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C’mon Realtors…You Can Do Better

April 6th, 2017 Sears Homes 4 comments

For the last few weeks, I’ve been on the hunt for a house in a quiet place with a little bit of land. I’ve been working with a true real estate professional, Tracie Gaskins, who is not only a queen among real estate agents, but an angel let down from heaven. When you read my forthcoming book (to be published in 2021 - maybe), you’ll learn more about this wonderful woman and how she has kept me alive through the worst hard times.

Sadly, Tracie the Realtor is not the norm amongst Realtors.

Within the current structure of the MLS system, there is a great need for factual, accurate information, and that’s where too many Realtors show a shocking lack of professionalism, and a pococurante attitude toward factual data on their listings.

Several times, I’ve found egregious mistakes on listings. Earlier this week, I wasted Tracie’s time as we went to see a house that was listed as having more than 1,400 square feet. When we arrived at the house (out in the hinterlands of Suffolk), I remarked, “This is about the size of a Sears Puritan.” (Yes, most of my spatial references are centered around Sears Homes.)

Measuring the small two-story house, I found that it was barely 1,100 square feet. Now, I might have been able to make 1,400+ work, but not 1,100. For my current needs, that’s just too small. The house had two small wings on the first floor. Apparently the listing agent had taken the home’s footprint and doubled it, rather than do some basic math.

About two months ago, I visited an open house that was listed at 2,200 square feet. After a quick walk-through, a friend and I measured the exterior and did some quick math. The house was 1,678 square feet. I spoke to the Realtor at the open house and told her, “This isn’t 2,200 sfla. It’s 1,678. We just measured it.”

Her reply, “No, it’s 2,200 square feet. We have an appraisal and the appraiser measured it out.”

I said, “Look at the rooms. They’re quite small. This is not a big house. It feels like about 1,700 sfla.”

She restated, “An appraiser said it’s 2,200 and that’s the right number.”

I wanted to say, “Honey, I don’t care if Euclid himself did the appraisal. Unless there’s an inter-dimensional portal to another space, it’s 1,678 square feet.”

Realtors are eager to be considered “professional,” but until they learn some basic math and spend a little more time double-checking simple facts, they’re not going to be taken seriously.

If you enjoyed this blog, please share it with others!

Images are courtesy of www.zillow.com.

Contact Tracie through her site.

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FF

Actually, this lot is 28 by 100 feet. It took me less than 60 seconds to find that information on the assessor's website. If a Realtor lacks the competence and care to fill out a listing form, how can they be trusted with the biggest investment of one's life? There's a big difference between 28 acres and 2,800 square feet.

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This house is on a small lot.

As is shown below, the lot's depth is 108.5 feet, not acres.

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ff

Again, 47 seconds online showed that this lot on Cumberland is 108.5 long. The house is not situated on 108.5 acres.

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fe

Little house. Big Lot.

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House

I take house hunting very seriously...

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Just in case you were wondering what a Sears Puritan looks like...This one is in Mounds City, Illinois (the southern most part, near Cairo).

Just in case you were wondering what a Sears Puritan looks like...This one is in Mounds City, Illinois (the southern most part, near Cairo).

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Images are courtesy of www.zillow.com.

Need a house? Contact Tracie through her site.

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The Hawthorne Effect

April 6th, 2017 Sears Homes 2 comments

It wasn’t terribly long ago that I noticed that the Avondale and the Hawthorne were the same house, with a lone difference: The attic/second floor on the Hawthorne was enlarged, to create livable space. From what I’ve seen out in the world, the Avondale was a very popular model for Sears, and the Hawthorne was quite rare.

Both the Avondale and the Hawthorne were elegant bungalows with a few extra features, such as stained glass options on the smaller windows near the fireplace, an inglenook in the living room, a large polygon bay at both the dining room and front bedroom and a spacious front porch.

And what is the Hawthorne Effect? It actually has nothing to do with Sears Homes. It’s a theory that subjects being observed will change their behavior when they know they’re being observed, thus skewing the effects of the research.

To learn more about the Avondale, click here.

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hawthorn

The Sears Hawthorne, from the 1916 catalog.

