Posts Tagged ‘colonial williamsburg’

“Perhaps You’d Like to See Our Tombstone Catalog…”

March 27th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

According to “Sears, Roebuck, USA: The Great American Catalog Store and How It Grew,” a Sears customer wrote the Chicago Mail-order giant and asked if she could return several bottles of patent medicine that she’d purchased the month before.

In her letter, she explained that the medicine had been intended for her husband and after ingesting the first bottle, he’d quickly passed on.

The clerk who received the inquiry responded quickly, with an assurance that certainly, she could return the unopened bottles, and by the way, would she like to see a copy of Sears’ Tombstone Catalog?

Funny story, but the sobering fact is, traditional, elaborate Victorian funerals were expensive. Tradition dictated that certain rituals and procedures be done, and a middle-class family might endure shame and scorn if they couldn’t afford a decent marker for their loved one. And what about the poor? Often, they had to quietly and stoically endure the humiliation of seeing their loved one placed in a pauper’s grave.

(An aside:  There’s a 1920s pauper’s grave in Williamsburg where 35+ bodies (many of whom are children) are buried. The only “markers” at the site were small granite stones - the remnants of tombstones - that were provided by the undertaker. These markers outlined the individual graves. With the passage of time, those graves were forgotten and now  there’s a condo built on top of part of that cemetery.)

After Aunt Addie’s exhumation made the headlines, several people shared “old family legends” about a time when a young child died, and the family - unable to afford a real burial and/or pay burial fees - surreptitiously stole into the city graveyard in the dark of night, and buried their little one in a make-shift coffin.

By contrast, such stories make a pauper’s grave seem like a mercy.

I have no pictures of Sears tombstones, but with all these testimonials, they shouldn’t be too hard to find. Plus, they were made from Vermont Slate, which as a distinctive color and veining.

If you look up Sears Tombstones on the internet, you’ll find there are folks claiming that Sears tombstones were hollow, zinc markers (metal) but this is one of those apocryphal stories. Not sure where it started, but it’s not true.

To learn more about Victorian burial customs, click here.

To read about early 1900s burial rituals, click here.

To learn more about Addie, click here.

Verse 1904 Thomb

The Tombstone Catalog from 1904.


people loved them

Does anyone in Plain City, Ohio want to get me a picture of the Frazell tombstone? I would love to see one of these. And there's the Chitty tombstone in Rapid City, SD. That's also a fairly unusual name.


freight costs might seem

You'd think freight costs would be prohibitive, but Sears had it all worked out.



Inscription cost six cents per letter, unless it's a verse, and then its 2-1/2 cents per letter, unless it's on the upper base and then it's 15 cents per two-inch letter.


here lies mary

Mark Hardin observed that most of these images in the 1904 catalog depict young people. In the late 1800s, one out of five children passed on before they reached adulthood. In early 1900s America, there would have been very few families whose lives hadn't been touched by the death of a child.


Mary again

When I was researching the life and death of my Aunt Addie (died in 1901), I came across one story in the 1893 Lake Mills Leader that I will never forget. It was the height of a diphtheria epidemic, and the diphtheria was present in many counties in Wisconsin. In southern Wisconsin, a family had lost seven of their eight children to that single epidemic. The paper reported that the "eighth child had also contracted the diphtheria" and was not doing well. The article said that the children apparently had "weak blood." Today, we'd call it a genetic predisposition .


another one

The epitaphs mostly depict a young child.


house tombstone

When my beloved mother died suddenly in 2002, she was cremated and her ashes were scattered. In retrospect, I now more fully understand the comfort that a marker such as this can provide to greiving families.



For a poor family desperate to have their loved one remembered, the economical "Sears option" may have been a God-send. It provided an option to an unmarked pauper's grave.



"Verse inscription ideas - at no extra cost to you, our loyal customer."



I sincerely hope that no one chose this verse.



This is not a Sears Tombstone, but I find the last line quite interesting. My daughter Crystal found this in an old graveyard near Hartwell, Georgia. Photo is copyright 2010 Crystal Thornton and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.


To read about Penniman’s poor flu victims that were buried in a forgotten grave, click here.

