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“Thou Shalt Not Destroy Good Old Work - Or Houses”

February 19th, 2016 Sears Homes 3 comments

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

Local Arts Center buys 105-year-old house in historic river town of Mathews, Virginia.

After a careful analysis, officials of this Arts Center determine that the old house they bought is an old house and must be demolished.

Perhaps the directors need to read this blog: “Thou shalt not destroy good old work.”

“Thou shalt not destroy good old work” is the first commandment in old house ownership.

The Bay School Community Arts Center paid $80,000 for the L. M. Callis house in March 2015, for the purpose of expanding their enterprise. When the property (and its one-acre lot) was purchased, the Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal ran a nice article, where they quoted Arts Center Business Director Debbie Brown as saying that there were “many ideas” for the best use of the house and land.

A subsequent article which appeared this week in the Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal (February 17, 2016) said that the Bay School Community Arts Center was now planning to demolish the house.

Arts Center spokesman Kelsey Desmond said it was a “difficult decision” made after they realized that the house needed insulation, roof repairs, plumbing upgrades, and heating and air conditioning systems. Plus (and maybe this was the straw that broke the camel’s back), the house had several broken window panes.

Many in the community remain hopeful that the Arts Center will have a change of hearth on this one. A contractor and two local architects have written letters of support, urging the Bay School Community Arts Center to preserve the house, as it is a contributing structure, built in 1910  by a well-known businessman,  and represents some of the finest architectural features of its time (early 1900s). After inspecting the L. M. Callis house, a contractor stated that it is “an excellent candidate for refurbishment.”

Every now and then, Norfolk Historian Bill Inge does a program called, “Lost Norfolk” which features dozens of pictures of the most beautiful old houses and buildings which are now gone, thoughtlessly demolished in the dark name of progress. At each slide, the audience first gasps and then sighs when they see the majesty and the sheer number of architectural gems that were razed, reduced to a pile of debris at the local landfill.

Fortunately, the majority of those dwellings were lost pre-1980. By the 1980s, most communities realized that in destroying architecturally significant properties, they were ripping out the very soul of their community and the beating heart of their history, and the wanton destruction stopped.

That’s one of 27 reasons it surprised me to hear that the L. M. Callis house is facing the gallows. This is 2016. We know better than to continue tearing down these irreplaceable gems. Perhaps the Arts Center needs to see these old houses as I see them: Breathtaking massive sculptures, painstakingly carved out from Cypress, Cedar, Oak and Pine. These glorious and massive wooden sculptures come with this immeasurable bonus: We can live within them, and experience these glorious artistic forms from the inside-out.

In my opinion, tearing down a grand old house is no different from purposefully destroying historic artwork.

And don’t get me started on the recycling issue. More than 40% of all the detritus in American landfills is construction debris. So while the Arts Center may place a few recycle bins at their shiny new facility, is that really going to counteract the effect of sending 350,000 pounds of irreplaceable first-growth lumber from virgin forests to the landfill?

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To read more about why this wood is irreplaceable, click here.

To learn more about why you should not destroy “good old work” click here.

Thanks to Lori Jackson Black for supplying the photos.

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This old house was built by local merchant, L. M. Callis, and its located behind the Bay School Buildings.

This old house was built by local merchant, L. M. Callis, and it's located behind the Bay School Buildings. Yeah, that is slate on the roof, and most likely, it's Buckingham Slate, considered the finest roofing material in the world. Photo is copyright 2016 Lori Jackson Black and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Buckingham slate is mined in Buckingham County (hence the name) and weighs about 1,400 pounds per square. You heard that right: A 10x10 section of Buckingham slate weighs 1,400 pounds. Houses built to receive this roof would have been overbuilt to accomodate the phenonenal weight of the roofing shingles.

Buckingham slate is mined in Buckingham County (hence the name) and weighs about 1,400 pounds per square. You heard that right: A 10x10 section of Buckingham slate weighs 1,400 pounds. Houses built to receive this roof would have been overbuilt to accommodate the phenomenal weight of the roofing shingles. Photo is copyright 2016 Lori Jackson Black and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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One of the best reads for any old house lover,

In this wonderful book, Mr. Jenkins explains that Europeans don't tear down things like we do, and there are slate roofs in Europe that are more than 400 years old. Slate roofs need maintenance but they need never be replaced. Remember I mentioned that 40% of all materials at landfills are construction related? About 35% of that is roofing materials. Slate roofs are forever and they are the "greenest" roof you can possible use.

