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Oh Dear Ethel, What Were You Thinking…

February 15th, 2016 Sears Homes No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ralph then collapsed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about Penniman here.

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Pasted

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

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Penniman

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

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Ethel Nove 16

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

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Titsworth

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

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1911

And the divorce was granted a short time later.

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In 1912

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

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Even after the divorce

Even after the divorce, Ethel kept the name.

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Married

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

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

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

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

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Ethel

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

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

Learn more about Penniman here.

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A Penniman Murder Mystery: Ethel and Ralph

February 7th, 2016 Sears Homes 1 comment

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

About 7:00 o’clock, standing on a sidewalk at a busy intersection in downtown Richmond, Ralph and Ethel got into an argument. Ethel had just stepped off the train, and the two started quarreling. Ralph pulled a pistol out of his pocket and shot 39-year-old Ethel twice in the chest. She collapsed immediately. Ralph (55) then turned the pistol on himself, and managed to shoot himself twice in the chest before he fell. Splayed on the sidewalk, bleeding out from the two wounds, Ralph summoned the strength to prop  himself up on an elbow and fire the last two bullets at Ethel, with one bullet striking her in the head.

Ralph then fell back on the sidewalk, where a sailor kicked the empty pistol out of his hands.

Richmond Patrolman Walter M. Angel had just passed the couple at 14th and Main moments earlier. Upon hearing the gun shots, he rushed back to the corner, and commandeered a citizen’s vehicle. Ethel was rushed to Virginia Hospital, a modern three-story hospital about a mile away. Another patrolman rushed Ralph to the hospital, where he died less than 30 minutes later.

It was November 13, 1918. The Great War had ended two days earlier. The entire world rejoiced when Germany surrendered and hostilities ceased, except for Ralph E. Walker, as it meant that he’d soon be separated from Ethel.

The two had met each other at DuPont’s munition plant at Penniman, Virginia, about seven miles from Williamsburg. Many of Penniman’s residents regularly took the C&O train to Williamsburg when they wanted to get out of the village. Ralph and Ethel probably hoped that Richmond would be a safer bet, where it wasn’t as likely that they’d be recognized. According to newspaper articles, the story of their involvement was already well known throughout the munition plant.

In Chattanooga, Ralph’s hometown, this story of the “suicide-slayer” was headline news for several days. The Chattanooga News immediately sent a reporter to Richmond to interview Mrs. D. S. McDonald of Williamsburg, where Ralph had been a boarder. According to Mrs. McDonald, Ralph had told several people that he had “a sweetheart at the DuPont plant.” Ralph also told Mrs. McDonald that she shouldn’t be surprised if she came into his room one morning and found that he’d committed suicide.

Ethel lingered for 10 days. As soon as Ethel’s mother received the news, she rushed to Ethel’s bedside from her home in North Girard, Pennsylvania. Ethel, who was lucid part of the time, refused to make any statement about the events, admitting only that they’d been quarreling, and that Ralph had a terrible temper. Despite intense questioning from both the medical staff and law enforcement officers, both Ethel and her mother managed to keep Ethel’s true identity secret. The story made the headlines up and down the Eastern Seaboard, but - from what I can glean - nothing appeared in the newspapers around Ethel’s hometown of Girard.

At Penniman, Ethel was in a supervisory position (probably on the shell-loading line) and Ralph managed the livestock at the stables,  at the edge of the Penniman camp. Back in Chattanooga, Ralph had a wife and six children. They lived at 801 Union Avenue. His eldest child, Ralph E. Walker, Junior (30) had been in a tragic streetcar accident years earlier and was now an invalid who suffered from frequent convulsions. Ralph, Sr. came from a prominent Chattanooga family, with two judges in his immediate family (a brother and a cousin).

Before meeting Ethel at the train, Ralph had checked into Rueger’s Hotel under the pseudonym of F. H. Armstrong of Birmingham, Alabama. Letters from his wife and youngest child (Mark) were found in his suitcase.

Despite the agony that Ethel must have been experiencing, she wouldn’t give anyone her real name, identifying herself only as “Mrs. N. E. Brown.” Eventually, she told the staff that her name was Ethel Mae Brown. The newspaper articles explained that she wished to keep her identity a secret, because her husband was “a prominent physician in Pennsylvania.”

