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They’re Gone, Chief…

May 6th, 2017 Sears Homes 4 comments

Yesterday, I shipped out six copies (autographed) of “The Houses That Sears Built,” leaving one lone soldier in the box. Last night, an order came from Keyport, New Jersey for the last remaining book.

How I wish that I could retrieve those 6+ boxes of books from Harrison Moving Storage in Portsmouth. Unfortunately, their retrieval fees are just too much to justify the expense. As I said yesterday, I never expected to be living in this rental for almost eight months. I thought I’d be gone from  here in weeks.

But here I sit.

For now, I’ve ordered a limited reprint (only 200 copies) from Corley Printing in St. Louis.

If you order a copy of “The Houses That Sears Built,” there will be about a two-week delay. And once those 200 are gone, that might be it for a time.

To pre-order your copy, click here.

To learn more about how my books landed in storage, click here.

Read more about Sears Homes here.

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Horsie I, II, III, IV and V play in the empty box of the last books in my possession.

Horsie I, II, III, IV and V play in the empty box of the last books in my possession.

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Several people are worried that Teddy has been shoved off center stage with the addition of the Horsie Group™ but she's still the Top Dog in more ways than one. When it comes to posing, Teddy just doesn't fit into small boxes as well as the Horsie Group™.

Several people are worried that Teddy has been shoved off center stage with the addition of the Horsie Group™ but she's still the Top Dog. However, when it comes to posing cute animals in a little box, Teddy is more challenging.

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To learn more about how my books landed in storage, click here.

Read more about Sears Homes here.

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The Last Seven Books…

May 5th, 2017 Sears Homes 4 comments

Nothing has been “orderly” about the last 12 months, and as a result, book orders have been delayed and a few orders fell between the cracks. Worst of all, several boxes of books got packed into storage which now (according to Harrison Moving) can’t be retrieved without a minimum $160 fee.

Every single thing in my life took a hit from The Bad Thing™.

However…

I have seven books left. That’s it for now. After these seven are gone, I’ll probably do one more reprinting and then that’s the end of the run.

Horise I, Horsie II and Horsie III are guarding the last seven books.

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Horsie

The last seven copies of "The Houses That Sears Built."

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

Penniman is another fascinating story. More on that here.

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“Happy Widow’s Day”?

May 4th, 2017 Sears Homes 35 comments

This isn’t a post about architecture or Sears Homes or the ghost town of Penniman, Virginia. It’s about surviving to the one-year mark of the worst tragedy I have ever known.

Someone told me that yesterday (May 3rd) was “National Widow’s Day.” I don’t know much about that, but I do know that it’s been a little more than a year since my husband killed himself.

Grief is a messy business and way too much folks seem to think that after the earth has spun around the sun 365 times, a widow should be “over it.”

I understand their position: It’s tough to see someone in pain and it seems that grief - a type of extreme emotional pain - is especially difficult to watch.

My husband was seven years my senior and I’d always assumed that I’d outlive him, but not like this and not so soon. I always assumed that I’d be a “good old widow” and cheerfully reminisce and cherish the memories of our long life together.

The suicide tainted everything. Every single thing.

It’s true that “suicide is a death like no other.”

Obviously, my husband wasn’t happy. Obviously, he didn’t want to grow old with me. Obviously, this wasn’t the love affair I thought it was. Obviously, I was not the wife that he wanted, and obviously, this wasn’t the life that he wanted.

Or maybe it was.

But I’ll never know. There were no clues and no hints and not a whiff of an idea of what he was planning. April 18th, 2016, he dropped me off at the Norfolk International Airport so that I could travel to Boston and see my middle daughter. As soon as I landed in Boston (five hours later), I called him and asked him how he was doing. He was starting a big court case on Tuesday morning and I’d been very worried about his health.

He answered my questions and then started an argument over the phone. His words were so vitriolic that I was stunned.

I asked him why he was doing this.

He simply continued with the angry words. Wayne knew, “he who asks the questions controls the conversation.” He was in control of what was going to be our last conversation. I don’t and won’t remember how that conversation ended and/or who hung up first. One year later, it’s a path in my brain that must remain barricaded and closed and permanently sealed, lest I slip into insanity.

About 10:00 am, he sent me a text claiming that his next action would be my fault. It was a text that was both puzzling and terrifying. Yet not in my worst nightmare could I have imagined what would come next. As soon as that text had been sent, he turned off his phone and left his office at City Hall. Within 90 minutes, he’d be dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

For several weeks, I slept at friends’ homes and lived out of a Harris Teeter shopping bag. I lost more than 30 pounds in two months. Three or four times a week, I returned to my beautiful home in Norfolk long enough to get fresh clothes and then took off again. Sometimes, I traveled to see friends in Illinois. For a couple weeks, I stayed at a religious retreat in northern Virginia. A couple times, I spent the night in the car. So much of that time is lost to memory. I was in deep shock, and didn’t even realize it.

