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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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H

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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September 25th + Richmond + Sears Homes + Rose = A LOT OF FUN!

September 15th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Full house at our talk on September 25th!

And a good time was had by all!

If you’re new to this site, you may be wondering, what is a Sears Home?

Sears Homes were 12,000-piece kit houses, and each kit came with a a 75-page instruction book. Sears promised that “a man of average abilities” could have it assembled in 90 days.

The instruction book offered this somber warning: “Do not take anyone’s advice on how this house should be assembled.” The framing members were marked with a letter and a three-digit-number to facilitate construction. 

Today, these marks can help authenticate a house as a kit home.

Searching for these homes is like hunting for hidden treasure. From 1908-1940, about 70,000 Sears Homes were sold, but in the 1940s, during a corporate housecleaning, Sears destroyed all sales records. The only way to find these homes is literally one-by-one.

And I’ve found a whole caboodle of kit homes in Richmond!

If you’ve always wanted to learn more about this fascinating topic, here’s your best chance! I give fewer than five lectures a year now, so this might be the last!

Below are just a few of the many unique (and even rare) kit homes I’ve found in Richmond.

Please share this link with your friends and/or on your Facebook page.

To learn more about the talk and obtain tickets, click here.

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One of the many ways to identify Sears Homes begins with slogging down to the basement (or crawlspace) and looking for marked lumber! This mark, together with a 75-page instruction book, helped homeowners figure out how to put together those 12,000 pieces of house.

One of the many ways to identify Sears Homes begins with slogging down to the basement (or crawlspace) and looking for marked lumber! This mark, together with a 75-page instruction book, helped homeowners figure out how to put together those 12,000 pieces of house.

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Sometimes, the markings found on lumber arent what you might expect!

Sometimes, the markings found on lumber aren't what you might expect! This was found in the basement of an Illinois Sears home, and was a remnant from the original wooden shipping crate. "Bongard, ILLS" was the name of the train depot where the house arrived. I've often found shipping crate lumber repurposed ror shelving or coal bins.

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The blueprints were specifically designed for the neophyte, and included great detail, such as how far apart to space nails! BTW, your Sears House came with 75 pounds of nails!

The blueprints were specifically designed for the neophyte, and included great detail, such as how far apart to space nails! The typical 1920s Sears House came with 750 pounds of nails!

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One of my favorite finds in Richmond is the Sears Strathmore.

One of my favorite finds in Richmond is the Sears Strathmore (1936 catalog).

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Oh my, whats not to love!

Oh my, what's not to love! Beautiful house with a Buckingham slate roof and original windows. Be still my heart!

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This was Sears Modern Home #190, offered in the early 1910s.

This was Sears Modern Home #190, offered in the early 1910 (1912 catalog).

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Perfect in every way!

Perfect in every way!

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The Sears Avalon is one of my favorite houses, and Richmond has several. I would love to know the back story on this. The Avalon wasnt that big a hit for Sears, and yet Ive found five in Richmond.

The Sears Avalon is one of my favorite houses, and Richmond has several. I would love to know the back story on this. The Avalon wasn't that big a hit for Sears, and yet I've found five in Richmond. I've seen ten of these in the United States, and five of those ten are in Richmond.

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Pic

And it's just a spot-on match to the catalog picture. Notice the small window in the front gable? And the three vents on the side gable? Picture is copyright 2014 Melissa Burgess and may not be used or reproduded without written permission. So there.

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Another Avalon in Richmond, also in beautiful shape.

Another Avalon in Richmond, also in beautiful shape. This one has the original railings. All of these Avalons have that distinctive arched pattern and faux belt course on the brick chimney.

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My favorite Avalon. Oh, what a beauty!

My favorite Avalon. Oh, what a beauty!

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Close-up

Close-up of that arched inset and belt on the Avalon in Richmond.

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In addition to Sears, there were other companies selling kit homes on a national basis, and Gordon Van Tine was one of the larger ones. Total sales were probably a bit more than 50,000, compared to Sears total sales of less than 75,000. The Sussex was one of the Gordon Van Tine models that I found in Richmond.

In addition to Sears, there were other companies selling kit homes on a national basis, and Gordon Van Tine was one of the larger ones. Total sales were probably a bit more than 50,000, compared to Sears total sales of 70,000. The Sussex was one of the Gordon Van Tine models that I found in Richmond.

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Gvt

Picture perfect, this Gordon Van Tine "Sussex" still retains many of its original features.

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This classic Craftsman Style bungalow was a popular model for Gordon Van Tine.

