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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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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!  :)

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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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