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This One’s Asking For Advice on Old Cook Stoves…

March 13th, 2015 Sears Homes 1 comment

A delightful anecdote from 1921 tells us that, when the Penniman houses were shipped to Norfolk, some of the workers went into one of the houses - as it made the slow 36-mile trek across the water - and made a full breakfast, using the oil cook stove in the kitchen.

That’s the kind of story that really makes history come alive.

The article, which appeared in the Peninsula Enterprise says,

Several workmen crossed the bay on the first barge that brought the houses. They had an oil stove in one of the houses. They got hungry and cooked some bacon and eggs and heated some coffee. They enjoyed a meal cooked in one of the houses while it was being towed to Norfolk (December 24, 1921).

More than being an interesting tidbit, it also illuminates this detail: Every kitchen in every Penniman house, built by a three-party contract between DuPont, Hancock-Pettyjohn and the US Government, came with an oil-fired cook stove.

Including an appliance in each house would have substantially increased the per-unit cost. Which is probably one reason why they did this. The houses were built on a popular-WW1 program known as “The Cost Plus Plan.”

When America entered WW1, we were in such a mad rush to get these munition plants up and running that there wasn’t time to seek bids and wait for bids and open bids and investigate potential contractors, so DuPont was charged with finding a trust-worthy contractor and the government agreed to pay all expenses of construction plus 8-1/2%. The downside of the Cost-Plus Plan is that the more money the house cost, the more money the contractor pocketed. Put another way, it took away incentives for the contractor to be efficient.

But I think there was more to this than just padding the price of a house.

This was a munitions plant where there were lots of opportunities for lots of things to go boom.

And when this contract for 200 houses was signed on December 31, 1917, the realities of the danger of TNT would be very fresh in everyone’s mind.

Three weeks earlier, December 6, 1917, the SS Mont Blanc, a French freighter, had just left Halifax heading for Bordeaux, France, where it would deliver 5,000,000 pounds of war-time explosives. It was about 8:45 am when the Mont Blanc collided with a Norwegian ship, the Imo. Despite the slow speed (about 2 knots), there was a resulting fire on the Mont Blanc. Sailors tried desperately to extinguish the growing fire, but eventually abandoned ship. About 20 minutes later, the drifting vessel returned to the wharf, and moments later, there was an explosion on the Mont Blanc.

According to the book, Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why, the resulting blast shattered windows 60 miles away, and more than 1,000 people lost their sight due to flying glass. A tsunami eliminated a nearby community.

All in all, more than 1,900 people died. During WW2, scientists working on the Manhattan Project studied Halifax because the magnitude of the explosion emulated an atomic bomb in so many ways.

Not that anyone at DuPont would have needed any such reminders. The engineers and architects employed by the company would have been well aware of the grave risks of a single errant spark.

Which also explains why each house had steam radiant heat, supplied by a central heating system. No risk of sparks from an independent residential coal-fired heating system.

Which also explains why each house did not have a coal-fired or wood-burning cook stove: The risk of embers and fire would have been too great.

Which leads me to my question: It appears that - maybe - these late 1910s oil (kerosene) cook stoves didn’t require a chimney or any venting. As my friend Milton said, they appear to be similar to kerosene space heaters (which were hugely popular in the 1980s). There’s a reservoir of kerosene, fed by gravity to a burner with a large wick. The unit produces small amounts of carbon monoxide, but not enough to cause CO poisoning.

If that’s true, why did every house in Penniman have a brick chimney?

Heat was supplied by a central heating plant. And I suspect (although I’m not sure) that the oil-fired cook stoves didn’t require venting.

Was it more evidence of the inefficiencies of the “Cost-Plus Plan”? Every house gets a chimney, whether or not it needs it? Or did the oil cook-stove need venting?

Thanks for any insights.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Perfection cook stoves were a big deal in the 1910s and 20s.

Perfection cook stoves were a big deal in the 1910s and 20s.

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These blue cylinders were called Chimneys but they were

These blue cylinders were called "Chimneys" but they were the burner mechanism for the stove.

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Lighting these puppies didn't look simple.

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That does look pretty hot.

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This looks like a lot of work. Why not electricity? Two reasons, electric stoves required tremendous amperage and re-wiring a house to receive an electric stove wouldnt have been easy. Electric stoves didnt really catch on until the late 1920s.

This looks like a lot of work. Why not electricity? Two reasons, electric stoves required tremendous amperage and re-wiring a house to receive an electric stove wouldn't have been easy. Electric stoves didn't get a foothold in the household appliance market until the 1930s.

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The last line is the best. Wow.

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Bacon. Its whats for breakfast. In a barge house.

