Posts Tagged ‘dupont and the great war’

Another “Sears House” Featured on HGTV, Part II

July 22nd, 2017 Sears Homes 9 comments

In my prior blog, I mentioned that HGTV’s House Hunters featured a “kit house” that was in Nashville. A Facebook friend and fellow Sears House lover shared some additional information on the program, enabling me to figure out what exactly HGVT was talking about.

Let me start off with this:  It was not a kit house. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Then again, the motto of too many of these remodeling shows is, “Why let details get in the way of a good story?”

In fact, the house shown on House Hunters is located in Old Hickory, near Nashville, TN, which happens to be the site of a World War One munitions plant built by DuPont. You can learn more about Old Hickory here.

When America became involved in The Great War in April 1917, there was an urgent need for more munitions for the “boys overseas.” DuPont responded to this by building or modifying several plants around the country to make munitions. Old Hickory was built from scratch and was a phenomenal logistical effort, in every way imaginable. To learn more about this, you can read my book, which has much informtion on the build-up at Old Hickory.

Penniman, Virginia was also the site of a DuPont-built World War One munitions plant, and the houses at Penniman were the same models as the houses built within the Old Hickory community. These houses were the work product of DuPont. The lumber came from a variety of sources, but the designs were created by DuPont Engineering, and these models can now be found in many World War One company towns, such as DuPont, Washington; Ramsey, Montana; Hopewell, Virginia; Carney’s Point, New Jersey; Old Hickory, Tennessee; Sandston, Virginia; and Penniman.

Penniman was a city of 15,000 people that was born in 1916 and was gone by 1921, and the 200+ houses within Penniman were moved to other sites, including Norfolk and Williamsburg. In fact, I’ve written a book about this amazing place, located less than seven miles from Colonial Williamsburg.

The city that DuPont built at Old Hickory fared better. It still exists, and many of the 600+ houses that were built by DuPont are still in their same spot. These houses from DuPont were not kits, but they were based on plans that DuPont used at several other World War One munition plants around the country.

The house featured on House Hunters was known as The Florence, and was a darling cottage with many windows and something few of these plant houses had: A real masonry fireplace (see pictures below).

To summarize, the house featured on HGTV as “a kit house” was not a kit house. It was one of many houses designed by DuPont Engineering and built at several munition plants around the country.

If HGTV wants to be considered a credible source of information, they need to spend five or six minutes on Google chasing down some of these stories.

If not, I’ll keep writing blogs about them which is also pretty entertaining.

To read the prior blog about this program, click here.

To read more about the Penniman houses that landed in Norfolk, click here.

Thanks to Linda Ramsey, Robin Hurowitz, and Rachel Shoemaker for contributing to this blog!


Old Nashville

Thanks to Robin Hurowitz for supplying a few screen shots of the show on HGTV. I'm not going to show the other shots from this episode because it's too depressing for words.



My #1 partner in crime, Rachel Shoemaker, found the original listing of this house on Zillow, which provides some wonderful details not otherwise available. The name of this model was The Florence.



There are several "Florences" within Old Hickory. Prior to the convergence of the construction crew, the house was in delightfully original condition. I'm not sure what all happened inside the house. Don't want to know.



The colors, the many tall windows, the size (just under 800 square feet) all make this the perfect house for a young couple. When built, there was a small transom spanning that front door, which is one of the distinguishing features of the Florence.


Cute front

And there's that masonry fireplace, sitting at an angle in the living room.



These framing and flooring of these homes is probably Southern Yellow Pine, probably harvested from Mississippi (but that's a guess, based on what I know about the houses in Penniman). I do know that these are pine floors.



Here's the floorplan for The Florence. The house in Old Hickory is "flipped" so that it's a mirror image of this house (shown above). When built, this house had several walls, which are now gone.


The rear of the home shows that it was also a perfect match to this model.

The rear of the home is also largely original, and shows that it was also a perfect match to this Florence catalog image.


Kitchen went bye

The kitchen was one of my favorite features of this house (as built). That right there is my dream kitchen. Absolutely, my dream. Oh, to find a house with that kitchen. It also went bye-bye in the remodel.



The Florence, as shown in an old catalog showcasing the DuPont models.



And here's a Florence with its original front door in Williamsburg, Virginia. This was originally located at Penniman, and moved after the war (along with 200+ houses). Williamsburg has a handful of Penniman houses.



It's a beautiful house and in very good condition. I haven't had the heart to watch the entire episode, but I'm pretty confident that the home's exterior was undamaged by the "remodeling."



NOT a kit Old Hick

The Florence is not a kit home, but it did come from DuPont.


And amazingly it circles back to the story of Penniman

And amazingly, this whole thing circles back to the story of Penniman, a village outside of Williamsburg with more than 15,000 inhabitants at its peak (in late 1918). Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.


Whisnant in front of Florence

The Whisnant family stands in front of a Florence on the streets of Penniman (1918). Image is courtesy of the Whisnant family, and is reproduced with their permission.


HGVT really needs to do a little research before spreading this information. However, if they don’t, I’ll keep writing blogs about them which is also pretty entertaining.

To read more about the Penniman houses that landed in Norfolk, click here.


Sycamore Street and The Wonderful Life

December 8th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

It’s Christmas, and before long, the local channels will be airing my favorite Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Many folks think it’s a movie about one man making a difference in the world, but I saw it in a different way: “It’s a Wonderful Life” explains why homeownership is so important to our country’s prosperity and economic health.

