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This One’s Asking For Advice on Old Cook Stoves…

March 13th, 2015 Sears Homes 1 comment

A delightful anecdote from 1921 tells us that, when the Penniman houses were shipped to Norfolk, some of the workers went into one of the houses - as it made the slow 36-mile trek across the water - and made a full breakfast, using the oil cook stove in the kitchen.

That’s the kind of story that really makes history come alive.

The article, which appeared in the Peninsula Enterprise says,

Several workmen crossed the bay on the first barge that brought the houses. They had an oil stove in one of the houses. They got hungry and cooked some bacon and eggs and heated some coffee. They enjoyed a meal cooked in one of the houses while it was being towed to Norfolk (December 24, 1921).

More than being an interesting tidbit, it also illuminates this detail: Every kitchen in every Penniman house, built by a three-party contract between DuPont, Hancock-Pettyjohn and the US Government, came with an oil-fired cook stove.

Including an appliance in each house would have substantially increased the per-unit cost. Which is probably one reason why they did this. The houses were built on a popular-WW1 program known as “The Cost Plus Plan.”

When America entered WW1, we were in such a mad rush to get these munition plants up and running that there wasn’t time to seek bids and wait for bids and open bids and investigate potential contractors, so DuPont was charged with finding a trust-worthy contractor and the government agreed to pay all expenses of construction plus 8-1/2%. The downside of the Cost-Plus Plan is that the more money the house cost, the more money the contractor pocketed. Put another way, it took away incentives for the contractor to be efficient.

But I think there was more to this than just padding the price of a house.

This was a munitions plant where there were lots of opportunities for lots of things to go boom.

And when this contract for 200 houses was signed on December 31, 1917, the realities of the danger of TNT would be very fresh in everyone’s mind.

Three weeks earlier, December 6, 1917, the SS Mont Blanc, a French freighter, had just left Halifax heading for Bordeaux, France, where it would deliver 5,000,000 pounds of war-time explosives. It was about 8:45 am when the Mont Blanc collided with a Norwegian ship, the Imo. Despite the slow speed (about 2 knots), there was a resulting fire on the Mont Blanc. Sailors tried desperately to extinguish the growing fire, but eventually abandoned ship. About 20 minutes later, the drifting vessel returned to the wharf, and moments later, there was an explosion on the Mont Blanc.

According to the book, Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why, the resulting blast shattered windows 60 miles away, and more than 1,000 people lost their sight due to flying glass. A tsunami eliminated a nearby community.

All in all, more than 1,900 people died. During WW2, scientists working on the Manhattan Project studied Halifax because the magnitude of the explosion emulated an atomic bomb in so many ways.

Not that anyone at DuPont would have needed any such reminders. The engineers and architects employed by the company would have been well aware of the grave risks of a single errant spark.

Which also explains why each house had steam radiant heat, supplied by a central heating system. No risk of sparks from an independent residential coal-fired heating system.

Which also explains why each house did not have a coal-fired or wood-burning cook stove: The risk of embers and fire would have been too great.

Which leads me to my question: It appears that - maybe - these late 1910s oil (kerosene) cook stoves didn’t require a chimney or any venting. As my friend Milton said, they appear to be similar to kerosene space heaters (which were hugely popular in the 1980s). There’s a reservoir of kerosene, fed by gravity to a burner with a large wick. The unit produces small amounts of carbon monoxide, but not enough to cause CO poisoning.

If that’s true, why did every house in Penniman have a brick chimney?

Heat was supplied by a central heating plant. And I suspect (although I’m not sure) that the oil-fired cook stoves didn’t require venting.

Was it more evidence of the inefficiencies of the “Cost-Plus Plan”? Every house gets a chimney, whether or not it needs it? Or did the oil cook-stove need venting?

Thanks for any insights.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Perfection cook stoves were a big deal in the 1910s and 20s.

Perfection cook stoves were a big deal in the 1910s and 20s.

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These blue cylinders were called Chimneys but they were

These blue cylinders were called "Chimneys" but they were the burner mechanism for the stove.

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Lighting these puppies didn't look simple.

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fef

That does look pretty hot.

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This looks like a lot of work. Why not electricity? Two reasons, electric stoves required tremendous amperage and re-wiring a house to receive an electric stove wouldnt have been easy. Electric stoves didnt really catch on until the late 1920s.

This looks like a lot of work. Why not electricity? Two reasons, electric stoves required tremendous amperage and re-wiring a house to receive an electric stove wouldn't have been easy. Electric stoves didn't get a foothold in the household appliance market until the 1930s.

