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Posts Tagged ‘dupont’

Penniman: A Fun and Fascinating Talk in Richmond on July 18th!

July 12th, 2018 Sears Homes 5 comments

The fun starts at 5:30, but if you come early, you can meet the author (that’d be moi).

The talk (a PowerPoint presentation with more than 140 vintage photos) is at the Library of Virginia (in Richmond), at 800 East Broad Street.

Free parking can be found underneath the library.

Penniman is truly an awe-inspiring story about a World War One munitions plant in Virginia that has been forgotten and almost lost to history. At its peak, more than 15,000 people occupied the village of Penniman.

DuPont’s 37th munitions plant was staffed by mostly women, who worked assiduously to load TNT into 155mm and 75mm shells.

Please come out and learn more about this lost chapter of Virginia’s history!

To read more about Penniman, click here.

Learn about one of the war workers here.

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His initials are "SC" and he started work on Spetember 10, 1918, but who is this young man?

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fdf

This fob (issued by DuPont) was worn on the worker's lapel, and it also helped quickly identify him as a munitions worker when he was out and about in Williamsburg. Young men who were not at the front were known as "slackers" and it was a pejorative.

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After Penniman closed, the houses were put on barges and moved to nearby communities. More than 60 ended up in Norfolk, Virginia. We're still missing more than 100 Penniman houses. Is there one in your neighborhood?

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Penniman was vital to the war effort, and yet its story has been lost to time.

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Rose will sell (and sign) books after the talk.

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To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Penniman.

May 27th, 2018 Sears Homes 6 comments

Yesterday, a dear friend called to remind me that I had a lecture in the afternoon at a Williamsburg library. Fortunately, I remembered to attend THIS lecture!

The 50-mile drive on I-64W was uneventful, which is a little miracle unto itself. I left two hours early, just to be safe.

Moments before the start of my Penniman lecture, I was sitting just outside of the meeting room and ruminating. Not good. I realized that lecturing had become quite hard these days. Before The Bad Thing™ I absolutely loved lecturing.

Minutes before the lecture began, I developed a severe case of the shakes and was light-headed. I was a hot mess. It seemed as though I had two choices before me:

1) Walk out of the building and simply accept that my lecturing days were over, or,

2) Take a couple Valium so that I could calm down enough to perform.

As I sat there debating my options, I saw an old friend walk toward the meeting room. I called out his name, and he came over and sat down with me. I told him I was thinking about going home, and he said all the right things. He was an angel that appeared at just the right moment.

I survived the lecture and there was a good crowd. Many attendees said very nice things. I’m grateful for every word. One woman purchased five books. That was wonderful.

After the lecture, my “angel friend” and his wife invited me to join them (and another couple) for dinner. It turned out to be a perfect evening.

As to my future as a lecturer, I’m still deciding. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make the Penniman book go mainstream, as my #1 goal from the beginning was (and is) to share the story of the incredible sacrifice and bravery of these Penniman workers.

To learn more about Penniman, click here.

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Everything about this story - of a forgotten Virginia village - is uttelry captivating.

Everything about this story - of a forgotten Virginia village - is utterly captivating. How I wish that I was more adept at getting their story out into the world.

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I remain hopeful that as time goes on, more will be known about these women and their sacrifice.

I remain hopeful that as time goes on, even more will be known about these women and their sacrifice.

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To learn more about Penniman, click here.

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Penniman: We Have Alleyne’s Last Name!

January 27th, 2018 Sears Homes 4 comments

After that last blog, Milton, Mark and David (three faithful researchers that have been with me since the start of this project) went to work to find Alleyne’s last name.

This morning, I found an email from Mark Hardin, explaining that he’d found Alleyne.  Her full name was Alleyne Litell Conn, born in 1886 in Virginia (see full information below). Was she a “canary” at Penniman? (Canary was the name given to women who worked on the shell-loading line, pouring molten TNT into 75mm and 155mm shells. The highly toxic TNT would turn their skin a bright yellow.)

These women sacrificed so much, and yet due to strict censorship laws, published accounts of their life at Penniman were vague and almost polyannish.  There will be a day - hopefully - when I discover that one of these “Canaries” at Penniman left behind a written journal of her life at work, that tells what it was like to work at a WW1-era munitions plant.

And Mark explained here, he’s still trying to track down “Freckles.”

Below, you’ll see a few more of Steven Beauter’s wonderful photos. Steven - a sagacious and thorough historian - purchased these postcards and photos several years ago and shared them with me recently.

All vintage images below are courtesy of Steven Beauter. The newspaper clipping (about Alleyne) was found by Mark Hardin at newspapers.com. The death certificate for Alleyne was obtained by Milton Crum at ancestry.com.