Bacon. It's what's for breakfast. In a barge house. Virginia Pilot, December 1921.

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A Penniman house in Norfolk, about 1960.

A Penniman house in Norfolk, about 1960. All of these homes had chimneys, accessible from an interior kitchen wall. The question is - why?

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Read more about Penniman here.

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“I Bet a Man a Hat Today…”

March 2nd, 2015 Sears Homes No comments

For four years, I’ve been researching Penniman, and still, the most wonderful surprises keep popping up.

Last week, fellow history buff Mike Powell discovered a wonderful article in the Peninsula Enterprise (Accomac, Virginia) about moving houses from Penniman to Norfolk. It was dated December 24, 1921.

Emboldened by this enchanting discovery, I dragged my buddy Milton Crum down to the Newport News Public Library to see if we could find anything more in the local papers about these houses being moved. At this point, all we’d seen was the blip in the Virginian Pilot (with photo) from December 5th, 1921 (see below).

Lo and behold, Milton discovered an indepth article in the Newport News Times-Herald (November 23, 1921), which included a lot of specific information on the mechanics of moving a house - by barge - in 1921.

The article, titled “Plan to Move 31 Houses to City From Yorktown,” said,

W. T. and Guy Hastings purchased 31 more residences built by the government…The purchase of the 31 houses is the result of the success met in moving five, which were bought from the government some weeks ago.

“I bet a man a hat today,” said Mr. Hastings, “that I could have all 36 houses at Norfolk within five months, and I belive that I am going to win the bet. The work of moving them down to the water has been carried on by five men but today, I sent ten more men up the river and we shall move faster now.”

The article goes on to say that they started with a tractor, and using wooden logs and cast-iron pipe, they moved the houses down to the waterfront. Later, they used a steam derrick and made better progress. From this account, I also learned that the houses were “scattered about at Penniman,” and the average distance from house to riverfront was about four blocks.

And it’s within this article that we learned that the government built 275 houses at Penniman.

The article found by Mike Powell in the Peninsula Enterprise offered some interesting insights, too.

W. T. Hastings of Norfolk has just moved eight houses across the Chesapeake Bay to Norfolk, a distance of about 24 miles. During the war, the government built a war city at Penniman. All of these houses are of the very best material and are so well constructed that they could not be demolished without wrecking them beyond repair.

It goes on to say that Hastings had originally intended to disassemble the houses and rebuild them elsewhere.

[Hastings] found that the houses had been built on the cost-plus plan, and there were so many nails in them it would mean almost total destruction to tear them down.

My favorite piece of this article contains this little tidbit:

Several workmen crossed the bay on the first barge that brought the houses. They had an oil stove in one of the houses. They got hungry and decided to cook some bacon and eggs. They also heated some coffee. They enjoyed a meal cooked in one of the houses while it was being towed to Norfolk.

Today, almost 100 years later, I’ve found more than 60 of these houses in Norfolk, about two dozen in Williamsburg (most of which have been torn down) and that’s it. I know there are more, but finding them is proving quite difficult. The good news is, there’s one for sale right now in Williamsburg, and it’s a mere $900,000.

Inch by inch, I’m working on completing my manuscript on Penniman. It’s slow going, but there is some progress every day.

Join the fun! If you’ve found any amazing articles about Penniman, please drop me a note at Rosemary.ringer@gmail.com!

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Penniman was a

Penniman was quite a place. At its peak, there were 15,000 people living and working within its borders. That's the York River in the background. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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House

Built as a shell-loading plant for WW1, Penniman was short lived. Three years after DuPont agents first started buying up farm land on the York River, it was all over and Penniman was sold off. More than 60 of the two-story houses built at Penniman ended up in Norfolk. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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At Penniman, workers filled 155mm and 75mm shells with TNT and Amatol.

At Penniman, workers filled 155mm and 75mm shells with TNT and Amatol. You'll notice that some of these buildings have two-story chutes leading to the ground. Alice Hamilton was a female physician and researcher who studied the problem of TNT poisoning in WW1 in America, and she wrote a book titled, "The Dangerous Trades." In that book she talks about touring a plant like Penniman and was told that she should keep alert to sparks from static electricity, and if she saw one, "Dash for that door and slide down and when you hit the ground, don't look behind you and keep right on running." Milton calls these, "Get the heck out doors." Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Penniman

The houses were built near the York River (at top of page). Our Ethels are by the water tower (far left). Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Hse

Here's a close-up of The Haskell, which was built at Dupont Munitions Plants in Penniman, Hopewell (Virginia), Old Hickory, Tennessee, Carney's Point, New Jersey and more. Many Penniman Haskells ended up in Norfolk.

