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Virginia’s Very Own Ghost Town: Penniman (Part II)

February 15th, 2012 Sears Homes 2 comments

In 1918, Penniman was a real boom town, with 10,000 living in the village and another 10,000 to 20,000 people living in the outlying areas. By 1920, it was all over, and the 250+ houses in the village were boarded up and moved to other places.

Penniman, Virginia, sat on the land now occupied by Cheatham Annex (near Williamsburg) and started - quite literally - as a Boom Town.

In all started in late 1916, when DuPont selected Penniman as the site of their 37th munitions plant, probably because of its location:  It bordered the broad York River, had good rail access, and it was safely away from population centers. When you’re manufacturing explosives, sometimes things go BOOM.  (Google “DuPont Munitions Plant Explosions” to find a dozen pre-WW1 examples.)

To learn more about Penniman, read Part I here.

Recently, David Spriggs and I drove to Williamsburg, trying to find any original Penniman houses that had been moved there.

An aside: If you’re a person who adores early 20th Century architecture, Williamsburg is bad news. Due to the incredible expansion of the college (W&M), and the massive re-creation of Colonial Williamsburg in the 1920s and 30s, most of the early 1900s housing is gone. In 1926, Standard Oil philanthropist John D. Rockefeller donated more than $50 million to restore and re-create Virginia’s colonial capitol. To make way for the reproduced village of Williamsburg, many “crummy little bungalows” were sent to their reward.

Thanks to an old article in the Richmond News Leader in June 1938, we knew that some of the houses from Penniman had been moved to Williamsburg, and in fact, we had a street name: South England.

Willaism

This is a piece of an article that appeared in the Richmond News Leader in 1938.

The house(s) on Scotland are gone, and I suspect the “temporary dormitories” are long gone, too. We didn’t find anything on North Henry Street.

When David turned his dark blue Volvo down South England Street, we weren’t expecting much. It was a dead-end street and despite a lot of driving around, we hadn’t found a single Penniman house anywhere in town.

But when we rolled down to the corner of South England and Williamsburg, I recognized a house that I’d seen before. Actually, I’d seen a picture of it before. Mark Hardin had emailed the photo a few weeks prior, asking if it was a Penniman house. Looking at the picture, I’d said, “No, I don’t think it is.”

Seeing the house in the flesh changed my mind. It was most certainly a Penniman “Georgia.”

The Geogia was a Dupont design, built for factory workers at their plants in Penniman, Old Hickory, TN and Carney Point, NJ.

The Georgia was a Dupont design, built for factory workers at their plants in Penniman, Old Hickory, TN and Carney Point, NJ.

Was this a Penniman house? At first glance, youd say, heck no, but wait...

Was this a Penniman house? At first glance, you'd say, heck no, but wait...

The Penniman houses were wee tiny. This house is massive.

The Penniman houses were wee tiny. This house is massive.

But when you look at it from the front...

But when you look at it from the front, you see some distinctive features.

And you see that the house in Williamsburg (the yellow house with deep green shutters) is a nice match to the known Penniman Georgias on Major Avenue in Norfolk.

And you see that the house in Williamsburg (the yellow house with deep green shutters) is a nice match to the known Penniman house on Major Avenue in Norfolk (shown here). Notice the long, tall windows flanking the front door? That's a very distinctive feature on the DuPont Georgia.

The Penniman houses were wee tiny. This house is massive.

And if you look at the brick foundation, you'll see where it transitions from original 1920s structure to more modern brick foundation.

put somewhere else

The footprint of original structure is evident when you look at the foundation.

Do sis

They added some newer windows and enlarged the openings a bit and they added some batten shutters, and they built a 2,500-square-foot addition on the rear, but I'd have to say, this is most definitely one of our lost houses from Penniman, Virginia.

The Geogia was a Dupont design, built for factory workers at their plants in Penniman, Old Hickory, TN and Carney Point, NJ.

When you compare the two houses from the same angle, you can see - this house on in the 400-block of S. England in Williamsburg is clearly a Penniman house!

Thanks to Mark Hardin and David Spriggs for finding these little jewels in Williamsburg!  :)  It was Mark Hardin who first found this house on S. England, via Google!

To learn more about Virginia’s own ghost town, click here.

To learn about Sears Homes, click here.

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