After The Great War ended, the magazines and newspapers of the time boldly extolled the many virtues of homeownership. Post-war, contemporary literature made it clear that Americans had a patriotic duty to be homeowners. Homeownership benefited not only individual families, but also neighborhoods and communities, and by extension, the entire country.

What better modern-day model do we have than Detroit or East St. Louis? How many homeowners live in these two communities? Despite some searching, I wasn’t able to find an answer, but I’d guess it’s NOT MANY.

The message communicated by Sears Modern Homes catalogs and early 20th Century magazines was this: Homeowners have a vested interest in their community and communities with a large percentage of homeowners will enjoy a greater proportion of prosperity, stability and peace.

In the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey sees what Bedford Falls, would have looked like if he’d never been born. Without George’s positive influence and his ever-fledgling Building and Loan, the modern subdivision of Bailey Park would never have been developed and many residents would have remained renters, rather than homeowners.

Without the Bailey Building and Loan, George finds that Bedford Falls (now “Pottersville”) is full of substandard rental properties.

And because there are so many rental properties, there is less stability in the family, and in a broader context, there is less stability in the community as well.

Remember Bert (the cop) and Ernie (the cab driver)?

In this alternate “George-less” world, Ernie does not live with his family in their own “nice little home in Bailey Park,” but instead, he lives is a decrepit shack in Pottersville and it’s implied that this hardship is largely to blame for the fact that Ernie’s wife “ran off three years ago and took the kid.”

The streets of this alternate Bedford Falls are lined with liquor stores, night clubs, pawnbrokers, burlesque shows and billiard halls. Garish neon signs flash “girls, girls, girls.” Breviloquent policemen struggle to keep peace and order among the surly citizens.

George’s revelation that he really had a “wonderful life” came from - in part - a realization that his meager efforts to give people the chance to become homeowners gave them a feeling of accomplishment, prosperity, security and pride. By extension, the whole community benefited in important, significant and enduring ways.

Sears was, to small communities in the Midwest, what George Bailey was to Bedford Falls.

Sears empowered countless thousands of the poor and working class to become homeowners. What would countless Midwestern towns have become without Sears homes?

How many towns were spared the fate of becoming a Pottersville, thanks to these little kit homes? Probably many.

Sears Modern Homes made a significant and enduring difference in many communities throughout the Midwest.

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The Bailey Brothers' Building and Loan was the real hero of the story. It persisted, despite great trials and tribulations, and enabled the less-than-wealthy citizens of Bedford Falls to achieve the dream of homeownership.


House house

George and Mary worked hard to achieve their dream of homeownership, and that's another reason that I love this movie. They purchased a real "fixer-upper" and did a thorough restoration that spanned many, many years. Today, how many banks would even lend money on a house with a leaky roof?


It was a common theme 1921

As demonstrated by this 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog, homeownership was a far wiser investment for the young couple starting out in the world. After all, would you rather have "rent receipts" or a home of your own?


house 1921

Father is tossing those rent receipts right into the trash.


Its a wonderful lfie

Another reason to love "It's a Wonderful Life" is 320 Sycamore Street, a classic "Second Empire Victorian." Or, as the author of "Finding God in 'It's a Wonderful Life'" said, "It is a home of second chances."


To read more about why 320 Sycamore was in such ghastly condition, click here.

To read about how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

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Have you seen this house?

May 19th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

These fine-looking bungalows (see below) are in Dupont, Washington. In fact, there are several of these bungalows (built in the early 1910s) in Dupont, Washington.  Today, I’m trying to figure out where I’ve seen this house before, because if I can figure THAT out, it’ll help me solve some other mysteries I’m working on.

I know I’ve seen this house elsewhere (in places other than Dupont, Washington) and I’m 92% sure I saw it in Boise, IdahoUPDATE:  Having heard back from several people in Boise, I’m now thinking I must have seen it in California (probably near Anaheim).

Dupont, Washington was named for Dupont (which built a factory there before WW1). Dupont (the company) built several of these houses for their workers in Dupont (the city). And Dupont (the company) also built several houses (for workers) in Hopewell, Va.

When comparing this house to others, please notice that this is not just another bungalow. This house has very distinctive details around the eaves and the front porch has massive eave brackets.

These photos (below) are all of the same model but with some variations (such as different dormers), and these houses have had some changes through the years, but that massive oversized eave on the front is one feature that has not been altered in any of these photos.

Have you seen this house? If so, please leave a comment below!

To learn more about the kit homes in Boise, click here.

Thanks to Mark Mckillop for providing the photos!


One of the distinctive features of this house in Dupont is the oversized eave on the front. Notice the four brackets, which are also massive. (Photos are courtesy of Mark Mckillop and can not be reproduced without written permission.)


Those are some big brackets. (Photos are courtesy of Mark Mckillop and can not be reproduced without written permission.)


This house has a shed dormer (while the house above has a gabled dormer). This house retains its original porch railing. (Photos are courtesy of Mark Mckillop and can not be reproduced without written permission.)


Another house with original railings. (Photos are courtesy of Mark Mckillop and can not be reproduced without written permission.)


Different dormer (again), but those four brackets are consistent with the other houses. (Photos are courtesy of Mark Mckillop and can not be reproduced without written permission.)


Close-up on the front porch. (Photos are courtesy of Mark Mckillop and can not be reproduced without written permission.)

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

To read about the kit homes in Boise, click here.

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