Thanks to Steven Beauter for allowing me to use these images below.

To read the prior blog, click here.

Want to learn more about this fascinating “Ghost City”? Click here.

Learn more about the “Canaries”!

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Perhaps one day, well know more about the women who worked at Penniman.

Perhaps one day, we'll know more about the women who worked at Penniman. The workforce was overwhelmingly female. Twenty-four hours a day, women loaded TNT into 75mm and 155mm shells at Penniman. TNT poisoning was a persistent problem, with multitudinous side effects. Some women were rendered sterile by exposure to this toxin.

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FFF

The caption within the 100+ year old photo album tells us that this is "Edith" (last name unknown) at Penniman. I am more than a little curious about her watch. I've never seen a wrist watch on a woman in this time period. It almost looks like she's used a leather strap to put a man's watch on her wrist.

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The occasion is "Jean's birthday party" on August 2nd, 1918. These women are sitting by the York River at Penniman, Virginia.

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Hanging out at the beach (York River) was a frequent theme in all of these 100-year-old photos.

Hanging out at the beach (York River) was a frequent theme in all of these 100-year-old photos. The water was apparently very shallow for some distance. Those suits are delightful!

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From a postcard (also purchased by Steven Beauter), this is a view of H Street in Penniman. This model of house (covered in Ruberoid siding) is known as the six-room bungalow. Yes, thats its given name.

From a postcard (also purchased by Steven Beauter), this is a view of "H Street" in Penniman. This model of house (covered in Ruberoid siding) is known as the "six-room bungalow." Yes, that's its given name!

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And

All we know is that this is Penniman. There were no captions within the photo album for this fellow.

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If  you look behind this gent, you can see a couple posters.

If you look behind this gent, you can see a couple posters.

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The poster on the left

The poster on the left states "Kan the Kaiser."

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And

This seems to be an especially appropriate poster for Penniman.

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Thanks to Mark Hardin, we have a full name for Alleyne.

Thanks to Mark Hardin, we have a full name for Alleyne (Times Dispatch, March 1919).

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Haggerty

This photo, titled "Harvest," shows "Mrs. Haggarty, Jean and Alleyne." We now know that Jean's birthday was August 2nd (see photo at top of blog) and that Alleyne's last name was Conn.

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Alleyne Conn died in 1953.

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When researchers study our times (21st Century), there will be no more postcards.

What a treasure to find a post card mailed from Penniman! The war had just ended five days prior. When researchers study our times (21st Century), there will be no more postcards.

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And the text is legible.

And the text is legible.

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

Freckle's genealogical records remain elusive.

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To read the prior blog, click here.

Want to learn more about this fascinating “Ghost City”? Click here.

Why were they called “Canaries”?

The People of Penniman - We Have Pictures!

January 25th, 2018 Sears Homes 4 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 pennimanva@gmail.com.

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?

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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."

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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.

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Dick and anme

This photo is captioned "Effie and Dick."

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people

The office staff at Penniman.

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Bank

"First National Bank of Penniman."

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Penniman

"Lodge 9 at Penniman."

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

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"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.

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Cumberland

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.

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Haggerty

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.

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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.

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If You Believe in the Power of Prayer…

July 1st, 2017 Sears Homes 9 comments

I sure could use them now.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, I’m back in a valley and struggling to rise to my feet again. Part of the challenge is that the shock is wearing off, and so many memories are returning. Some are good memories but many are bad memories of conversations with Wayne. Conversations that I didn’t understand at the time, but I understand them now.

My prayer-warrior friend Tracie tells me that sometimes, we need to focus our prayers. And right now, I need “the peace of God that passes all understanding.”

I also need to find a home in a beautiful place. My worldly possessions are scattered hither and yon in storage units. I’m living - camped out really - in a rental unit that was supposed to be temporary. Unfortunately, I’ve been here almost a year now.

Why am I stuck? I don’t know. Should I keep hoping for the best or “embrace the suck”?

I always believed in the power of visualization and setting goals. I believed that God answers prayers in a way that brings the maximum blessing. I believed that the universe was a friendly place.

All three of those beliefs have been shattered into a billion pieces.

I don’t know what to believe.

Never in a million years did I think my husband would commit suicide. Never in a million years did I think I’d be a renter at the age of 58, with my favorite things stuffed in storage units. Never in a million years did I think that my much-loved husband would do some of the things that he did, designed to create maximum confusion and despair after his death.

Never in a million years.

My daughter said that *that* should be our new mantra - “Never in a million years.”

So here I sit on the first day of July, pouring my heart out on a blog, trying to find my way out of limbo and into The New Normal™.

I’ve prayed until I’m blue in the knees, so I ask my friends for your prayers.

