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Posts Tagged ‘penniman houses’

That Rascally Haskell

March 30th, 2017 Sears Homes 6 comments

Today, despite all the publicity about recycling, we’re still a very wasteful society, and even more so when it comes to housing.

More than 35% of all debris at modern landfills is construction debris. HGTV is the worst offender, encouraging millions to rip out and destroy old kitchens and baths, while violating  the first commandment of old house ownership: “Thou Shalt Not Destroy Good Old Work.”

A century ago, when Penniman was abandoned, the overwhelming majority of the houses were “knocked down” (disassembled board by board) and moved to another site. Some of the houses were moved intact and whole. Today, the majority of these houses are still alive and well in Norfolk and Williamsburg.

And now, thanks to the foresight of the Whisnant family, we have pictures of the residential area of Penniman, showing these houses within this village, built by DuPont for workers at the shell-loading plant. Below, you’ll see images of the “Haskell,” living in Penniman and later in Norfolk.

To learn more about the Penniman houses in Williamsburg, click here.

Read about the Norfolk Penniman houses here.

Images below are courtesy of the family of Joseph and Ola Whisnant. Thanks to the foresight and generosity of the Whisnant family, we have street views and genre scenes of life in Penniman. Cameras were probably forbidden within the cantonment of Penniman, and visitors would have subjected to a daunting search of their personal belongings, entering and exiting. These images are the only known existing photographs of the residential areas of Penniman.

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house

Street view of the newly created village of Penniman. The streets are mud and the houses are fresh and new. The village was built in 1918 and abandoned in early 1920. Photos are courtesy of the Whisnant family.

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Whisnant

Another view of the village. Notice the hydrant to the right with the easy-to-access valve. The model of houses shown in this picture (Cumberland, Florence, Haskell and a piece of the Georgia) eventually landed in Norfolk and Williamsburg, Virginia.

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whisnant fam

A close-up of the Haskell.

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others

Thanks to the Norfolk city assessor, we have a picture of this same model, taken in the 1950s. There are more than 50 of these homes - built at DuPont's Penniman - along Major Avenue and Glenroie Avenue in Norfolk.

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fesef

Comparison of the house in Norfolk (1950s) and the house in Penniman (1918).

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House

This "Haskell" has been resided with a substitute PVC-type shake, and the belt course on the gable line was moved up closer to the peak. Other than that, it looks much as it did when built in 1918.

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whisnant

The Haskell, as it appeared in a building catalog in 1920.

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Thanks to clyde Vir Pilot December 1921

In December 1921, these houses were moved from Penniman to Norfolk via barge. Many thanks to professional photographer Clyde Nordan for cleaning up the images. (Virginian Pilot, December 1921.)

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To learn more about the Penniman houses in Williamsburg, click here.

Read about the Norfolk Penniman houses here.

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Penniman: My Path to Healing

March 28th, 2017 Sears Homes No comments

Several weeks ago, I had dinner with Robert, a friend and fellow history lover. I told him that I was a lost soul. He asked me about the Penniman book. I told him that I didn’t think I could face the manuscript again and that my writing days were over.

He asked specific questions about the people of Penniman, and I felt like something deep inside my soul came to life again. I felt a spark of joy and zeal and hope.

After our dinner, it became so clear to me: It was time to finish the project.

One year ago - April 24th - I was scheduled to give a talk on Penniman in Williamsburg. It turned out to be the day of my husband’s funeral. At the time, the Penniman manuscript - a book on which I’d labored for 4+ years - was 95% complete.

Now, one year later, thanks to Robert and Pat and Milton and others, that manuscript is finished, and after some finishing touches to the artwork, it will be ready for the printer. Hopefully.

The casual outsider may not understand that this is more than just a book.  It’s a project that helps me stop thinking about the ongoing emotional angst that is my constant companion. It’s a project that helps me forget - for a few seconds at a time - that my husband died by his own hand, 48 hours after telling me that we’d grow old together.

In short, it’s a rope that’s been tossed down into this hellish pit, and it’s a way out.

It’s so much more than a book.

I’m grateful for each and every prayer offered in my name. And I’m grateful for the people that have shown up and said just the right thing at just the right time. They’re angels walking this earth in human form.

Images below are courtesy of the family of Joseph and Ola Whisnant. Thanks to the foresight and generosity of the Whisnant family, we have street views and genre scenes of life in Penniman. Cameras were probably forbidden within the cantonment of Penniman, and visitors would have subjected to a daunting search of their personal belongings, entering and exiting. These images are the only known existing photographs of the residential areas of Penniman.

