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Our First Public Talk on Penniman!

February 6th, 2014 1 comment

Thursday night, David Spriggs and I gave our first talk on Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost Town.

While preparing our powerpoint presentation, I learned two things I had not known before:

1)  Sometime in 1917 or 1918, a German sub made its way to the York River, in a bid to blow up Penniman.

2)  Women who did the shell loading were known as “The Canary Girls,” because the exposure to the TNT and other chemicals turned their skin, hair and nails a bright, canary yellow. Many died as a result of this poisoning.

Below, you’ll find a VERY condensed version of our powerpoint presentation, which shows a mere 10 of the 100 historical photos we’ve unearthed during our research.


To read more about Penniman, click here.

One

While doing research for this book, I learned that many of these shell loaders died terrible deaths as a result of their exposure to the powerful chemicals and explosives. The information above comes from an extremely rare document, chronicling day-to-day life at Penniman.

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In

In the mid-1910s, a skin cream was developed - just for women shell loaders - to help them cope with the yellowing of their skin, nails and hair. Brunette women saw their hair turn green. Many women lost their hair completely. As one woman said, "No amount of washing would take that yellow away." Sadly, no one knows how many women died from this work, but it's said that their numbers were significant. Image is from Wikipedia.

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The Ch

A British officer credited DuPont with helping them win the war. At a time when chemistry was greatly needed, DuPont did a lot to gear up for the war, and obviously, made a huge difference.

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In addition to the dangers of things

In addition to the dangers of chemical poisoning and explosions at Penniman, Mr. Kelley states that the Germans were hoping to launch an attack on Penniman. Hiland Kelley was a superintendent at the plant.

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Penniman got it from all sides. Even the local hoity toity folks didnt want them there.

Penniman got it from all sides. Even the local hoity toity folks didn't want them there.

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It

From the Morecock Family Papers.

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I became interested in Penniman in 2010, when I tried to figure out the true source of 17 bungalows in Riverview (Norfolk) that had been barged in - from somewhere.

I became interested in Penniman in 2010, when I tried to figure out the true source of 17 bungalows in Riverview (Norfolk) that had been barged in - from somewhere. The image above shows one of our "Ethel Bungalows" in Penniman. The image below is from the 1948 City Assessor. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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house

We've counted 18 "Ethels" in this vintage photo of Penniman. There may be more out of frame. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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To continue reading about Penniman, click here.

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Frank’s Beautiful Strathmore In Waldwick, NJ

January 20th, 2014 15 comments

Sometime in the 1930s, a man named Frank Workman not only built a Sears Strathmore, but he had the wisdom to document part of the process through photographs.

About 80 years later, a kind soul named Ms. Dickinson had the wisdom to save those photos and put them on eBay.

Last week, yet another kind soul named Dale Wolicki had the wisdom to send me a link to these photos, and I hastily put in a bid and subsequently won this treasure trove!

Thanks to Frank, and Ms. Dickinson, and Mr. Wolicki, at least 2,000 people will now enjoy these many photos of a Sears Strathmore being built at 21 Pennington Avenue in Waldwick, NJ.

Ms. Dickinson reports that Frank’s daughter (shown in photos below) lived in the house until recently. These houses were built with so much love, and the first families intended that these houses be passed down through the generations.

But unfortunately…

According to the wonderful note Ms. Dickinson included with these photos, Frank’s house was demolished about one month ago. How many Sears Homes are we going to tear down before someone decides that they’re worthy of preservation?

So very frustrating.

Frank Workman obviously took great pride in his beautiful Strathmore. How disturbing that someone in Waldwick, NJ saw fit to tear it down.

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Frank

Frank Workman must have been quite a character. He's standing on the side of his Strathmore in Waldwick, NJ. Perhaps Frank had Indian roots. Or maybe he just really liked this headdress.

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Frank

Frank really liked that headdress and he really liked his house.

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The Strathmore was a popular house for Sears. Typically, you dont find that many post-Depression Sears Homes, but the Strathmore is the exception.

The Strathmore was a popular house for Sears. Typically, you don't find that many post-Depression Sears Homes, but the Strathmore is the exception. It had an expandable attic, for extra square footage (1936).

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Good florplan

The Strathmore had 1-1/2 baths, which was a plus. The kitchen was a mere 12-feet by 7-feet.

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Ive always had a soft spot for the Neo-Tudor, and the Strathmore is one of my favorites.