By all accounts, Ethel’s sufferings were great. With Mother at her bedside, Ethel dictated a will, bequeathing her “jewelry, diamonds and other effects” to her. On November 22, 1918, Ethel succumbed to her injuries, “with the secrets of this [story] still locked in her heart” (Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 23, 1918).

And for 98 years, that’s about all we knew about the murder/suicide in downtown Richmond.

Soon after I discovered this story, I asked Milton Crum, my BFF and genealogy genius if he could “spare a few minutes” to track down this mysterious Mrs. Brown. Frankly, I thought it was hopeless. But he found her, and that’s when we learned the rest of the story.

Ethel’s husband back in Girard was not a prominent physician, but a 41-year-old army doctor who enlisted in March 1918, and was serving somewhere in France. His name was Dr. Sydney R. Titsworth, and he met Ethel in the early 1900s, when she was a nursing student at J. Hood Wright Hospital in New York. Secretly married in 1905 after a very brief courtship, they had no children.

Milton first found Ethel when he discovered her death certificate. Her mother (the informant) gave false information on this document as well, stating that her daughter’s last name was “Brown,” and giving her age as 28.  A 1900 Census gives a birth date of 1879 for Ethel, which corresponds to newspaper reports, putting her age at “about 35″ in 1918.

Ethel’s mother, Carrie Grace Schneittacher, made the necessary arrangements to have her only child, Ethel Mae, buried in Girard Cemetery. Ethel’s tombstone bespeaks the deep shame her own family felt toward her. Stripped of her married name, deprived of the traditional familial connections and dates, it says only, “Ethel, dau of J.W. and C.G. Schneittacher.”

Less than 14 months after Mrs. Ralph Walker (Mary) buried her husband in disgrace, her eldest son (Ralph, Jr.) died during a convulsive fit. He was 31 years old. Mary died in 1938 at the age of 70. Her occupation was listed as “domestic.” It must not have been an easy life for either family. Four years after Ethel’s tragic death, her father (Wilford Joseph Schneittacher) died from cirrhosis of the liver.

So what is the mystery? There are many.

Did the Pennsylvania papers carry anything on this story? I’ve searched several archived newspaper sites (LOC’s Chronicling America, Newspapers.com and Find My Past) and can not find a single mention of this story. What happened to Ethel’s mother, Carrie Grace Schneittacher? She just disappeared after the death of her husband.

And what about Ethel? Did anyone in Girard ever know what happened to her? Was there an obituary for Ethel? The family had been in Girard since the 1900 Census. Surely, someone would have missed this woman.

Lastly, is Ethel buried in the family plot, or in some corner, forgotten by her family - even in death? If Girard wasn’t so far from Norfolk, I’d drive up there, just to see for myself.

There are many interesting stories we’ll find when we go digging around in history, but this story of Ethel is one that I’ve found especially sad and haunting.

Thanks so much to Milton Crum and Anne Hallerman for assisting with the voluminous research.

The above is a preview from Rose’s forthcoming book, Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City. You can read more about Penniman here.

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Pasted

Ralph and Ethel met at Penniman, Virginia, a World War One munitions plant and village, built by DuPont. It was located about seven miles from Williamsburg. At its peak, more than 15,000 people inhabited the 6,000-acre site on the York River. Penniman was established in Spring 1916, and by 1921, it was a ghost town.

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Penniman

About 6,000 men and women worked at Penniman, loading shells for The Great War. After the war, Penniman was disassembled and in 1942, the land was purchased for use by the Navy (Cheatham Annex).

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Thanks to Hagley Museum and Library, we have many wonderful images from Penniman, but no names.

Thanks to Hagley Museum and Library, we have many wonderful images from Penniman, but no names. This shows the freight depot, where the 155mm and 75mm shells were shipped out to Newport News, for transport to France.

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Ralph had a background in buying, selling and managing livestock. At Penniman, he got a job managing the livestock.

Originally from Chattanooga, Ralph had a background in buying, selling and managing livestock, and that became his job at Penniman. In the upper left hand corner, you can see the stables for the donkeys, horses and other animals. The small square buildings at the top are chicken coops. Located on the edge of the property, this is probably where Ralph spent much of his day.

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This is the lone photo of Mrs. Ethel Brown. It was published only in the Chattanooga News, and the accompanying article described her as a good-looking woman.

This is the lone photo of "Mrs. Ethel Brown." It was published only in "The Chattanooga News" with the accompanying headline, "Same Old Story of Human Emotions Repeated in Virginia City."

