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Posts Tagged ‘Rose Thornton’

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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Let’s Go to Buckroe! (Hampton, Virginia)

March 16th, 2015 Sears Homes 5 comments

Last week, my friend Cynthia (a fellow old-house lover!) drove me around Hampton, Virginia searching for kit homes from the early 20th Century. We had a wonderful morning and a lot of fun, but after 3-1/2 hours, I was worn out!

We visited several early 1900s neighborhoods, but found nothing remarkable, and then we went to the Buckroe area. (Having been raised in Hampton Roads, I remember a little ditty from a radio advertisement: “Let’s go to Buckroe!” Advertising must be a powerful medium because I haven’t heard that jingle in 40 years, but still remember it clearly. And yet I couldn’t find it on youtube or google. Strange.)

I’d been through the Buckroe section before, but apparently, I’d missed the sweet spots. With Cynthia’s help, I found a surfeit of Sears Homes I’d never seen before.

Check out the photos below for a real treat, and if you know anyone who loves old Hampton, please send them a link to this blog! :)

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In the early 1900s and into the 1960s, Buckroe Beach was a happening place. This photo is from www.gardenrant.com, and published by Susan Miller.

In the early 1900s and into the 1960s, Buckroe Beach was a happening place. I'm not sure what happened to Buckroe, but the area by the beach is now open field. I'm told that Buckroe Amusement Park was closed in 1985 and torn down in 1991. What a pity. This photo is from www.gardenrant.com, and is copyright Susan Miller.

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To see more vintage pictures of Buckroe, visit Susan’s website here. Lots of wonderful pictures.

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While driving down Seaboard Avenue, I spotted this darling little cottage and asked Cynthia to back up so I could get another look.

While driving down Seaboard Avenue, I spotted this darling little cottage and asked Cynthia to back up so I could get another look. Note the three windows down the side? That caught my eye, as did the cut-out shuters.

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Oh my stars, its a Sears Claremont!  (1928)

Oh my stars, it's a Sears Claremont! (1928)

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Such a pretty little thing.

Such a pretty little thing. And other than the door, it's perfect!

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I thought about asking Cynthia if we could come back after dark and steal the shutters. It was tempting. And yes, theyre original too!

I thought about asking Cynthia if we could come back after dark and steal the shutters. It was tempting. And yes, they're original too! As are the Cypress shakes on the exterior.

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Cute, isnt it? And such a nice match.

Cute, isn't it? And such a nice match.

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Less than a block away on Seaboard, this Lewiston was just waiting to be discovered. That's the car window in the upper right of the frame. Oopsie.

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The Lewiston, as seen in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Lewiston, as seen in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Also found this pretty thing in the 900-block of North Mallory.

Also found this pretty thing in the 900-block of North Mallory.

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Its a Sears Somerset, looking much like the day it was built.

It's a Sears Somerset, looking much like the day it was built.

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Aladdin was a company which, like Sears, sold entire kit homes through mail-order.

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This is an Aladdin Madison with an altered front gable.

Just around the corner on Atlantic Avenue, I found this Aladdin Madison with an altered front gable. Due to the trees, you can't see the side, but that little bumpout is present on the far right of the home (just as it should be).

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assess

Here's a close-up of the Aladdin Madison from the 1931 catalog.

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Heres a photo from the Hampton Assessors website.

Here's a photo from the Hampton Assessor's website. In this photo, you can see that bump-out on the side, and also see how that front gable started life as an arched entry.

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Last but not least is the Fullerton. Id found this house in the Buckroe area several months earlier, but this time, there was no big red truck parked in the front yard, making it far easier to get a good shot of the house. This is in the 200-block of East Taylor.

Last but not least is the Fullerton. I'd found this house in the Buckroe area several months earlier, but this time, there was no big red truck parked in the front yard, making it far easier to get a good shot of the house. This is in the 200-block of East Taylor.

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What a nice match!

What a nice match, right down to the flared columns!

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To see an earlier blog I did on the kit homes of Hampton, click here.

To see more vintage pictures of Buckroe, click here.

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This One’s Asking For Advice on Old Cook Stoves…

March 13th, 2015 Sears Homes No comments

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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Lighting these puppies didn't look simple.

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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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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 1 comment

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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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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"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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house

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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