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Moving House: Williamsburg Style

November 22nd, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

Like thousands of good little schoolchildren before me, our elementary school class trekked off to see Colonial Williamsburg sometime in the 1960s. Little did I know that parts of this “Colonial” site were a mere 30 years old at the time.

Despite being a native of this area, it wasn’t until 2007 that I learned that part of Colonial Williamsburg was re-created in the early 1930s through the beneficence and foresight of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Hubby and I were touring Colonial Williamsburg when I pointed out that there’d been some restoration work done on these buildings in the 1920s or 30s. He looked at my quizzically and said, “You know that many of these buildings are re-creations done in the early 30s, right?”


Seven years later, while researching Penniman, DuPont’s 37th munitions plant on the York River, I discovered that the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation) had several aerial photos of Williamsburg from the late 1920s and 1930s. David Spriggs and I drove to the library Tuesday morning to get a better look at these photos.

And it was a fascinating field trip.

Marianne, the Vital Resources Editorial Librarian, was every researcher’s dream. She was not only knowledgeable and well-versed, but eager to help us solve a few mysteries.

In looking at these old aerial photos, it was my hope to find a few of the 17 houses that were moved to Williamsburg from Penniman in October 1921 by W. A. Bozarth (according to the Virginia Gazette).  I did find nine Penniman houses in the photo.

Sadly, judging from these vintage photos, many early 20th Century houses and eight of our relocated Penniman houses went bye-bye during the Colonial Williamsburg restoration. (Kind of pitiable really. The little Penniman houses survived the “leave no board behind” government salvage at Penniman, and then died a tragic death just 10 years later.)

Finding those Penniman houses was fun, but there was hidden treasure I discovered in that photo that was even more fun!

Scroll on down.

To learn more about John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation), click here

To read more about Penniman, click here.

Shiawassee History

This undated aerial view of Williamsburg was probably from the early 1930s. Those familiar with Williamsburg will recognize "The Triangle" where Richmond and Jamestown Roads merge at Duke Of Gloucester Street. These photos were taken by the Army Corps of Engineers and the detail is stunning. (Photo is courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.)



When I first saw this house, I told my husband, "Why, it looks like that house is sitting in the middle of the street!" And then I realized, that the house IS sitting in the middle of S. England Street! The photographer managed to catch a picture of Williamsburg on a day when a house was being moved. With all the development of Colonial Williamsburg, I'm grateful to know that a few houses were moved rather than destroyed, and this image offers photographic proof! Most likely, the house is being moved backwards, and headed south on S. England Street. The absence of power lines and overhead wires made it a lot easier to move houses. In fact, in the early 1900s, moving houses was a surprisingly common practice. (Photo is courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.)


house house

And if you look real close, you'll see what appears to be a pair of tracks behind the house. From what I can glean, S. England street was a paved street at the time of this photo. Those rails would have been used to move the house. They were laid behind the house (where it's advancing) and then as the house moved, the sections were taken up from the front and moved to the rear. Remember, the house is being moved backwards. Moving a house back in the day was a very slow process. Often, houses couldn't be moved from old site to new site in a single day, so at the end of the day, the workers went home and left the house sitting in the middle of the street. Given that I see no workers present, I suspect that's what is going on here. (Photo is courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.)



One of the finest examples of early 20th Century moving that I've ever come across is this picture from the Shiawassee History website. See link below. If you look at the image above, you'll see rails laid down in front of the house. At the website (below), there's a thorough explanation of how this move was accomplished, but in short, the horse walked in a circle around that capstan which was anchored to a tree or some solid object. The winding of the rope around the capstan acted like a winch, pulling the house forward on those rails, SLOWLY.


For a real life example of how this capstan works, click here to see it in use.


In October 1921, the Virginia Gazette reported that

In October 1921, the Virginia Gazette reported that Mr. Bozarth had moved 17 houses out of Penniman and into Williamsburg. Better yet, they were "desirable houses"! I wonder how many "undesirable houses" he moved?


Just this morning, I was talking to a curator at a local museum who told me, “I heard that some houses were moved by barge from York County to Norfolk, but I told the person making the inquiry that they didn’t move houses in the early 1900s, and that it was just a myth. Just too difficult for a variety of reasons.”


