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

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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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Lost in New Orleans!

January 7th, 2015 Sears Homes 3 comments

What are the odds that this rare and wonderful old Sears House is  still alive and well in New Orleans?

I don’t know enough about NOLA to even venture a guess.

Last night, I went to a favorite site (Realtor.com) and looked up “houses for sale” (single family and 50+ years old) and that brought up only a handful of listings. Apparently, there’s been a huge amount of redevelopment in New Orleans.

A reporter from this area has asked me to find some Sears Homes in New Orleans. I’d love to start with this one.

Any ideas?

If you’re here for the first time, you may be wondering, what is a Sears House? In the early 1900s, Sears sold entire kit homes through their mail order catalogs. The 12,000-piece kit came with a 75-page instruction book that promised the homeowner, “You can not make a mistake.” Typically, it took the average neophyte builder 3-6 months to complete assembly of his home.

Want to see the fanciest kit home that Sears offered? Click here.

Do  you know where this house is? Please leave a comment below.

And please share this link with your New Orleanian friends on social media!

Oooh, part II is here!

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feffe

This house was built in New Orleans. Is it still alive?

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House

Modern Home 264P165 is a model I've never seen in real life, and yet, we know there were at least three built (and perhaps many more). This image was in the 1914 catalog, and yet it does not appear in 1912 or 1916, so it was short-lived. Where's the house in New Orleans?

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Fortunately, the floor plan is odd enough that it should be fairly easy to identify.

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fefe

"Particularly planned for southern states..."

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And this explains why!

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To read about a beautiful Sears House in Texas (which is a beautiful story), click here.

Do  you know where this house is? Please leave a comment below.

And please share this link with your New Orleanian friends on social media!

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“The Charm of the True Colonial is Perennial”

January 5th, 2015 Sears Homes 1 comment

Throughout my time on this earth, I’ve always had a soft spot for a center-hallway Colonial. Perhaps this is because I lived in one from July 1959 (birth of a seven-pound old house zealot) to April 1978 (zealot leaves to get married).

In 2007 when I got married again (and for the last time, I might add), I moved into another center-hallway Colonial, reminiscent of my childhood home. Not only did it remind me of the family home in Waterview (Portsmouth, VA), but it looked like a good place to drop both anchor and money.

Gordon Van Tine offered a Colonial, known as “Modern Home #601″ and later named “The Shoreham.”

Even today, sitting in my perfect Mid-Century Modern brick ranch, I still swoon when I gaze upon the pictures of these early 20th Century Colonials. The copy writers for GVT were right: Its charm is perennial.

To read more about Gordon Van Tine, click here.

Interested in reading about the plan-book houses of Waterview? Click here.

Hey - are you familiar with Bluefield, WV? If so, I’m missing a couple houses there. Please leave a comment below if you know the area?

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GVT Home #601, as seen in the 1926 catalog.

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Okay, I know youre just here for the pictures, but take a moment and actually *read* this text. Its a great read!!

I know you're just here for the pictures, but take a moment and actually *read* this text. It's worth it. The Colonial has survived "The horrors of the Mansard era and the Victorian period..."

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houe

In 1929, it became known as The Shoreham (as in, are you shore this is ham?). The dormers went bye-bye, too.

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Floorplan

Busy little floorplan. I love the coat closet's placement.

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Floopr

My oh my, but there's a lot going on in the kitchen.

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GVT #601 (1926 catalog).

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Bluefield WV

My friend Ersela and I discovered this house in Bluefield, WV. It's a real dandy, isn't it?

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515 Nanse

My childhood home at 515 Nansemond Street, as photographed by my father on moving day, April 1957.

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Gosnold Avenue

Our beautiful former home on Gosnold Avenue in Colonial Place. I had made a plan with my friend David Strickland to custom-build cut-out functional shutters for the home's front. I was going to paint them black, but life took a few turns and we ended up selling the home and moving to another part of Norfolk. I've always thought this house was one of the prettiest homes in Colonial Place (Norfolk).

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The house

The GVT #601 (the Colonial shown at the top of the page) sat next door to a GVT #603 (this house). I'm sorry to say I don't know which street it was on, but I'd love to find out - and maybe even get a photo. These houses were close to the river (parallel to the river) and on a main drag. Do you know where they are? :/

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To read more about Gordon Van Tine, click here.