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In fact, Mr. W. T. Hastings moved into one of the houses that he shipped in from Penniman. This photo was taken about 1937.

In fact, Mr. W. T. Hastings moved into one of the houses that he shipped in from Penniman, and gifted several of the houses to family members. This photo was taken about 1937. He's missing his hat. I hope he didn't lose that bet.

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Three Haskells were moved to Ocean View, to 13th View Street in Norfolk.

Three Haskells were moved to Ocean View, to 13th View Street in Norfolk.

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Heres a glimpse of the three Haskells about 1969.

Here's a glimpse of the three Haskells about 1969 (Norfolk Tax Assessor's Office).

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Here are some of Mr. Hastings homes floating down the Chesapeake Bay. This is from the Virginian Pilot (December 5, 1921).

Here are Mr. Hastings' homes floating down the Chesapeake Bay. This is from the "Virginian Pilot" (December 5, 1921).

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According to these newspaper articles, the houses moved by Hastings were up to four blocks in from the York River.

According to these newspaper articles, the houses moved by Hastings were up to four blocks in from the York River. This map shows - in detail - the location of the residences in Penniman. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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One of the choicest tidbits in these articles is the story that the workers cooked a nice breakfast on the oil stove in the Penniman house. Why did the engineers/architects decide on oil cook stoves for their little houses? Without exception, every house that DuPont erected in a WW1 munitions plant had a centralized steam heating plant (for obvious reasons), but why an oil cook stove? Ive read that the oil cook stove was very efficient. Was this a way to make sure there were no embers flying out the chimney? Matches were prohibited on the reservation. If you were caught with matches on your body, you were given one warning. The second time, you were fired. Were oil stoves matchless?

One of the choicest tidbits in these articles is the story that the workers cooked a nice breakfast on the oil stove in the Penniman house. Why did the engineers/architects decide on oil cook stoves for their little houses? Without exception, every house that DuPont erected in a WW1 munitions plant had a centralized steam heating plant (for obvious reasons), but why an oil cook stove? I've read that the oil cook stove was very efficient. Was this a way to make sure there were no embers flying out the chimney? I wish I knew.

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To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Mr. Jones, Where Are Your Lovely Photos?

February 23rd, 2015 Sears Homes No comments

In that process of rummaging through my notes on Penniman, I was reminded that I’d been looking for photos taken by Drewry Jones of Williamsburg. Despite lots of poking around, I never have been able to locate those photos (originals or reproductions), or anyone who has even heard of Mr. Jones’ collection of photos.

The photos appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch in an indepth article on Virginia’s Own Ghost City: Penniman (June 1938). The article featured a wide photo of Penniman’s village (with all those little houses).

Despite two trips to Hagley Museum and Library (in Wilmington, Delaware) and several billion trips to area museums and libraries, I’ve never seen anything like those photos. They were truly unique in that they captured a great view of Penniman’s residential village.

Augustus Drewery (sometimes spelled “Drewry”) danced off this mortal coil on April 8, 1977. His obituary was published in the Newport News Daily Press on April 10, 1977, and named two nephews as his lone survivors.

I’ve sent two letters to Mr. Jones’ only surviving nephew (”Dr. John M. Pitman” of Williamsburg) and haven’t heard a peep. That was 18 months ago.

The rest of Mr. Jones’ obit reads,

Augustus Drewery Jones of Williamsburg died Friday in a Williamsburg Community Hospital after a long illness.

A lifelong resident of Williamsburg, Mr. Jones was a graduate of the College of William and Mary. After a long career with the Peninsula Bank and Trust Company, he was appointed state treasurer of Williamsburg-James City County and retired from office in 1959.

He was past chairman of the board of deacons and ruling elder of Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, a member of the Association for the Preservation of Antiquities, the Pulaski Club, Sons of American Revolution, Williamsburg Rotary Club, and a former member of the Williamsburg Rotary Club.

Mr. Jones loved Penniman. In fact, in the early 1920s, he had one of the old Penniman houses moved to a lot on South England Street, and he lived there until his death. In fact, that house is currently for sale! Click here to see pictures!

And he owned photo(s) of Penniman - that he shared with the Richmond Times Dispatch - which were taken from an angle that I’ve not seen anywhere else.

Drewry Jones was fairly well-connected, as an alumn of William and Mary College, a banker with the Peninsular Bank and Trust Company and state treasurer of James City County. Someone somewhere must know this fellow.

I’d be so grateful if anyone could help me find out what became of Mr. Jones’ collection of photos.

For the intrepid researchers here, below is a list of where I have already checked for these photos.