With much gratitude,

Rosemary and Teddy.

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Fa

This image speaks to me, and I'm not sure why. There's desolation but there's also hope. For some time, I've felt trapped in a sort of limbo, and I need to find the way out. The image is from "What Dreams May Come."

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To read about Rose’s new book, click here.

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That Rascally Haskell

March 30th, 2017 Sears Homes 6 comments

Today, despite all the publicity about recycling, we’re still a very wasteful society, and even more so when it comes to housing.

More than 35% of all debris at modern landfills is construction debris. HGTV is the worst offender, encouraging millions to rip out and destroy old kitchens and baths, while violating  the first commandment of old house ownership: “Thou Shalt Not Destroy Good Old Work.”

A century ago, when Penniman was abandoned, the overwhelming majority of the houses were “knocked down” (disassembled board by board) and moved to another site. Some of the houses were moved intact and whole. Today, the majority of these houses are still alive and well in Norfolk and Williamsburg.

And now, thanks to the foresight of the Whisnant family, we have pictures of the residential area of Penniman, showing these houses within this village, built by DuPont for workers at the shell-loading plant. Below, you’ll see images of the “Haskell,” living in Penniman and later in Norfolk.

To learn more about the Penniman houses in Williamsburg, click here.

Read about the Norfolk Penniman houses here.

Images below are courtesy of the family of Joseph and Ola Whisnant. Thanks to the foresight and generosity of the Whisnant family, we have street views and genre scenes of life in Penniman. Cameras were probably forbidden within the cantonment of Penniman, and visitors would have subjected to a daunting search of their personal belongings, entering and exiting. These images are the only known existing photographs of the residential areas of Penniman.

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Street view of the newly created village of Penniman. The streets are mud and the houses are fresh and new. The village was built in 1918 and abandoned in early 1920. Photos are courtesy of the Whisnant family.

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Whisnant

Another view of the village. Notice the hydrant to the right with the easy-to-access valve. The model of houses shown in this picture (Cumberland, Florence, Haskell and a piece of the Georgia) eventually landed in Norfolk and Williamsburg, Virginia.

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whisnant fam

A close-up of the Haskell.

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others

Thanks to the Norfolk city assessor, we have a picture of this same model, taken in the 1950s. There are more than 50 of these homes - built at DuPont's Penniman - along Major Avenue and Glenroie Avenue in Norfolk.

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Comparison of the house in Norfolk (1950s) and the house in Penniman (1918).

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House

This "Haskell" has been resided with a substitute PVC-type shake, and the belt course on the gable line was moved up closer to the peak. Other than that, it looks much as it did when built in 1918.

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whisnant

The Haskell, as it appeared in a building catalog in 1920.

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Thanks to clyde Vir Pilot December 1921

In December 1921, these houses were moved from Penniman to Norfolk via barge. Many thanks to professional photographer Clyde Nordan for cleaning up the images. (Virginian Pilot, December 1921.)

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To learn more about the Penniman houses in Williamsburg, click here.

Read about the Norfolk Penniman houses here.

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Penniman: My Path to Healing

March 28th, 2017 Sears Homes No comments

Several weeks ago, I had dinner with Robert, a friend and fellow history lover. I told him that I was a lost soul. He asked me about the Penniman book. I told him that I didn’t think I could face the manuscript again and that my writing days were over.

He asked specific questions about the people of Penniman, and I felt like something deep inside my soul came to life again. I felt a spark of joy and zeal and hope.

After our dinner, it became so clear to me: It was time to finish the project.

One year ago - April 24th - I was scheduled to give a talk on Penniman in Williamsburg. It turned out to be the day of my husband’s funeral. At the time, the Penniman manuscript - a book on which I’d labored for 4+ years - was 95% complete.

Now, one year later, thanks to Robert and Pat and Milton and others, that manuscript is finished, and after some finishing touches to the artwork, it will be ready for the printer. Hopefully.

The casual outsider may not understand that this is more than just a book.  It’s a project that helps me stop thinking about the ongoing emotional angst that is my constant companion. It’s a project that helps me forget - for a few seconds at a time - that my husband died by his own hand, 48 hours after telling me that we’d grow old together.

In short, it’s a rope that’s been tossed down into this hellish pit, and it’s a way out.

It’s so much more than a book.

I’m grateful for each and every prayer offered in my name. And I’m grateful for the people that have shown up and said just the right thing at just the right time. They’re angels walking this earth in human form.

Images below are courtesy of the family of Joseph and Ola Whisnant. Thanks to the foresight and generosity of the Whisnant family, we have street views and genre scenes of life in Penniman. Cameras were probably forbidden within the cantonment of Penniman, and visitors would have subjected to a daunting search of their personal belongings, entering and exiting. These images are the only known existing photographs of the residential areas of Penniman.