Interested in reading about the plan-book houses of Waterview? Click here.

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And The Winner is… (Part II)

December 31st, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Earlier this week, I wrote about the “contest” offered by Sears Roebuck, where they invited 100 “up-to-date farmers” to submit their plans for a “modern farm house for the 20th Century.”

Mr. Selck of Evansville, Wisconsin won first prize with his design (Modern Home #189, “The Hillrose”), and second prize was awarded to W. L. Richardson of Cambridge, Iowa for Modern Home #184.

Despite a lot of traveling, I’ve never seen an original Hillrose. However, in 2005, I gave a talk at a $1,000,000 reproduction of the Sears Hillrose in Prophetstown, Indiana.

The house was re-created several years ago by architectural  historians who studied the old pictures and floorplans shown in a Sears mail-order catalog. The Hillrose in Prophetstown is now open to the public, and in addition to the reproduced Sears kit home, there’s also a large working farm on the site.

When there in 2005, I had a thorough tour of the inside and snapped a few photos. As I told the director, I really loved what they’d done with the place. I snapped a few photos (old 35mm slides), which you’ll see below.

In 1916, the Sears Hillrose was offered for less than $2,000. More than 90 years later, the reproduction Hillrose cost more than $1 million.

To read more about The Contest, click here.

Want to join our group on Facebook? Click here.

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The contest was featured in an undated brochure (about 1914).

The contest was featured in an undated brochure (about 1914).

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The first prize design was Modern Home #189, or The Hillrose.

The first prize design was Modern Home #189, or The Hillrose (1914 catalog).

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The cost to build the contemporary Hillrose was $1,000,000.

The cost to build the contemporary Hillrose was $1,000,000.

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Despite my best efforts, I was not able to match the Sears barn. Upon reflection, Im not sure this was a bonafide reproduction kit barn. Memory can be fickle at times, especially when youre relying on a conversation that you had 10 years ago.

Despite my best efforts, I was not able to match the Sears barn to any known Sears kit barn designs. Upon reflection, I'm not sure this was a bonafide reproduction kit barn. Memory can be fickle at times, especially when you're relying on a conversation that you had 10 years ago. That's my little red 2003 Camry to the right of the barn.

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Close-up of the barn.

Close-up of the barn.

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As mentioned in the prior blog, I ended up giving my talk in this barn.

As mentioned in the prior blog, I ended up giving my talk that night inside this barn. Back in the day, I toted around two slide projectors and would show the two slides on two screens, comparing extant houses with vintage catalog images. I was rather relieved when the world went to digital. Organizing all those slides for every talk was a massive undertaking. I finally gave away those slide projectors in 2011 when we moved into a new house.

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The interior of the Hillrose was a thing of beauty.

The interior of the Hillrose was a thing of beauty. It disappears in the shadows, but yes, that's a chamber pot under the bed. The wallpaper was gorgeous, and the rag doll was a nice touch too.

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Is that a Sears light fixture?

Is that a Sears light fixture? Not perfect, but close enough for government work. :)

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For someone whos spent their life trying to figure out how to get back to the 1920s, the kitchen was charming.

For someone who's spent their life trying to figure out how to get back to the 1920s, I'd say the kitchen was utterly enchanting. And who doesn't secretly dream of a turquoise and white cast-iron, wood-fired cookstove?

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Oh

What's not to love?

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And what proper Indiana homestead wouldnt have a Hoosier cabinet?

And what proper Indiana homestead wouldn't have a Hoosier cabinet?

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And properly stocked, too?

And properly stocked, too?

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Do you have an aunt living in one of these towns?

Even though I've never seen an original Hillrose, the 1916 catalog shows that there were Hillroses buit in these cities. Please call your cousin Bertha in Griffith, Indiana and ask her to find the Sears Hillrose there and then ask her to take a photo and send it to the lady in Norfolk. Or maybe your Aunt Beulah in Alvada, Ohio? Or Granny Kittle in Waterman, Illinois? Work with me here. I need a photo of a real life Hillrose. Really I do.

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To read more about The Contest, click here.

Want to join our group on Facebook? Click here.

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And The Winner Is…

December 29th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

It started out in 1913 as a contest.

Sears invited 100 “up to date farmers” to submit their plans for a “modern farm house for the 20th Century.”