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MORE

Interior view of the Sears Avondale.

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Hawthorne 2

Do those benches qualify as inglenooks? I would say - maybe - but writing these blogs is a lot of work and very time consuming and it's 6:23 am and I'm in no mood to go back and change a lot of text. Speaking of houses, check out that oak slat screen on the right side of this image. Now that's gorgeous.

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Avondale

Shot of the large bay window in the front bedroom, and my grandfather's dresser, flanked by two sconces. Also check out that sweet light fixture. That's a beauty.

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Hawthorne in 1916

The Hawthorne, as seen in the 1916 catalog, together with a lady in pain (right side) wearing a corset that's obviously way, way too tight.

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rebecca

Rebecca Hunter found this Hawthorne in Piper City, north of Champaign, Illinois. Photo is copyright 2012 Rebecca Hunter and may not be used or reprinted without permission. Rebecca's website is www.kithouse.org.

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hawthorne in mattoon

This Hawthorne in Mattoon, Illinois was supersized. That height of that second floor was doubled to create much more space upstairs. In 2004, I toured the inside of this home and it's a real beauty.

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hawtorne

Comparison of the floorplans of the Avondale (left) and the Hawthorne (right).

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hwthorneeee

View of the 2nd floor on the Hawthorne.

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ham radio

One of my favorite Avondales. It's in Litchfield, Illinois.

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hawthorne

Rebecca found this modified Avondale in northern Illinois. An entire 2nd floor was added a few years ago. In 2010, Rebecca and I spent several days driving throughout the suburbs of Chicago, and she showed me the many fun kit homes that she'd discovered through her years of research. This was one of the most intriguing.

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Visit Rebecca Hunter’s website here.

More on Avondales here.

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That Rascally Haskell

March 30th, 2017 Sears Homes 4 comments

Today, despite all the publicity about recycling, we’re still a very wasteful society, and even more so when it comes to housing.

More than 35% of all debris at modern landfills is construction debris. HGTV is the worst offender, encouraging millions to rip out and destroy old kitchens and baths, while violating  the first commandment of old house ownership: “Thou Shalt Not Destroy Good Old Work.”

A century ago, when Penniman was abandoned, the overwhelming majority of the houses were “knocked down” (disassembled board by board) and moved to another site. Some of the houses were moved intact and whole. Today, the majority of these houses are still alive and well in Norfolk and Williamsburg.

And now, thanks to the foresight of the Whisnant family, we have pictures of the residential area of Penniman, showing these houses within this village, built by DuPont for workers at the shell-loading plant. Below, you’ll see images of the “Haskell,” living in Penniman and later in Norfolk.

To learn more about the Penniman houses in Williamsburg, click here.

Read about the Norfolk Penniman houses here.

Images below are courtesy of the family of Joseph and Ola Whisnant. Thanks to the foresight and generosity of the Whisnant family, we have street views and genre scenes of life in Penniman. Cameras were probably forbidden within the cantonment of Penniman, and visitors would have subjected to a daunting search of their personal belongings, entering and exiting. These images are the only known existing photographs of the residential areas of Penniman.

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house

Street view of the newly created village of Penniman. The streets are mud and the houses are fresh and new. The village was built in 1918 and abandoned in early 1920. Photos are courtesy of the Whisnant family.

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Whisnant

Another view of the village. Notice the hydrant to the right with the easy-to-access valve. The model of houses shown in this picture (Cumberland, Florence, Haskell and a piece of the Georgia) eventually landed in Norfolk and Williamsburg, Virginia.

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whisnant fam

A close-up of the Haskell.

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others

Thanks to the Norfolk city assessor, we have a picture of this same model, taken in the 1950s. There are more than 50 of these homes - built at DuPont's Penniman - along Major Avenue and Glenroie Avenue in Norfolk.

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fesef

Comparison of the house in Norfolk (1950s) and the house in Penniman (1918).

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House

This "Haskell" has been resided with a substitute PVC-type shake, and the belt course on the gable line was moved up closer to the peak. Other than that, it looks much as it did when built in 1918.

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whisnant

The Haskell, as it appeared in a building catalog in 1920.