To learn more about Penniman, click here.

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house

Members of the Whisnant family pose on the streets of Penniman. The houses shown in the background were moved to Norfolk, Williamsburg and other surrounding communities. From left to right is the Cumberland, Georgia, Florence, Haskell and a piece of another Georgia. These models were built at other DuPont plants during The Great War.

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ether

According to reminiscenses, the streets of Penniman were a mess of mud and muck. This wonderful picture gives a detailed view of The Village (as it was known), where the workers took their rest after a hard day on the shell-loading line. The women workers are known as Canary Girls, because the TNT (loaded into shells) was bright yellow, and stained their skin and hair. It was also a toxin.

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what

These houses were known as "Six-Room Bungalows" and were covered with Ruberoid siding, which is nothing more than heavy tarpaper. These bunkhouses and dorms (not shown here) housed the "lower class" workers.

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Thanks again to the Whisnant Family for sharing these wonderful pictures.

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A Penniman Bungalow - in Larchmont!

March 13th, 2016 Sears Homes 1 comment

Larchmont is a prestigious neighborhood in Norfolk, filled with stately Colonial Revivals, Cape Cods, Dutch Colonials and Neo-Tudors from the 1920s and 30s. As far as older neighborhoods go, Larchmont is one of Hampton Roads’ most expensive communities, and prices range from $350,000 to $1.2 million.

If you had asked me last month, which early 20th Century neighborhood in all of southeastern Virginia is least likely to have a Penniman house, I would have said “Larchmont.”

But you might be asking yourself, what’s a Penniman house?

Penniman was a World War One munitions plant, built by DuPont, about six miles from Williamsburg. The village of Penniman sprung up around the plant, and by Summer 1918, about 15,000 people were living on the 6,000-acre site, with two miles of frontage on the York River. More than 5,000 laborers and carpenters worked long hours building dorms and apartments and cottages and houses.

Large caliber artillery shells were loaded at the plant and sent onto Newport News, by rail, where they were loaded on troop transports and shipped to the Western Front in France. Penniman was one of the largest shell-loading plants in the country and according to The History of Explosives, workers at Penniman produced more than 27,000 shells per day.

The war’s end on November 11, 1918 took many folks by surprise. Most thought that the war would go on for months if not years. When Armistice came, construction at Penniman ceased immediately and the government canceled contracts. As one local newspaper said in 1919, “Penniman was deserted almost overnight.”

The houses built at Penniman were designed by DuPont, built by Hancock-Pettyjohn, a Lynchburg contractor, and paid for by Uncle Sam. The finer houses were closer to the York, and were occupied by higher-end management, and were offered in more than a dozen designs. “The Cumberland” (shown below) was not the biggest and not the smallest, but probably leaning toward the upper tier of housing options at the plant.

When the plant closed down after The Great War, the houses (most of which were less than six months old) were not torn down but salvaged. Two Norfolk men (Warren Hastings and George Hudson) purchased several of the houses and moved them - by barge - to Norfolk.

Before last week, we knew of 20 Penniman houses that had been moved to Riverview, 27 to Riverfront and 4 to Willoughby Spit. That was it, and frankly, that seemed like a lot, but we suspected there were more. How to find them?

My buddy Bill Inge took this task on last week and had phenomenal results. While we’d been looking around waterways and inlets, Bill had a novel approach: He went looking for land records. In his searching, Bill found that Warren Hastings had also purchased a lot in Larchmont. Converting the legal description to a street address, he found the precise location. Bill then texted me and said, “Is it possible that there’s a Penniman house in Larchmont?”

When I first saw his text I thought, “Whoa, wouldn’t THAT be a story!” but I had my doubts. After all, Larchmont is a high-dollar, impressive community full of fine homes. Was it really likely that someone had moved a war-time frame house into Larchmont?

I googled the address he gave me and within a few seconds, I realized Bill was right: It was a “Cumberland” from Penniman. When I write about unusual Sears Homes, I often wonder, “Do the people living in this house know what they have?” Based on my research, about 75% don’t know that they’re living in a Sears House. What are the odds that people know they have a Penniman? I’d say it’s a lot less than one percent!

Thanks so much to Bill for all  his help and for finding this house!

If you enjoyed this blog, please share it with friends or post the link on Facebook!

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Penniman was a very crowded place.

Penniman was a very crowded place, occupied by 15,000 at its peak. The houses that were moved to Norfolk are the two-story houses in the background of this photo. Picture is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Cumberland

The model that ended up in Larchmont is The Cumberland. Designed by DuPont for their plants, this house was also built in Old Hickory, Tennessee, another munitions plant.