Mr. Selck of Evansville, Wisconsin won first prize with his design, which came to be known as The Hillrose (Modern Home #189). In addition to having his creation featured in subsequent catalogs, he also won $50 - in gold.

Second prize ($35 in gold) went to W. L. Richardson of Cambridge, Iowa. His house (Modern Home #184) didn’t last long enough to be granted a name (1918), and in fact, was gone by 1916.

Despite 14 years of wandering and researching, I’ve seen only one Sears Hillrose and that was in Prophetstown, Indiana (near West Lafayette) and it was less than 20 years old.

The house was re-created several years ago by architectural  historians who studied the old pictures and floorplans shown in a Sears mail-order catalog. The Hillrose in Prophetstown is part of a museum exhibit that offers an interpretive display of a working farm.

The first floor of the house is true to the catalog image and to the time period. The interior is filled with period furnishings, appliances and even ephemera. An old Sears catalog sits on an end table in the front room of the Hillrose. The second floor is thoroughly modern, not open to the public, and is used as administrative offices.

In 2005, I traveled to Prophetstown to see this recently built Hillrose “in the flesh” and to give a talk on Sears Homes.

Originally, it was planned that I’d give the talk in the front room of the Hillrose (with space for 30 attendees). Not good. These talks - even 10 years ago - often drew 100+ visitors.

The only option available at the last minute was the barn. And it was a real barn, with real critters and hay and implements.

That evening, at 7:00 pm, I addressed about 90 people, four goats, six cows and several chickens. In the barn.

This newly built Hillrose was a pricey little affair. The 1916 Sears catalog showed the house offered for $1,649. More than 90 years later, the Hillrose’s contemporary cost exceeded $1 million, due to the expense of re-creating an early 20th Century farm house.

And now Prophetstown has a real treasure and a tourism attraction that will endure for decades to come.

Click here to see inside the Hillsboro in Prophetstown.

To read more about this Hillsboro in Indiana, click here.

Want to learn more about to identify a Sears House? Click here.

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Contest

I wonder what an "out of date" farmer looks like? This image came from a promotional brochure, dated about 1914. Take a moment and read it in its entirety. It's fun!

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First prize

Modern Home #189 was the prize winner, and garnered $50 in gold for Mr. Selck of Evansville, Indiana (1914 catalog). Fine house (with more than 2,000 square feet) for a mere $1,473.

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house hosue house

W. L. Richardson of Cambridge, Ohio won $35 in gold for this design (1914 catalog).

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First prize winner

Apparently, Sears asked for a letter from the first prize winner.

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Second

And the second-prize winner, too.

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Aladdin was actually the originator of the business of selling kit homes via mail-order catalogs, but what's a little promotional puffery between friends?.

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hillrose

A comparison of the two houses - side-by-side.

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I guess the woodshed was the thing that carried the day.

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A panoramic view of Modern Home #189, showing not only the house, but outbuildings and livestock.

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1916

A closer view of Modern Home #189 (The Hillrose).

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barn

A close-up of the Sears kit barn, as shown with The Hillrose (above).

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Round barn with

I love that dormer atop not just the round barn but the silo, too.

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cheapter

Chicken House #221 is shown next to the Hillrose.

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Long shot

Here's a long view of the 2nd prize winner. He has a chicken coop, but it's not the #221. He has a vehicle, but it's only one-horse power. He has an outbuilding, but it's a little milk house.

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house 1916

Second-prize winner got cheaped out on the chicken house.

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house house

Nice little milk house, though.

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Even though Ive never seen a 1910s Hillrose, they are out there - apparently (1916 catalog).

Even though I've never seen a 1910s Hillrose, they are out there - apparently (1916 catalog). Alvado, Ohio can't be that big. It can't be too tough to find a big old Sears foursquare in little old Alvado. Perhaps a kind-hearted Avacadoan will find this Hillrose in their town and snap a photo for moi. Or maybe someone in Griffith will embark on this mission of mercy. One can hope. I need a picture of a Hillrose.

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However, I dont know if any of these homes were ever built.

However, I don't know if any of these homes were ever built. Good news is, this house is so distinctive, it'll be easy to spot! In addition to being an L-shaped foursquare (yeah, really), it has an offset porch, small vestibule, pedimented porch roof, big gabled dormer, oversized eaves and a dainty-looking horse in the front yard.