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News

This article appeared in the "Richmond Times Dispatch" on 11.14.18

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Ethels mother, the informant misrepresented the true facts about Ethels name, age

It was my history loving buddy and genealogical wizard Milton Crum who figured out Ethel's real last name, and I'm still not sure how he did it, but I think it was the discovery of this death certificate that started it all. Ethel's mother, the "informant" misrepresented the true facts about Ethel's name and age.

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It was my history loving buddy and genealogical wizard Milton Crum who

This 1900 census shows Ethel is still living with her father "William" and mother "Gracie" Schneittacher in Girard, Pennsylvania. In 1918, when Ethel "disappeared" did anyone in Girard ask about her?

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Ra

Ralph Walker's body was shipped back to Chattanooga where a "family only" service was held.

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Ethels husband

Ethel's husband was discharged nine months after Ethel's death, in August 1919. He spent the next several years traveling the oceans, working as a ship's physician. He remarried in 1925.

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Most heart-breaking of all is this tombstone at the Girard Cemetery.

Most heart-breaking of all is this tombstone at the Girard Cemetery in Erie County, Pennsylvania. Stripped of her legal, married name, Ethel's marker is nondescript. It's my impression that - even in death - Joseph Wilford and Carrie Grace wanted to put a little distance between themselves and their only child.

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An interesting update - just as I was finishing up this blog, I found this article in a Pennsylvania paper, The Kane Republican.

An interesting update - just as I was finishing up this blog, I found this article in a Pennsylvania paper, "The Kane Republican" (November 15, 1918).

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New Bern’s Numerous and Nobby Kit Homes (Or “How I Spent My Second Honeymoon Last Week”)

January 21st, 2016 Sears Homes 13 comments

How did New Bern come to have so many kit homes? Is it because of New Bern’s proximity to Aladdin’s largest mill in Wilmington, North Carolina? Perhaps, but how does that explain the grandiose Sears Homes I found on Spencer Street?

It’s a mystery, but I hope it’s one that this community will fully explore!

What is a kit home?

Sears is the best-known name in the kit home business, and they started selling houses through their mail-order catalogs in 1908. These “kits” came in a  boxcar in 12,000 pieces, and included a 75-page catalog that told you how all those pieces and parts went together. Sears promised that a “man of average abilities” could have the house complete and ready for occupancy in about 90 days.

Sears closed their “Modern Homes Department” in 1940, and during a corporate house cleaning, all sales records were destroyed. The only way to find these homes today is literally one by one.

I’m confident that New Bern has many more kit homes than shown below. I saw less than 30% of the town, and I went through that 30% very  quickly! I’d love to return to New Bern soon and do a proper, thorough street-by-street survey.

If you enjoy the information and pictures, please share this link with friends on Facebook and/or via email!

To contact Rose (who art in Norfolk) about returning to New Bern, please leave a comment below!

To read the prior blog on New Bern, click here.

Read about The Peach House in nearby Kinston here.

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New Bern has many Aladdin kit homes. Is that due to their proximity to a large Aladdin Mill in the southern part of the state?

New Bern has many Aladdin kit homes. Is that due to their proximity to a large Aladdin Mill in the southern part of the state? Most likely, yes. Image is from the 1923 Aladdin catalog.

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One of my favorite finds in New Bern was the Aladdin Hampshire located in the heart of the historic downtown. This house was offered in the early 1920s.

One of my favorite finds in New Bern was the Aladdin "Hampshire" located in the heart of the historic downtown. This house was offered in the early 1920s.

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This must surely be infill, because the houses around it all date to the mid-to-late 1800s.

This must surely be infill, because the houses around it all date to the mid-to-late 1800s. It's a beautiful little house in wonderful condition. And it retains its original casement windows!

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Due to heavy landscaping, I had trouble getting a good shot, but you can see that little bay window poking up from the bushes.

Due to heavy landscaping, I had trouble getting a good shot, but you can see that little bay window poking up from the bushes, and the small fixed sashes flanking the fireplace. It's a thrill to see a 90-year-old house in original condition.

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What a cutie!

What a cutie! The house in New Bern is "flipped" (the mirror image).

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The Aladdin Plaza was another very popular house for Aladdin (1919).

The Aladdin Plaza was another very popular house for Aladdin (1919).

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Is this an Aladdin Plaza? Given its proximity (near other Aladdins), Id say its very likely.

Is this an Aladdin Plaza? Given its proximity (near other Aladdins within Ghent), I'd say it's likely.

