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Only Two More Weeks: “Penniman: Virginia’s Own Ghost City.”

June 8th, 2017 Sears Homes 20 comments

In about two weeks, the long-awaited book on Penniman will be arriving at my home. That’s the very good news.

As dear friends and faithful readers know, there’s a lot more to this story. If you’re interested in reading the back story, continue on.  If you’re here to read about the Sears Homes, click here.

If you’d like to pre-order a copy of “Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City,” click on the Paypal button at the bottom of the page. This first printing will be only 200 copies, each of which will be signed by the author.*

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Almost 14 months ago, on April 10, 2016, my husband and I met with the editor that I’d hired to do the final edit on my manuscript on Penniman. It was a Sunday afternoon. The editor was confident that the completed manuscript would be returned to me in about two weeks. After that, it wouldn’t take long to incorporate the changes and send the book off for printing.

Five years of research and study and digging and effort was finally coming to a close. The book was finished. During those long days, when completing this comprehensive tome looked impossible, I’d close my eyes and imagine the finished product resting in my hands. In my vivid imagination, I’d caress its beautiful cover, pull it open to a center page and listen to the soft sibilant sound of the book’s spine being unfurled for the very first time. Next, I’d plunge my face into its bright-white pages and take in the aroma of that fresh-off-the-press smell.

There were many times that I got so overwhelmed by the enormity of the research that I started to think that this was an impossible task.

In August 2015, I kicked it into high gear and boldly announced to my husband that I was going to sequester myself and finish this book. “This means,” I told him, “that I won’t be much company for a time. I’ll be working morning, noon and night, literally, until this is done.”

“You shouldn’t work so hard,” he said half-heartedly. At the time, I assumed the “half-hearted” part was due to his knowing that once I set my mind on something, it was done and done.

I was wrong.

On April 11th, my husband came home from work and after I gave him a big hug, I posed him in front of all the research materials, filed, organized and boxed up, ready for storage.

“Look erudite,” I told him with a big smile, as I stroked his silver hair and kissed his cheek. He struck a delightful pose and I took many pictures of my beloved, and posted the best one on Facebook.

Looking “erudite” was no problem for him. He had an IQ well north of 160, and a flawless eidectic memory. I was in awe of his intellectual prowess. As a person with a natural love of learning, I thoroughly enjoyed just listening to him talk.

And he knew it.

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Through the years, Wayne had been an integral part of the Penniman book. He’d been the preliminary editor on every bit of it, and many an evening we spent an hour or two reviewing a page or a chapter, discussing phrasing, word choices, and historical accuracy. He read every chapter and I was excited to read his edits and commentary. It was just one more place where his shockingly high IQ shined through.

“You’re a ten-talent man,” I’d frequently tell him (a reference to Matthew 25). “You’re brilliant, gifted, discerning, charming and beautiful. God has blessed you with so many gifts and abilities.”

Wayne always responded the same: “It’s good that you think that.”

Wayne’s “fingerprints” were all over that book. And unfortunately, because of that, every paragraph, every sentence and every word within its pages would become a painful memory of my husband.

My husband. The man with whom I intended to grow old. The man to whom I entrusted my extremely sensitive and delicate heart.

On April 18th, 2016, one week after he “looked erudite,” Chief Deputy City Attorney Wayne Ringer left City Hall and ended his life. If I live to be 112, my life will always be divided into two compartments: Before April 18th and After April 18th. The old Rosemary died that day, eviscerated by the holocaust of a spousal suicide. The new Rosemary is now, and will be for some time, a work in progress, but is still largely an emerging, amorphous form, and most notably, chronically dehydrated. I’ve yet to experience a single 24-hour period without soul-wracking crying jags.

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I don’t remember the date, but a few days after Wayne’s suicide, the editor contacted me to let me know that the manuscript was completed. In those early days, I was in deep shock. It was ugly and hellish. I don’t remember details, but I know that the blue notebook - which contained the editor’s marked-up copy - ended up in the trunk of my Camry and remained there for many months.

For at least five months, I lived out of my car and spent the nights at a friend’s house about an hour from Norfolk. Each morning, I’d drive back to my home in Norfolk, pick up clean clothes, and then run around during the day, visiting doctors, lawyers, bankers, or friends, trying to sort out the surfeit of legal, financial, medical and mental problems that I now faced.

I kept granola bars, Boost (liquid supplement), Funyuns and Gatorade in the trunk, along with a Bible, some inspirational books and spare clothes, together with a manila envelope which contained the important papers that I needed constantly. During this time, I was losing weight and suffered from fainting spells. If I stood up too fast, I’d sink right back down.

When I would open that trunk, the very sight of the word Penniman made me nauseous. I kept hoping that repeated exposure would make it easier. It didn’t. In time, I covered the notebook with a beige towel and buried it in a box in the hinterlands of the trunk.

Every few weeks, I’d carry the notebook into my friend’s house (in a canvas bag) and try to read through the edits. Still, I couldn’t do it. Back into the trunk went that tired blue notebook.

In January 2017, a caring friend invited me to join him at dinner. He asked many questions about the book. By now, I had given up on the manuscript and decided it was a dead project. My mental health was more valuable than a book on regional history. As far as I was concerned, the manuscript died with Wayne. I just hadn’t buried it yet. I made a plan to donate all the research materials and the unfinished manuscript to a local library.

I knew what my friend was doing. He was trying to re-invigorate me, and re-ignite the passion I’d once felt for this topic. But now, I had no passion for anything in any direction. I was the walking dead, slogging through the moments and the days, eating enough to stay alive and not much more. Two simple thoughts dominated my waking hours, which were, “Why did Wayne do this?” and secondly, “Why does everyone keep trying to save me?”