In fact, it was much MORE common in the early 1900s than it is today. The absence of overhead power lines made it even better, plus this country had a different mindset about wasting precious resources.

To read about the houses that came by barge to Norfolk, click here.

Click here to visit the *fabulous* Shiawassee History website, and learn more about the how and why of moving houses in the early 1900s.

The site also offers a splendiferous explanation of how (and why) so many houses were moved, rather than destroyed (as they are today).

For all our 21st Century noise about recycling, we’re way too eager to send old houses to the landfill. The house shown probably represents 250,000+ pounds of irreplaceable building materials.

To learn more about the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library in Williamsburg, click here.

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Bucktrout Cemetery: Even Penniman’s Dead Have Been Forgotten

November 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

Updated: You can buy the book here.

Three years ago, this “Penniman Project” started when David Spriggs, Mark Hardin and I tried to figure out the origins of 17 little bungalows on Ethel Avenue in Norfolk, Virginia. In my last blog, I talked about the fact that we now have some answers.

We learned that the “Ethels” (plus another two dozen houses on Major Avenue and Glenroie Avenue) came from Penniman, DuPont’s 37th munitions plant, built on the shores of the York River, east of Williamsburg.

Finding information about Penniman in contemporary literature has been difficult. In fact, most of our information has come from two sources: The Virginia Gazette (a weekly Williamsburg paper) and the Hagley Museum and Library (in Wilmington, Delaware).

At its peak, the village of Penniman had a population of 15,000. In 1918, the War to End All Wars ended, and Penniman became  Virginia’s very own ghost town.

The newly built houses at Penniman were sold off whole (and some were shipped by barge to Norfolk) and they were also sold in pieces, as salvage. A hotel from Penniman ended up on the William and Mary campus, along with several houses.

Thanks to Terry Meyer’s wonderful article, “Silence of the Graves,” I learned about Bucktrout Cemetery in Williamsburg, populated predominantly with Penniman’s influenza victims. During the height of the influenza epidemic (Fall 1918), the deaths were so numerous that local funeral directors quickly became overwhelmed. (To read Terry’s full article from the June 1998 Virginia Gazette, click here.)

Because of the Spanish Flu, public gatherings became illegal, schools were closed to children and re-opened as hospitals, and public funerals were outlawed.

On October 8, 1918, The Daily Press reported 5,000 cases of influenza in Newport News.

“To show the terrific pressure under which a handful of doctors here are working, one physician yesterday is said to have had 500 calls,” reports The Daily Press (October 8, 1918).

On October 9, 1918, children were told to go to their school and pick up all their belongings so that the schools could be converted into hospitals. And it was also on the 9th of October that a large headline announced, “No More Public Funerals Allowed” (The Daily Press). In the same story, people were advised to wear a gauze mask over the face when they ventured outside.

The next day, another article reported that “nearly every home [in Newport News has been] affected by the disease” (The Daily Press, October 10, 1918).

It was unlike anything we can imagine today.

In the midst of this, a small graveyard was opened up on Horatio Bucktrout’s farm for the paupers of Penniman. Its location is, as Terry Meyers described, “South of present-day Newport Avenue and east of Griffin Avenue,” or about three blocks from William and Mary College.

November 6th, I drove out to Williamsburg determined to see the Bucktrout Cemetery with my own eyes. And I was successful.

Sort of.

There are no markers, and there are no remnants of markers and there are no depressions in the ground suggesting an old grave site. In fact, there is no evidence that two dozen people were laid to rest in Bucktrout Cemetery. A local resident was kind enough to show me a place in his backyard where three graves were known to exist.

In 1979, a new housing development was built on Counselor’s Way, and it’s possible that the new development was built over the unmarked and forgotten Bucktrout Cemetery. But according to Mr. Meyer’s article, no graves were discovered during the construction process.