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The Pomona was one of Aladdins most popular homes.

The Pomona was one of Aladdin's most popular homes. I saw two of these in New Bern, and neglected to capture the address of the second one. The first one (in Ghent) is shown below.

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Its a terrible picture, but it shows a piece of the Aladdin Pomona in New Berns Historic Ghent neighborhood.

It's a terrible picture, but it shows a piece of the Aladdin Pomona in New Bern's Historic Ghent neighborhood, on Spencer Avenue. It's definitely a Pomona, but has endured a great deal of remodeling. The front porch is 100% enclosed.

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The Aladdin Cape Cod (1923) was another popular kit home.

The Aladdin "Cape Cod" (1923) was another popular kit home.

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Did someone order an Aladdin Cape Cod from the Wilmington Mill and say, Supersize Me?

Did someone order an Aladdin Cape Cod from the Wilmington Mill and say, "Supersize Me"? It is a nice match to the Aladdin, but it's much too wide. It's likely that this is a pattern-book house, but I haven't been able to find a corresponding match in my collection of early 1900s pattern books. More than 30% of kit homes were customized, so it's possible this was ordered "extra large" from the Aladdin mill.

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Gordon Van Tine,  like Sears and Aladdin, also sold kit homes through a mail-order catalog. Shown here is the GVT Roberts

Gordon Van Tine, like Sears and Aladdin, also sold kit homes through a mail-order catalog. Shown here is the GVT "Roberts"(also known as the #560).

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And heres a near-perfect Roberts I found on Rhem Avenue.

And here's a near-perfect Roberts I found on Rhem Avenue.

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Within New Bern, I found two of these Gordon Van Tine homes, but neglected to make a note of the address. The porch on this

Within New Bern, I found two of these Gordon Van Tine homes, but neglected to make a note of the address. The porch on this house and those clipped gables are what first catch your eye. If you find this missing "Mt. Vernon," please give me an address (and a photo)!

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And now Sears. The Sears catalog identified the Osborn as a bungalow from the West. Its distinctive and easy to pick out in a crowd (1921 catalog).

And now Sears. The Sears catalog identified the "Osborn" as a bungalow "from the Golden West." It's distinctive and easy to pick out in a crowd (1921 catalog).

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Alson

It's had some remodeling, but it's very likely that this house on Spencer Avenue is the real deal: A Sears Osborn. Check out the tapered chimney, rafter tails and detailing on the porch railing.

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The Sears Roanoke is another distinctive Sears house (1921).

The Sears Roanoke is another distinctive Sears house (1921).

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That

That side entry (originally with a pergola) is a unique feature of the Roanoke, as is the wooden awning and symmetry on the home's front. It's so lovely to see that awning still in place. And look to the left. What's that next door?

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And whats that next door to the Roanoke?

Is that a Sears Chelsea? Hmmm...

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Boy oh boy, its hard to know for sure.

Boy oh boy, it's hard to know for sure. In that the "Chelsea" (also known as #111) in New Bern was built without a basement, that side with the staircase bay is not going to have a doorway under it (as shown here). I'd have to see this house up close and personal to make a positive ID. For now, I'd say it's a "definite maybe."

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Just down the street from the Roanoke and Chelsea is something that looks a lot like a Sears Chelsea.

Just down the street from the Roanoke and Chelsea is something that looks a lot like a Sears Saratoga.

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Is this a Sears Chelsea?

Is this a Sears Saratoga? The Saratoga is 30 feet across the front. This house in New Bern looks much wider than that. Again, was it supersized? It's another house that is a "definite possibility." I'd need to see the interior to make a proper judgement. It certainly is a good match in many other ways.

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The majestic Milton (1918 catalog).

The majestic Milton (1918 catalog).

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What a glorious house!

What a glorious house, and it's in such beautiful condition!

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And just across the street from the Milton is Modern Home #178. Its the ONLY #178 Ive seen in my many years of traveling (25 states and 200 cities).

And just across the street from the Milton is Modern Home #178. It's the ONLY #178 I've seen in my many years of traveling (25 states and 200 cities).

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What fun to scratch one more house off my never seen this model list! And right in New Bern, North Carolina.

What fun to scratch one more house off my "never seen this model" list! And right in New Bern, North Carolina.

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The Lynnhaven is a tricky model to identify authoritatively because it had so many kissing cousins that looked very similar.