I've always had a soft spot for the Neo-Tudor, and the Strathmore is one of my favorites.

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Side view of the Strathmore under construction.

Side view of the Strathmore under construction. Note, the planking is horizontal. On many houses of this vintage, the planking runs diagonally. However, this house ended up with cypress shakes, so maybe that's why the planks are run horizontal.

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This is a close-up of those packing crates.

Close-up of those packing crates (seen in the foreground of the photo above). I suspect that the quality of lumber used in these packing crates is far superior to the "premium" lumber currently being sold at the big box stores.

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What a grand photo!

What a grand photo, and it really demonstrates a different time in American architectural history. Years ago, I knew a man who built his own home in Elsah, Illinois and it was all the rage in Jersey County. He was a novice homebuilder who undertook to build his own home "from scratch." And yet in 1930s, people didn't think anything of buying a kit home and building it themselves.

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I love

And here's a close-up of that same photo. Look at that make-shift ladder! And that wooden scaffolding looks a bit primitive, too. Looks like Frank might have been doing his own brick work. My favorite item in this photo is the 55-gallon drum overturned on its side. For the life of me, I can't imagine what would have been in that drum. Paint and varnish were supplied in one and two-gallon metal buckets.

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Another i

Another view of the home's front, during construction.

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Franks daughters

According to Ms. Dickinson, Frank's daughter lived in this house until very recently. Judging by the clothes, it looks like this photo dates to the late 1930s, or shortly after the house was finished. It seems likely that these are Frank's two daughters, seated on the "cheek" of the front porch. Check out the original batten shutters behind the girls.

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Another view of the two daughters.

Another view of the two daughters. And judging by the steps, it does seem likely that Frank did his own brickwork. Kind of reminds me of the Lucy episode where she rebuilt the brick barbecue pit in the backyard.

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Another view of the completed house, date unknown.

Another view of the completed house, date unknown. However, it's interesting to note that those three windows next to the fireplace have already been replaced. Originally, these three had diamond muntins.

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Frank loved cars, too.

Frank loved cars, too. The home's left side is shown here. Can anyone identify the year of this car? My best guess is early 1930s, or even late 192os.

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View of

Good view of the home's left side, and kitchen door.

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Nice view of the house sometime in the 1950s (judging by the car).

Nice view of the house sometime in the 1950s (judging by the car).

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Frank

Oh Frank, I'm sorry to say that your beautiful Strathmore - built with such love and care - is now sitting in a landfill somewhere. When will we decide to stop tearing down old kit homes?

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And to end on a happy note, a beautiful Strathmore in Richmond, Virginia. As far as I know, its still standing.

And to end on a happy note, a beautiful Strathmore in Richmond, Virginia. As far as I know, it's still standing. Then again, I haven't been down that street in four years, so who knows.

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To learn more about what makes Sears Homes so valuable (and worthy of restoration and preservation), click here.

To contact Rose, leave a comment below.

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Moving Houses in 1916: Slow, But Doable!

December 17th, 2013 7 comments

Whilst researching Penniman, I’ve had the occasion to talk with many historians and museum curators and too many to count have told me, “One hundred years ago, houses just weren’t moved. People didn’t have the means to move an entire house like they might today.”

Typically, I try really hard not to roll my eyes.

And sometimes, you can convince them that, yes, ours was a much more thrifty society in the early 20th Century and we were not likely to waste anything, certainly not anything as big (and labor intensive and expensive) as an entire house!

And then they’ll say, “Well, little tiny houses maybe, but not big houses.”

Alas!

Last week, I was reading through a book that Bill Inge found for me, “Manufacturer’s Record” (December 1916) when I discovered this small advertisement for a house-moving company. Check out the photos below, for it’s almost unbelievable.

Thanks again to Bill Inge from providing me with another cool vintage book on historic architecture!

To read another blog about house moving 100 years ago, click here.

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Word press

Before Bill Inge, I'd never heard of "Manufacturers Record." It's quite a large tome!

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barge Dec 1921

My interest in moving houses was piqued when I learned that more than 60 houses were moved from Penniman, Virginia to Norfolk. And better yet, these 60 houses were moved to Norfolk by barge! (Photo is from the Virginia Pilot, December 1921). Thanks to Robert Hitchings for finding this wonderful photo!