To learn more about Penniman, click here.

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house

Members of the Whisnant family pose on the streets of Penniman. The houses shown in the background were moved to Norfolk, Williamsburg and other surrounding communities. From left to right is the Cumberland, Georgia, Florence, Haskell and a piece of another Georgia. These models were built at other DuPont plants during The Great War.

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ether

According to reminiscenses, the streets of Penniman were a mess of mud and muck. This wonderful picture gives a detailed view of The Village (as it was known), where the workers took their rest after a hard day on the shell-loading line. The women workers are known as Canary Girls, because the TNT (loaded into shells) was bright yellow, and stained their skin and hair. It was also a toxin.

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what

These houses were known as "Six-Room Bungalows" and were covered with Ruberoid siding, which is nothing more than heavy tarpaper. These bunkhouses and dorms (not shown here) housed the "lower class" workers.

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Thanks again to the Whisnant Family for sharing these wonderful pictures.

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A Penniman Bungalow - in Larchmont!

March 13th, 2016 Sears Homes 1 comment

Larchmont is a prestigious neighborhood in Norfolk, filled with stately Colonial Revivals, Cape Cods, Dutch Colonials and Neo-Tudors from the 1920s and 30s. As far as older neighborhoods go, Larchmont is one of Hampton Roads’ most expensive communities, and prices range from $350,000 to $1.2 million.

If you had asked me last month, which early 20th Century neighborhood in all of southeastern Virginia is least likely to have a Penniman house, I would have said “Larchmont.”

But you might be asking yourself, what’s a Penniman house?

Penniman was a World War One munitions plant, built by DuPont, about six miles from Williamsburg. The village of Penniman sprung up around the plant, and by Summer 1918, about 15,000 people were living on the 6,000-acre site, with two miles of frontage on the York River. More than 5,000 laborers and carpenters worked long hours building dorms and apartments and cottages and houses.

Large caliber artillery shells were loaded at the plant and sent onto Newport News, by rail, where they were loaded on troop transports and shipped to the Western Front in France. Penniman was one of the largest shell-loading plants in the country and according to The History of Explosives, workers at Penniman produced more than 27,000 shells per day.

The war’s end on November 11, 1918 took many folks by surprise. Most thought that the war would go on for months if not years. When Armistice came, construction at Penniman ceased immediately and the government canceled contracts. As one local newspaper said in 1919, “Penniman was deserted almost overnight.”

The houses built at Penniman were designed by DuPont, built by Hancock-Pettyjohn, a Lynchburg contractor, and paid for by Uncle Sam. The finer houses were closer to the York, and were occupied by higher-end management, and were offered in more than a dozen designs. “The Cumberland” (shown below) was not the biggest and not the smallest, but probably leaning toward the upper tier of housing options at the plant.

When the plant closed down after The Great War, the houses (most of which were less than six months old) were not torn down but salvaged. Two Norfolk men (Warren Hastings and George Hudson) purchased several of the houses and moved them - by barge - to Norfolk.

Before last week, we knew of 20 Penniman houses that had been moved to Riverview, 27 to Riverfront and 4 to Willoughby Spit. That was it, and frankly, that seemed like a lot, but we suspected there were more. How to find them?

My buddy Bill Inge took this task on last week and had phenomenal results. While we’d been looking around waterways and inlets, Bill had a novel approach: He went looking for land records. In his searching, Bill found that Warren Hastings had also purchased a lot in Larchmont. Converting the legal description to a street address, he found the precise location. Bill then texted me and said, “Is it possible that there’s a Penniman house in Larchmont?”

When I first saw his text I thought, “Whoa, wouldn’t THAT be a story!” but I had my doubts. After all, Larchmont is a high-dollar, impressive community full of fine homes. Was it really likely that someone had moved a war-time frame house into Larchmont?

I googled the address he gave me and within a few seconds, I realized Bill was right: It was a “Cumberland” from Penniman. When I write about unusual Sears Homes, I often wonder, “Do the people living in this house know what they have?” Based on my research, about 75% don’t know that they’re living in a Sears House. What are the odds that people know they have a Penniman? I’d say it’s a lot less than one percent!

Thanks so much to Bill for all  his help and for finding this house!

If you enjoyed this blog, please share it with friends or post the link on Facebook!

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Penniman was a very crowded place.

Penniman was a very crowded place, occupied by 15,000 at its peak. The houses that were moved to Norfolk are the two-story houses in the background of this photo. Picture is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Cumberland

The model that ended up in Larchmont is The Cumberland. Designed by DuPont for their plants, this house was also built in Old Hickory, Tennessee, another munitions plant.