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house

The Cumberland was one of their nicer homes, but it's still not very big.

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Floorplan

That's upstairs bedroom is 8x11. In the 21st Century, we call that a closet.

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Cumberland

The Cumberland was a traiditional foursquare. A distinctive feature of many of these DuPont houses is the windows flanking the front door, and a fixed transom over the door.

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Hanckcok

About 50 years ago, this metal tag was found near the site where the Penniman houses were originally built, and probably served as a chit for workers checking out tools from the tool shed. The "H-P. Co." is for Hancock-Pettyjohn, the Lynchburg-based company that built the houses at Penniman.

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house house

In December 1921, this appeared in the "Virginian Pilot," showing the houses coming from Penniman to Norfolk. To the right are two Cumberlands - back to back.

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Riverfront

Here's a Cumberland in Riverfront (on Major Avenue). Notice the windows next to the door. There's another Cumberland next door to this one. Prior to Bill's discovery, these were the only two Cumberlands we knew about in Norfolk.

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Larchmont

According to assessor records, the porch on the Larchmont "Cumberland" was removed in 1957, which is a real pity. As shown here, the house has been covered in substitute siding, and that's probably when the windows and transom disappeared (by the door). This photo was taken in 1959.

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house house house

The city records say the house was built in 1920, but in fact, it was built in Spring of 1918 by Hancock-Pettyjohn and moved (by barge) to its current site in 1921 or 1922.

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dimensions

According to the city's information, the dimensions for the house are correct.

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Google

An image from Google Maps (2015) show the house with new siding (third layer) and replacement windows.

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Penniman

Yesterday, when Milton and I drove past the house, the porch had been restored and it looks like the homeowner did a fine job. And it looks far better with a porch. Not sure what's happening with the transom.

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Penniman

Do they know that their house was born in Penniman, and then traveled by barge to Larchmont?

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Cumberland 1918

Do they know that their house looked like this in 1918?

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Location

If you look at a map of the home's current location, you can see how accessible it is by water.

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Mr. Hastings who brought this house

Here's a picture of Mr. Warren Hastings, standing in front of the homes in Riverfront.

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DO they know

And it all started here - in Penniman.

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To learn the details of how Mr. Hastings moved these homes by barge, click here.

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Oh Dear Ethel, What Were You Thinking…

February 15th, 2016 Sears Homes No comments

According to newspaper accounts, Ethel didn’t die easy. For 10 days in November 1918, she lingered in a Richmond hospital before succumbing to her injuries, caused by two bullet wounds through her left lung.

In the last days of her life, between labored breaths and unimaginable pain, Ethel dictated her will to her mother and bequeathed “many pieces of diamond jewelry” to her mother, Carrie Grace Schneittacher. Carrie had come down from Girard, Pennsylvania so that Ethel Mae wouldn’t die alone.

Ten days earlier, Ethel Mae Brown had stepped off a train in downtown Richmond to meet her lover, Ralph E. Walker. It was a Wednesday night, about 7:00 o’clock, on a typical November night with temps in the mid-40s. Ethel and Ralph had met at Penniman, a World War One munitions plant on the York River. Ralph did the same work at Penniman as he’d done back home in Chattanooga: He managed the livestock at the plant. Ethel was a foreman, probably in the shell-loading area.

Both Ralph and Ethel were married, but not to each other.

Eyewitnesses later told police that there was an argument between the two as they stood on the sidewalk at 14th and Main Street. Ralph (55) pulled a pistol from his pocket and shot Ethel Mae (38) twice in the left chest at close range. She fell to the ground immediately. He then pointed the pistol at his own chest, and fired two shots before collapsing on the sidewalk.

Splayed on the sidewalk, bleeding out from two wounds, Ralph managed to prop himself up on one elbow, point the pistol at Ethel and fire two more bullets at her, with one bullet grazing her head.

Ralph then collapsed.

Richmond Patrolman Walter M. Angel had just passed the couple moments earlier. Upon hearing the gun shots, he rushed back to the corner, and saw the horrid scene. Using a citizen’s vehicle, Ethel was rushed to Virginia Hospital, about one mile away. Another patrolman rushed Ralph to the hospital, where he died less than 30 minutes later.

It was November 13, 1918. The Great War had ended two days earlier. While the entire world celebrated, Ralph fretted. Soon, he’d be separated from his sweetheart.

It’s my opinion that Ralph had decided sometime earlier that he’d either sweep Ethel away to a new life, or take both of their lives. Either way, Ralph had no intention of returning home. Shortly before meeting Ethel at the train, Ralph had checked into Rueger’s Hotel signing the register as “F. H. Armstrong of Birmingham, Alabama.”