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Thanks to clyde Vir Pilot December 1921

In December 1921, these houses were moved from Penniman to Norfolk via barge. Many thanks to professional photographer Clyde Nordan for cleaning up the images. (Virginian Pilot, December 1921.)

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To learn more about the Penniman houses in Williamsburg, click here.

Read about the Norfolk Penniman houses here.

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Penniman: My Path to Healing

March 28th, 2017 Sears Homes No comments

Several weeks ago, I had dinner with Robert, a friend and fellow history lover. I told him that I was a lost soul. He asked me about the Penniman book. I told him that I didn’t think I could face the manuscript again and that my writing days were over.

He asked specific questions about the people of Penniman, and I felt like something deep inside my soul came to life again. I felt a spark of joy and zeal and hope.

After our dinner, it became so clear to me: It was time to finish the project.

One year ago - April 24th - I was scheduled to give a talk on Penniman in Williamsburg. It turned out to be the day of my husband’s funeral. At the time, the Penniman manuscript - a book on which I’d labored for 4+ years - was 95% complete.

Now, one year later, thanks to Robert and Pat and Milton and others, that manuscript is finished, and after some finishing touches to the artwork, it will be ready for the printer. Hopefully.

The casual outsider may not understand that this is more than just a book.  It’s a project that helps me stop thinking about the ongoing emotional angst that is my constant companion. It’s a project that helps me forget - for a few seconds at a time - that my husband died by his own hand, 48 hours after telling me that we’d grow old together.

In short, it’s a rope that’s been tossed down into this hellish pit, and it’s a way out.

It’s so much more than a book.

I’m grateful for each and every prayer offered in my name. And I’m grateful for the people that have shown up and said just the right thing at just the right time. They’re angels walking this earth in human form.

Images below are courtesy of the family of Joseph and Ola Whisnant. Thanks to the foresight and generosity of the Whisnant family, we have street views and genre scenes of life in Penniman. Cameras were probably forbidden within the cantonment of Penniman, and visitors would have subjected to a daunting search of their personal belongings, entering and exiting. These images are the only known existing photographs of the residential areas of Penniman.

To learn more about Penniman, click here.

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house

Members of the Whisnant family pose on the streets of Penniman. The houses shown in the background were moved to Norfolk, Williamsburg and other surrounding communities. From left to right is the Cumberland, Georgia, Florence, Haskell and a piece of another Georgia. These models were built at other DuPont plants during The Great War.

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ether

According to reminiscenses, the streets of Penniman were a mess of mud and muck. This wonderful picture gives a detailed view of The Village (as it was known), where the workers took their rest after a hard day on the shell-loading line. The women workers are known as Canary Girls, because the TNT (loaded into shells) was bright yellow, and stained their skin and hair. It was also a toxin.

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what

These houses were known as "Six-Room Bungalows" and were covered with Ruberoid siding, which is nothing more than heavy tarpaper. These bunkhouses and dorms (not shown here) housed the "lower class" workers.

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Thanks again to the Whisnant Family for sharing these wonderful pictures.

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The Bungalow in the York River

February 17th, 2017 Sears Homes 2 comments

Bunny Trails: They’re one of the best parts of doing historical research. And while researching Penniman, Virginia, I read newspaper accounts from Pennimanites, talking about a house “sitting on stilts” in the York River.

And while systematically reading through every single page (from 1916 to 1925) of the Newport News Daily Press, I found this gem: “[John Ross] Built His House On the Waters” (September 1922).

It was an indepth article about John’s home in the York River. And then last month, it got even better when Carolyn Willis contacted me through this website, and shared some pictures from a family photo album of Joseph and Ola Whisnant. She’d found the word “Penniman” on the old snapshots, but didn’t know exactly what a Penniman was - until she googled the word.

Carolyn’s photos showed me pictures of day-to-day life within Penniman, and provided an incredible peek of life inside the village. Each of the 22 pictures was a treasure, and I’m so grateful that Carolyn found me, and was willing to share those pictures.