This classic "Craftsman Style" bungalow was a popular model for Gordon Van Tine.

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And heres a fine-looking example of Model #507. Photo is copyright 2012 Taber Andrew Bain and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

And here's a fine-looking example of Model #507. The photo was taken from a side that does not replicate the angle in the catalog , but it's clearly a GVT #507. Photo is copyright 2012 Taber Andrew Bain and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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One of my favorite finds was the Gordon Van Tine #124.

One of my favorite finds in Richmond was the Gordon Van Tine #124.

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Although next time Im in town, I need to bring my chain saw so I can get a better photo.

Next time I'm in town, I need to bring my chain saw so I can get a better photo. Nonetheless, I'm confident it's the real deal, as I found the original testimonial in a 1913 GVT catalog.

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Aladdin was another major contender in the kit home business. In fact, they were larger than Sears. Aladdin had a mill in WIlmington, NC which explains why - typically - Ive found more Aladdin homes in Virginia than Sears Homes.

Aladdin was another major contender in the kit home business. In fact, they were larger than Sears. Aladdin had a mill in WIlmington, NC which explains why - typically - in Virginia, I've found more Aladdin homes than Sears Homes. Shown above is The Ardmore from the 1922 Aladdin catalog.

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Ive never seen an Ardmore. I suspect its a fairly rare kit home. Is this house in Richmond an Aladdin Ardmore?

I've never seen an Ardmore. I suspect it's a fairly rare kit home. Is this house in Richmond an Aladdin Ardmore? The distinctive bracketing on that front porch roof sure suggests it might be, together with that unusual arched porch on the side. It's bigger than the Ardmore, but we know that 30-50% of kit homes were customized when built. So is it an Aladdin or not? Only her builder knows for sure.

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In addition to Sears, Gordon Van Tine and Aladdin, there was another national kit home company: Harris Brothers. They were based in Bay City (as was Aladdin), but Ive found a few Harris Brothers homes in Virginia.

In addition to Sears, Gordon Van Tine and Aladdin, there was another national kit home company: Harris Brothers. They were based in Chicago , but I've found a few Harris Brothers' homes in Virginia. When HB started business, they were known as The Chicago House-Wrecking Company. One hundred years ago, "wrecking" was another word for the careful disassembly of a house. "Wrecked houses" were typically moved and rebuilt at a new site.

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Heres a fine example of

Here's a fine example of HB-1017N. And it's for sale! The side windows flanking the front door are distinctive, as are the tops of those porch columns. The stucco is in good shape, too.

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Heres another example of a Harris Brothers house.

Here's another example of a Harris Brothers' house (Model 1513).

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Oh yeah, baby. Thats what Im talking about!

Oh yeah, baby. That's what I'm talking about! Another perfect match!

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Another Harris Brothers

Another Harris Brothers' #1513, from a different side. That's two of these sweet things in Richmond.

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1928

The Sears Osborn is another beautiful bungalow (1928).

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Osborne

And here's another beautiful example of The Osborn in Richmond. Wow.

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There are also pattern book houses in Richmond. Pattern book homes were different from kit homes, because these houses didnt come with building materials. Youd browse the pages of the catalog, select a home and then youd receive full blueprints and a list of all building materials necessary to build the house. Shown here is

There are also pattern book houses in Richmond. Pattern book homes were different from kit homes, because these houses didn't come with building materials. You'd browse the pages of the catalog, select a home and then you'd receive full blueprints and a list of all building materials necessary to build the house. The image above came from the Harris, McHenry and Baker Company catalog, but these plan book houses were offered by many regional lumber companies.

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fe

Love the stucco pattern! I've never seen this pattern before, but I suspect there's a name for it.

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Shown above is but a smattering of the kit homes we’ve discovered in Richmond. To learn more, come to the talk on Thursday night (the 25th), and meet Rose!

It’ll be a fun evening, and informative, too!

To learn more about the talk and obtain tickets, click here.

Thanks to Rachel for sharing her images from the 1913 Gordon Van Tine catalog.

Thanks to Melissa for the wonderful picture of the Sears Avalon!

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One Word for Sandston: Oopsie

June 9th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

When you drive into Sandston (Virginia), you might see this historic marker (shown below) which states that Sandston (a WW1-era DuPont munitions site) had “230 Aladdin houses, that were erected for plant workers.”

That’s the “oopsie.”

Yes, they were built for plant workers, and yes, they are houses, but they’re not Aladdin houses.