The Lynnhaven is a tricky model to identify authoritatively because it had so many "kissing cousins" that looked very similar. The position of the shed dormer and the depth of that front-facing gable are good clues for this model.

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Is this the Real Deal? Might be. It looks like a good match.

Is this the Real Deal? Might be. It looks like a good match.

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Last but not least is the sweet little Starlight (1921).

Last but not least is the sweet little "Starlight" (1921).

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Forlorn and forgotten, it sits next door to the RollerLand Skating Rink in the 3500-block of Neuse Blvd.

Forlorn and forgotten, it sits next door to the RollerLand Skating Rink in the 3500-block of Neuse Blvd. Stay strong, little Starlight. Perhaps help is coming. Either that, or you'll be eaten by Kudzu soon, and it'll all be over.

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If you enjoy the pretty pictures, please share this link with friends on Facebook and/or via email!

To contact Rose (who art in Norfolk) about returning to New Bern, please leave a comment below!

To read the prior blog I did on New Bern, click here.

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Oh My! Who Knew That New Bern Had So Many Kit Homes!

January 19th, 2016 Sears Homes 4 comments

Fun times in New Bern!

Mr. Hubby and I just returned from a visit to New Bern, NC where we stayed at the Aerie Bed and Breakfast and spent the days seeing the sights (and looking for kit homes).

Within New Bern’s Ghent neighborhood, we found an abundance of kit homes, and (a nice bonus) one turquoise Lustron, (all-steel homes from the late 1940s).

My favorite two finds within Ghent were the Sears Milton, and - just across the street - a Sears Modern Home #178  facing the Sears Milton. And here’s what’s even more fun: In the 1914 Sears Modern Homes catalog, Modern Home #178 was featured on the same page as the Milton.

And I was surprised to find that these two radically different houses - The Milton and Modern Home #178 - share an identical floor plan! I’ve been playing around with Sears Homes for 15+ years and never noticed that before.

The next blog will showcase a few of the two dozen kit homes I found in New Bern, but today, it’s all about the Milton and it’s fraternal twin, Modern Home #178.

To read more about the Milton, click here.

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The Milton and Modern Home

The Sears Milton and Modern Home #178: Two different models, one floor plan. Sears Homes were given names in 1918. Modern Home #264P210 survived long enough in the catalog to merit a name: The Milton. Modern Home #178's last year was 1914.

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Both

Two houses - one floorplan. The Sears Milton in New Bern (across the street from #178) was customized when built, and does not have the traditional two-story bay window.

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Two houses - one floorplan.

Both first and second floors are identical in the Milton and Modern Home #178.

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The Milton was one of Sears finest homes.

The Milton was one of Sears finest homes.

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Notice

Notice the massive eaves, and cornice returns on this grand house. It's a very distinctive house (thus making it easier to spot). In the Miltons that I've seen, those pergolas have been converted into a roof, covering the expansive front porch. Notice also the dramatic bracketing on the eaves. Dentil molding is found at the top of the columns and around the eaves.

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The

Absent that two-story bay window, every other detail on this Milton is spot-on.

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house

Here's a close-up of those distinctive cornice returns.

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Another view of this

Another view of this grand old kit home in New Bern, NC.

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Between landscaping obstacles

A surfeit of landscaping obstacles made photographing this old house a challenge. Note the tapered board on the underside of the first-floor porch roof, with a small block at its center. This is also a perfect match to the old catalog image.

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And just across the street is the Sears Modern Home #178.

And just across the street is the Sears Modern Home #178. Beautiful! There must be s a story here, as to how these two spacious (and fancy) Sears Homes were built just across the street from one another!

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A view of the Milton, as seen from the front yard of #178.

A view of the Milton, as seen from the front yard of #178.

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One of these Miltons is not like the other!

"One of these Miltons is not like the other!" On the far left (in blue shirt) is my BFF, Milton Crum, with Jim Silverstorf (holding an antenna tuner). When I first told Milton (blue shirt) about the Sears Milton (white clapboards), Milton said, "Now that's a darn fine name for a house!"

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My next blog - the OTHER 22 kit homes I found within New Bern, including this little cutie in the 600-block of Broad Street!

My next blog - the OTHER 22 kit homes I found within New Bern, including this little cutie in the 600-block of Broad Street!

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Isnt it a darling little house?

Isn't it a darling little house?

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To read more about the Sears Milton, click here.