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And you'll note, the house has slate on the gables as well. Perhaps most incredibly, 105 years later, this house still retains its original windows, siding, roof and even shutters. They appear to be original. I'd guess that the clapboards and shutters are cypress or cedar, both of which are "oily" woods and will last for a long time. Photo is copyright 2016 Lori Jackson Black and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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This house deserves a better ending, than being reduced to the "demolished houses" vertical file at the local library. Photo is copyright 2016 Lori Jackson Black and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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I could talk for a long time about this house, but Ill stop here: Its a stunning house and is worthy of restoration.

I could talk for a long time about this house, but I'll stop here: It's a stunning house and is worthy of restoration. Photo is copyright 2016 Lori Jackson Black and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To read more about why this wood is irreplaceable, click here.

To learn more about why you should not destroy “good old work” click here.

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History and Her Story

October 19th, 2015 Sears Homes 5 comments

The older I get, the more I realize, I just love history, and as is evidenced by the Addie blogs, I have a special passion for the story of the women in my family.

My beloved mother died about 13 years ago, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. She was beautiful, funny, enchanting, quirky, honest, brilliant and loved very deeply. She did not suffer fools gladly, and she spoke her mind bluntly. I so admired that about her. She was a lot of fun in so many ways, and she also shared so many stories with me about her own mother (Flossie Appleby Brown).

Mom (Betty Brown Fuller) adored her mother but she didn’t have a very high opinion of her own father (Edward William Brown) because - according to Mom - he divorced Flossie when Mom was about 14 years old (about 1935), after 27 years of marriage and ran off to marry a younger woman named “Elsie.” Flossie would have been 50 years old at the time.

Flossie was devastated and never got over the divorce.  Compounding the difficulty was the fact that Edward would drop in at Flossie’s apartment regularly for a visit and a meal “with his three girls” (Flossie, Betty and her sister, Engie). Even after Engie and Betty left to serve in the WACS and WAVES, Edward continued to visit Flossie. Mom said these visits made it harder on Flossie, because each visit left her reeling; it was a reminder of how much she still loved him.

As Mom said, “Mom and my father clearly loved each other very much; they just couldn’t live together.”

Flossie’s health went downhill in the 1940s and she died in 1951, after a prolonged illness and institutionalization (in a primitive convalescent home).

These last few weeks, I’ve been working diligently (as in 8+ hours per day) to finish this manuscript on Penniman. It’s been slow going, and when I was ready for a respite, I went digging around on Ancestry.com for more information on Flossie and Edward William Brown. It was a welcome distraction and so very entertaining, but I hit a number of dead ends. That’s when it became more than a lovely distraction; it became a quest. I contacted fellow history buffs and researchers Milton Crum and Mark Hardin, and I also contacted a professional genealogist, Lori Jackson Black.

All of us came to the same conclusion: There wasn’t much to be found on Edward’s second marriage to Elsie.

And there wasn’t much to be found on the divorce of Flossie Appleby Brown and Edward William Brown. In fact, the 1940 Census shows that they were living in the same house as man and wife.

Unfortunately, I don’t know Elsie’s last name (her marriage to Edward Brown was her second marriage), and I don’t know where or when she died. I do know that my mother had a low opinion of Elsie and did her best to tolerate her step-mother when she came for a visit in 1959. And - thanks to Lori - I know that Flossie categorized herself as “the widow of E. W. Brown” in the city directories of the 1940s.

Did Edward ever legally divorce Flossie? Was he legally married to Elsie?

There are plenty of folks who will say, “what does it matter?” but it matters to me. It’s these very questions that make family history so utterly captivating. In learning about the trials and travails of our mothers and grandmothers, we can learn more about ourselves.

To visit Lori’s wonderful website, click here.

To read about Addie, click here.

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Flossa Mae Appleby Brown was born in 1885 and died in 1951 from complications of diabetes. This photo is probably the late 1930s. 30s

Flossa Mae Appleby Brown was born in 1885 in Wisconsin and died in 1951 (in California). This photo is probably the late 1930s. My mom always told me, "I wish Mom could have met you. My mother would have loved you so much. You would have been her favorite. She adored little girls."

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I dont know the date of this photo, but I suspect its Flossie and she appears to be emerging from a biplane. Id love to know the approximate date.

I don't know the date of this photo, but I suspect it's Flossie and she appears to be emerging from a biplane. I'd love to know the approximate date. I'm guessing 1920s (from the hat).

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Mom and Grandma Flossie - perhaps in the late 1930s. Apparently Flossie was very short. Mom was 59 tall.

Mom and Grandmother Flossie - perhaps in the late 1930s. Apparently Flossie was very short. Mom was 5'9" tall. Grandmother is in heels. Mom is in flats. Look at the difference in heights!

