Posts Tagged ‘dreadnought’

The People of Penniman - We Have Pictures!

January 25th, 2018 Sears Homes 5 comments

Now we just need some names.

Thanks to Steven Beauter, a sharp-eyed and devoted historian and lover of history, we have pictures of the people of Penniman. A few years ago, Steven purchased an early 20th century photo album that he’d found on eBay. More recently, he discovered that I was seeking more information on Penniman. He contacted me through Facebook, and two weeks ago, we met at the Williamsburg Public Library and had a lovely visit.

As yet another testimony to the goodness of people, Steven permitted me to take his much-beloved photo album back to my home in Suffolk, where I carefully scanned more than two dozen images.

Below are a few of those wonderful images.

We have pictures, and I’m going to share all the captions and names within these pages. If there are any genealogists that can help us learn more about these people, please leave a comment! All photos are circa 1918.

Thanks so much to Steven for sharing this treasure. Thanks to him, we now have another insight into this ghost city.

Lastly, I would welcome the opportunity to do lectures. If your historical society/group would like to make arrangements to have a lecture on Penniman, please contact me at

All photos are courtesy of Steven Beauter and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

Please forgive the obnoxious watermarks. After countless and blatant theft of images, I must resort to this.

Want to learn about one of my personal heroes? Click here.

Did you know that the Great Atlantic Fleet remained anchored near Penniman throughout the Great War?


First, my favorite. This is a picture of Freckles and the caption reads The trial of all of Penniman.

First, my favorite. This is a picture of "Freckles" and the caption reads "The trial of all of Penniman."


Name given

The caption reads, "You might think that Charlotte might be afraid of being bombed by that aeroplane but being in a munition plant, one gets used to that sort of thing. Besides, it was only a spot on the negative." In other captions, Edith and Charlotte are identified as close friends.


Dick and anme

This photo is captioned "Effie and Dick."



The office staff at Penniman.



"First National Bank of Penniman."



"Lodge 9 at Penniman."



This photo is identified as Mr. Benesh's home. He was the superintendent of the plant.



"Noontime at Penniman." Check out those clothes! Were these women loading shells? Judging by their clothing, I don't think so. The shell loaders wore a company issued uniform.



No information is given with this photo, but that's a Penniman house ("The Cumberland") behind this young couple. To read more about the houses at Penniman, see the link below.



This photo offers the most clues. It's titled "Harvest" and reads, "Mrs. Haggart, Jean and Alleyne." You'd think with names like "Alleyne" these people could be found.


To learn more about Penniman, click here.

Read one of my first blogs about Penniman here.

Want to learn more about the houses at Penniman? Here’s the link.


The Great Atlantic Fleet - Parked at Penniman

March 8th, 2016 Sears Homes 3 comments

While reading the Newport News Daily Press, I stumbled upon a little item in the 1923 paper that connected a lot of dots. In the article (from the Associated Press), Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels explained that during The Great War, the Navy had stationed “more than a dozen battleships” at the mouth of the York River, near the Chesapeake Bay. He described the location as “an ancient naval base” adding that under “voluntary censorship” this information was never published.

“We were anchored right where Admiral Rochambeau’s French fleet took its stand and cut off relief by sea for General Cornwallis,” Daniels told the Associated Press (February 11, 1923).

For the geographically challenged among us, that’s mighty close to Penniman. If you were standing on the beach at Penniman near King’s Creek (the southern boundary of Penniman), that very spot - where Rochambeau parked his fleet - would be about four  miles southeast.

Secretary Daniels described the unnumbered group of ships as “the world’s greatest deposit of battleships,” and “the home port of that part of the Atlantic Fleet” (during the war). The article also explained that metal submarine nets had been stretched across the mouth of the York River. (A few days later, another article appeared, explaining that local fishermen were begging the Navy to start removing the “huge steel nets.”)

“Penniman is on the south side of the York River, and near its mouth,” wrote George Harris, an Army private stationed at Penniman. Written October 28, 1918, the letter was published in Harris’ hometown paper (Spirit Lake Beacon, Iowa) a few days after the war ended.

“We can stand out on the beach and see the Chesapeake Bay,” Harris noted. “Several battleships are stationed in the mouth of the river and the bay. One day, I counted 14 of those ships and four more in the distance” (November 17, 1918).

Those battleships anchored at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay must have been a remarkable thing to see, because several letters written about life at Penniman mention that view.

Not surprisingly, the sailors on board those ships took their liberties at Penniman.

In June 1918, a YWCA* worker filed a report on conditions of the munitions plant at Penniman. She wrote, “There’s a [soda] fountain that dispenses drinks at all hours to a motley crowd, resembling nothing so much as a Douglas Fairbanks wild west movie. This affair is even more thrilling to the girls by the arrival every evening of the crew of a minesweeper or battleship from the fleet at Yorktown, four miles below.”

Two months later, a “confidential report” was given by M. S. Shephard on “the moral situation” at Penniman. The head man at the plant, Mr. Benesh, appealed to the YWCA for help, and it was suggested that a police woman work undercover, and that a “especially good morality worker” provide regular lectures at the plant.

“The situation at Penniman is not a simple one,” the letter continued, “for the girls and women are of all types” (August 7, 1918).

The war ended three months later, and hopefully most of those “girls and women of all types” went home with their virtue unblemished.

Why did the Navy decide to park their battleships at the mouth of the York River? Mark Hardin, a phenomenal researcher and hard-core history lover, recently discovered an old map showing the placement of four three-inch anti-aircraft guns positioned in and around Hopewell (site of a WW1-era DuPont guncotton plant). Did Penniman have anti-aircraft guns as well? It was one of two of America’s largest shell-loading plants, and was vital to the war effort.

I suspect that the Great Atlantic Fleet provided all the protection that Penniman needed.

Thanks to Mike Neal for sharing images from this wonderful book (shown below).

*Penniman-YWCA letters are courtesy of the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.


Superdreadnought (Battleship)

When Private George Harris stood on Penniman's beach and looked out toward the Chesapeake Bay, did he see this? This is Superdreadnought (Battleship) Arizona, commissioned October 1916. According to Harris, he saw at least 14 battleships in the York River in Fall of 1918.


Heres a picture of the Great Atlantic Fleet underway (1917).

Here's a picture of the Great Atlantic Fleet underway (1917).


Sailors on board an unnamed battleship, with 14-inch shells which were just supplied by a lighter.

Sailors on board an unnamed battleship, with 14-inch shells which were just delivered by a "lighter."


These guys look like they could show a young girl a thing or two. I hope that especially good morality speaker went to Penniman with due haste.

I hope that the "especially good morality speaker" went to Penniman with due haste.



That guy on the right looks a lot like Vladmir Putin.



The caption of this photo states that fencing helped develop confidence, courage and control. That boat shown in the upper right was probably also used to get the young sailors over to Penniman.


These images appeared in this rare book, published in late 1917. Thanks to Mike Neal for allowing me to use images from this delightful old tome.

These pictures shown above are from this rare book, published in late 1917. Thanks to Mike Neal for allowing me to use images from this delightful old tome.


To learn more about Penniman, click here.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Here’s the place.