Back in Chattanooga, Ralph had a wife and six children, one of whom (Ralph, Jr., age 28) had become an invalid after a terrible street-car accident. Ralph, Sr. came from a prominent Chattanooga family, and was the youngest son of Judge Dawson Walker, and the brother of Judge Seth Walker.  Ralph’s work had always centered around buying, selling and managing livestock.

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Despite Ethel’s suffering, she consistently refused to provide details of the tragedy to the police or medical staff.  When admitted to the hospital, she used the name, “Mrs. N. E. Brown.” Eventually, she told the staff that her name was Ethel Mae Brown. The newspaper articles explained that she wished to keep her identity a secret, because her husband was “a prominent physician in Pennsylvania.”

Ethel would only tell the police that Ralph “had been despondent for some time,” and that he had a terrible temper. Ethel told the police that Ralph had shot her “in a fit of anger…following a quarrel.”

In the wee hours of November 22, 1918, Ethel breathed her last, “with the secrets of this [story] still locked in her heart” (Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 23, 1918). Her body was prepared by Henry W. Woody Funeral Home of Richmond and shipped to Girard later that day.

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Until a couple days ago, that’s a summary of everything we knew about Ralph and Ethel. Thanks to Genealogist Extraordinaire Milton Crum and Ohio Historian Ashley Armstrong-Zwart, we now know quite a bit more about Ethel.

Ethel and her mother misrepresented Ethel’s age on several legal documents, but we now have a confirmed birth date of October 23, 1880. Her father was Wilford Joseph Schneittacher and her mother was Carrie Grace Young Schneittacher. Carrie was born in 1865, and she was only 15 when Ethel was born.

On June 3, 1905, Ethel married Dr. Sydney R. Titsworth in Manhattan. The two had met at J. Hood Wright Hospital (also in Manhattan). Sydney didn’t tell his poor blind mama about his marriage for more than a year. When he went home to Plainfield, New Jersey, he sprung the news on everyone. The story of the young doctor who returned home with “a diploma and a bride” was a headline in the New York Times (June 14, 1906).

As the inimitable Milton Crum said yesterday, “There’s a reason you don’t tell your own mother about marrying a certain ‘type’ of girl, and it’s not a good reason.”

The newspapers said that Ethel made a statement to the police, informing them that her husband was “a prominent physician in Pennsylvania.” Milton and I thought Ethel was talking about Sydney R. Titsworth. We were wrong.

And we also assumed that Ethel had created the pseudonym of “Mrs. Brown” in order to hide her true identify. We were wrong about that too.

Our big break came when Milton discovered that Ethel was enumerated twice in the 1910 census. She was enumerated in early April, living with her physician husband in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and then ten days later she was enumerated again, this time as a boarder in Manhattan, and working as a manicurist.

In other words, there was trouble in paradise. Sometime between those two enumerations, Ethel grabbed her diamond jewelry and left Dr. Sydney R. Titsworth, landing in Manhattan at a rooming house. In 1911, the good doctor sued his soon-to-be-ex for divorce. Seems that Ethel was a friend of the drink, and to hear Sydney tell the story, she was a mean drunk.

By 1912, Ethel was back in Pennsylvania, working in Erie as a corset dealer at 924 State Street. In December 1915, Ethel married Frank Arthur Brown, and lied about her age on the marriage certificate. Most likely, Ethel headed off to Penniman in the Summer of 1918, about 2-1/2 years after marrying Frank. The 1910 census shows that Frank was a laborer, and his 1917 draft card showed he was a laborer at American Fork and Hoe Company.

On May 26, 1918, Frank became something else: Part of Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force. Private Frank Brown survived one of the worst battles of World War One: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive. It raged from September 26, 1918 until the end of the war, November 11, 1918. More than 26,000 Americans died and 95,000 were wounded. Frank survived with no permanent physical injuries.

While Frank was serving his country and trying to stay alive in the mud-filled trenches on the Western Front, Ethel was serving in the second-line trenches at Penniman, and in her spare time, she was playing “who’s got a secret” with the guy in the stable.

Ralph Walker, the man with a wife and six children in Chattanooga, told several people that he had a “sweetheart” at the plant. He also told the lady who ran his rooming house that she shouldn’t be surprised if she came into the room one morning and found that he had killed himself.

When Ethel got off that train in Richmond on Wednesday night, she was probably returning to Penniman to pack up her things and go home. The previous few days, she’d been on a short vacation in Girard, visiting the folks back home. The war was over. Perhaps Ethel decided that it was time to end the affair and go back home to Pennsylvania and get on with her life. Frank would be coming home soon, and she could forget all this ever happened.