1)     Valentine Museum

2)     York County Museum

3)     William and Mary Swem Library

4)     Virginia Historical Society

5)     Preservation Virginia

6)     Colonial Williamsburg ’s “Rockefeller Library”

7)     York County Library

8)     Waterman’s Museum ( Yorktown )

9)     Virginia Department of Historic Resources

10)   Library of Virginia

11)   Newport News War Museum

12)  Richmond Times Dispatch

So where are Mr. Jones’ photos?

There are a handful of Penniman houses in Williamsburg. Click here to learn more.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

See the interior of Mr. Jones’ home by clicking here.

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PHotos

Here's a grainy reproduction of Mr. Jones' photo, as seen in the Richmond newspaper (June 2, 1938).

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house

Here's the original newspaper reference to "a print belongin gDrewry Jones of Williamsburg" (RTD, June 2, 1938).

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house

If you squnit your eyes a lot and look closely at this photo of Penniman (1918), you can see two of the DuPont "Georgias" in the photo. As one historian said, "Penniman was not erased, it was dispersed." Many of these houses were moved to nearby cities. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Georgia

Drewry's house was a DuPont design, The Georgia."

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House

Drewery loved Penniman. He purchased this house from DuPont's 37th munitions plant on the York River, and had it moved to Williamsburg. Drewery lived in this house on South England for many years.

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Drewr

After Mark Hardin first spotted this house, we traveled out to Williamsburg to see it "in the flesh." It's had some pretty substantial additions added onto it in the intervening 90 years.

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Heres a Georgia that started life at Penniman, and landed (with 64 other Penniman houses) in Norfolk, Virginia. The houses were shipped by barge from Penniman to the Riverfront neighborhood in Norfolk (Glenroie Avenue and Major Avenue).

Here's a Georgia that started life at Penniman, and landed (with 64 other Penniman houses) in Norfolk, Virginia. The houses were shipped by barge from Penniman to the Riverfront neighborhood in Norfolk (Glenroie Avenue and Major Avenue). Notice the windows flanking the front door.

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The Georgia was designed by DuPonts architects, and was *probably* built with building materials from North American Construction Company (also known as Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes). The houses were built by Hancock-Pettijohn. Shown below is a chit found at the old Penniman site, maybe used for checking tools out of the tool shed.

The Georgia was designed by DuPont's architects, and was *probably* built with building materials from North American Construction Company (also known as Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes). The houses were built by Hancock-Pettijohn. Shown below is a chit found at the old Penniman site, maybe used for checking tools out of the tool shed.

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The only other tidbit I have is that on March 17, 1918, this item appeared in the Virginia Gazette.

The only other tidbit I have is that on March 17, 1918, this item appeared in the Virginia Gazette. Seems Mr. Jones resigned from C&P (as manager) on March 1, 1918.

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And on January 15, 1926

And as of January 15, 1926, Mrs. Drewry Jones was chair of The Little Theater League.

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To read more about Penniman, 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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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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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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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.


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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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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Penniman Remnants in Williamsburg

November 27th, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

“Penniman was not erased, it was dispersed” (R. Wythe Davis).

While organizing my 2,000+ pages of research notes on Penniman, I found the above quote. It was in amongst some materials shared with me by author and historian Will Molineux. It offers quite an insight on what happened at Penniman after its closing in 1919 (following the Armistice).

To really wrap your mind around history, it has to be set in context. And in the early 1900s, we were a very thrifty people.

Americans were very wise about salvaging and re-using anything that could be salvaged and re-used, and houses were not an exception. Immediately following The Great War, there was a profound shortage of building materials, making Penniman’s abundance of “almost new” lumber ever more appealing.

Newspaper articles reflect that several local developers and real estate men went into Penniman and purchased houses to move to other areas. Residents recalled that it was a common sight to see houses being moved down Williamsburg’s streets in the 1920s.

An article Richmond News Leader states that local businessmen E. T. Davis and city councilman John Warburton moved several houses out of Penniman. William and Mary College also purchased 5+ Penniman structures over a period of five years.

In October 1921, the Virginia Gazette reported that developer W. A. Bozarth moved 17 houses from Penniman to Williamsburg, and placed many of them “on Capitol Landing Road.” Two months later, the Virginian Pilot reported that W. T. Hastings had purchased 40+ houses from Penniman to move into Norfolk, via barge. Sometime in 1923, George Hudson moved more than 20 Penniman bungalows to Norfolk (also by barge). The Richmond News Leader says that several Penniman houses landed in “Newport News and surrounding cities” (Richmond News Leader, June 22, 1938).