The article in the Daily Press said,

John E. Ross is wiser than the man who ‘built his house on the sands,’ as related in the Bible, to have it destroyed when the winds came. The windws may come, storms may kick up a sea in the York River, and the ice-packs of winter may crunch and grind around his abode, but it will stand the buffeting of every day assaults that nature can make. At least it has done so for years past and appears to be as firm and safe as when first it rose above the waters…Mr. Ross and his family live in happiness and security in one of the oddest abodes in this section.

Mr. Ross is a well-to-do oyster planter and located near here years ago. He conceived the idea of building a bungalow on stilts in the York River, far enough out to escape the discomforts on inshort. Pilings were sunk and upon this structure arose the neat little house that has long been the home of his family. He solved the water problem by sinking a deep artesian well and has one of the best over-flow wells in this section. A fast motor boat tired up at the foot of a pair of steps leading down in the water solves the transportation problem.

The Ross home, located almost at the mouth of King’s Creek, several hundred yards out in the water, is one of the most unique in this section and never fails to attract attention from visitors. It is just off Penniman. Probably 20 feet off water is to be had the house, and all all Mr. Ross has to do when he wants fresh fish for a meal is to drop a line out the kitchen window and wait for a bite.

They live happily in peaceable surroundings, not disturbed even by their neighbors’ chickens (September 8, 1922).

A local genealogist found this additional information on John Ross: John Edward Ross left this house sometime in the 1920s and in 1930, he was living at 24 Channing Avenue (the Cradock section of Portsmouth). In 1910, he was a widow with a child and living with his father. By 1920, John, wife Grace and 16 year son Edward Ross (by John’s 1st wife) were living on the York River.

The Hurricane of 1933 destroyed a tremendous amount of property along the York River, and this bungalow on stilts was surely one of the houses that became flotsam.

Thanks to Carolyn and the family of Joseph and Ola Whisnant for the pictures shown below.

Learn more about Penniman here.

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Hagley Panoramic

The panoramic image of Penniman shows a house out in the York River, not far from the Penniman Spit. Image is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Hagley Panoram

A close up of the "bungalow on stilts." Hagley Museum and Library.

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Permission Carolyn Something

Here's a picture of John's house on the York River. According to the "Daily Press," it's at "the mouth of King's creek, several hundred yards out in the water, and is one of the most unique in this section. It's just off Penniman." Thanks again to Carolyn Willis for sharing this image. Photos are the courtesy of the family of Joseph and Ola Whisnant.

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House in Nansemond

I've never seen anything like the John Ross house but there is a duck-hunting club sitting in the middle of the Nansemond River. I took this photo from the bridge that spans the Nansemond River on an early Sunday morning as I drove to church in Suffolk. Fortunately, there were no cars behind me.

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Bungalow in the York

Close-up of the duck-hunting club in the Nansemond River. I am curious as to how this building handles the discharge of waste.

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Do you know of any houses built in the middle of a river? Please send photos. I’d ask for an address, but that would be problematical.

Learn more about Penniman here.

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Moving On With Life

February 4th, 2017 Sears Homes 9 comments

These last few months, I’ve lived in a small rental home in Southeastern Virginia, and most of my possessions are in storage, which is discomfiting. A few weeks ago, I started looking at houses for sale in different cities.

Throughout 2015 and early 2016, I had a recurring nightmare that Wayne had died and I was forced to move into a modest (and dirty) rental house. It was terrifying, and it was one of those dreams that just went on and on and on for what felt like days.

On one occasion, I wrote this in my prayer journal, “Thank God it was just a dream. Wayne is still alive and well. I am so grateful to awaken from that horror, and find myself sleeping in my own bed in my beautiful home, in my soft bed, with my husband asleep beside me.”

In April 2016, that nightmare became my reality. In August 2016, I started looking at rental homes and became physically ill when I viewed my first rental: A dirty, greasy, roach-infested house, with busted asbestos tiles on the floor, bugs scurrying across the broken Formica countertop and a filthy tub outlined in soap scum.

The price was $1,200 a month - the top of my “comfort level.”

I left that house in tears, got in my car and drove around, trying to pray and trying not to cry. Ultimately, I found a sparkling clean rental in a safe area, but it wasn’t cheap.