Instead, standing on a sidewalk in Richmond, still wearing an expensive diamond brooch and “handsome diamond ring,” she was mortally wounded when an angry lover pressed a gun to her chest and pulled the trigger - twice.

In death, Ethel didn’t fare much better. The story of her very bad ending was kept out of the papers in and around Girard. Her hometown paper, The Cosmopolite Herald, which detailed every citizen’s runny nose, sprained ankle and wandering chicken, had almost nothing to say about Ethel’s death. In a newspaper where even an infant’s death merits a front-page 200-word obituary, how did Ethel get overlooked? It must have been intentional and/or a gentleman’s agreement with Mr. and Mrs. Schneittacher.

Ethel Mae Schneittacher Titsworth Brown was buried in Girard Cemetery with the simplest of markers. The only child of Carrie Grace and Wilford Joseph Schneittacher rests alone in the cold ground. Cemetery records show that three plots were purchased for the three Schneittachers, but only Ethel’s plot was used. The remnant of the Schneittacher family lies in Gustavus Cemetery, more than 50 miles south of Ethel’s grave site.

Some may ask, is this really a story about Penniman? Yes, I’d say it is. It provides a thumbnail sketch about what happens in war time when people are put under difficult circumstances and endure grievous dangers and hardship. In short, it’s a story about the people of Penniman, and that’s what makes history so enchanting.

Thanks to Milton Crum, Ashley Armstrong-Zwart and Anne Hallerman for their help and brilliant research work!

To read an earlier article about Ralph and Ethel, click here.

Learn more about Penniman here.

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Pasted

Ralph (from Chattanooga) and Ethel (from Erie) met one another at Penniman, Virginia, a World War One munitions plant and village, built by DuPont. At its peak, more than 15,000 people inhabited the 6,000-acre site on the York River. Penniman was established in Spring 1916, and by 1921, it was a ghost town.

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Penniman

Ralph and Ethel were only two of the 6,000 workers employed at Penniman. After the war, Penniman was disassembled and in 1942, the land was purchased for use by the Navy (Cheatham Annex).

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Ethel Nove 16

Ethel's story appeared in "The Chattanooga News" on November 16, 1918.

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Titsworth

In early 1911, Dr. Titsworth sought a divorce from Ethel.

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1911

And the divorce was granted a short time later.

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In 1912

The 1912 directory shows that Ethel is a "corset dealer" in Erie.

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Even after the divorce

Even after the divorce, Ethel kept the name.

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Married

On December 15, 1915, Ethel married Frank Arthur Brown.

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S

Ethel's father died on March 30, 1923 from cirrhosis of the liver. Did he become an alcoholic after his little girl's death or was that a contributing factor to Ethel's many problems?

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In a town where every sniffle makes the news, its hard to believe that this was the only mention of Ethels death.

In a town where every sniffle makes the news, it's hard to believe that this was the only mention of Ethel's death.

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Ethel

Ethel Mae Schneittacher Brown rests alone in the Girard Cemetery, with her grave marked with the simplest of headstones, offering only the barest facts as to her life and death.

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To read an earlier article about Ralph and Ethel, click here.

Learn more about Penniman here.

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The North Honors Our Confederate Dead: Why Can’t We?

August 3rd, 2015 Sears Homes 6 comments

Hidden away on a quiet little side street in Alton, Illinois is a beautiful granite monument, honoring the Confederate Dead. If you didn’t know its precise location, you’d never find it. I suspect that many of the locals don’t even know about it.

The 57-foot-tall granite monument sits high atop a hill, and dominates the two-acre site on which its located. It was erected in 1909, and at its base are plaques with the names of 1,354 Confederate soldiers who died while imprisoned by the Union. Lost in time are the names of the dozens of civilians (Confederate sympathizers) who also died as prisoners of war.

Alton, Illinois sits on the Mississippi River, just 20 miles north of St. Louis, and during the Civil War, it was Union territory. Missouri did not secede from the Union, and yet it was categorized as a slave state. It was a conflicted state, with both Union and Confederate troops within its borders.

By all accounts, Alton was filled with Confederate sympathizers (those who fed or housed Confederates), as well as Confederate spies. Both the spies and the sympathizers ended up in the Alton prison. Many died there, due to starvation, deprivation, extreme cold, and disease.

Sometime in 1862, there was an epidemic of Smallpox at the prison and before it was over, 1,354 of the Confederates were dead. These were the “enemy” and yet Union officials made it clear that their remains were to be treated with reverence and respect.

Specific instructions were given for the burial of these soldiers: “Those who die will be decently interred, and a proper mark affixed to their place of burial.”

The Confederate dead were placed in individual coffins, and a numbered stake was used to mark each grave. A detailed ledger recorded their name and burial place.