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house house house

While reading the Manufacturers Record, I found this advertisement at the bottom of a page. This fellow claims that he had been moving houses since 1875!

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house that is shown here

And see the description he has offered here? The house that was moved was an all brick house, and it measured 50' by 75 feet, and it was raised four feet, turned 90 degrees and moved 300 feet. I love this photo because it demonstrates that the house was moved on rails. YES, on rails. The rails (typically two) were laid in front of the house, and it was slid across those rails, which would then be moved from the rear, back to the front.

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househouse

Close-up of the house. Now that's a big house!

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hou house

And I love the description: "Largest movers of Buildings in the United States."

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Shiawassee

One of the finest examples of early 20th Century moving that I've ever come across is this picture from the Shiawassee History website. See link below. If you look at the image above, you'll see rails laid down in front of the house. At the website (below), there's a thorough explanation of how this move was accomplished, but in short, the horse walked in a circle around that capstan which was anchored to a tree or some solid object. The winding of the rope around the capstan acted like a winch, pulling the house forward on those rails, SLOWLY.

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Many thanks – again – to Bill Inge – for sharing his knowledge and his cool old books!

To visit the Shiawassee History website, click here.

To learn more about the mechanics of moving houses in the early 20th Century, click here.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

Looking for the story about Penniman soldiers? Click here.

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Was Great-Grandfather at Penniman? (A Genealogist’s Dream Come True)

December 16th, 2013 11 comments

In my ongoing quest to learn more about Penniman, Virginia, I visited Ike Skelton Library (a military library in Norfolk) and they told me about “The Shell Inspector,” published by the U. S. Army in 1918. The 44-page book was written by the men of the Enlisted Detachment, Ordnance Corps, U. S. Army at Camp Penniman.

Unfortunately, the only copy in the entire world was at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia.

Fortunately, the VHS still possessed their one copy.

Unfortunately, the VHS does not scan entire documents for patrons.

Fortunately, they allowed me to visit their library (94 miles one way) and take pictures of this old book.

Unfortunately, I visited on the very same day that 4,387 noisy short people from the local elementary school were there.

Fortunately, “The Shell Inspector” was housed in a room with double doors, which the librarian quickly closed when the noisy short people approached the common hallway.

Within the pages of this book I discovered a genealogist’s dream. There were pictures of the 312 Army men stationed there, with a little tiny white number hand-drawn on each man, and a corresponding list of the men’s names and home cities.

And an interesting aside, the book was written days after the war ended (November 11, 1918), so this is one happy bunch of young men.

If you’d like a closer view of a particular man, leave a comment below and I will email you the image you want.

As I said – it’s a genealogist’s dream come true!

Please share the link on your Facebook page!  😀

To read more about the fascinating story of Penniman, click here.

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The whole dea

The original picture of the Ordnance Corps comprised several pages.

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44 one bee

For ease of viewing, I cut the image into several sections.

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44 1 c

These fellows are from the 2nd section.

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doggy

See anyone you know?

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dododo

Yes, that is a dog, and he's number 312. Sadly, he's not listed in the roster!

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Thirty five one A

They do look like a happy bunch of soldiers. No doubt they were happy. After all, they'd survived the war and the war was over and they were headed home.

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Thirty five one B

And in this photo, you can see the officers (in chairs).

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Cluster

These men were photographed independently of the others. I wonder if they missed the first picture day?

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Group two

Second group of men that were photographed independently.

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And now the names.

And now the names.

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Second list of names.

Second list of names.

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Third

I don't see any Fullers or Hoyts on the list. Drat!

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Roseter

No Whitmores, either!

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And there was

And there was this woman, Mrs. Robert Oberholser. If someone could tell me why an adjutant is needed in a WW1 Army camp, and how a woman snagged this position, I'd be most grateful.

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This map from The Shell Inspector shows that the men came from all over the country.

This map from The Shell Inspector shows that the men came from all over the country, but the majority came from the Northeast. I wonder where #312 was from?

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house

"The Shell Inspector" was dedicated to the two officers of the camp.

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Captain dog

Lieutenant Carl Trometre, enlisted May 1898.

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Butler

Lieutenant Frank Butler, enlisted September 1894.

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Shell

The Shell Loader was published in 1918 by the U. S. Army. It was an incredible find.

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To read more about Penniman, click here.

Interested in reading about bungalows and germs? Click here!

Why were kit homes so popular in the early 20th Century?

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