Family and friends feared that I was slipping away. There were days that I thought that insanity might provide some relief to the excruciating emotional pain. For the first time in my long life, I understood - with great clarity - why people become homeless and why they become alcoholics and drug addicts. I wanted to slip under the radar of society and take my Harris Teeter bag and disappear into a crowd somewhere and live out the rest of my days, weeks or years with “my people” - the hopeless homeless.

Lyrics from my favorite song “Don’t Laugh At Me” (Mark Willis) became crystal clear.

I lost my wife and little boy when
Someone crossed that yellow line
The day we laid them in the ground
Is the day I lost my mind
And right now I’m down to holdin’
This little cardboard sign…

Would people say that the day Wayne died was “the day I lost my mind”? People had cracked up under less. Would this be the event that cost me my sanity?

As I slipped further into the deep black well of hopelessness, friends tried desperately to lean over the rock-ribbed walls and throw a rope down to me. The problem was, I was too cold and too weak to grab onto it. The turning point came sometime in Summer 2016 (I don’t remember the date). A friend - someone that had been on the periphery of my life - appeared and said, “You’re going to come stay with me. I have a spare bedroom in my house and I live out in the country. Pack up some things and come out tonight.”

For four months, I lived with my friend on a peanut farm. Each evening, when she returned home from work - too tired to take a deep breath - she’d stand at the foot of my bed and talk with me, and pray with me. Every morning, she’d greet me with a smile and pray for me and help me remember that I was loved.

There was another friend that I’ll talk more about later. These were two of my angels (and there were so many others), who kept me going when I no longer had the will, the strength, the desire or the vision to face one more day.Without them, I would have been another statistic.

Throughout this last year, I have literally craved love. Over on Facebook, at my “Sears Homes” group, I asked the 1,600 members to post a few happy words about how my books had blessed their lives. I read that thread again and again and again.

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About six months after Wayne’s suicide, I moved into a rental home where I’m living now. I remain hopeful that - in time - I’ll find a home to purchase, and can then unpack my things and restore some order and structure to my life.

I know that several readers of this blog are prayer warriors, and believe in the healing power of prayer. If that describes you, I’m so very grateful for your love and your prayers. Please know that at the darkest times of my year, I’ve visualized those many prayers being poured into my soul, and that imagery (and the love behind it) has brought me much comfort.

Because of Wayne’s suicide, I’ll never be the same. This has forever changed me. But because of Wayne’s suicide, I’ll always be part of a “club” that understands the full depths of human suffering, as well as the unbelievable amounts of divine love and genuine kindness that can be found in a stranger’s heart.

Each day is still a mighty struggle, but each day, I strive to find one thing for which to be sincerely grateful. And many days, I find several things.

Perhaps that’s what healing looks like.

Let’s hope.

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Please leave a comment below.

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Horise and Rosemary in Illinois

These days, I have a new travel companion: A cute little stuffed horse that's been named "Horsie." Here's Horsie and Rosemary in a selfie, taken in southwestern, Illinois.

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Horsie gazes longingly out the window in Elsah, Illinois.

Horsie gazes longingly out the window in Elsah, Illinois.

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Horsie has mixed feelings about flying home to the modest rental. More than 50% of my worldly belongings are in storage, while we hope to find a suitable home to buy in a suitable place. Its taking a lot longer than I thought, which is adding to the stress.

Horsie always enjoys flying in an aeroplane. It's all that darn waiting and security and hassles BEFORE that drive Horsie nuts. On a recent security screening, Horsie endured a very personal examination which left him feeling rather humiliated.

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Horsie is glad to be back on solid ground. Flying is nerve-wracking for so many reasons, and ever more so when youre already stressed from other life events.

Horsie is glad to be back on solid ground at RDU (Raleigh/Durham airport). Flying is nerve-wracking for so many reasons, and ever more so when you're already stressed from other life events.

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I prefer to end on a happy note, so theres a picture of another Horsie (tentatively named Horsie II) thats on its way to my house.

Horsie has brought me so much joy that I decided to add another Horise to the fold. Tentatively named "Horsie II," he's now living with Horsie I in my home in Virginia.

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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. Saving someone who has been given up for dead is incredibly hard work, as this picture so beautifully shows.

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C’mon Realtors…You Can Do Better

April 6th, 2017 Sears Homes 5 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 6 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 13 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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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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Melvin Wayne Ringer, 1953 - 2016

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To read more about Penniman, click here.

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