Mr. Davis was right: Penniman wasn’t erased, it was dispersed. And he’d be in a position to know. He was a Yorktown native, a Navy retiree, and served as Officer-in-Charge of Cheatham Annex for a time. And he was also the husband of Marguerite Bozarth Davis, who was born and raised in a Penniman house on Nelson Street (Williamsburg).

Sadly, most of these many Penniman houses landed in the path of Rockefeller’s 1930s redevelopment of Williamsburg.

However, Mark Hardin and I have located a handful of the survivors in Williamsburg.

It’s likely that there are more than we’ve found. Bear in mind, some of these structures were built as temporary homes, which means that they had tar-paper roofing, siding and temporary wooden foundations.

The exterior “walls” originally had horizontal planking (probably 1×4s), covered with Rubberoid (tar paper). It wouldn’t take a whole lot of work to transform that structure into a permanent one by adding clapboards and roofing shingles and setting it up on a substantial (masonry) foundation.

And Marguerite’s childhood home got a second story added, a few porches and solid brick walls. Absent Mr. Davis’ information, I wouldn’t have identified the Bozarth home as a Penniman house in a kajillion years.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

houses poorly built

This wonderful photo shows some of the ongoing construction at Penniman (1917 or 1918). Check out the foundations being laid for these buildings, known as "Six room apartments." The foundations are nothing more than wooden pilings with vertical framing members across the top. And if you look closely at the building to the right in this photo, you can see the horizontal planking on the walls. After zooming in on these photos, I'd say it looks like the wall studs are on 16" centers. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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The predominant DuPont design we found in Williamsburg is the Florence.

The predominant DuPont design we found in Williamsburg is the "Florence." A notable feature is the windows flanking the front door. Also note the three matching windows down the side (bedroom, bath, bedroom). Check out the description: "Interior finished in beaver-board." In other words, the interior did not have sheetrock, but a product akin to beaded paneling. It was a composite material, made of compressed wood pulp. Today, you'll occasionally find it installed in the attic of pre-WW2 houses.

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Heres a Florence that Mark discovered, just off Capitol Landing Road.

Here's a Florence that Mark discovered, just off Capitol Landing Road in Williamsburg. Seems likely that this was one of W. A. Bozarth's "17 houses" moved out of Penniman.

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If you zoom in,

If you zoom in, you can see those windows flanking the door. This house is a dandy, because it's in largely original condition. Even that simple shed roof on the front porch is original.

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And I dont know how he did it, but Mark also found this Florence on Capitol Landing Road.

Mark also found this Florence on Capitol Landing Road. The windows flanking the door are hidden by the screened-in porch, but if you look hard, you can see them. The dormer was probably added when the house was moved, and the Denver-esque porch columns (six total) were also an add-on. The windows in the dormer (nine lite) wouldn't have been hard to find, considering that Penniman houses were also being sold as "salvage" (in pieces and parts). If you look at the other Penniman houses, you'll see that they had 9/1 windows. Photo is copyright 2013 Megan Hardin and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another house is the Denver

Another popular DuPont model was "The Denver." This also had beaver-board interior walls.

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Denver Capitol

This DuPont Denver is located on Capitol Landing Road. Sadly, it's surrounded by commercial development which means many of Mr. Bozarth's Penniman homes are now sitting in a landfill somewhere.

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Denver

Fun comparison of the extant Denver with the original catalog picture.

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Mark found this vintage now torn down

Mark Hardin found this vintage picture of a Denver that was located at 811 Capitol Landing Road. We've no idea when it was torn down, but as Mark pointed out, those look like 1950s chairs on the front porch.

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houses moved

How was W. A. Bozarth related to Marguerite Bozarth Davis? The 1940 Census shows Marguarite, age 9, living with her grandfather, James Bozarth. According to R. Wythe Davis, their home on Nelson Street came from Penniman, although it sure doesn't look like a Penniman house today! This article (above) appeared in the "Virginia Gazette" in October 1921.

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Another design we found in Williamsburg is the

Another design we found still standing in Williamsburg is the Georgia. In Norfolk, we have several of these on Major and Glenroie Avenue (brought here by W. W. Hastings in 1921). There's only one remaining in Williamsburg.

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Drewery Jones

According to the 1940 Census, this DuPont "Georgia" was the home of Augustus Drewery Jones. Mr. Jones passed on in 1977. Mr. Jones is of special interest to me because in a 1938 "Richmond News Leader" article, he's given credit as being the owner of some fine vintage photos of Penniman, Virginia. Oh, how I'd love to see those originals! I've contacted his one surviving heir (a couple times) but haven't heard back. Someone must have those originals!

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Drewery Jones lived here

Drewery Jones, where are your photos? I'd be happy to find Mr. Garrett's photos, too!