In 1867, the federal government assumed ownership of the site, and from 1899 - 1907, efforts were made to document the placement of the war dead. Even with those meticulous records, it was decided that it was “utterly impossible to identify the graves of those buried there.”

In an effort to honor the final resting place of these 1,354 men, the monument was erected. It was to serve as a marker for the unmarked graves of the Confederate dead.

Situated on the Mississippi River, Alton is a quaint little town struggling to survive, with a riverboat casino that brings in some cash and enables the town of 30,000 people to keep the lights on and the schools open. Despite that, the grounds of the Confederate Cemetery on Rozier Avenue are beautifully maintained.

When I visited the site in July 2015, every single thing - from the manicured grounds to the CCC-built wrought-iron fence - was in pristine condition.

The historic placards placed around the cemetery and prison tell a story that honors the memory of our Confederate dead. While it’s true that the victors write the history, the story of our Confederate soldiers - the men captured by the Union Army - is told with tenderness, approbation, honesty and the utmost respect. In 1935, a Confederate veteran - a survivor of that prison - returned to the ruins and was treated as an honored guest (see photo below) and a returning son.

The monument and grave site is treated as a scared site, and is given the proper reverence and honor.

That’s how the North treats our Confederate dead. Why can’t the South be permitted to do the same?

Here in Portsmouth, Virginia, our Confederate monument is under attack, by City Council members that have publicly stated that the monument must come down. This, despite the fact that specific state legislation prohibits the removal of monuments honoring our Confederate dead.

Perhaps City Council needs to take a field trip to Alton, Illinois, so they can learn a little something about honoring our war dead.

It’s a sad commentary that we must look to the North to teach us something about Southern civility and decency and honor.

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Everything within this sacred space is kept in pristine condition.

Everything within this sacred space is kept in pristine condition.

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In Alton, they are allowed to have nice things.

It's a sad commentary that our Southern heritage is honored more in Illinois than in Virginia.

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The Confederate cemetery is located off State Street on Rozier Avenue. For 12 years, I lived in the Riverbend area and wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and yet I knew next-to-nothing about this military cemetery in Upper Alton.

The Confederate cemetery is located off State Street on Rozier Avenue, a short, quiet residential street in Upper Alton. For 12 years, I lived in the Riverbend area and wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and yet I knew next-to-nothing about this "military cemetery" in Upper Alton.

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The 57-foot tall obelisk honors the 1,354 Confederate soldiers who died while imprisoned in Alton, by the Union.

The 57-foot tall obelisk honors the 1,354 Confederate soldiers who died while imprisoned by the Union. The bronze plaques give the names of each of the 1,354 soldiers.

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One of the many plaques at the base of the monument.

One of the many plaques at the base of the monument.

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Each plague

Each plaque lists the first and last name, and their unit. Most were from Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee, but many were from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi and Georgia.

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This 57-foot tall obelisk serves as a grave marker for the Confederate dead.

This 57-foot tall obelisk serves as a grave marker for the Confederate dead.

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plague

The North honors our war dead. Why can't we?

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monum

Sitting on an elevated site in a bucolic setting, it's beautiful, majestic and reverent.

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Save the

Much like our monument in Portsmouth, Virginia (and yet ours is more detailed and elegant and historically significant). Portsmouth's monument to our Confederate dead is on the National Registry, and is considered historically significant for many reasons. For one, it's one of only three monuments in the South that feature all four branches of service. Secondly, some of Portsmouth's own sons were used as models for the four zinc statues.

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About two miles south of the monument is the prison where the Confederate soldiers were incarcerated.

About two miles south of the monument you'll find the prison ruins where the Confederate soldiers were incarcerated. Located in downtown Alton, this is a popular tourism site for the city.

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In 1935, surviving Confederate soldier returned to the site.

In 1935, Confederate veteran Samuel Harrison (age 93) returned to the site of the prison and chose one of the limestone blocks as a grave marker for himself. He'd spent eight months at this prison in 1864. When released, he walked 45 miles to his home in Rolla, Missouri. When he returned to Alton in 1935, he was lauded as an honored guest. Harrison (of Dent, Missouri) said that this was the first time he'd returned to Alton since the War. Mr. Harrison related that overcrowding was endemic, and bunks were stacked "nine high, with three men to a bunk."

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The North is permitted to honor our Confederate dead. Why cant we?

The North is permitted to honor our Confederate dead. Why can't we?

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To read more about our monument in Portsmouth, Virginia, click here.

For the next 60 days, all monies received at this site will go directly to Stonewall Camp #380 for legal fees to save Portsmouth’s Confederate Monument. Click here to donate.

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