For some time now, I’ve been researching Penniman, Virginia (another WW1 DuPont munitions plant) and that’s how I came to learn about Sandston. (Sandston was renamed in 1921. Prior to that, it was known as “Seven Pines.”)

In June 1918, DuPont signed a contract with the US Government to supply smokeless powder for the guns of The Great War. By later Summer 1918, thousands of women were employed at The Seven Pines Bag-Loading Plant. The women, all members of Virginia’s Women’s Munition Reserve, were charged with sewing silk bags and filling them with smokeless powder. The silk bags of propellant were for use in large caliber guns on ships and on the battlefield.

Seven Pines is located about seven miles from Richmond. The location was not considered ideal because the cigarette factories in Richmond provided stiff competition for attracting quality workers (which would be predominantly women). As an enticement, DuPont decided to build a village with 230 modest bungalows, some shops, churches, and more. The little houses would be rented out to the employees.

DuPont turned to a Grand Rapids contractor to build 230 darling bungalows in one big hurry. The contractor “Owen-Ames-Kimball” turned to North American Construction Company to supply the lumber for the houses. In 1918, North American Construction Company (based in Bay City) was also known by another name: Aladdin Homes.

According to my dear friend and architectural historian Dale Wolicki, it’s most likely that Aladdin provided the building materials in pre-cut lengths. Dale surmises this is most likely because, during WW1, boxcars were in short supply. And the US Government had done a full-court press to get the Seven Pines plant up and operational immediately. Pre-cut lumber would expedite the construction process. And we know that DuPont and Aladdin had a corporate relationship.

But the houses in Sandston were built based on DuPont designs. These same designs were built at other DuPont plants, such as Carney’s Point, New Jersey, Hopewell, Virginia, Penniman, Virginia, Old Hickory, Tennessee, and more.

It’s my opinion that, for a house to be a true “kit house,” both building materials and the architectural design must come from the kit home company; in this case, that’d be Aladdin.

As you scroll through the photos below, you’ll see that the houses in Sandston are unquestionably DuPont designs.

In short, the houses in Sandston are not Aladdin kit homes.

Sorry about that, Sandston.

Perhaps you can get that sign fixed now!

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Oopsie

Perhaps they could put a piece of black electrical tape over the part where it says, "Aladdin" and save the expense of redoing the entire sign. Photo is copyright 2010, Leon Reed.

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Drove through and found many DuPont Houses, but only two Aladdins - and they were iffy!

In November 2013, my buddy Milton and I went all through Sandston and I found only two Aladdin kit homes! However, I did find a surfeit of DuPont designs, such as this "Denver."

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You may notice the pretty blue house shown above looks just like the DuPont Denver model.

You may notice the pretty blue house shown above looks just like the "DuPont Denver" model. (House above is a mirror image of the model shown in the vintage catalog.)

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Another example the Arlington

Another example of a "DuPont Model" is the Arlington (shown above).

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Arlington Dupont

This is one of several fine-looking Arlingtons in Sandston.

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The Ketcham

The Ketchum was a fine spacious house, but it did not have plastered walls; rather, it had an "interior finished with beaverboard" (an early 20th Century compressed wood-pulp product).

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Ketcham

There are several Ketchums in Sandston.

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Aladdin Contract 2b

And here's where it gets really interesting. This paperwork (supplied by Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University) shows that Owen-Ames-Kimball Company turned to Aladdin to supply them with building materials for "75 DuPont Houses" and "51 Painter Houses." Oops (again). Is it possible that the 230 number is also wrong? Hmmm... (Image is courtesy Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University).

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Contract 2aaaa

Seven Pines was still gearing up when Armistice ended the war. It's likely that the contract for these houses was canceled, which is why many of the "painter houses" were never completed. BTW, what is a "painter house"? That question plagued me for some time. (Image is courtesy Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University).

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Contract 3a

Page 2 of this agreement shows that 149 of those painter houses were not built. (Image is courtesy Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University).

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Hagley

So what is a "painter house"? This map helped me figure that out. In 1918, the government asked DuPont to provide a detailed map of Penniman. This map shows the layout of the village and the plant. In the image above, you'll see that there's a section of houses in the village that's labeled "plastered houses." If you look at the description of the modest homes offered by DuPont for their workers, you'll see it states that many of the models had interior walls finished with "beaverboard." This was, in short, a cheap wall covering made of compressed wood pulp. Its best feature was that it was very "economical." The better-class homes (probably for supervisors) had plastered walls. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Hagley two

Close-up of the 1918 map of Penniman shows that this section in the village features "plastered houses." So there were "plastered houses" and "beaverboard houses." Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Ruberoid

This inventory of Penniman houses, done by the US Army after the war had ended (1919), provided another clue to "painter houses." The houses are broken down into two groups: Ruberoid houses (tar-paper siding) and painted houses (with wooden siding). If you're not a big architecture buff, and you're assigned with the task of inventorying houses, the houses in these DuPont villages had two categorizations: Ruberoid Houses and Painted Houses. Made it simple and sweet.