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The Modern Hillrose in West Lafayette is a real dandy.

The Modern Hillrose in West Lafayette is a real dandy, and it's the only Hillrose I've seen.

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From catalog side

A view of the Hillrose from the same angle as the catalog.

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My favorite view of all

My favorite shot of the Hillrose, showing the barn in the background.

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Just a little archival storage tip: If youre going to

Just a little archival storage tip: If you're going to collect rare Sears House ephemera and sell it on eBay, don't cut it up into tiny bits and then laminate the whole caboodle with thick plastic. This photo here is to help explain why images 1, 4, 5 and 6 look like they were scanned through wax paper. Because - actually - they were. Special thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for purchasing this rare brochure and sharing it!

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To read Rachel’s wonderful blog, click here.

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“Our Architects are Bungalow Experts” (Part II)

December 21st, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Earlier this month, I did a blog on the sweet little GVT #114 that Dale found in Manheim, Pennsylvania.

After that blog appeared, Dale was kind enough to send along two more photos of GVT Modern Home #114. I’ve never seen one in real life, but apparently this was a fairly popular house!

Thanks to Dale for the wonderful photos!

To learn more about Wardway Homes, click here.

Want to read the earlier blog on GVT #114? Click here.

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As seen in the 1913 catalog.

As seen in the 1913 catalog.

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I love this text.

I love this text: "The ultra of beauty in design."

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house

Some of these kit homes are a misery to identify, but #114 has many unique features.

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Heres the #114 that Dale found in Manheim, PA.

Here's the #114 that Dale found in Manheim, PA.

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Dale found these in Davenport, Iowa.

Dale found this one in Davenport, Iowa.

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This was

This #114 was also found in Davenport, Iowa (home of Gordon Van Tine).

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To learn more about Wardway Homes, click here.

Want to read the earlier blog on Wardway #114? Click here.

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“Our Architects Are Bungalow Experts!”

December 2nd, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

Gordon Van Tine homes are not as well known as Sears, but they were a substantial competitor in the mail-order house business.

GVT was founded in 1866 (as a lumber supply company) and evolved into a mail-order house company about 1909 (according to GVT expert, Dale Wolicki).

By contrast, Richard Warren Sears didn’t start selling watches until 1886! Sears issued their first building materials catalog in 1895, and their first house catalog came out in 1908.

Gordon Van Tine was based in Davenport, Iowa, but they had mills in Mississippi and Washington State.

Another little interesting tidbit: Montgomery Ward also sold kit homes, but all their orders were fulfilled by Gordon Van Tine. In fact (unlike Sears), GVT handled all the details for Wardway Homes, from architectural design to catalog printing to order fulfillment.

Sears hired a staff of architects to create their house designs, as did Gordon Van Tine. Montgomery Wards hired Gordon Van Tine!

And the best part - according to the advertisement for the GVT #114, the architects at GVT were “bungalow experts”!

Several years ago, Dale sent me this picture of a GVT #114, which he found in Pennsylvania. It wasn’t until I started studying the very early GVT catalogs, that I actually placed the model that Dale had discovered.

We know that there were at least two of these houses built (testimonial shows one in Iowa), but it’d be fun to know if there are more than two!

To learn more about Gordon Van Tine, click here.

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for scanning the 1913 and 1916 GVT catalog!

And thanks to Dale for sharing his photos!

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“]I love these old advertisements. This is from the 1913 catalog.

This graphic (1913) explains why kit homes were typically located within 1-2 miles of railroad tracks. The logistics of moving a house from here to there typically involved a vehicle with 1-2 horsepower (as shown above).

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“]”]And GVT started when Lincoln was a young man...

And GVT first started doing business when "Lincoln was president..." (1929 catalog)

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Model #114 as seen in the 1913 GVT catalog.

Model #114 as seen in the 1913 GVT catalog.

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Good

I love this part: "Our architects are bungalow experts." Were they also foursquare experts? Colonial experts? Neo-tudor experts? Or just devout "bungalow experts"?

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Intriguing little house, isnt it?

Intriguing little house, isn't it? Notice the windows on the side and front, with the diamond muntins in the horizontal window that traverse the smaller windows. Nice feature, and makes it easier to identify.

