1925 catalog).

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As you can see from this description, its a little house.

As you can see from this image, it's a simple little house.

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House

There were two floorplans. The "bigger" house had the second windows in the living room.

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The 2nd floor plan is a wee bit bigger than the first, and it has the double window in the living room.

The 2nd floor plan is a wee bit bigger than the first, and it has the double window in the living room. Still, this "larger model" is under 600 square feet.

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And how in the world do you find a simple little house like this?

And how in the world do you find a simple little house like this? You sure can't do it by a windshield survey. I found this house via mortgage records. It's a Sears "Hudson."

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To learn more about Standard Bilt Sears Homes, click here. Or, just search for the terms “Angry Moose.”

To read the original blog where Emily left her comment, click here.

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The Weather Outside is Frightful…

January 4th, 2018 Sears Homes 8 comments

Last night, the Hampton Roads area (Norfolk/Virginia Beach) had an unusual event: A major snowstorm. It was accurately forecast, so we were all well prepared. However, this was a “special” snowstorm for me, as it was my first winter in my new house. Enjoy the pictures below.

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The view from inside wasnt too bad, thanks to the big windows.

The view from inside wasn't too bad, thanks to the big windows.

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Initially, Teddy had mixed feelings about leaving the back porch.

Initially, Teddy had mixed feelings about leaving the back porch.

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However, she changed her mind quickly.

However, she changed her mind quickly.

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Less than eight weeks ago, I had a new Bosch 18-SEER heat pump installed. It doesnt seem to keen on the cold weather, either.

Less than eight weeks ago, I had a new Bosch 18-SEER heat pump installed. It doesn't seem too keen on this cold weather, either. Every now and then, it burps and a lot of steam arises from the unit. I've read that this is part of its normal defrost cycle. Unfortunately, there's no gas available in this area.

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I have a lovely view of a creek from the back yard.

I have a lovely view of a marsh and creek from the back yard.

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My little photo bomber was pleased to see that the

My little photo bomber was pleased to see that the oak firewood is well protected from the snowy weather. If we lose electricity, there's always the wood stove. :)

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A view of the firepit, built by the homes original (and only) owner.

A view of the firepit, built by the home's original (and only) owner.

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Yoshino

Hopefully, this lovely old Yoshino Cherry tree will survive this bitter weather.

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Street

If "location, location, location" is true, then I've got a real peach. This is the view of the street where I live. It's peaceful and beautiful, and a lovely place to heal my broken heart.

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Teddy the Dog pauses to

Teddy the Dog pauses to make sure that I'm close behind.

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Teddy is not ready to go back into the warm house. She definitely likes the snow and loves to be the first one frolicking about in the fresh fallen frozen stuff!

Teddy is not ready to go back into the warm house, but pauses at the top of the driveway. She definitely likes the snow and loves to be the first one frolicking about.

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This house

This house sure looks good in the snow!

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p

When I was house shopping, I yearned to find a house that was unique and quirky and fun. This house is THAT place. And I *like* it!

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And you know whats quite intriguing? More than a year ago, I found this house listed on Zillow, and printed out its picture because it really spoke to my heart. I put that color picture in one of my many journals and would see it from time to time. About four weeks after I purchased my current house, I stumbled across that photo in my journal, and realized, I had purchased my dream house - but in a better location.

And you know what's quite intriguing? More than a year ago, I found this house (shown above) listed on Zillow. It was already sold, but I printed out its picture because it really spoke to my heart. I put that color picture in one of my many journals and would stumble across it from time to time. About four weeks after I purchased my current house, I stumbled across that photo in an older journal, and realized, I had purchased that same "type" of house - but in a more convenient location. Although it's not visible from this image, the house has a side-loading basement garage.

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And that house also has a partial basement, as does my current home. This may seem inconsequential, but its helped me to see that maybe - just maybe - trusting God with our dreams is a safe thing to do. As

And that house also has a partial basement, as does my current home. This may seem inconsequential, but finding a picture of this house in my journal has helped me to see that maybe - just maybe - God can be trusted with those quiet yearnings in our heart.

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Teddy thanks you for keeping us in your prayers.

Teddy thanks you for keeping us in your prayers.

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To learn about Sears kit homes, click here.

Do you loathe “open floor plans” as much as I do? Click here.

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Two Months Since My Last Blog…

December 27th, 2017 Sears Homes 13 comments

This Christmas, my second as a widow, was a vast improvement over my first (last year). This year, my three daughters made the long trek to my recently acquired home in Suffolk, Virginia and we had a lovely time together on Christmas morning.