It’s been nine months since Wayne died and looking at houses to buy has proven to be a tonic for me. Little by little, the lights are starting to come back on in my soul. It’s funny what God can use to breathe life into someone that feels dead and buried deep in the rubble.

Perhaps in my case, it will be nothing fancier than an old house that needs a lot of love and tender care and elbow grease and time (and a little money) to be restored to its former grandeur and original beauty. Maybe saving an old house will be the very thing that saves me.

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Rosemary

When I look at a house, I really LOOK at a house. It was a miserable crawl space and way too low, but I had to know if the house was sound and worthy of restoration. The next day, this 57-year-old body felt the challenge of slithering through a dirty crawl space. Of course, someone was there with a camera...

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To read more about Rose, click here.

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Need to Find a Graphic Artist to Help Finish the Penniman Manuscript

January 7th, 2017 Sears Homes 12 comments

On April 18, 2016, I left my home at 4:00 am to catch a 5:30 am flight for Boston, Massachusetts, where I’d visit my daughter and her son. After four years of intense research and work, the manuscript on Penniman was finally 98% complete, and now it was time for a graphic artist to assemble the artwork and prepare the book for a printer.

An impressive history-loving group in Colonial Williamsburg had asked me to give my first public talk on Penniman on April 24th.

The morning of the 18th, I was running around the house getting ready for my trip to Boston when my husband asked, “Do you have a coat? It’s going to be cold in Boston.” When I said no, he handed me my favorite beige winter coat and said, “I don’t want you to get cold.” I gave him a big kiss and a hug and said, “Have I told you lately that I love you?”

He dropped me off at the airport and I gave him another big, long hug and then grabbed him and said, “In four days, we’ll be happy again.” He smiled and said, “Yes, in four days, we’ll be happy again.”

For several weeks, Attorney Ringer had been preparing for an upcoming trial involving the non-fatal shooting of a woman by a Norfolk cop. As the Chief Deputy City Attorney, it was his case, and he felt responsible for its successful outcome. The trial started on April 19th (Tuesday), and I kept reassuring him, “This will end, and we’ll be happy again and then you’ll retire 30 days later. It’s been a long road but we’re on the home stretch.” I shortened this refrain by saying, “In four days, we’ll be happy again.”

When he seemed especially tuned out, I’d sit down beside him with my laptop and show him pictures of other trips we’d taken. I told him, “We’ll go back there after you retire and I’ll teach you the fine art of traveling cheap and we’ll have a good time.” He said flatly, “I’m looking forward to that.”

As soon as he’d found out that I’d landed in Boston, he left his office at City Hall and committed suicide. Within an hour of landing in Boston, I received a phone call that my husband was dead, by his own hand. The day of my “big talk” in Willliamsburg turned out to be the day of my 63-year-old husband’s funeral.

Since then, I haven’t been able to look at the Penniman manuscript. Even now, it’s hard to look at these photos, but I know - after talking with other “suicide widows” (as we’re known) - that there comes a day when you have to push past the agonizing emotional and physical and spiritual pain and try to do one small thing. And yes, there is agonizing physical pain. I suffer from unrelenting and at times, crippling chest pain. It’s my constant companion.

Writing this blog and asking for help is my “one small thing” today.

This morning, after talking with “Leslie,” (a fellow writer and suicide widow), I realized it was time for me to climb back into Penniman and get this book finished. And that’s where I need some help. I’m in need of a graphic artist that can help me assemble the manuscript (22 chapters and 37 photos) into a print-ready document.

If you know of anyone who’s willing to help with this project, please leave a comment below.

Thanks so much.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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The story of Penniman is an amazing one. Penniman was a boom town about six miles from Williamsburg (Virginia), where TNT was loaded into shells for The Great War.

The story of Penniman is an amazing one. Penniman was a boom town about six miles from Williamsburg (Virginia), where TNT was loaded into shells for The Great War. This is a picture of one of the shell-loading lines, courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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One of the little bungalows at Penniman, named The DuPont. This very model is what drew me into this story of Penniman. After Penniman closed, 18 of these houses were taken to Norfolk by barge.