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Webster Groves, Missouri: Part III

August 2nd, 2015 Sears Homes 1 comment

Webster Groves has a multitude of interesting old kit homes, and one of my favorite finds is this 1910s Dutch Colonial, offered by Lewis Homes.

Lewis was one of six national companies selling kit homes through mail-order catalogs in the early 20th Century. Sears was probably the best known of the kit home companies and Aladdin was probably the largest, but Lewis Manufacturing (based in Bay City, Michigan) was a serious contender.

It’s been many years since I drove the streets of Webster Groves, looking for kit homes, and I’m not surprised that I missed a few back in the day, such as this Lewis Homes Dutch Colonial (”The Winthrop”).

Last week, I was back in the St. Louis area, visiting family members and decided to revisit Webster Groves. I didn’t have time to do a thorough survey, but in the four hours I spent there, I found an abundance of kit homes.

To read my prior blogs about Webster Groves, click here and here.

Interested in learning more about marked lumber on kit homes? Click here.

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Webster Groves

What's not to love? It possesses "unusual charm and dignity"! (1924 catalog)

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The Wintrho

That inset front porch is a defining feature of the Lewis Winthrop.

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I sure do love a nice Dutch Colonial, and this one has a front porch!

I sure do love a nice Dutch Colonial, and this one has a front porch!

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Oh my, what a fine-looking home!

Oh my, what a fine-looking home!

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And it looks good from every angle!

And it looks good from every angle!

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Home

In this image, you can see those distinctive attic windows.

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house

Who wouldn't love coming home to this every evening? As philosopher Samuel Johnson wrote, "To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends."

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But heres where it gets frustrating.

But here's where it gets frustrating.

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As soon as I spotted this house, it tickled the neurons.

Here's a Lewis Winthrop I found in Toana, Virginia. Like the house shown above, it has no fireplace on the side, but rather three windows. Is this a pattern book version of the Lewis Winthrop? For now, I'm going to make an educated guess that these two homes are the Lewis Winthrop, because I haven't seen a pattern book match. But who knows! Time will tell!

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To read more about the Lewis Winthrop in Toana, Virginia, click here.

To read my prior blogs about Webster Groves, click here and here.

Interested in learning more about marked lumber on kit homes? Click here.

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Burnt Ordinary Kit Homes: Lewis Winthrop

March 23rd, 2015 Sears Homes 3 comments

Believe it or not, that title is not “word salad” or aphasia: It will make sense in a minute.

On Sunday (March 22), my husband and I visited Williamsburg and (per my request) we drove to Toano (a few miles west of Williamsburg) so that I could look for houses from Penniman. I didn’t see any Penniman houses, but this little pretty caught my eye. I wasn’t sure where I’d seen it, but my first impression was “Lewis Manufacturing.”

This morning, I looked it up and sure enough, it’s a Lewis Winthrop.  (Lewis was a kit-home company based in Bay City, Michigan which [like Sears and Aladdin] sold kit homes through a mail-order catalog.)

As to the title, Toano (in James City County, another interesting term) was founded in the late 1800s, and this little fork in the road was originally known as “Burnt Ordinary.” (Yeah, it puzzled me, too.) Like so many of our modern terms “ordinary” meant something a little different 200 years ago.

An ordinary was a place where food and drink was served. In the 1700s, there was an “ordinary” at that site known as John Lewis’ Ordinary, and it was subsequently named Fox’s Ordinary, which burned down in 1780. In 1781, George Washington’s cartographer marked the area as “Burnt Brick Ordinary.”

In later years, it was designated “Toano” which is an Indian word for “high ground.”

Whilst driving through the tiny town of Toano, I spotted this house and took a picture with my TV-phone (as my husband calls it).

Best of all, it was my first sighting of a Lewis Winthrop, and it’s in beautiful shape!

To read about another Lewis Home, click here.

What’s a Penniman? Click here!

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As soon as I spotted this house, it tickled the neurons.

As soon as I spotted this house, it tickled the neurons. I knew I'd seen it somewhere.

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This morning, I pulled out my catalogs and found it!

This morning, I pulled out my catalogs and found it! (1924 Lewis Homes).

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That indented porch was a feature that caught my eye.

That indented porch was a feature that caught my eye.

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On the upstairs, the bathroom window is gone, which is not uncommon. These houses were built with tubs, and when its time to put in a shower, the bathroom window often disappears. This has has vinyl siding, so its easy to cover up such changes.