This morning (Wednesday), everyone went back home and that was tough. For three glorious days, I was not the widow of a man who took his own life, but a mother to three beautiful girls, and with their good energy and happy enthusiasm, we created some lovely new memories.

And yet, this morning, the tears returned. Two of the girls (and their significant others) live more than 600 miles away. I miss them so very much, and yet they’re in their 30s. I raised them to be independent, strong-willed, self-supporting, capable adults, ready and able to “fly the coop.”

They’re back home now, far away, and I realize that I need a strong distraction for the hours and the days and the weeks and the months.

I’m wondering if it’s time for me to move into the next phase, which is finding a job or volunteer work. My writing days are behind me. Right now, it’s hard to imagine that I’ll ever write another book. I never did like writing. It’s misery and it’s solitude and as far as income goes, it’s barely more than a hobby. The Penniman book (which represented six years of research) is being polished and prepared for a second printing.

What’s a former writer and historian to do?

I just don’t know.

I do know that sitting in my lovely house and sobbing every morning and every evening isn’t a good plan.

As always, please keep me in your prayers and please leave a comment below.

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For Christmas, my three daughters wrote "love notes" on bits of paper and put them in this vintage cookie tin. It was one of the loveliest and most thoughtful gifts I've ever received. The tin is just like a tin from my childhood home.

For Christmas, my three daughters wrote "love notes" on bits of paper and put them in this vintage cookie tin. It was one of the loveliest and most thoughtful gifts I've ever received. The tin is just like a tin from my childhood home. If I remember correctly, my mother purchased a tin much like this in the 1960s, and she would "bake" that small glass plug in the oven for 10-15 minutes. The idea was that those absorbent crystals would keep things crisp.

Some Days, The Heartache Won’t Leave You Alone…

October 30th, 2017 Sears Homes 7 comments

For several days, I was euphoric about the new house. It was good. It was freeing. It was beautiful. It was PROGRESS!

And then a few sidewinders hit me.

On Tuesday, October 17, a local moving company moved many of my worldly possessions from the old rental in Portsmouth to my new home in Suffolk. On Wednesday (the very next day), the same company delivered about 50 large boxes from storage (from my old house in Norfolk) to the garage of my new home. Fortunately, it’s a very spacious garage. Unfortunately, October 18th was the 18 month anniversary of Wayne’s decision to commit suicide.

Opening up those boxes and revisiting my old life ripped a massive scab off my soul that is still trying to re-heal. Pawing through each and every item in those boxes - things that I’ve lived without for 18 months - was excruciating. Due to my emotional state, I did not participate much in the packing up of the old house in Norfolk, so every box was a surprise.

Several items caused me to abandon the garage and run to my bedroom where I collapsed and wept for a time. There were a few boxes that left me unable to return to the garage for the rest of the day.

As one small example: As I looked at the number of dusty old books I owned, I thought to myself, “No wonder he killed himself. Look at all these stupid used books. Who would want to live with someone who buys so many old books?”

To the unenlightened, that may seem like nonsense, but to my tired, terrified and grieving brain, it made perfect sense, and it was devastating.

And what’s worse is that the nightmares have returned. With a vengeance.

I’m so very tired of this struggle. I’ve read repeatedly that “second-year grief” can be worse than the first.

I do know this: Suicide really is a “death like no other.”

Yesterday, I had a short visit with a 76-year-old widow. Her husband died from a combination of old age and a few ancillary ailments. She talked a lot about the many shared, happy memories. She talked about his last words. She talked about how his death was, in some ways, a relief due to his advancing years and declining health.

I found myself absolutely envious. That was supposed to be my story. But it’s not.

Here’s the very best article I’ve ever seen on what it’s like to lose a spouse to suicide.

It has ten bullet points, and they’re all spot-on, but #6 described my life the best:Six (6) :

Your friends and family will find it difficult to believe that you (the man who committed suicide) did this without provocation. They will search for someone to blame. And that person will be your wife. They will whisper that she drove you to it. They will find it hard to be around her. She will have to survive this thing on her own.

People like to talk about the “new normal.” There is no new normal. What’s normal about having the man you love go insane and end his life? What’s normal about losing your spouse, your social standing, your income and your home - all in one moment?

I know that several people have told me that they’re glad “I’m better now” thanks to this lovely home of mine. It’s true, I’m better and I have some stability now, but not an hour goes by that I don’t struggle to keep moving forward.

There is no new normal. There’s just plodding along and hoping that eventually, the days will get easier and that my heart and my soul might one day find true and lasting peace.

The old “friends” are mostly gone, but a handful have remained and have shown their true mettle, and for that handful, I’m supremely grateful. And I’ve learned a lot about those folks: I’ve learned that they’re strong enough to stick around when the going gets tough.