And yet, I wonder: Would a heavy equipment operator, sitting high in the saddle, with sun glaring in his eyes and sweat dripping from his brow, really notice a small piece of an old marker, or would they assume that it was just a bit of concrete, a remnant from an old outbuilding or an abandoned cistern or septic tank? What are the odds that a backhoe operator, ripping through hundreds of pounds of topsoil, is going to notice dirt-stained, dark-brown skeletal remains? (Speaking as someone who witnessed an exhumation, I can tell you, those old bones look a lot more like small sticks than anything human.)

The funeral records from Bucktrout Funeral Home show that 25 bodies were laid to rest at Bucktrout Cemetery. In “Silence of the Graves,” Terry points out that there are another 13 Penniman influenza victims who may have landed in that cemetery, which would bring the total number of bodies to 38.

There were five babies laid to rest at Bucktrout. John Steinruck’s baby was 10 months old. The other four babies were less than five days old. “Peachy” Cooke’s son James was only nine years old.

As a historian, I understand that there are lots of unmarked and forgotten graves in our historic Commonwealth, but somehow, Bucktrout feels different to me. For one, the location may be lost, but there is a written record that 25+ bodies were placed into coffins and lowered into the ground, having been lovingly and tenderly prepared for burial by a local funeral home. With few exceptions, each burial record gives a row and grave number within the newly created cemetery plot.

Secondly, from my reading of these burial records, these were the poor people of Penniman. While most burial permits record the closest of kin, birth dates, place of birth and more, the burial records for the men and women of Bucktrout Cemetery were hauntingly sparse. One burial record shows only a first name (Roger), with an “estimated age” of 25.

Third, I’m both enchanted and captivated by the story of Penniman, and this is part of Penniman’s story, and part of Virginia’s history and a keyhole peek at an international pandemic. Just as the country was ready to breathe a collective sigh of relief because The Great War was ending, The Spanish Flu blew through, killing 60 million people (about 5% of the world’s population).

In life, the people laid to rest in Bucktrout Cemetery were forgotten, unattached, and desperately poor. They were outside of all the important circles of community and church and family and privilege and wealth. And now, in death, there is nothing to remember them by. Not even so much as a memorial plaque to mark the spot.

My focus and goal for today is to finish writing the book, and share what I’ve learned about Penniman, but I hope and pray that at some point, when the manuscript is complete, we can put our heads and hearts together and figure out a respectful, proper way to memorialize Bucktrout Cemetery, a pauper’s cemetery, and a piece of history right in the heart of prestigious Williamsburg.

To read “Silence of the Graves,” click here.

To learn more about Penniman, click here.

Many thanks to Bucktrout Funeral Home (Williamsburg) for donating the old ledgers to Swem Library (W&M), and thanks to Swem Library for making them available to researchers.

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The overwhelming majority of the Penniman flu victims breathed their last at the Penniman Hospital.

The overwhelming majority of the Penniman flu victims breathed their last at the Penniman Hospital in Penniman, Virginia. This photo was taken in Spring 1918, about six months before the Spanish Flu wiped out 60,000,000 people. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)



Close-up of the Penniman Hospital. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)


Death Certificate

Typical "Funeral Record" for Bucktrout interment. Very little information is shown, and there's no next of kin, no age, etc. DuPont paid a death benefit of $105, which covered the cost of the service, preparation, coffin, plot and burial. Mr. Cole was laid to rest in a varnished coffin on October 17, 1918.


As with

With few exceptions, cause of death for most Penniman flu victims was listed as pneumonia. Technically, this would have been correct. According to DHHS National Institute of Health, the majority of deaths during the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 were not caused by the influenza virus, but from the bacterial pneumonia that followed.


These bodies werent just dumped in a mass grave.

People in Penniman and Williamsburg must have been frantic, and yet the funeral directors had the presence of mind to document the precise location of each grave for future generations.


While going

Corporation-bashing is a popular sport these days, but DuPont did right by their employees, in paying all funeral expenses. At the height of the Spanish Flu epidemic, DuPont paid out more than $9,000 in one two-month period for Penniman workers. In 1918, that was a significant sum of money.



Of the DuPont employees gathered here, you have to wonder how many survived the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918/1919. This photo was taken early 1918 in Penniman. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)


Today, theres no sign that a cemetery was present here.

