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

September 15th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

In a few days (September 25th), I’ll be in Richmond, giving a talk at the Virginia Center of Architecture (sponsored by R Home Magazine).

It’ll be a whole lot of fun, and I’ve discovered an incredible variety of kit homes in Richmond. If you love old houses and/or you want to learn how to identify these treasures, you won’t want to miss this talk!

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 6 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.

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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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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

To read the blog on the Sauer Home, click here.

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The Home of C. F. Sauer, in Richmond

February 28th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

UPDATED!  See new photos below!!

Today, I was at the Norfolk Public Library reading an old Richmond Times Dispatch from October 23, 1921 when I stumbled across this “pictorial record” of a fine old house in Richmond.

It caught my eye for several reasons:

1)  In the 1921 article, it was claimed that this was one of the oldest houses in its neighborhood (”The Lee District”).

2)  It had been moved from another location (from Broad Street to Grace Street).

3)  It’s massive and grand, and has a brass fireplace mantel (yes, brass).

4)  It was occupied by General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War (”Battery #10″).

And it’d be interesting to know if the owners are aware that these interior photos were featured in a 93-year-old Richmond newspaper.

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House

"Talavera is probably the oldest house in Lee District, being built 90 years ago when this part of Richmond was all woods" (Richmond Times Dispatch, October 23, 1921)

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Heres my favorite part

And was moved from Broad Street (I wonder where!), and was moved to Grace Street.

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Mr. C. F. Sauers home had a brass fireplace mantel.

Mr. C. F. Sauer's home had a brass fireplace mantel.

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Sitting room

Wonder who the fellow in the picture is?

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According to the caption,

According to the caption, the sideboard (barely visible in this image) is more than 100 years old (in 1921) and is made from solid oak. Despite repeated efforts, this was the best photo I could get from the old newspaper pages.

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Is the old C. F. Sauer house still alive and well?

Is the old C. F. Sauer house still alive and well?

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Ooh, a nice update! The house is alive and well! Heres a picture of it, as seen on February 28, 2014. Thanks to Brice Anderson for snapping a picture for me!  (Picture is copyright 2014 Brice Anderson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

Ooh, a nice update! The house is alive and well! Here's a picture of it, as seen on February 28, 2014. Thanks to Brice Anderson for snapping a picture for me! (Picture is copyright 2014 Brice Anderson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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House

What a pleasure to see that this old house still looks much like it did when photographed for the Richmond Times Dispatch in 1921. What a pure joy!

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And this is the same C. F. Sauer that, at the tender age of 21, founded his own spice and seasonings company.

And this is the same C. F. Sauer that, at the tender age of 21, founded his own spice and seasonings company, which is still in business today. (Picture is copyright 2014 Brice Anderson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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To read about the Sears Homes I found in Richmond, click here.

And to see what I found in Sandston, click here!

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Those Riverview Bungalows and a Virginia Ghost Town

February 7th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

If you love history or if you just like looking at pictures of old houses, you won’t want to miss our talk at the next CPRV Civic League Meeting.

David Spriggs and I will give a talk Monday night, featuring more than 100 vintage photos (many of which were recently discovered) showcasing a chapter of Riverview’s history that has been all but forgotten.

The talk is at 7:00 pm at the Eggleston Garden Center at 110 Lavalette Avenue in Norfolk (February 10th, Monday).

Scroll on down for a quick preview of some of the images we’ll be featuring Monday night.

Enjoy the photos below - and hope to see you Monday night!

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The image on the left

The house on the left is on Ethel Avenue in Riverview (circa 1948). The house on the right shows the same bungalow in Penniman, Virginia (Spring 1918). The photograph on the right was taken shortly after the house was built. Penniman was located six miles east of Williamsburg, and it was a town "built by DuPont." After World War I, the houses in Penniman were placed on barges and moved to several cities, including Norfolk! Cheatham Annex is now located where Penniman once stood. Photo on right is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Penniman was located on the York River and covered more than 6,000 acres.

Penniman was located on the York River and covered more than 6,000 acres. At its peak, Penniman had about 15,000 residents, and had its own hospital, hotel, movie theater, bank and post office. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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If

If you look closely at the screened-in front porch of this Riverview house, you'll notice the original railings in place from its former life on the York River. This house is also on Ethel Avenue (1948).