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Flo

Only two bedrooms (as designed) with a small den on the front of the house.

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And here it is in Manheim, Pennsylvania on North Hazel Street.

And here it is in Manheim, Pennsylvania on North Hazel Street. The dormers have been enlarged, perhaps to create better light and livable space on the second floor. The house has had some other modifications, but the question is, were these changes done when the house was built? I think that's the most likely scenario. Picture is copyright 2009, Dale Patrick Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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If you look at the house from a side street, you can see that unusual window on the side.

If you look at the house from a side street, you can see that unusual window on the side.

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And theres another GVT #114 in Iowa!

And there's another GVT #114 in Iowa!

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To learn more about Gordon Van Tine, click here.

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for scanning the 1913 and 1916 GVT catalog!

And thanks to Dale for sharing his photos!

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Jacksonville, Illinois and Their Many Kit Homes!

November 20th, 2014 Sears Homes 13 comments

In August 2014, I traveled to Jacksonville to get photos of two Gordon Van Tine homes that were built side-by-side in the early 1920s and featured in a promotional booklet. While I was there, I drove around the rest of the city and discovered several kit homes, from several different companies!

And bear in mind, this was a quick trip in search of the “low-hanging fruit,” so I’m sure there are many more kit homes in Jacksonville.

Perhaps most interesting is that Jacksonville has more kit homes from Gordon Van Tine than any other company. Gordon Van Tine was a kit home company based in Davenport, Iowa.

I also found kit homes from Montgomery Ward and Aladdin.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if Jacksonville hired me to return and do a proper survey and give a talk? Heck yes!

These blogs - which feature one city’s many kit homes - take many, many hours to prepare and write up, so if you enjoy the following pictures, please take a moment and share it with others, or best of all - SHARE IT on your Facebook page.

Enjoy the pictures!

To contact Rose, leave a comment below!

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Barrington

The Sears Barrington was a very popular house (1928 catalog).

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house house

Here's a beautiful Barrington in Jacksonville, Illinois.

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thishouse

This Barrington is another beauty. It needs some paint, but retains its original cedar shakes and wooden windows. All that's missing is the original hospitality bench (as seen in the catalog image above).

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1940

The Sears Wilmore as seen in the 1940 catalog (Sears last "Modern Homes" catalog).

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Sears Wilmore

Tihs may well be the prettiest Sears Wilmore I've ever seen. The picket fence is a lovely touch.

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house 1919

Aladdin was another kit home company, and was larger than Sears. Aladdin started selling kit homes in 1906 and didn't cease until 1981. Aladdin sold about 75,000 homes during their 75 years in business.

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Aladdin Pomona

Perfect Aladdin Pomona just outside of Jacksonville. It has the original windows with diamond muntins.

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1919 Detroit

The Aladdin Detroit was almost as popular as the Pomona (1919 catalog).

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Aladdin Detroit

Is this an Aladdin Detroit? I'd say it is. Probably. An interior inspection would settle the question.

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GVT Hudson

The Hudson was a fine-looking Tudoresque Gordon Van Tine house.

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GVT Hudson

As a commercial structure, this GVT Hudson is a bit garish, but it's still recognizable.

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househouse

Check out the elaborate doorway with its broken pediment detailing .

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GVT Hudson

And there it is! Looking just like the catalog image above!

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Twinkies Proof

Mr. Fernandes' Twinkies appeared in a 1920s Gordon Van Tine publication, "Proof of the Pudding." Apparently, the North Clay address was Mr. Fernandes' business address, and not the site of the two homes. The model name was "The Roycroft." Image is courtesy Rachel Shoemaker.

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Twinkies

Mr. Fernandes' Twinkies in 2014. Do the folks in Jacksonville know that these two houses are Gordon Van Tine "Roycrofts"? Based on my research, odds are good that the homeowners don't know what they have.

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GVT 1916

This was an advertisement for GVT Model 583 which appeared in a 1916 magazine (courtesy Rachel Shoemaker).

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GVT 1916 583

Close-up of the Gordon Van Tine 583 (1916). Note the small window on the front gable.

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house

A perfect GVT #583 in Jacksonville! And look at the little window in the gable!