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house

The Cumberland was one of their nicer homes, but it's still not very big.

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Floorplan

That's upstairs bedroom is 8x11. In the 21st Century, we call that a closet.

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Cumberland

The Cumberland was a traiditional foursquare. A distinctive feature of many of these DuPont houses is the windows flanking the front door, and a fixed transom over the door.

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Hanckcok

About 50 years ago, this metal tag was found near the site where the Penniman houses were originally built, and probably served as a chit for workers checking out tools from the tool shed. The "H-P. Co." is for Hancock-Pettyjohn, the Lynchburg-based company that built the houses at Penniman.

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house house

In December 1921, this appeared in the "Virginian Pilot," showing the houses coming from Penniman to Norfolk. To the right are two Cumberlands - back to back.

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Riverfront

Here's a Cumberland in Riverfront (on Major Avenue). Notice the windows next to the door. There's another Cumberland next door to this one. Prior to Bill's discovery, these were the only two Cumberlands we knew about in Norfolk.

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Larchmont

According to assessor records, the porch on the Larchmont "Cumberland" was removed in 1957, which is a real pity. As shown here, the house has been covered in substitute siding, and that's probably when the windows and transom disappeared (by the door). This photo was taken in 1959.

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house house house

The city records say the house was built in 1920, but in fact, it was built in Spring of 1918 by Hancock-Pettyjohn and moved (by barge) to its current site in 1921 or 1922.

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dimensions

According to the city's information, the dimensions for the house are correct.

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Google

An image from Google Maps (2015) show the house with new siding (third layer) and replacement windows.

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Penniman

Yesterday, when Milton and I drove past the house, the porch had been restored and it looks like the homeowner did a fine job. And it looks far better with a porch. Not sure what's happening with the transom.

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Penniman

Do they know that their house was born in Penniman, and then traveled by barge to Larchmont?

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Cumberland 1918

Do they know that their house looked like this in 1918?

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Location

If you look at a map of the home's current location, you can see how accessible it is by water.

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Mr. Hastings who brought this house

Here's a picture of Mr. Warren Hastings, standing in front of the homes in Riverfront.

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DO they know

And it all started here - in Penniman.

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To learn the details of how Mr. Hastings moved these homes by barge, click here.

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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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Gordon Van Tine #611: Unusually Well Planned

April 2nd, 2015 Sears Homes 2 comments

These last few months, I’ve been doing a proper survey of kit homes in Hampton, Virginia. I went out yesterday to check one last section one last time (which I’ve now visited twice), when this handsome bungalow jumped out of the bushes and called my name.

This Gordon Van Tine Model #611 is on a main drag (300-block of North Mallory) which leaves me scratching my head. How did I miss it?

That will remain one of the great mysteries of the universe, together with, where did I put my husband’s truck keys.

To read more about the kit homes of Hampton, click here.

There’s even more about Hampton here.

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Gordon Van Tine #611, as seen in the 1926 catalog.

Gordon Van Tine #611, as seen in the 1926 catalog.

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One of its distinctive features is the oversized porch and deck.

One of its distinctive features is the oversized porch and deck.

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What a house!

Notice how the porch roof sits within the primary roof. Interesting feature.

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Oh yeah, baby! :D

Sadly, some vinyl siding salesman has pillaged the house, but other than that, it's a nice match. The railings have been replaced, but that's a relatively minor affair.

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Good match on this side, too!

Good match on this side, too!

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So

And did I mention it's on the main drag? :)

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To read more about the kit homes of Hampton, click here.

There’s even more about Hampton 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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Mr. Jones, Where Are Your Lovely Photos?

February 23rd, 2015 Sears Homes No comments

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

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

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

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

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

The rest of Mr. Jones’ obit reads,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1)     Valentine Museum

2)     York County Museum

3)     William and Mary Swem Library

4)     Virginia Historical Society

5)     Preservation Virginia

6)     Colonial Williamsburg ’s “Rockefeller Library”

7)     York County Library

8)     Waterman’s Museum ( Yorktown )

9)     Virginia Department of Historic Resources

10)   Library of Virginia

11)   Newport News War Museum

12)  Richmond Times Dispatch

So where are Mr. Jones’ photos?

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

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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

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PHotos

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

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house

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

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house

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

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Georgia

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

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House

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

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Drewr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And on January 15, 1926

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

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To read more about Penniman, click here.

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