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Contract 2aaaa

The DuPont Houses were - probably - the Ruberoid Houses with tar-paper siding. The "Painter Houses" were the houses "of a more permanent nature" with wooden siding. (Image is courtesy Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University).

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The DuPont Houses and Painter Houses erected at Seven Pines were built with lumber supplied by Aladdin, but in that these were DuPont designs, they can not accurately be described as Aladdin Homes.

So, who has some black electrical tape for that sign?

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To read more about what got me started on DuPont’s villages, click here.

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You can read an earlier blog about Sandston (with many more photos) here.

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What Exactly Did You Have in Mind, Mr. Dozier?

April 24th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

It was Mr. J. M. Dozier of Lee Hall, VA that purchased Penniman after World War I ended.

Thursday, after spending many hours at the York County Courthouse, I learned that Mr. Dozier bought Penniman from DuPont in April 1926, after the U. S. Army left.

J. M. Dozier and his wife Annie paid $84,375 for the whole kit and caboodle, which included 2,600 acres, and all tenements, hereditaments and appurtenances.

DuPont even financed the sale for Mr. Dozier with no money down.

The first payment of $28,125 was due in April 1927, the second payment due one year after that, and the third (and final payment) due in April 1929.

It was a pretty sweet deal.

According to an article that appeared in the January 1926 Virginia Gazette, Mr. Dozier had big plans for Penniman.

“The development of [Penniman] will entail the expenditure of a considerable sum,” said the article in the Virginia Gazette (January 15, 1926).

And yet, it never happened.

In 1926, $84,375 was a tremendous sum of money. Surely Mr. Dozier had plans to develop this 2,600-acre tract on the York River. Did something go wrong?

Did they discover that the land was uninhabitable for some reason? Or did they find a few too many buried live shells, left over from the U. S. Army?

What happened?

After 1926, Penniman disappeared from the pages of the daily papers until 1938, when Dick Velz with the Richmond Times Dispatch did a retrospective piece on this “Ghost City,” which had been left largely undisturbed since the U. S. Army cleared out in the early 1920s.

Penniman is a fascinating piece of Virginia’s history but there are days (like today) when the mysteries pile up so high and so deep that I fear I may never figure out enough of its story to write a worthy tome.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

If you have a theory as to what happened to Mr. Dozier’s big plans, please leave a comment.

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January 16, 1926

Sounds like these two "outstanding Peninsula business men" had big plans for Penniman. ("Virginia Gazette," January 16, 1926).

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Richmond

What happened after Mr. Dozier paid $84,375 for 2,600 acres of choice real estate on the York River? Did something go terribly wrong? Did they learn that the land was unsuitable for residential development? (This appeared in June 1938 in the "Richmond Times Dispatch.")

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Penniman

Amongst the piles of papers I have collected on Penniman is this treasure asking Dr. Goodwin if he's interested in buying Penniman on the York River. And look at the date. It was after Mr. Dozier had paid off his note to DuPont.

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Penniman

Penniman was situated between Kings Creek and Queens Creek, on the York River, and during WW1, it was home to about 15,000 people. It was probably one of York County's finest pieces of land. This map shows the village of Penniman as it looked in Spring 1918. Map is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Richmond, Virginia Continues to Amaze

April 5th, 2014 Sears Homes 7 comments

UPDATE! Rose will be giving a talk in Richmond on September 25th at the Virginia Center of Architecture! Click here for more details!

April 4th of this year, I had a delightful time riding around Richmond in a Lexus SUV filled with several knowledgeable, intelligent and interesting women, who also happened to be history buffs and old house lovers.

It was purely enjoyable.

We began our adventure with a single-minded purpose: Looking for kit homes.

On my previous two trips to Richmond, I’d driven myself around town, finding a few treasures here and there, but searching for kit houses is tough when you’re the driver and the watcher.

There were several fun discoveries yesterday, but my #1 favorite was a rare pre-WW1 kit house that I had never seen before. It was a Gordon Van Tine Model #124, and it was on a main drag through town.