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1926 catalog

Model #603 was one of many Dutch Colonials offered by Gordon Van Tine (1926)

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house house

Despite the abundance of trees, I'm confident that this is GVT #603. It's a good match on the home's sides as well (not visible from this not-so-great photo).

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This is

The Gordon Van Tine #615 is easy to identify due to the unique window arrangement on the side, including the through-the-cornice shed dormer, and the three windows on the 2nd floor front.

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house house

And here's the Gordon Van Tine #615 looking picture perfect!

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Cranford

The Montgomery Ward "Cranford" (1930 catalog) is another house that's easy to identify because it's full of unique angles. It's a Dutch Colonial with two gables stuck on its front. Easy to spot!

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house house cranmore

Is this a Wardway Cranmore? Sure looks like it to me!

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Jacksonville certainly has many more kit homes than I identified during my 60-minute drive through town. If you’d like to contact Rose about coming to Jacksonville, please leave a comment below.

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To learn more about the GVT Twinkies I found in Jacksonville, click here.

Click here to see another impressive collection of kit homes in nearby Ferguson, Missouri.

To read more about how to identify kit homes, click here.

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Amazon and Third-Party Vendors: A Cautionary Tale

November 19th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

Updated on November 24, 2014:  Amazon ultimately refunded that last $120 as of two days ago (but it hasn’t appeared on the credit card yet). However, the highly questionable third-party vendor is still active on Amazon with a stellar rating.

In my many letters to Amazon, I suggested they look at the reviews outside of Amazon, where they’d find that this vendor has many one-star reviews for the same questionable shenanigans.

No response.

This week, I’ve done quite a bit of Christmas shopping, and none of it through Amazon.  They’ve lost their #1 fan.

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I am highly allergic to people.

And crowds.

And shopping malls.

Large groups of loud, sticky children make me break out in hives. (And by large groups, I mean one or more.)

For these reasons and more, I’ve always been Amazon’s Number One Fan.

That is, until last month when I purchased a laptop via a third-party vendor at Amazon.

In 2002, I purchased my first laptop. It died 23 months later. Lappys II and III also died on cue, within 30 days of the two-year mark.

In August 2010, Lappy IV (Toshiba Satellite) was adopted from Office Depot, and lived to the ripe old age of 4 years and 2 months, probably (in part) because I started using a laptop cooler 100% of the time.

Last month, Lappy IV developed severe dementia and had to be replaced. I dreaded the thought of dealing with Windows 8. No one likes Windows 8, and I do not embrace change, so I went searching for a laptop with Windows 7. My #1 favorite vendor for such things (Tiger Direct) did not have any laptops big enough for my needs, so I turned to Amazon.

And that’s where it went off the rails.

I found a name-brand laptop for $600+ with Windows 7. The machine had glowing reviews, so I purchased it from a third-party vendor which promised fast delivery. I paid a significant sum for next-day shipment. That was on a Friday.

Every few hours, I checked and found that the computer had not shipped. This went on until late Monday afternoon when I attempted to cancel the order. The response to my cancellation from the website was unclear. I called Amazon and explained the circumstance, and they also attempted to cancel but explained, “Don’t worry; if you receive this item, you can send it back and 100% of your money will be refunded. It’s protected by our A-Z guarantee.”

Amazon called the vendor on my behalf. No response.

Tuesday afternoon, the machine had still not been shipped, so I contacted Amazon again, and they contacted the vendor again. Still, no response.

Wednesday morning, I got an email showing that the laptop had been shipped, a full 36 hours after the cancellation.

This lugubrious story goes on and on, and included several very long, painful phone calls to Amazon.

The laptop arrived at my home a week after I had placed the order, and I purposefully did not disturb the original seal but began writing emails to both Amazon and the vendor, asking for return authorization. The vendor did not reply for several days. More phone calls. More hours. More emails. No response.

It was maddening. Ultimately, I was promised by both companies that my full purchase price would be refunded, and instructions for returning the laptop were finally provided by the third-party vendor.

Return shipping was $36, but that was a small price to have this sad saga come to an end.

Two weeks ago, Fed Ex showed the package had been delivered. I contacted the third-party vendor and they said they never received the laptop. I provided a tracking number. Days later, the vendor finally acknowledged they received the laptop. Last week, I contacted the vendor and said, “It’s been more than a week; where’s my refund?”