The site of the Bucktrout Cemetery is now a suburban backyard in the heart of Williamsburg. According to the home's owner, three rectangular depressions could be seen in the center of the yard decades earlier. In "Silence of the Graves," long-time residents of the area shared remembrances about other depressions in other yards that were so deep that the children had to "clamber in and out."


In closing, here’s a list of the people buried in Bucktrout Cemetery. It’d be interesting to sketch out the plots, and figure out who’s buried where.

1) May 1918   George Worley  DuPont employee, no age, grave 3, first row

2) June 1918  Gaspare Farola  Dupont employee, no age, grave 4, first row

3) Sept 1918  James Cooke, child of Dupont employee, age 9,  no grave number given

4) October 1918 Dalton Winkles, age 19, grave 7, first row

5) October 1918, James Arthur, Dupont employee, grave 8, first row.

6) October 1918, Mrs. Sadie Stanley, grave 1, second row

7) October 1918, B. P. Humphrey,  no age, grave 2, second row

8 ) October 1918, John Steinruck’s baby, 10 months old, grave 1, third row

9) October 1918, G. W. Robbins, age unknown, grave 2, third row

10) October 1918, E. R. Commbs, age uknown, grave 3, second row

11) October 1918, W. W. Cole, age unknown, grave 5, second row

12) October 1918, John D. Saunders, age unknown, grave 3, third row

13) October 1918, N. J. West, age unknown, grave 4, second row

14) October 1918, C. M. Coffey, grave 6, first row

15) October 1918, Earl Farris, grave 6, second row

16) October 1918, W. F. Winkie, age 33, grave 9, first row

17) October 1918, George W. Hicks, age 29, grave 4, third row

18) October 1918, U. T. Thomas, age uknown, grave 7, second row

19) October 1918, Levereta Moss Bosnell, age 23, no grave number given (c)

20) Jan 1919, Louis Filler’s baby, age 3 days, grave one, first row

21) April 1919, Robert, no age, no last name, no nothing, no grave number (c)

22) July 1920, G. Thorton Carpenter, age 3 days, no grave number

23) Dec 1921, Joe Pleasant, age 78, no grave number

24) Mar 1928, John M. Williams, age 5 days, no grave number

25) July 29, 1930, Catharina Elizabeth Taylor, age one month, five days, no grave number


To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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William & Mary College and Kit Homes

October 28th, 2013 Sears Homes 12 comments

Recently, I was on the William and Mary College campus doing research on Penniman, Virginia. (You can read more about that here.)

As part of the research, I was reading through the early 1920s college yearbooks and happened upon an interesting photo in the 1922 yearbook, “The Colonial Echo.” It was a picture of the Theta Delta Chi fraternity fellows, seated in front of their fraternity house, an Aladdin Colonial.

How apropos, I thought to myself! What else would you buy for a college campus in a famous colonial town, but THE Colonial?

For first-time visitors to this site, Aladdin was a kit home company that (like Sears), sold entire kit houses through mail order catalogs in the early 20th Century. Each kit came with 10,000-12,000 pieces of house, and included a detailed instruction book, designed for the novice homebuilder.

Update: Andrew Mutch has found the house, but it’s not happy news.

Our Aladdin Colonial, aka “The Clark House” (located on Jamestown Avenue) was demolished in 2004.

A press release put out by the college in 2004 said the house was built in 1911 and had been deemed “physically unsound” ten years prior (1994).

Ding, ding, ding, nice try and thanks for playing.

The Colonial first appeared in the 1915 “Aladdin Houses” catalog for a price of $1,980, but the Colonial on the W&M campus was built in 1920 or 1921 (based on info gleaned from the college yearbooks). This means the 1911 date is quite a boo boo.

As to the “physically unsound” part, I have serious reservations about that, too.

It’s a good thing they got rid of that early 20th Century kit home with all that first-growth southern yellow pine from virgin forests, and those oily old cypress clapboards.


This was an egregious waste of America’s irreplaceable and most-precious resources. Approximately 30% of all waste found in landfills is construction debris. Doesn’t make much sense to fill a campus with recycling receptacles for paper, plastic and aluminum if you’re going to send 350,000 pounds of architectural history to the landfill.