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ffffe

The last line is the best. Wow.

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Bacon. Its whats for breakfast. In a barge house.

Bacon. It's what's for breakfast. In a barge house. Virginia Pilot, December 1921.

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A Penniman house in Norfolk, about 1960.

A Penniman house in Norfolk, about 1960. All of these homes had chimneys, accessible from an interior kitchen wall. The question is - why?

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Read more about Penniman here.

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“I Bet a Man a Hat Today…”

March 2nd, 2015 Sears Homes No comments

For four years, I’ve been researching Penniman, and still, the most wonderful surprises keep popping up.

Last week, fellow history buff Mike Powell discovered a wonderful article in the Peninsula Enterprise (Accomac, Virginia) about moving houses from Penniman to Norfolk. It was dated December 24, 1921.

Emboldened by this enchanting discovery, I dragged my buddy Milton Crum down to the Newport News Public Library to see if we could find anything more in the local papers about these houses being moved. At this point, all we’d seen was the blip in the Virginian Pilot (with photo) from December 5th, 1921 (see below).

Lo and behold, Milton discovered an indepth article in the Newport News Times-Herald (November 23, 1921), which included a lot of specific information on the mechanics of moving a house - by barge - in 1921.

The article, titled “Plan to Move 31 Houses to City From Yorktown,” said,

W. T. and Guy Hastings purchased 31 more residences built by the government…The purchase of the 31 houses is the result of the success met in moving five, which were bought from the government some weeks ago.

“I bet a man a hat today,” said Mr. Hastings, “that I could have all 36 houses at Norfolk within five months, and I belive that I am going to win the bet. The work of moving them down to the water has been carried on by five men but today, I sent ten more men up the river and we shall move faster now.”

The article goes on to say that they started with a tractor, and using wooden logs and cast-iron pipe, they moved the houses down to the waterfront. Later, they used a steam derrick and made better progress. From this account, I also learned that the houses were “scattered about at Penniman,” and the average distance from house to riverfront was about four blocks.

And it’s within this article that we learned that the government built 275 houses at Penniman.

The article found by Mike Powell in the Peninsula Enterprise offered some interesting insights, too.

W. T. Hastings of Norfolk has just moved eight houses across the Chesapeake Bay to Norfolk, a distance of about 24 miles. During the war, the government built a war city at Penniman. All of these houses are of the very best material and are so well constructed that they could not be demolished without wrecking them beyond repair.

It goes on to say that Hastings had originally intended to disassemble the houses and rebuild them elsewhere.

[Hastings] found that the houses had been built on the cost-plus plan, and there were so many nails in them it would mean almost total destruction to tear them down.

My favorite piece of this article contains this little tidbit:

Several workmen crossed the bay on the first barge that brought the houses. They had an oil stove in one of the houses. They got hungry and decided to cook some bacon and eggs. They also heated some coffee. They enjoyed a meal cooked in one of the houses while it was being towed to Norfolk.

Today, almost 100 years later, I’ve found more than 60 of these houses in Norfolk, about two dozen in Williamsburg (most of which have been torn down) and that’s it. I know there are more, but finding them is proving quite difficult. The good news is, there’s one for sale right now in Williamsburg, and it’s a mere $900,000.

Inch by inch, I’m working on completing my manuscript on Penniman. It’s slow going, but there is some progress every day.

Join the fun! If you’ve found any amazing articles about Penniman, please drop me a note at Rosemary.ringer@gmail.com!

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Penniman was a

Penniman was quite a place. At its peak, there were 15,000 people living and working within its borders. That's the York River in the background. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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House

Built as a shell-loading plant for WW1, Penniman was short lived. Three years after DuPont agents first started buying up farm land on the York River, it was all over and Penniman was sold off. More than 60 of the two-story houses built at Penniman ended up in Norfolk. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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At Penniman, workers filled 155mm and 75mm shells with TNT and Amatol.

At Penniman, workers filled 155mm and 75mm shells with TNT and Amatol. You'll notice that some of these buildings have two-story chutes leading to the ground. Alice Hamilton was a female physician and researcher who studied the problem of TNT poisoning in WW1 in America, and she wrote a book titled, "The Dangerous Trades." In that book she talks about touring a plant like Penniman and was told that she should keep alert to sparks from static electricity, and if she saw one, "Dash for that door and slide down and when you hit the ground, don't look behind you and keep right on running." Milton calls these, "Get the heck out doors." Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Penniman

The houses were built near the York River (at top of page). Our Ethels are by the water tower (far left). Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Hse

Here's a close-up of The Haskell, which was built at Dupont Munitions Plants in Penniman, Hopewell (Virginia), Old Hickory, Tennessee, Carney's Point, New Jersey and more. Many Penniman Haskells ended up in Norfolk.