Yesterday, two weeks after the vendor received the laptop, they sent an email saying that they’d “started to process” a refund, minus a 20% restocking fee.

In other words, $120 shy.

Again, I contacted Amazon and asked for protection under their “A-Z Guarantee.” They replied with, “This case is closed now because the seller issued a refund.”

I sat down and cried out of sheer frustration.

After I wiped my tears, I called Amazon and spent another hour on the phone. They said they would re-open it under the A-Z Guarantee. That was at 2:00 pm. At 6:00 pm, I received yet another email from Amazon saying that “This case was closed because the seller issued a refund.”

My husband tells me to let it go, but I have a problem with being ripped off. And it was Amazon that exposed me to this chicanery. Later, I went online and googled this company’s name (outside of Amazon). I was not surprised to find that they have many one-star reviews for this same kind of shady dealings.

Here’s what I learned:

1)  Do not deal with third-party vendors at Amazon, unless it’s an amount of money that you can afford to take out in the back yard and set on fire.

2) According to Amazon’s customer-service reps, the Amazon A-Z Guarantee is 100% contingent upon the third-party vendor’s terms for returns. If the third-party refuses returns, or has a 50% restocking fee (which is not disclosed anywhere on the product page), that’s okay with Amazon.

3)  Third-party vendors are given free rein on Amazon, and if they refund any portion of your money, Amazon considers it “Case Closed.”

4) If you write a negative review of a company, that company can sue you for libel  or slander. My lawyer-husband told me this, and I honestly couldn’t believe he was right. He was. Click here to read more.

5) Have you read that article yet?  :D Even if your review was 100% honest and truthful, the cost to defend “the truth” in court can be tens of thousands of dollars. The article recommends you check your homeowner’s insurance to see if it includes “court costs for libel cases” before you write a negative review.

6) If you contact Amazon customer service, you are referred to a call center. Good luck finding someone who can speak the Queen’s English. However, IF you have 30 minutes to kill, they WILL transfer you to a US call center if you ask (and if you can wait, and if you don’t get disconnected).

7) When an Amazon representative promises to “call you back within two hours,” don’t refuse a call from your out-of-town daughter because you naively believe the Amazon rep is really going to call you back. Three weeks later, I’m still waiting for that call.

8 ) The biggie: Sometimes, your mental health is worth more than a laptop and shady business dealings.

If you have a story to share, or if you know anyone at Amazon, please leave a comment below. I sent an email to Jeff@Amazon.com and received a response that said, “The vendor has taken care of this.”

I’m out of ideas. And frankly, thoroughly disappointed in my #1 favorite online company.

Read a happy post about Sears kit homes by clicking here.

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Oh

I guess they're waiving the 15% restocking fee in favor of a 20% restocking fee?

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Lets go back to happy thoughts, such as the Aladdin Marshfield I found in Edwardsville, IL during my recent trip to Illinois.

Let's go back to happy thoughts, such as the Aladdin Marshfield I found in Edwardsville, IL during my recent trip. This is from the 1931 Aladdin catalog, courtesy Rachel Shoemaker. See, I was far from home when I found this house, and called upon dear Rachel to supply a vintage image.

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I dont think Ive ever done a survey for a community on a day other than trash day. Nonetheless, here it is, an Aladdin Marshfield in all its glory. What a perfect match!

I don't think I've ever done a survey for a community on a day other than trash day. Nonetheless, here it is, an Aladdin Marshfield in all its glory. What a perfect match!

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Rachel found a Roseland (Wardway) in Edwardsville during her Google Tour of the city.

Rachel found a Roseland (Wardway) in Edwardsville during her "Google Tour" of the city.

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And what a lovely match! This house is on Plum Street in Edwardsville. The homes owner came to my talk in Edwardsville, and told us she had not realized it was a kit house!

And what a lovely match! This house is on Plum Street in Edwardsville. The home's owner came to my talk in Edwardsville, and told us she had not realized it was a kit house! Photo is copyright 2014 Cindy Reinhardt and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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As Cindy Reinhardt and I tooled along the Edwardsville countryside, I happened upon this bucolic scene and hopped out to take a photo!

As Cindy Reinhardt and I tooled along the Edwardsville countryside, I happened upon this bucolic scene and hopped out to take a photo! And to think that I found it in Edwardsville!

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