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The pictures shown in the 1938 Richmond News Leader article came from Drewery Jones. I have 200+ pictures of Penniman (thanks to Hagley Museum and Library), but I dont have anything from this angle, showing all the pretty little houses.

The pictures shown in the 1938 "Richmond News Leader" came from Drewery Jones. I have 200+ pictures of Penniman (thanks to Hagley Museum and Library), but I don't have anything from this angle, showing all the pretty little houses.

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Mr. Jack Garrett took this photo of the ruins of Penniman.

Mr. Jack Garrett took this photo of the ruins of Penniman (as of 1938).

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Richmond News Leader 1938

In 1938, the "Richmond News Leader" gave some specifics about the dispersing of Penniman.

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This ad first appeared in April 1921 Virginia Gazette.

This ad first appeared in April 1921 Virginia Gazette. In the early 1920s, "Wrecking Company" was another word for "architectural salvage." At this point, the houses were being sold in pieces and parts, as well as whole.

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The house that started it all, The Ethel, has not been found anywhere but Norfolk, Virginia.

The house that started us down this long and winding research path: "The Ethel of Riverview." In DuPont literature, this house was known as "The DuPont," and DuPont, Washington (site of a DuPont plant) is full of DuPont "DuPonts," but you can see why we've stuck with the name, The Ethel. Heretofore, the Ethel has not been found anywhere but Norfolk, Virginia. Our Ethels were built at Penniman in Spring 1918 and moved by barge to Norfolk in 1923. Are there more Ethels out there? If so, I wish they'd contact me.

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Are there more Penniman remnants in Williamsburg that we have yet to discover?

I suspect that there are!

To see pictures of our Ethels in the 1940s, click here.

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

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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Travel Back In Time With Me and Say Hello to The Ethels!

November 25th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

Thanks to a well-organized city assessor’s office in Norfolk, I was able to see and photograph several vintage photos of our “Ethels” (in Riverview - Norfolk) from the late 1940s and early 50s.

And I must say, it was very interesting!

These were the houses that were built at Penniman, VA (DuPont’s 37th munitions site) and moved - by barge - to Riverview. You can read more about that here.

The main reason for today’s blog is that I just *LOVE* looking at vintage pictures of houses, and the only thing better than looking at them myself is sharing the images with others. These early 20th Century bungalows looked so pure and simple and sweet back in the day. Best of all, when most of these photos were taken, the siding salesman hadn’t been invented yet.

And because of the Penniman connection, I have a special fondness for our Ethels.

So stroll down Ethel Avenue with me through the 1940s, and take a peek at our Ethels!

(Photos are courtesy Norfolk City Assessor’s Office.)

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Ethel

To begin, here's an Ethel in its native habitat: Penniman, VA. These homes were built in Spring 1918 by DuPont to house the munitions workers at the plant. While built based on DuPont plans, the construction of these homes was actually funded by the U. S. Government. After The Great War ended, the government sold them off as salvage in an effort to recoup some of their investment. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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Lava

Here's an "Ethel" in 1948. In the back yard, you can see the rear of another Ethel. And check out the sweet ride in the driveway. When photographed, this Ethel was a mere 30 years old, and had lived in Riverview for 25 years.

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Lava Eth

Some of the photos were crisper than others, and some photos were newer than others. Wish I knew what kind of car that was (right corner). That might help "date" the photo.

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This Ethel is looking so pretty and pure, but then again, it's still so young.

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more

And this Ethel has a flower box. How sweet is that? Pretty house!

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house hosue house

The Ethels looked a lot better without substitute siding.

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hello

Fine-looking house, and check out the curious housewife.

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oeek a boo

I recognize that look. It's a "what-the-heck-are-they-doing-photographing-my-house" look.

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house house

You can see the original railings on the other side of the screened porch.

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houseie

People loved their porches in the days before air conditioning.

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house hosue

And there's a curious feature I've noticed in these vintage pictures: There's additional wooden siding below the home's skirt board. I suspect that this has something to do with the house being built elsewhere and moved to this site, but exactly what it means is a mystery.

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house house

Here's another close-up on the extra clapboards *below* the skirt board. I don't recall ever seeing anything like that before, and I've seen a lot of pre-1920s housing.

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Amptjer

Another close up, and this one has cedar or cypress shakes to fill in the gaps. On most frame houses (such as our Ethels), the skirt board is the bottom-most vertical trim piece. Why did they add the extra trim?

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notice

In these Penniman photos (from 1918), there is some skirting but it's vertical planking and is used to keep the rodents and wind out of the crawl space. That extra siding below the skirt board was done at the Riverview site for reasons that elude me. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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Mr. Hubby has mixed feelings about spending his lunch hour at City Hall, helping the crazy wife organize files and study old pictures, and yet, he remains a good sport about it all.