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Author

Mark Madoff was the son of Bernie Madoff. In 2010, he hung himself at the apartment that he shared with his wife, Stpehanie. I'm in the process of reading this book - a little bit at a time. I've had to skip over parts of it, because it's just too painful. Nonetheless, the title says it all.

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Thank You For Your Prayers…

October 10th, 2017 Sears Homes 29 comments

My new life began today, at the age of 58. In fact, I’d say that this is easily one of the happiest days of my life.

Given the events of the last 18 months, that’s saying a lot.

Last Saturday, I toured a house for sale in Suffolk, Virginia. Today, 10 days later, we closed.

This house is beyond anything I could have hoped for and dreamt of, and it is the house that I have waited for my entire life. It’s in perfect condition and has a new roof, new carpet, new paint and a tiny kitchen. If I were to sit down and design a house today, it’d probably look much like this house. It’s perfect for me and my new life.

It’s small enough to be manageable and large enough for my furniture. It’s extremely well-built, and I’m told that the home’s first (and only ) owner was a military man who kept everything in perfect order. And it shows. In every way - it shows.

This house is a peach.

It was built by a Vietnam-war veteran in 1976, and designed by his bride, a native of Japan. The 1/2-acre lot is filled with exotic and extraordinary plantings. And it’s surrounded with a chain-link fence, perfect for Teddy the Dog.

After closing, after I entered my new home for the first time, I stood in the living room and wept. They were tears of joy.

After my much-loved husband committed suicide, I spent several months asking anyone and everyone, “Will I ever be happy again?”

Today, I can answer that question: Yes. I now remember how it feels to experience happiness.

Took me 18 months to get here, but I feel those glimmers of joy stirring in my soul.

I’ll never be the same person. My life was forever changed by Wayne’s very poor choices. But today, I am happy, and it feels so good.

Thanks for your prayers. Thanks for staying with me. And thanks for helping me remember that I am someone other than the widow of a man who ended his life.

With a heart full of gratitude,

Rosemary Thornton

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Here in Hampton Roads, its almost impossible to find a house with a basement/garage and yet its a feature that I love.

Here in Hampton Roads, it's almost impossible to find a house with a basement/garage and yet it's a feature that I love. The garage is more than 600 square feet.

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The house is near an estuary of the Elizabeth River, and yet it sits high on the lot.

The house is near an estuary of the Elizabeth River, and yet it sits high on the lot. One of my frequent complaints about brick ranches is that they sit so low to the ground. This feels like a treehouse!

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The front door is reflective of a Mid-Century house, and yet this house was built in 1976. Everything about this house is in perfect order.

The front door is reflective of a Mid-Century house, and yet this house was built in 1976. Everything about this house is in perfect order.

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Inside,

Inside, there's a small foyer and access to the basement/garage and also living area. It's a design that I've never seen before, and yet it's delightful and compelling. Simplistic, but elegant!

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Inside

Inside, the massive fireplace dominates the living room, which is one of my favorite features. To the right are the three (small) bedrooms, separated with a sliding door. Ideal for someone who craves quiet!

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A large den at the far right of the house is filled with large windows, which is another delightful feature. Because theres no attached garage, the house has no blank (windowless) exterior walls.

A large den at the far right of the house is filled with large windows, which is another delightful feature. Because there's no attached garage, the house has no blank (windowless) exterior walls.

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Another delightful feature: A Japanese tub in the master bathroom.

Another delightful feature: A Japanese tub in the master bathroom.

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Ive owned this house for four hours (as of October 10th) and I can hardly wait to give this massive tub a test drive. It looks purely delightful.

I've owned this house for four hours (as of October 10th) and I can hardly wait to give this massive tub a test drive. It looks purely delightful.

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Update: My daughter came for a visit today (October 15, 2017) and sat right down in the tub, to give a sense of proportion and scale.

Update: My daughter came for a visit today (October 15, 2017) and sat right down in the tub, to give a sense of proportion and scale. Made by Kohler, this tub is original to the house.

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The kitchen is small, which is just right for my needs.

The kitchen is small, which is just right for my needs. The house is old enough to be sturdy and well-built, and yet is filled with modern conveniences and clean shiny surfaces.

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Another fine feature: The basement.

Another fine feature: The basement. As someone who loves old houses, it's very important to me that I have access to the mechanical systems. Here in Southeastern Virginia, so many houses are built on miserable crawlspaces and are barely navigable. This house is built up high enough that you walk under the house - from front to back.

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From front to back, the house is perfect in every way.

From front to back, the house is perfect in every way.

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Thanks to Kathy Worthen for making this happen.

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