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Penniman was

The houses that now sit on Ethel and Lavalette were the "permanent houses" built at Penniman, and they can be seen in the background (near the water's edge). Most of the houses seen in this photo were temporary structures with tarpaper siding and roofing. Pretty primitive. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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If you look

If you look closely at these 1948 photos, you'll see extra skirting around the bottom of the houses. This is probably from "the big move" and was an effort to cover up the new foundations built for the incoming houses.

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The houses were shipped from Penniman by barge.

The houses were shipped from Penniman by barge. The houses shown here ended up in the Riverfront neighborhood (Major and Glenroie Avenue). The photo is from the December 1921 Virginia Pilot. Many thanks to Robert Hitchings for finding this newspaper article!

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One of our big breaks came when fellow researcher Mark Hardin discovered that our Ethels had been built at Dupont, Washington (another DuPont plant) and Ramsay, Montana.

One of our big breaks came when fellow researcher Mark Hardin discovered that our "Ethels" had been built at Dupont, Washington (site of another DuPont plant) and Ramsay, Montana. (This photo is courtesy of Mark Mckillop and may not be reproduced without written permission.)

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This

This photo shows the original placement of the Ethel Bungalows at Penniman. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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And we discovered that this house (and a second one on Beach Street) also came from Penniman.

We discovered that this house on Ethel (and another one on Beach Street) came from Penniman.

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Hope you can join us Monday night, at 7:00 pm at the Eggleston Garden Center at 110 Lavalette Avenue in Norfolk.

To see images of several “Ethel Bungalows” from 1948, click here.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Woo-hoo, We Had Our First Public Talk on Penniman!

February 6th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Thursday night, David Spriggs and I gave our first talk on Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost Town.

While preparing our powerpoint presentation, I learned two things I had not known before:

1)  Sometime in 1917 or 1918, a German sub made its way to the York River, in a bid to blow up Penniman.

2)  Women who did the shell loading were known as “The Canary Girls,” because the exposure to the TNT and other chemicals turned their skin, hair and nails a bright, canary yellow. Many died as a result of this poisoning.

Below, you’ll find a VERY condensed version of our powerpoint presentation, which shows a mere 10 of the 100 historical photos we’ve unearthed during our research.

Our next talk with be Monday night at the Colonial Place/Riverview Civic League Meeting at 7:00 pm, at Eggleston Garden Center at 110 LaValette Avenue in Norfolk.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

One

While doing research for this book, I learned that many of these shell loaders died terrible deaths as a result of their exposure to the powerful chemicals and explosives. The information above comes from an extremely rare document, chronicling day-to-day life at Penniman.

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In

In the mid-1910s, a skin cream was developed - just for women shell loaders - to help them cope with the yellowing of their skin, nails and hair. Brunette women saw their hair turn green. Many women lost their hair completely. As one woman said, "No amount of washing would take that yellow away." Sadly, no one knows how many women died from this work, but it's said that their numbers were significant. Image is from Wikipedia.

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The Ch

A British officer credited DuPont with helping them win the war. At a time when chemistry was greatly needed, DuPont did a lot to gear up for the war, and obviously, made a huge difference.

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War

More than nine million combatants died in The Great War. Trench warfare was a nasty bit of business. The constant and very real threat of a gas attack (which caused unspeakable physical suffering) was said to drive many men to insanity.

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In addition to the dangers of things

In addition to the dangers of chemical poisoning and explosions at Penniman, Mr. Kelley states that the Germans were hoping to launch an attack on Penniman. Hiland Kelley was a superintendent at the plant.

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Penniman got it from all sides. Even the local hoity toity folks didnt want them there.

Penniman got it from all sides. Even the local hoity toity folks didn't want them there.

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It

From the Morecock Family Papers.

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I became interested in Penniman in 2010, when I tried to figure out the true source of 17 bungalows in Riverview (Norfolk) that had been barged in - from somewhere.

I became interested in Penniman in 2010, when I tried to figure out the true source of 17 bungalows in Riverview (Norfolk) that had been barged in - from somewhere. The image above shows one of our "Ethel Bungalows" in Penniman. The image below is from the 1948 City Assessor. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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house

We've counted 18 "Ethels" in this vintage photo of Penniman. There may be more out of frame. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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To continue reading about Penniman, click here.

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