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Edward William Brown and Elsie about 1957 or 1958. He died in 1959 in Marin, California. I have no idea when Elsie died.

Edward William Brown and Elsie about 1957 or 1958. He died in 1959 in Marin, California. I have no idea when Elsie died, or what her maiden name was, or her first husband's name...

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Elsie and her daughter Prudence visited us in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1960.

Elsie and her daughter Prudence visited us in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1959. Apparently, I had already formed a strong opinion of Elsie by the age of four months. I wish I could find leggings like that now with the little balls on top of the foot.

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My opnion

My opinion of Elsie improved when she offered to take me for a car ride to look at old houses.

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Less

Apparently Prudence visited us in 1960, and I don't know if she brought Elsie with her at that point. Prudence was Elsie's daughter, by Elsie's first husband (another name lost to history). I know less about Prudence than I do about Elsie. I'm not sure, but I think that's an ashtray in my little hand. Or it might be food, which explains the big smile.

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My wonderful, quirky, brilliant and inimitable mother in 1988.

My wonderful, quirky, brilliant and inimitable mother in 1988. I miss her so very much.

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Thanks to Lori, I now know that my grandparents eloped! The article is from the Rockford Morning Star, August 18, 1908.

Thanks to Lori, I now know that my grandparents eloped! The article is from the Rockford Morning Star, August 18, 1908.

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As an added bonus, I found this picture amongst my Aunt Engies belongings. It appears to be Alameda or a nearby area in the 1920s (and thats nothing more than a guess). Any clues?

As an added bonus, I found this picture amongst my Aunt Engie's belongings. It appears to be Alameda or a nearby area in the 1920s (and that's nothing more than a guess). Any clues?

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Thanks again to Mark Hardin, Milton Crum and Lori Jackson Black for their help!

To visit Lori’s wonderful website, click here.

To read about Addie, click here.

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More Treasures Within Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia

September 29th, 2015 Sears Homes 2 comments

Yesterday (September 28th), Lori Jackson Black met me and Lara Widdifield Mortimer in Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia and then gave us a first-class tour of Mathews County and Gloucester County. We spent a solid four hours driving throughout the residential areas and didn’t find as much as we’d hoped, but we did find a couple interesting houses.

And Lori even found a handful of true-blue Sears and Roebuck tombstones in a local cemetery (ordered from the tombstone catalog). Contrary to internet rumors, these tombstones were *not* zinc, but rather “blue dark vein Vermont Marble” and the stones were shipped from Vermont.

Driving through the many long and winding roads, Lori provided historical background on the community and its people. She explained that many of these families have lived in this area for generations, and that the houses were often passed down from one generation to another.

As I listened to Lori talk about these multi-generational homes and farms, I felt a twinge of envy, wishing that I’d had the good fortune to have some distant kin from this area.

It’s a beautiful place, surrounded by marsh, wetlands and deep water, and there’s a stunning new vista around every twist and turn in the road. If only they had a few more kit homes.  :)

You can visit Lori’s website here.

Learn more about Sears and Roebuck tombstones here.

To read the first blog I wrote on Gloucester Courthouse, click here.

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This Wardway Warrenton was my favorite find of the day.

This Wardway Warrenton was my favorite find of the day. I've only see one of these homes (in Rainelle, WV) and have never seen another - until yesterday. It was a spacious home with six bedrooms (five up, one down).

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I swear, sometimes those foursquares all look alike, but the Wardway Warrenton has a number of unique architectural details, such as that gabled-within-a-hip porch roof, and the four dramatic gabled dormers, replete with cornice returns.

Sometimes those foursquares all look alike, but the Wardway "Warrenton" has a number of unique architectural details, such as that gable-within-a-hip porch roof, and the four gabled dormers, replete with oversized cornice returns. The porch columns are also somewhat distinctive.

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The trees prevented

Lots of landscaping prevented us from getting a picture from the right angle (shown above in the catalog picture), but it's clearly a "Warrenton." The windows on this side are a good match with the lone exception of the dining room window (which originally was a double-window). Upstairs, there were three bedroom windows on this side (also a good match here).

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The Mt. Vernon was a hugely popular house for Montgomery Ward.

The "Mt. Vernon" was a hugely popular house for Montgomery Ward (1931).

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This house

Almost across the street from the Wardway Warrenton (shown above) is this Wardway Mount Vernon. There's also a pattern-book version of this house, but its proximity to the Warrenton suggests it's the Wardway house. This dear little house has also been a victim of vinyl siding. The straight gables (compared to the Mount Vernon's clipped gables) adds a bit to the puzzle of it all!