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In fact, Mr. W. T. Hastings moved into one of the houses that he shipped in from Penniman. This photo was taken about 1937.

In fact, Mr. W. T. Hastings moved into one of the houses that he shipped in from Penniman, and gifted several of the houses to family members. This photo was taken about 1937. He's missing his hat. I hope he didn't lose that bet.

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Three Haskells were moved to Ocean View, to 13th View Street in Norfolk.

Three Haskells were moved to Ocean View, to 13th View Street in Norfolk.

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Heres a glimpse of the three Haskells about 1969.

Here's a glimpse of the three Haskells about 1969 (Norfolk Tax Assessor's Office).

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Here are some of Mr. Hastings homes floating down the Chesapeake Bay. This is from the Virginian Pilot (December 5, 1921).

Here are Mr. Hastings' homes floating down the Chesapeake Bay. This is from the "Virginian Pilot" (December 5, 1921).

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According to these newspaper articles, the houses moved by Hastings were up to four blocks in from the York River.

According to these newspaper articles, the houses moved by Hastings were up to four blocks in from the York River. This map shows - in detail - the location of the residences in Penniman. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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One of the choicest tidbits in these articles is the story that the workers cooked a nice breakfast on the oil stove in the Penniman house. Why did the engineers/architects decide on oil cook stoves for their little houses? Without exception, every house that DuPont erected in a WW1 munitions plant had a centralized steam heating plant (for obvious reasons), but why an oil cook stove? Ive read that the oil cook stove was very efficient. Was this a way to make sure there were no embers flying out the chimney? Matches were prohibited on the reservation. If you were caught with matches on your body, you were given one warning. The second time, you were fired. Were oil stoves matchless?

One of the choicest tidbits in these articles is the story that the workers cooked a nice breakfast on the oil stove in the Penniman house. Why did the engineers/architects decide on oil cook stoves for their little houses? Without exception, every house that DuPont erected in a WW1 munitions plant had a centralized steam heating plant (for obvious reasons), but why an oil cook stove? I've read that the oil cook stove was very efficient. Was this a way to make sure there were no embers flying out the chimney? I wish I knew.

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To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Mr. Jones, Where Are Your Lovely Photos?

February 23rd, 2015 Sears Homes No comments

In that process of rummaging through my notes on Penniman, I was reminded that I’d been looking for photos taken by Drewry Jones of Williamsburg. Despite lots of poking around, I never have been able to locate those photos (originals or reproductions), or anyone who has even heard of Mr. Jones’ collection of photos.

The photos appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch in an indepth article on Virginia’s Own Ghost City: Penniman (June 1938). The article featured a wide photo of Penniman’s village (with all those little houses).

Despite two trips to Hagley Museum and Library (in Wilmington, Delaware) and several billion trips to area museums and libraries, I’ve never seen anything like those photos. They were truly unique in that they captured a great view of Penniman’s residential village.

Augustus Drewery (sometimes spelled “Drewry”) danced off this mortal coil on April 8, 1977. His obituary was published in the Newport News Daily Press on April 10, 1977, and named two nephews as his lone survivors.

I’ve sent two letters to Mr. Jones’ only surviving nephew (”Dr. John M. Pitman” of Williamsburg) and haven’t heard a peep. That was 18 months ago.

The rest of Mr. Jones’ obit reads,

Augustus Drewery Jones of Williamsburg died Friday in a Williamsburg Community Hospital after a long illness.

A lifelong resident of Williamsburg, Mr. Jones was a graduate of the College of William and Mary. After a long career with the Peninsula Bank and Trust Company, he was appointed state treasurer of Williamsburg-James City County and retired from office in 1959.

He was past chairman of the board of deacons and ruling elder of Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, a member of the Association for the Preservation of Antiquities, the Pulaski Club, Sons of American Revolution, Williamsburg Rotary Club, and a former member of the Williamsburg Rotary Club.

Mr. Jones loved Penniman. In fact, in the early 1920s, he had one of the old Penniman houses moved to a lot on South England Street, and he lived there until his death. In fact, that house is currently for sale! Click here to see pictures!

And he owned photo(s) of Penniman - that he shared with the Richmond Times Dispatch - which were taken from an angle that I’ve not seen anywhere else.