Mr. Hubby has mixed feelings about spending his lunch hour at City Hall, helping the crazy wife organize files and study old pictures, and yet, he remains a good sport about it all.

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To learn more about Penniman, click here.

Want to see how many houses you can fit on a barge? Click here.

If you have a theory as to why that extra material was added below the skirt board, please leave a comment below!

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These Are a Few of My Favorite Things…

January 30th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

Since August 2010, I’ve written almost 700 blogs. That’s a lot of blogs. Each blog has three or more photos. That’s thousands of photos.

Some of these blogs took several hours to compose, and then get bumped off the page within a week of their creation.

So I’m posting a few of my favorite blogs below. If you’ve enjoyed this site, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

The Sears Corona has always been one of my favorite houses (1921).

The Sears Corona has always been one of my favorite houses (1921).

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Sears Corona in Gillespie, Illinois.

A perfect Sears Corona in Gillespie, Illinois.

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Last year, I wrote a blog about the San Jose. I’ve never seen one, but this was Rebecca’s find. Awesome house. Click here.

This blog was devoted to Alhambras, and had pictures of my favorite Alhambras of all time.

The Magnolia is my favorite house, and this blog has photos of all six Magnolias that are in existence today.

In this blog (also picture heavy) I provided lots of info on how to identify a Magnolia.

And this features a story from a 92-year-old man that built a Magnolia in the 1920s.

This blog was created from photos sent in by Pat, an Ohio resident. LOTS of Sears Homes in Ohio!

West Virginia is one of my favorite places in all the world, and Lewisburg is loaded with Sears Homes. Click here to see many fun photos.

And if you have about 10 hours to spare, click here to read the story of my Aunt Addie’s apparent murder. Let me warn you, her story is addictive! You can’t read just one link!!

Click here to read about her exhumation, and let me tell, that’s quite a story too!

Really awesome photos of Carlinville, IL (which has 150 Sears Homes) can be seen here.

This is one of the MOST popular blogs at this site. It’s picture-heavy tour of my old house in Colonial Place. We sold it a couple years ago, and yet this blog is a perennial favorite.

Another perennial favorite is the story of how we redid our bathroom in the old house. Came out beautiful, but what a project!

Here’s a detailed blog on one of Sears most popular homes: The Vallonia.

This was another fascinating historical research project: Penniman - Virginia’s Ghost Town. Wow, what a story that turned out to be!

Those are just a few of my favorites.  If you want to read more, look to the right of the page and you’ll see this (shown below). Click on any one of those months to navigate through the older blogs.

Call

Click on this column (to the right) and you'll find the rest of those 680 blogs!

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Thanks for reading the blog, and please leave a comment below!

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Old Hickory, Tennessee and Norfolk, Virginia (Updated!)

January 1st, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

Since I moved to Norfolk in September 2006, the 16 identical bungalows on Ethel Avenue have been whispering my name, and imploring me to come close, and learn more about their unique origins. Problem was, I could never quite make out what they were saying.

For years, I pored through my vintage catalogs from Sears, Aladdin, Gordon Van Tine, Lewis Manufacturing, Sterling Homes and even Pacific Ready Cut Homes, hoping to identify them as kit homes from a mail-order company.

I never could find a design that was anything close.

Someone in town said the houses were built at the 300th anniversary fair at Jamestown (1904) and moved from that site to their resting place in Riverview (Norfolk). That didn’t ring true, because these little bungalows were more typical of the 1910s. And somewhere, we heard that there had been a DuPont factory in Penniman, Virginia (about 30 minutes from Norfolk), and that the houses might have come from the factory at Penniman.

And then I started doing research on Hopewell, Virginia and learned that it had also been the site of a DuPont munitions factory. So I drove around Hopewell, trying to find our “Ethels” (as they came to be known).

There have been many interesting discoveries along the way. To read a full history of our project, click here.

If I was doing this project on my own, it probably would have ended when I couldn’t find the houses in my mail order catalogs. But I’m not alone. Norfolk historian David Spriggs and Researcher Extraordinaire Mark Hardin have been doing most of the heavy lifting. And they’ve made some amazing discoveries.

It was Mark who found our “Ethels” in other cities (Butte, Montana and Dupont, Washington), and it was Mark who found a plethora of info on the architecture history of DuPont’s “Munition Towns.”

It was David who found an article about George P. Hudson in a newspaper article dated April 14, 1922. Hudson owned several lots where Ethels landed, and also owned a barge company here in Norfolk.