On the upstairs, the bathroom window is gone, which is not uncommon. These houses were built with tubs, and when it was time to put in a shower, the bathroom window often disappeared. This home had vinyl siding installed, so its easy to cover up such changes. Notice also the tiny closet window is gone. Removing this window creates a little bit more space in an already tiny closet. The "sewing room" (on the right rear) has no window on the side, which is also a good match to the house in Toano.

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Close-up on the sewing room side.

Close-up on the "sewing room" side.

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Toana

Unfortunately, that room addition on the side looks a lot like a mobile home.

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That darn tree made photographing the old house extra tough.

That darn tree made photographing the old house extra tough.

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Pretty house!

Pretty house! And I'm pleased that I "guessed" the right angle for my shot!

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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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H

Lighting these puppies didn't look simple.

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fef

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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ffffe

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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Lovely Surprises in Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia!

March 10th, 2015 Sears Homes 3 comments

On March 9th, I visited Gloucester Courthouse (a small city bordered by the York River and the Chesapeake Bay), to do a little research on Penniman. The Gloucester-Mathews Gazette Journal is located in the historic downtown, and the paper’s proprietor (Elsa) graciously invited me to search the old editions for news of Penniman.

I’m not a modern girl, so I was delighted when Elsa told me, “You can look at the paper on microfilm, or if you prefer, we have the actual newspapers, too.”

I nearly swooned.

There’s something about the feel and smell of old newspapers that is especially alluring, and in these four years that I’ve been researching Penniman and reading old newspapers, this was the first time I’d looked at anything other than microfilm.

Perhaps best of all, I had the opportunity to meet Lori Jackson Black, a professional genealogist and historian. She agreed to help me look through the old papers in search of tidbits on Penniman, which was located across the York River from Gloucester Courthouse.

Despite a couple hours of searching, we didn’t find too much in the local papers, but Lori and I had lunch at Oliva’s, almost next door to the newspaper office.

Measured purely from a research standpoint, it wasn’t a red-letter trip (119 miles!), but from a personal standpoint, it was 100% stellar. Just spending a bit of time at an old-fashioned newspaper office was a lot of fun. I had a chance to take a peek at the massive off-set printing press in the back of the shop (which is an amazing piece of machinery), and I got to wander around a newspaper office for a time (a happy memory from my days as a reporter), and best of all, the #1 highlight of the day was meeting Elsa and Lori.

Both women care deeply about their community and its history. Meeting folks like that is always inspiring. On the 90-minute drive back to Norfolk, I reflected on the visit, and contemplated the happy fact that there are still plenty of history-loving folks out there, working quietly behind the scenes to make sure the unique history of their town is not forgotten.

By the way, while I was there, I found a fine-looking Aladdin “Kentucky” and a perfect Gordon Van Tine #594. Enjoy the photos!

To subscribe to the Gazette-Journal, click here.

Need a little help figuring out your family history? Lori can help!

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

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

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Oh my, I thought to myself, havent I seen you somewhere before? Then I realized, this was the baby sister of the Aladdin Kentucky that I saw in Louisa, Virginia a couple years ago.

"Oh my," I thought to myself, "haven't I seen you somewhere before?" Then I realized, the house in Gloucester Courthouse was the baby sister of the Aladdin Kentucky that I saw in Louisa, Virginia a couple years ago.

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In 1914, the Aladdin Kentucky was offered in two sizes: Regular and Super-sized (although I dont think they called it supersized in 1914).

In 1914, the Aladdin Kentucky was offered in two sizes: Regular and Super-sized (although I don't think they called it supersized in 1914). The larger model was 43 feet wide.

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And a much bigger house.

And a much bigger house.

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The smaller model was

The smaller model was a mere 32 feet wide, and didn't have that kitchen off the back.

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Aladdin was a company which, like Sears, sold entire kit homes through their mail-order catalog. Aladdin started selling kit homes in 1906, two years before Sears. By 1940, Sears called it quits. Aladdin continued to sell their kit homes by mail order until 1981.

Aladdin was a company which, like Sears, sold entire kit homes through their mail-order catalog. Aladdin started selling kit homes in 1906, two years before Sears. By 1940, Sears called it quits. Aladdin continued to sell their kit homes by mail order until 1981.

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The Kentucky in Gloucester Courthouse was definitely the smaller version.

The "Kentucky" in Gloucester Courthouse might be the smaller version. The dormer is certainly narrower than the dormer on the super-sized version (in Louisa, Va). And yet, it has the six porch columns and six front windows. The floor plan for the "regular-size Kentucky" has four columns and four front windows. Now I'm puzzled.