Drewry Jones was fairly well-connected, as an alumn of William and Mary College, a banker with the Peninsular Bank and Trust Company and state treasurer of James City County. Someone somewhere must know this fellow.

I’d be so grateful if anyone could help me find out what became of Mr. Jones’ collection of photos.

For the intrepid researchers here, below is a list of where I have already checked for these photos.

1)     Valentine Museum

2)     York County Museum

3)     William and Mary Swem Library

4)     Virginia Historical Society

5)     Preservation Virginia

6)     Colonial Williamsburg ’s “Rockefeller Library”

7)     York County Library

8)     Waterman’s Museum ( Yorktown )

9)     Virginia Department of Historic Resources

10)   Library of Virginia

11)   Newport News War Museum

12)  Richmond Times Dispatch

So where are Mr. Jones’ photos?

There are a handful of Penniman houses in Williamsburg. Click here to learn more.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

See the interior of Mr. Jones’ home by clicking here.

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PHotos

Here's a grainy reproduction of Mr. Jones' photo, as seen in the Richmond newspaper (June 2, 1938).

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house

Here's the original newspaper reference to "a print belongin gDrewry Jones of Williamsburg" (RTD, June 2, 1938).

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house

If you squnit your eyes a lot and look closely at this photo of Penniman (1918), you can see two of the DuPont "Georgias" in the photo. As one historian said, "Penniman was not erased, it was dispersed." Many of these houses were moved to nearby cities. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Georgia

Drewry's house was a DuPont design, The Georgia."

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House

Drewery loved Penniman. He purchased this house from DuPont's 37th munitions plant on the York River, and had it moved to Williamsburg. Drewery lived in this house on South England for many years.

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Drewr

After Mark Hardin first spotted this house, we traveled out to Williamsburg to see it "in the flesh." It's had some pretty substantial additions added onto it in the intervening 90 years.

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Heres a Georgia that started life at Penniman, and landed (with 64 other Penniman houses) in Norfolk, Virginia. The houses were shipped by barge from Penniman to the Riverfront neighborhood in Norfolk (Glenroie Avenue and Major Avenue).

Here's a Georgia that started life at Penniman, and landed (with 64 other Penniman houses) in Norfolk, Virginia. The houses were shipped by barge from Penniman to the Riverfront neighborhood in Norfolk (Glenroie Avenue and Major Avenue). Notice the windows flanking the front door.

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The Georgia was designed by DuPonts architects, and was *probably* built with building materials from North American Construction Company (also known as Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes). The houses were built by Hancock-Pettijohn. Shown below is a chit found at the old Penniman site, maybe used for checking tools out of the tool shed.

The Georgia was designed by DuPont's architects, and was *probably* built with building materials from North American Construction Company (also known as Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes). The houses were built by Hancock-Pettijohn. Shown below is a chit found at the old Penniman site, maybe used for checking tools out of the tool shed.

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The only other tidbit I have is that on March 17, 1918, this item appeared in the Virginia Gazette.

The only other tidbit I have is that on March 17, 1918, this item appeared in the Virginia Gazette. Seems Mr. Jones resigned from C&P (as manager) on March 1, 1918.

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And on January 15, 1926

And as of January 15, 1926, Mrs. Drewry Jones was chair of The Little Theater League.

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To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Mr. Jones, Where Are Your Penniman Pictures?

March 31st, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

In June 1938, an in-depth article on Penniman appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch.  The article featured a long photo of Penniman’s residential area. And it’s a photo that I’ve never seen before (other than the grainy image in the RT Dispatch).

After doing a little poking around, we found that Augustus Drewery (sometimes spelled “Drewry”) left this mortal coil on April 8, 1977, and his obituary appeared in the Daily Press on April 10, 1977. His obit named only two nephews, one of whom has since died.

Mr. Jones’ surviving nephew, “Dr. John M. Pitman,” is a medical doctor in Williamsburg, and I’ve not heard back from him yet. And it’s been two letters and six months, so I’m starting to lose hope on that front.

The rest of his obit reads,

Augustus Drewery Jones of Williamsburg died Friday in a Williamsburg Community Hospital after a long illness.

A lifelong resident of Williamsburg, Mr. Jones was a graduate of the College of William and Mary. After a long career with the Peninsula Bank and Trust Company, he was appointed state treasurer of Williamsburg-James City County and retired from office in 1959.

He was past chairman of the board of deacons and ruling elder of Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, a member of the Association for the Preservation of Antiquities, the Pulaski Club, Sons of American Revolution, Williamsburg Rotary Club, and a former member of the Williamsburg Rotary Club.