A few months ago, Mark Hardin sent me a photo of a Dupont design in Old Hickory, Tennessee (near Nashville).  I looked at it, but I wasn’t sure what to think. And then last week, David Spriggs said, “I think I’ve identified a two-story Dupont design here in Riverview.”

I thought, “Okay, I’ll look at it.”

And that’s when things took a turn for the better.

Looking at the architectural details of David’s “two-story Dupont house,” and comparing it to our Ethels, I had to say, he was right. The two houses shared several important architectural features. And then I noticed the two-story house had a long tall attic window. Where had I seen that before? In the picture that Mark sent me, of the houses in Old Hickory.

David and I had also been told that there were some houses on Major Avenue (another part of Norfolk), that had come here by barge. We drove down Major Avenue and that’s when it all started to come together. The houses on Major Avenue had a very distinctive attic window that we’d just seen on the two-story “Dupont Design” in Riverview.

Pictures are a lot better than words, so here are a few pictures (below).

I’d be grateful for any information anyone can share about Old Hickory, TN.

*David Spriggs and Mark Hardin have done most of the research on this subject. On this project, I’ve been the blog writer and photo taker!  :)

H

On the left is a vintage picture of a Dupont Design (The Haskell) that was built in Old Hickory, TN. On the right is a house in Norfolk (on Major Avenue). We're now pretty well certain that these houses came from Penniman (site of a Dupont Munitions Factory) and floated by barge to this location. According to an article in the "Richmond News Leader" (June 1938) there are 51 of these homes in Norfolk, in varying designs. Thus far, we've found fewer than 30 of the 51 houses.

Vintage photo of Old Hickory (site of a Dupont Munitions Plant) shows two of the eight housing styles found there. These are the same two housing styles found on Major Avenue in Norfolk, VA.

Vintage photo of Old Hickory (site of a Dupont Munitions Plant in Tennessee) shows two of the eight housing styles found there. These are the same two housing styles found on Major Avenue and Glenroie Avenue in Norfolk, VA.

This little Dutch Colonial

This little Dutch Colonial was one of the "Dupont Designs" found in Old Hickory, Tennessee. Note the narrow windows by the front door.

house

There are nine of these "Dutchie Dupont' designs on Major Avenue and Glenroie Avenue in Norfolk. These Norfolk houses are a perfect match to the houses in Old Hickory, TN.

Two of the many Dutchies from DuPont found in Norfolk.

One of the many "Dutchies from DuPont" found in Norfolk.

Cumberland

The Cumberland was one of 12 designs created by Dupont and found in both Norfolk and Old Hickory. There are two of these on Major Avenue (Norfolk).

And heres the real life example.

And here's one of two Cumberlands on Major Avenue. It is a perfect match to the Dupont Cumberland found in Old Hickory, TN.

The other Cumberland on Major Avenue

The other Cumberland on Major Avenue.

This is the two-story house (ensconced in the land of Ethels) in Riverview. Note the unusual attic window.

This is the two-story house (ensconced in the land of Ethels) in Norfolk. Note the tall thin attic window which is a perfect match to the Old Hickory house above. There are other architectural features which lead us to believe that this is also a "Dupont Design." This house was floated by barge to its location here in Norfolk. This is a big house to move!

Close-up of the attic window.

Close-up of the attic window found on all the two-storyy Dupont designs.

It all started with these little bungalows that weve named, The Ethels. There are 16 of these in Riverview (Ethel Avenue) and two in Highland Park (51st Street) in Norfolk.

It all started with these little bungalows that we've named, The Ethels. There are 16 of these in Riverview (Ethel Avenue) and two in Highland Park (51st Street) in Norfolk.

I spent many hours of my life, poring through old mail order catalogs, trying to identify these bungalows as kit homes.

I spent many hours of my life, poring through old mail order catalogs, trying to identify these bungalows as kit homes. And it turns out, they were built by Dupont for their employees at Penniman (Virginia). Dupont had a massive munitions plant there in Penniman, and after it was closed, the houses were shipped out to other cities, including Norfolk. That's where these "Ethels" came from.

And there are dozens of Ethels in Dupont, Washington, site of another Dupont Munitions plant.

And there are dozens of "Ethels" in Dupont, Washington, site of another Dupont Munitions plant.

Close-up of dormer

This dormer window on these "Ethels" is a pretty distinctive feature.

If you have any information about the houses in Old Hickory, please leave a comment below.

And there was an employee newsletter called, “The Projectile,” which featured a story on the building of these houses. That would also be an incredible resource. Thanks in advance for any and all help.

If you’d like to read earlier posts, start with Part I.

And then go to Part II.

Part III.

Part IV.

Part V.

Part VI.

Part VII.

Part VIII.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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