Images of the 1922 William and Mary “Echo” came from  If you have several hours to kill, I highly recommend their site!

And - again - many thanks to Rachel for finding these high-resolution images at!



While looking through the 1922 "Colonial Echo," I found a most interesting picture!



The full page from the 1922 "Echo" shows the Theta Delta Chi gang, seated in front of their freshly built Aladdin Colonial! Wouldn't it be interesting to know if these fellows assembled that Aladdin kit house on their own!


What a beautiful

What a beautiful house! The Colonial was first offered in 1915. The image above is from the 1922 "Colonial Echo," so it's possible that the house was newly built (which may be why it merited its own photograph). I wonder how long it was used as the house for Theta Delta Chi?


The Aladdin Colonial, as seen in the 1919 Aladdin Homes catalog.

The Aladdin Colonial, as seen in the 1919 Aladdin Homes catalog.


Heres an Aladdin Colonial in Roanoke Rapids, NC.

Here's an Aladdin Colonial in Roanoke Rapids, NC.



Rachel Shoemaker, researcher extraordinaire, found this picture (also at of the Theta Delta Chi boys gathered around the front porch of their newly built Aladdin Colonial in 1921 (from "The Colonial Echo" 1921). In prior years, the frat boys were photographed in front of a different (older) house. I would love to know - did these guys BUILD this house? What a pity that W&M saw fit to destroy this house in 2004. An aside, with 15 minutes of searching the yearbooks, Rachel figured out that this house was built in 1920 or 1921.


In addition to the

In addition to the Aladdin Colonial shown above, Williamsburg also has a Sears kit home, "The Oak Park" (shown above). (Vintage image is from the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.)


And just down the street is this Wardway Mayflower. How appropos!

And just down the street is this Wardway "Mayflower." How apropos!


To learn more about kit homes, click here.

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Virginia’s Very Own Ghost Town: Penniman (Part II)

February 15th, 2012 Sears Homes 2 comments

In 1918, Penniman was a real boom town, with 10,000 living in the village and another 10,000 to 20,000 people living in the outlying areas. By 1920, it was all over, and the 250+ houses in the village were boarded up and moved to other places.

Penniman, Virginia, sat on the land now occupied by Cheatham Annex (near Williamsburg) and started - quite literally - as a Boom Town.

In all started in late 1916, when DuPont selected Penniman as the site of their 37th munitions plant, probably because of its location:  It bordered the broad York River, had good rail access, and it was safely away from population centers. When you’re manufacturing explosives, sometimes things go BOOM.  (Google “DuPont Munitions Plant Explosions” to find a dozen pre-WW1 examples.)

To learn more about Penniman, read Part I here.

Recently, David Spriggs and I drove to Williamsburg, trying to find any original Penniman houses that had been moved there.

An aside: If you’re a person who adores early 20th Century architecture, Williamsburg is bad news. Due to the incredible expansion of the college (W&M), and the massive re-creation of Colonial Williamsburg in the 1920s and 30s, most of the early 1900s housing is gone. In 1926, Standard Oil philanthropist John D. Rockefeller donated more than $50 million to restore and re-create Virginia’s colonial capitol. To make way for the reproduced village of Williamsburg, many “crummy little bungalows” were sent to their reward.

Thanks to an old article in the Richmond News Leader in June 1938, we knew that some of the houses from Penniman had been moved to Williamsburg, and in fact, we had a street name: South England.


This is a piece of an article that appeared in the Richmond News Leader in 1938.

The house(s) on Scotland are gone, and I suspect the “temporary dormitories” are long gone, too. We didn’t find anything on North Henry Street.

When David turned his dark blue Volvo down South England Street, we weren’t expecting much. It was a dead-end street and despite a lot of driving around, we hadn’t found a single Penniman house anywhere in town.

But when we rolled down to the corner of South England and Williamsburg, I recognized a house that I’d seen before. Actually, I’d seen a picture of it before. Mark Hardin had emailed the photo a few weeks prior, asking if it was a Penniman house. Looking at the picture, I’d said, “No, I don’t think it is.”