Mr. Jones loved Penniman. In fact, in the early 1920s, he had two of the old Penniman houses moved to a lot on South England Street. He lived in one and apparently rented out the other. When the property was sold, someone built a massive addition between the two houses, making them one great-big Penniman house.

And he owned photo(s) of Penniman - that he shared with the Richmond Times Dispatch - which were taken from an angle that would be very helpful in my research.

I’d be so grateful if anyone could help me find out what happened to those photos.

For the intrepid researchers here, below is a list of where I have already checked for these photos.

1)     Valentine Museum

2)     York County Museum

3)     William and Mary Swem Library

4)     Virginia Historical Society

5)     Preservation Virginia

6)     Colonial Williamsburg ’s “Rockefeller Library”

7)     York County Library

8)     Waterman’s Museum ( Yorktown )

9)     Virginia Department of Historic Resources

10)  Library of Virginia

11)  Newport News War Museum

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Drewry

Here's the original newspaper refrence to Drewry Jones of Williamsburg (RTD, June 2, 1938).

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grainy and poor

This is the best reproduction I could glean from a grainy old microfilm image. It shoes the Penniman houses from the York River, whereas all the DuPont images show these houses from the rear (plant side).

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affinity for Penniman

Drewery loved Penniman. He purchased this house (and one behind it) from DuPont's 37th munitions plant on the York River. Drewery lived in this house on South England for many years.

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native told me

After Mark Hardin first spotted this house, we traveled out to Williamsburg to see it "in the flesh." It's had some pretty substantial additions added onto it in the intervening 90 years.

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house house house

Drewery's house was a DuPont design, The Georgia.

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Dutchie

If you look closely at this photo of Penniman (1918), you can see two of the DuPont "Georgias" in the photo. As one historian said, "Penniman was not erased, it was dispersed." Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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To learn more about this Virginia Ghost City, click here.

To contact Rose, leave a comment below.

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Missing: “The Projectile”!

October 21st, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

The hunt is on.

We’re working on a new book about a piece of Virginia’s regional history that is utterly and wholly captivating.

Penniman: Virginia’s Own Ghost Town.

In 1916, DuPont opened a new munitions factory on the old Bechtel Farm, on a piece of land east of Williamsburg. Less than three years later, it would be an impressive facility with scores of buildings, dozens of dormitories and hundreds of homes. By 1920, it was gone. The “War to End All Wars” was over, and there was no more need for this munitions factory on the York River.

The property was turned over to the U. S. Government and in later years, it would come to be known as Cheatham Annex.

To read Part I of this story, click here.

To read part II of this story, click here.

To read part III, click here.

To read more about Old Hickory, click here.

But there’s a piece of the puzzle that we really need. According to this article in the Richmond Times Dispatch, a full accounting of the building of the houses at Penniman can be found in a 1916-ish publication called, “The Projectile.”

There are a whole lot of history buffs that read this blog every day and if anyone has any clues where to find “The Projectile,” please let me know.

Additionally, we’re also looking for a weekly employee newsletter written for the workers at the DuPont Munitions Plant in Penniman. It was called, “The Polka Dot” (yes, really).

Last (and this may be the easiest), I’m hoping to find a copy of “Old Hickory,” a reprint of a 1920 booklet with extensive information on the DuPont munitions  plant in Tennessee. It was reproduced in 1987 by the Hadley Bend Historical Association. I have a paper copy, but would love to have the original document.

Thanks in advance to the many smart people who read this blog every day!  :D

This

Lots of good clues in this article from 1938, but the best is the very last paragraph. About 300 houses were built in Penniman, and from what I've gleaned, most were moved (not destroyed) into "nearby towns." We've located about 50 of them in Norfolk and one in Williamsburg. That leaves 250 missing. If we could find "The Projectile," that would be a good start!

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The only photo we have of the houses in Penniman

The only photo we have of the houses in Penniman is the grainy image above, from the 1938 newspaper article shown in the prior picture. According to the photo's caption, this (and other photos shown in the article) came from the collection of Drewery Jones, who apparently worked at Penniman for a time. Thanks to David Spriggs, we've found that Drewery (also spelled "Drewry") lived in one of the Penniman houses that was moved to downtown Williamsburg. Mr. Jones passed on in 1977, but I'm thinking that he did not take these photos with him. The clearer image (shown above here) is "The Haskell" which was one of the houses found in Penniman. The houses shown in the grainy image are both "Haskells" (with one turned 90 degrees). So where are Mr. Jones' photos of Penniman?

To read more about Penniman and see vintage photos, click here.

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