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From the side,

From the side, it sure is a nice match.

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But its definitely a Kentucky!

But it's definitely a Kentucky!

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The Kentucky was a big deal for the Aladdin company, and it was built

The Kentucky was built at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. In 1915, San Francisco hosted the exposition (a nine-month event) to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, and to highlight the rebuilding of San Francisco after the devastating earthquake in 1906. The building of the Canal was an American achievement unlike any other, and it showcased America's fledgling hegemony.

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bt

"It is probably the most interesting, practical story ever told of the most interesting of subjects - home-building."

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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.

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

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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

Those windows down the side always catch my eye, as does the smaller front porch roof and three porch columns. And the ad says it provides "real comfort," which is so much better than fake comfort.

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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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Did any of the 200+ houses from Penniman end up in Gloucester Courthouse or surrounding areas? I suspect they did, but I dont know where.

But here's the $64,000 question that got me started on Gloucester Courthouse: Did any of the 200+ houses from Penniman end up in Gloucester Courthouse or surrounding areas? I suspect they did, but I don't know where. I didn't see any in Gloucester Courthouse when I was there. Picture is from the "Virginian Pilot" (December 1921) and shows houses from Penniman being moved to Norfolk's "Riverfront" area.

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And a final happy note about Lori: I’ve spent four years researching Penniman, but when I got home, I found she’d sent me a few emails. Doing a “little poking around,” Lori had found more than a dozen wonderful documents on Penniman that I’d never laid eyes on before! I can personally attest to the fact that she’s an exceptional researcher!

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Contact Lori by clicking here!

Do you know of a Penniman house in Gloucester County? Please contact Rose by leaving a comment below.

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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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The Aladdin Cumberland: 100 Years Old

August 23rd, 2014 Sears Homes 6 comments

In May 2014, we traveled to Wilmington, DE and Philadelphia, PA to do research at the Hagley Museum (Wilmington) and at the National Archives and Records Administration (Philadelphia).

Along the way, we stopped at Carney’s Point, New Jersey to check out some of the Aladdin kit homes.

There in Carney’s Point, we found an abundance of DuPont Houses (probably DuPont designs, but built with ready-cut materials ordered from Aladdin) and also Aladdin Kit Homes (Aladdin designs and Aladdin materials).

One of the models I saw in Carney’s Point that I had never seen before was the Aladdin “Cumberland.” This is such a pedestrian  foursquare that I’m now wondering how many of these I’ve overlooked in other places. There’s not a lot to distinguish this house from the tens of thousands of foursquares that cover America.

The house was offered in the 1914 and 1916 catalog. It’s likely that these houses in Carney’s Point were built in 1916, but they’re very close to the 100-year mark!

Hopefully, now that I’ve seen one live and in person, I shan’t miss another one!

Read about some of the other houses I’ve found in Carney’s Point here, and here.

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1914

The Cumberland, as seen in the 1914 catalog.

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1914

View from the staircase side. BTW, the house was built about six minutes ago, and that lattice work uner the porch deck already looks pretty crummy.

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1914

View from another side (1914 catalog). Lattice work looks worse on this side.

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1916

The Cumberland's living room (1916 catalog). Love the couch!

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1914

Traditional floorplan for a foursquare (1914).

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1916

"Sensible" equals uh, well, "pedestrian" (from the 1916 catalog).

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uddated

An undated view of Carney's Point. That's a Cumberland on the far right (foreground).

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1914

Staircase side (1914)

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Milto

This photo shows why it's so difficult to identify these houses a few decades later! Look at all the changes this house has endured through the years. Three fine windows - gone. At least that crummy lattice work has been repaired.

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milton

Another Cumberland on Shell Road in Carney's Point. Photo is copyright 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. So there.

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other side 1914

View from the other side (1914).

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other ilton

At least this side is a better match to the original catalog image. Photo is copyright 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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House house

That dormer is unfortunate. Who thought *that* was a good idea? :( Photo is copyright 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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BGunches

Long view of the many Aladdin kit homes on Shell Road in Carney's Point. In the foreground is an Aladdin Cumberland, followed by an Aladdin Georgia, Aladdin Amherst, Aladdin Gerogia and another Cumberland. Photo is copyright 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To read more about DuPont and why they were in Carney’s Point, click here.

To read about Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City, click here.

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