The little bungalows at Penniman were built at several DuPont sites, and were named "The DuPont." These hipped-roof bungalows sat near the York River (not far from where Cornwallis surrendered). This very model is what drew me into this story of Penniman. After Penniman closed, 18 of these houses were taken to Norfolk by barge. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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This photo is from the Norfolk tax assessors office. It is from 1949, and shows The DuPont in largely original condition.

This photo is from the Norfolk tax assessor's office. It is from 1949, and shows "The DuPont" in largely original condition.

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The people of Penniman are part of what make the story so compelling. There was a 312-man army detachment at Penniman known as The Shell Inspectors. It was their job to make sure that, at every point and turn, the shells were correctly loaded and stored.

The people of Penniman are part of what make the story so compelling. There was a 312-man army detachment at Penniman known as The Shell Inspectors. It was their job to make sure that, at every point and turn, the shells were correctly loaded and stored.

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It is the people of Penniman that make the story come alive.

It is the people of Penniman that make the story come alive. More than 50% of the civilian employees at Penniman were women. They're shown here at the train depot within Penniman, where shells were shipped out on their way to the front. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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A woman worker loads explosive charges into a shell.

Dr. John Henderson (far right) sits with other medical personnel at the Penniman Hospital. Photo is courtesy of the Henderson Family. The names of the other workers are lost to history.

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More than 900 wheelbarrows were purchased for the building of Penniman, and a large number of African-Americans were employed in its construction and day-to-day production. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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smoke

Those double doors require only a push to open, and on the other side is a long chute, leading to the ground.

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See those long chutes?

See those long chutes? Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Way

Melvin Wayne Ringer, 1953 - 2016

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To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Christmas in Carlinville (Illinois)

January 6th, 2017 Sears Homes 2 comments

In an effort to be “anywhere but here,” I traveled to Illinois for the holidays and spent them in Carlinville, Illinois, home of a large collection of Sears Homes, built by Standard Oil.

It was a treat to find the Town Square all lit up for the holidays.

Carlinvilles Town Square at Christmas

Carlinville's Town Square at Christmas

My Sweet Teddy

December 16th, 2016 Sears Homes 9 comments

Dear little Teddy got into something that caused her to vomit within 1-2 hours, and then she recovered. This happened several times over a span of several months, and yet after each “event,” she seemed okay a few hours later. I’m now wondering if she ingested something toxic.

I’d also be grateful to know what might cause such a reaction in a Sheltie. Could it be mushrooms? Antifreeze? What would cause such an event?

She’s been to the vet several times since then and is in excellent health now. Any ideas what could make a 45-pound Sheltie so sick so fast?

Thanks.

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Her good health is my best Christmas present.

Her good health is my best Christmas present.

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Teddy as a little puppy.

Teddy as a little puppy (early 2009).

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To read about Sears Homes, click here.

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Thanksgiving…

November 26th, 2016 Sears Homes 7 comments

Through what has been the worst year of my life - I still struggle to find my way out of the pit. Whilst reading books (and talking with others) on healing the broken heart, I learned that finding reasons for gratitude helps re-wire the brain and pulls us out of the mire of deep despair.

This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for the many kind comments left here at this website.

During my darkest hours (and there have been many), I lie down in a quiet place and verbally recite the names of those who are praying for me. I also just go into empty churches and sit in the darkened sanctuary and ask God to show me the way back to some semblance of normality and/or peace.

It’s become clear to me that prayers are the highest expression of love that we humans can share with one another.

The last couple of weeks, I was in Carlinville, Alton and Champaign, spending time with friends and family, and my friend Linda shared this image with me which touched me to tears. She asked, “What is your first impression?”

I replied, “Look at how much effort the man from Samaria is exerting to save the stranger.”

Linda said, “That was my first impression, too. Saving someone who’s been given up for dead is hard work.”

My soul feels dead in so many ways, but as my daughter says, “Focus on the love in your life. If you focus on anything else, you’re not going to survive this.”

To every one who has said they’re praying for me, please know that it’s your love that is my focus through these holy days.

“Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.” - Charles Finney

Good

Vincent Van Gogh - The Good Samaritan. Vincent Van Gogh was staying in an institution for the mentally ill (following a psychotic break) when he painted this work, in May 1890.

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