Seeing the house in the flesh changed my mind. It was most certainly a Penniman “Georgia.”

The Geogia was a Dupont design, built for factory workers at their plants in Penniman, Old Hickory, TN and Carney Point, NJ.

The Georgia was a Dupont design, built for factory workers at their plants in Penniman, Old Hickory, TN and Carney Point, NJ.

Was this a Penniman house? At first glance, youd say, heck no, but wait...

Was this a Penniman house? At first glance, you'd say, heck no, but wait...

The Penniman houses were wee tiny. This house is massive.

The Penniman houses were wee tiny. This house is massive.

But when you look at it from the front...

But when you look at it from the front, you see some distinctive features.

And you see that the house in Williamsburg (the yellow house with deep green shutters) is a nice match to the known Penniman Georgias on Major Avenue in Norfolk.

And you see that the house in Williamsburg (the yellow house with deep green shutters) is a nice match to the known Penniman house on Major Avenue in Norfolk (shown here). Notice the long, tall windows flanking the front door? That's a very distinctive feature on the DuPont Georgia.

The Penniman houses were wee tiny. This house is massive.

And if you look at the brick foundation, you'll see where it transitions from original 1920s structure to more modern brick foundation.

put somewhere else

The footprint of original structure is evident when you look at the foundation.

Do sis

They added some newer windows and enlarged the openings a bit and they added some batten shutters, and they built a 2,500-square-foot addition on the rear, but I'd have to say, this is most definitely one of our lost houses from Penniman, Virginia.

The Geogia was a Dupont design, built for factory workers at their plants in Penniman, Old Hickory, TN and Carney Point, NJ.

When you compare the two houses from the same angle, you can see - this house on in the 400-block of S. England in Williamsburg is clearly a Penniman house!

Thanks to Mark Hardin and David Spriggs for finding these little jewels in Williamsburg!  :)  It was Mark Hardin who first found this house on S. England, via Google!

To learn more about Virginia’s own ghost town, click here.

To learn about Sears Homes, click here.

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The Sears Lexington: A Real Class Act

March 1st, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

I’m a real sucker for a good-looking Colonial Revival, and the Sears Lexington is a perfect example. It’s both good looking, and it’s one of my favorite Sears Homes. For reasons I can’t begin to understand, they had two Lexington models, both of which were offered in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s. Occasionally the names of Sears homes did get recycled and reused, but typically the houses were quite different.

For instance, there’s a Sears Hawthorne that’s a 1910s one-story prairie style house with a low-slung hip roof. There’s a Sears Hawthorne (1930s) that’s a two-story Dutch Colonial.
Pictured below are the two variants of the Sears Lexington. As you’ll see, they are radically different and the floor plans are worlds apart.

Looking for Rose’s books? Click here.

Sears Lexington from a late 1920s Sears catalog.

Sears Lexington from a late 1920s Sears catalog.

Floor plan from the Lexington

Floor plan from the Lexington. Fancy house!

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Sears Lexington in Glen Ellyn, IL

Sears Lexington in Glen Ellyn, IL. Notice the oversized cornice returns, and also that goofy placement of the window/door on the second floor balcony. Very unusual feature.

The OTHER Sears Lexington

The OTHER Sears Lexington. This was has dignity and grace!

Note how wildly different this floor plan is (from the Lex above).

Note how wildly different this floor plan is (from the Lex above).

Sears Lexington in Charleston, WV.

Sears Lexington in Charleston, WV. And Rose Thornton slept here! :)

Doesnt look much like the house above, does it?

Doesn't look much like the house above, does it?

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Bookcases and Little Wooden Churches

February 8th, 2011 Sears Homes 4 comments

In Spring 1972,  one of my junior high school teachers told the class to make a “special project” that featured some aspect of Colonial Williamsburg. As good Virginians, we were studying this period in American history for about the 7th time in my seven years of schooling.

Since conscious memory, I have  loved old houses and I loved drawing pictures of them and reading about them. It didn’t take long to decide I’d like to build a small model of a little wooden church, reminiscent of the Colonial period.