And better yet, once I pulled out my books at home and did a little research, I learned that this house in Richmond was featured in a 1913 Gordon Van Tine catalog! Scroll on down to learn more!

Thanks so much to Barb, Melissa, Anne and Jessica for making Friday such a fun day, and thanks especially to Molly for her deft navigation of Richmond’s old neighborhoods!

To read about our other finds in Richmond, click here.

And thanks to Rachel for sending me a copy of her very rare 1913 Gordon Van Tine catalog! You can find Rachel’s blog here!

To learn more about Gordon Van Tine, click here.

1913 Gordon

Many folks have heard of Sears kit homes, but not too many have heard of Gordon Van Tine. This was another national kit home company that - like Sears - sold entire kit homes through mail order. The company was based in Iowa, but we've found several GVT homes in Richmond. Shown above is a 1913 Gordon Van Tine catalog.

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house 1913 124

GVT Model 124 was called "A Beautiful Stucco Home" (1913 catalog).

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let me not be put to shame

Stucco "gives an air of distinction and an artistic effect..." (1913 catalog).

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flp

Number 124 had spacious rooms, lots of windows and a built-in window seats in the living room!

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houdr house

Not sure about the lavendar paint and green roof, but it is a fine-looking house.

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Its well hidden by the verdant landscape, butthe greenery,

It's well hidden by the lush greenery, but there's little doubt that this house is a Gordon Van Tine #124. Of all the fun things we discovered on Friday, this was my #1 favorite discovery. But it gets better...

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house hvirginia

Seems that a fellow named Mr. Farley built a #124 in Virginia.

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house

Mr. Farley says his house was "modified," but the only difference I can readily see is this half-timber effect on the porch gable. I didn't see that on the other images in this catalog.

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And yet, here it is in the house in Richmond.

And yet, if you can peek around the flying flag, you can see this half-timber effect within that porch gable. Could it be? Is this Mr. Farley's house that was featured in the 1913 catalog?

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Apparently

According to the Richmond City Directory, Ernest W. Farley, Jr. and his wife Lucille were living at this address in 1944. Ernest Watson Farley Sr. married Maude Starke on April 12, 1911, and their son (Junior) was born in Feburary 1912. Given that this testimonial appeared in the 1913 catalog, it's likely that E. W. Farley built this house for Maude soon after their wedding, and then deeded the house to his son in later years.

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What an unexpected delight!

What an unexpected delight to find *the* house featured in a 100-year-old testimonial! And there's a brass plaque on the front of Mr. Farley's home. If anyone knows what's inscribed on it, please let me know.

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To learn more about kit houses in Richmond, click here.

To join us on Facebook, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

Update! Thanks to Anne, I have a little more information on the Farley Family. The first name of both father and son was Ernst (not Ernest, as it appears in the city directory), and Ernst Watson Farley, Jr. was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1968-1971. Delegate E. W. Farley was born in February 1912, and it seems likely that he was born in the GVT #124.

Father (Ernst Watson Farley Sr.) was born in 1879, and was the founder of RECO Industrial Pressure Vessels (in 1914), which was originally located on Brook Street. I wonder if Father started the new business in his new home?

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

March 27th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 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.

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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.

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freight costs might seem

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

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Lettering

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.

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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.

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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 .

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another one

The epitaphs mostly depict a young child.

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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.

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another

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.

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icky

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

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Whoa

I sincerely hope that no one chose this verse.

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house

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.

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

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Village For Sale. Cheap.

March 24th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Incredible researcher and smart cookie Mark Hardin has made another remarkable discovery. He found an advertisement (dated October 1922) in the Richmond Times Dispatch, offering the Village of Penniman for sale.

By this time, most of the contents of the WW1 munitions plant had been sold off (per the terms of a contract between DuPont and the U. S. Government [dated December 1917]). All proceeds went to the U. S. Government.

There’s still so much I don’t know about Penniman, but in this advertisement, I found something mentioned that took my breath away. It said, “Full particulars regarding the offerings…and other details of this auction will be found in the catalogs which may be obtained from Philadelphia District Ordnance Salvage Board, Frankford Arsenal.”

Catalogs?

Catalogs?!

Be still my heart.

If anyone has any idea where I might find these catalogs, please let me know.

To learn more about this amazing “Ghost City,” click here.

To read about how Norfolk got tangled up with Penniman, click here.