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Not far from the other two Wardway homes, we found this cute little tudor-esque home.

Not far from the other two Wardway homes, I thought that I'd found this cute little tudor-esque home. Sadly, after a close comparison of the images, I realize it was not a good match (1931).

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House

You can see it's close to the Wardway Berkeley, but not quite right. Drat.

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house house house

And there's a Sears Modern Home #118 in Mathews.

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When Lori first turned her massive Ford Explorer onto this residential street, I was more than a little flummoxed. It was a quiet dead end filled with post-Vietnam era houses with brick veneer and vinyl sidings. Whats she doing? I wondered. When we hit the end of the street, she turned down a private driveway and said, Never in a million years did I think thered be a Sears House on this street, but this is Model #118. She was right. I was more than a little surprised.

When Lori first turned her massive Ford Explorer onto this residential street, I was more than a little flummoxed. It was a quiet dead end filled with post-1960s houses with brick and vinyl sidings. "What's she doing?" I wondered. When we hit the end of the street, she turned down a private driveway and told us, "Never in a million years did I think there'd be a Sears House on this street, but this is Model #118." She was right. Given the "private property" signs, we didn't have the nerve to get any closer.

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Fortunately, Rachel Shoemaker had found a much better photo on Realtor.com. The house was recently for sale (and has since sold).

Fortunately, Rachel Shoemaker had found a much better photo on Realtor.com. The house was recently for sale (and has since sold). It is a beautiful Sears House in a beautiful place. It's quite amazing to see it's in original condition and even the porch railings are still in place. They're probably not original, but they're an accurate replacement. Situated right on the deep water, this house must have endured a lot of bad weather (and more than few hurricanes) through the decades.

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Modern Home #118 was first offered in the 1908 Sears Modern Homes catalog, which was the VERY first year that Sears sold kit homes.

Modern Home #118 was first offered in the 1908 Sears Modern Homes catalog, which was the VERY first year that Sears sold kit homes (1908 shown).

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I was driving down Main Street when this little pretty raised its hand and softly called my name.

In addition to the Wardway Homes and the lone Sears House, I also found this Aladdin Kentucky on the city's main drag. Like the #118 above, it's also in wonderfully original condition.

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But its definitely a Kentucky!

The Kentucky was one of the finest homes offered in Aladdin's early catalogs.

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And I also spotted a Gordon Van Tine #594. Like Sears and Aladdin, Gordon Van Tine was another national kit-home company that sold houses through a mail-order catalog.

During my prior visit to Gloucester Point, I'd also spotted a Gordon Van Tine #594 on Belroi Road. This house was also offered by Wardway, so - if you want to talk details - it's impossible to know if it's a Gordon Van Tine #594 or the Montgomery Ward version. For now, we'll call it a GVT.

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I love the GVT 594 because its so easy to spot. Lots of distinctive features (1924 catalog).

I love the GVT 594 because it's so easy to spot. Lots of distinctive features (1924 catalog).

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Those windows down the side always catch my eye, as does the smaller front porch roof

The Gordon Van Time #594 has a slew of unique features, such as the window arranagement, the smaller front porch roof (at a slightly different pitch) and three porch columns.

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A massive old tree obscured the views, but peeking through the branches, you could

A massive old tree obscured the views, but peeking through the branches, you could see that distinctive bumpout, with the unusual window arrangement.

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Were it not for the tree, I could have done better on the angles here, but you can see theyre a nice match!

Were it not for the tree, I could have done better on the angles here, but you can see they're a nice match! Check out the detail on the front porch! Very pretty!

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Lori drove us past this house (on a main drag), but I didnt note the address or get the photo. If anyone from the area knows where this house is, Id love to get a second look!

Lori drove us past this house (on a main drag), but I didn't note the address or get the photo. If anyone from the area knows where this house is, I'd love to get a second look! One of the distinguishing features is the three windows on the front of the second floor.

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It was Lori that discovered this authentic Sears tombstone in a local cemetery.

It was Lori that discovered this authentic Sears tombstone in a local cemetery. Unfortunately it's in terrible condition and the lambie on top has deteriorated.

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Heres a picture from the 1898 Sears Tombstone catalog.

Here's a picture from the 1898 Sears Tombstone catalog.

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Thanks again to Lori for meeting us and working so hard to discover her town’s own history. It was a delightful day!

You can visit Lori’s website here.

Learn more about Sears and Roebuck tombstones here.

To read the first blog I wrote on Gloucester Courthouse, click here.

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