Other kids showed up with their hastily drawn pictures on large pieces of posterboard, but I had my little wooden church, replete with a cross, arched windows, double doors on the front and a removable roof with diminutive wooden pews inside. The gabled roof had a steep pitch of about 12/12, with generous eaves, true to the period. The windows were tall and thin, with an arch at the top.

I had mixed feelings about schoolwork and homework, but building this little wooden church gave me much pleasure and joy.

Kids crowded around my wooden creation, oohing and ahhing when I gently removed the roof and showed the little wooden pews inside. I eagerly anticipated the A+ this project surely would bring.

My accompanying written report was eventually returned to me with the grade scribbled in the upper right-hand corner. When I unfolded the paper, I gasped.

The teacher had given me a bold, red, angry “F.”

After class, I went to her desk and asked about the grade. She coolly replied, “I didn’t ask you to show me what your father could do. I wanted to see what you could do. You failed because you brought in someone else’s work, and claimed it as your own.”

If she’d been a wise woman, she would have asked questions about its construction. Maybe she would have queried me about what kind of saw I used to cut those arched windows. Or asked about the type of wood I used. Or asked what size nails I’d used to fasten the sides.

Instead, she presumed I was a liar.

Memory can be fickle, but as I recall, it was the first time in my life that an adult had accused me of lying. My parents occasionally asked me to be quite certain I was telling the truth during a few intense questionings, but no one had ever called me a liar.

I didn’t bother to tell her that my father wasn’t around much these days because it was obvious - she did not care. It’s true that, you may not remember what people say, but you’ll always remember how they make you feel.

She made me feel pretty low.

In the next day or two, I told my beloved brother Tom what had happened. Tom had been the helper at home. He’d driven me to the hardware store and spent 20 minutes teaching me how to select a saw blade for the old saw frame we had at home. He’d shown me how to drive nails in with a nail punch. He’d patiently taught me how to draw a proportionately accurate arch for those tiny windows, using a little math and a metal compass. My brother, Tom. He was a teacher by trade and also by birth. He loved to teach and he was good at it.

His response to the news of my failing grade was swift and sure. He contacted the teacher and in his most authoritative voice, he explained that I had indeed built this little church entirely by myself.

The next day, my “F” was changed to an “A.”

The school year ended a few weeks later and the teacher asked if she could keep the little wooden church in her classroom, to serve as an example of what can be accomplished by a motivated student.

I thought about it for all of six or seven seconds and said, “No.”

I’d hoped its absence would serve as an example that teachers should not assume that their students are liars, and/or that 7th-grade girls don’t know how to build things.

Today, I write about old houses and now have eight books under my belt. And I still love playing with wood.

It’s the truth.  :)

Check out the photos of the new bookcase I recently completed in my home in Norfolk!

Just so thered be no doubt, I built this puppy while Mr. Husband was out of town. It started with three little shelves on the bottom.

Just so there'd be no doubt, I built this puppy while Mr. Husband was out of town. It started with three little shelves on the bottom.

And then I built the shelves that would sit atop the base cabinet.

And then I built the shelves that would sit atop the base cabinet. The living room was the only place in the house big enough to create a working space for the 88" tall vertical risers.

When the first bookcase was complete, I lifted it into place. These bookcases were kinda big and bulky. I slept well at the end of each day.  :)

When the first bookcase was complete, I lifted it into place. These bookcases were kinda big and bulky. I slept well at the end of each day. :)

All three bookcases now in place.

All three bookcases now in place.

And theyre level, too!  The floor was not anything near level. Its an old sunporch - originally opn - and had a purposeful incline (to allow water to drain), plus it was a little low in one corner. Yay for shims!

And the shelves are level, too! The floor was not anything near level. It's an old sunporch - originally screened in and open - and was purposefully angled (to shed rain water), plus it was a little low in one corner. Shims saved the day.

Hubby Wayne has a heart-to-heart talk with Toucan Sam, after examining the bookcase that was built in his absence. He never asked if my father had helped built it.

Hubby Wayne has a heart-to-heart talk with Toucan Sam, after examining the bookcase that was built in his absence. Wayne never asked if my father had helped build it. He did mention that it was "an A+ job." :)

Its done!

It's done!

Another view!

Another view!

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