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Rich

Where are these catalogs now? (Richmond Times Dispatch, 10.28.1922)

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Quite a village

At its peak, there were 15,000 people in Penniman. This is just one small piece of a massive panorama showing the village of Penniman. That's the York River in the background. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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The building of Penniman began in Spring 1916.

The building of Penniman began in Spring 1916. Judging from the old photos, the laborers who built Penniman were overwhelmingly African-Americans. The laborers who toiled in the air-less bunkers, loading powdery, yellow TNT into 155-mm shells were mostly women. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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First

The first "salvage" ad that I've found appeared March 10, 1921 in the Virginia Gazette.

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Dispersed Penniman

The best salvage ad is this one (Richmond Times Dispatch, October 23, 1921). Lots of detail, including the costs of these various structures. (Thanks to Mike Powell for finding this ad!)

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One of the best Penniman quotes Ive seen is this from a 1983 article in the Newport News Times Herald:  Penniman was not erased; it was dispersed.

An article in the Newport News Times Herald said, "Penniman was not erased; it was dispersed" (September 5, 1983). Shown here is a DuPont design, "The Denver." There were many Denvers at Penniman, and several of them were moved to Williamsburg. Unfortunately, most of them have been torn down.

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This Denver came from Penniman.

This Denver, which now rests on Capital Landing Road, originally came from Penniman.

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picture two

Just last month, I had the good fortune to find this late 1910s catalog of Dupont designs. On the cover, it shows a Denver in a bucolic setting, with a DuPont plant in the background.

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If you have any idea where I might find these catalogs, please let me know.

To learn more about Penniman, click here.

To read about how I became involved with Penniman, click here.

Was your great-grandfather stationed at Penniman? Click here to find out.

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Rose Returns to Richmond?

March 15th, 2014 Sears Homes 6 comments

A two-year-old blog on Richmond kit homes has generated 2,000+ views in 48 hours. That’s a lot for one blog.

And then on Friday, I discovered an advertisement in a 1921 newspaper featuring a potential *neighborhood* of Sears Homes near the Botanical Gardens.

Yesterday, two “Richmonders” joined our “Sears Home” group on Facebook, and with all the new information, I think it might be interesting to return to Richmond and do a more thorough survey of kit homes, and perhaps follow-up with a lecture on the topic.

It’s now apparent to me that I missed a LOT of the early 20th Century neighborhoods in Richmond. Perhaps there’s a Magnolia hiding somewhere in Richmond.

There certainly should be!  :D

And if you’d like to work with me in putting together a lecture for this fine old southern city, please contact me by leaving a comment below.

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Thanks to the original blog on the Richmond homes, Molly Todd found me and my Facebook group Sears Homes. When she shared a photo of her house in Richmond, we were delighted to discover it was a Gordon Van Tine Sussex.

Thanks to the original blog on the Richmond homes, Molly Todd found me and my Facebook group "Sears Homes." When she shared a photo of her house in Richmond, we were delighted to discover it was a Gordon Van Tine "Sussex" (1926 catalog).

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Sussex

How did I miss this one? Judging from what I've subsequently learned, I apparently "toured" less than 25% of Richmond's early 20th Century neighborhoods. Photo is copyright 2014 Molly Todd and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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A neighborhood of Sears Homes? Be still my heart.

A neighborhood of Sears Homes? Be still my heart. (RT Dispatch, June 1921.)

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My favorite find in Richmond was the Avalons. Yes, plural.

My favorite find in Richmond was the Avalons. Yes, plural. (From the 1928 catalog.)

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It doesnt get any better than this.

It doesn't get any better than this. Even the railings are perfect.

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Another perfect Avalon.

Another perfect Avalon.

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I found FIVE of these little pretties!

I found FIVE of these little pretties! Five!!

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Another fine-looking house is the Sears Strathmore (1936).

Another fine-looking house is the Sears Strathmore (1936).

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Wow, wow, wow.

Wow, wow, wow. Looking just perfect!

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And a very early Sears House, Model 190 (1912 catalog).

And a very early Sears House, "Model 190" (1912 catalog).

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Model

Do these owners know they have a Sears House? Probably not.

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Part of what makes the houses in Richmond so interesting is that there are so many different companies represented. This is a model from Harris Brothers (Chicago area). Its HB 1513, from the 1916 catalog.

Part of what makes the houses in Richmond so interesting is that there are so many different companies represented. This is a model from "Harris Brothers" (Chicago area). It's HB J161, from the 1916 catalog.

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And heres the J161 - alive and well!!!

And here's the J161 - alive and well and looking good. Look at the detail on the columns.

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