That dinner with my friend was such a blessing. He showed me “no little kindness” and when I looked in his eyes, I saw love looking back at me. I was loved. Maybe I really was lovable. Maybe I was worthy of love. Maybe my husband’s last text - blaming me for his death - wasn’t a burden that I should carry for the rest of my life.

Maybe.

Even the people at the periphery of my life were showering me with love. Today, the very memory of that love stirs my soul and lifts my spirits.

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A few weeks after Wayne’s suicide, my eldest daughter gave me a shake and told me, through tears, “Mom, the only way we’re going to survive this hell is by focusing on light and love. This darkness is so horrid and the truth is so awful that this trauma could easily destroy us. I need you to stick around and I need you to stay focused on the good. Promise me you’ll focus on light and love. Promise me.”

I promised my little girl that I’d try.

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That night, the dinner with my friend, I felt the love. It was as though I was being given a mental hug, and it fed my hungry soul. The love in his heart and the warmth in his eyes was a laser-beam of light that pierced the heavy blanket of psyche ache that had engulfed me. His kind words and the love behind them reached right into my heart. I felt something stir inside of me. The next day, I pulled the blue notebook out of the trunk and plopped it down on the desk beside my computer. I told myself, “Just do one page. Just one page. And if you can’t do one page, do one paragraph. And if that’s too much, just do one sentence.”

Opening the book, the dizziness and nausea returned. I paused, closed my eyes and said the simplest of prayers. I kept my eyes closed for a couple minutes. I decided that maybe one sentence would be plenty for the first day. And then I did that first sentence. And then another and another, and then one page was finished but then I hit a bad bump, and an intense memory of a discussion with Wayne washed over me and dragged me down under the waves. I slapped the book shut, closed out the computer screen and flopped on the nearby couch to commence the daily crying jag.

The next day, I made it to the end of the first chapter. When the tears came, I took a deep breath and said, “One more page. Just do one more page.”

And so it went, day after day. Getting through those pages was an act of divine grace and sheer willpower.

In about three weeks, I had incorporated all of the editor’s corrections. After that, three friends gave of their time and brilliance to help me finish up all the “dog work” of incorporating photographs, creating captions, and putting it all together. Next, I had to read the manuscript from beginning to end.

Again, many tears flowed. I was so weary.

That was several weeks ago.

Now, June 8, 2017, we’re drawing mighty close to the finish line. As of June 2nd, the Penniman manuscript is in production, 14 months later than expected. When I chastise myself for the delays, I remember, it’s a miracle of grace that this book will even see the light of day. It may not be exactly how I wanted it to be, but it is finished.

In about 10 days, the “new baby” will be born. And as fast as freight can move those boxes, they’ll come to my home in Southeastern Virginia. At some point in the not-too-distant future, I’ll have the final product resting in my hands, where I’ll caress its beautiful cover, pull it open to a center page and listen to the soft sibilant sound of the book’s spine being unfurled for the very first time. Next, I’ll plunge my face into its bright-white pages and take in the aroma of that fresh-off-the-press smell.

And then, I’ll put it back in the box, and turn the box label side to the wall, so I don’t have to see the word “Penniman,” and hope and pray that one day, the pain associated with that lovely name will ebb a bit, and that this unknown story will garner much interest, and will bring a blessing to every reader and to the community and to the country.

As my friend George said, “Sometimes the biggest ugliest dogs are guarding the loveliest of treasures.”

In other words, sometimes the greatest blessings are lurking right behind the greatest sufferings.

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In 1875, 54-year-old Mary B. Eddy wrote her seminal work (”Science and Health”), a book that was prefatory to creating the first church in America founded by a woman. In 1908, a congregant lovingly returned one of those early books to Eddy. According to Eddy’s secretary, Eddy carefully took the small book, examined it, and handed it back to the secretary and said, “Put it away, Mr. Dickey. No one will ever know what it cost me to write that book.”

Every book comes at a cost to its author, but sometimes the cost far exceeds what the author was intending to pay.

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Less than nine months before his death, Wayne and I had picked out a “dream appliance” - a fancy side-by-side refrigerator with all manner of bells and whistles. It was a fine thing. We’d spent the prior three years planning this purchase. There was much discussion about options and colors and features and prices. And then one day, we went to Sears and made our selection. It was a happy day.

“How is it,” I thought to myself recently, “that we spent three years discussing a major appliance purchase, and yet he never said one word about his final exit plan? How could he think it was okay to destroy our marriage and destroy his wife and destroy our family with a nuclear detonation, without any discussion? How could my husband, an officer of the court and brilliant communicator, take a gun and murder my best friend without even a clue being proffered?”

It is a question that still plagues me, and yet it’s an intractable question. Like so many other aspects of this nightmare, the answer died with him.

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Several months before his death, the veneer of civility began to peel away from his persona (which is Latin for “mask”). While struggling to write a single paragraph explaining the composition of a WW1 155-mm artillery shell, I frequently turned to him for help. It’s hard to believe that any historian at any college or museum could possibly know more of early 20th century military history, munitions and armaments than he did. His eidectic memory and brilliance shown in this arena, too.

After my 9th attempt to write a simple explanation of this shell, I handed him the freshly printed text and said, “Does this sound right to you?”

With his eyes glancing down through his bifocals, he read the paper. He shook his head in disgust as he thrust the papers back at me.

“What kind of dumb-ass doesn’t understand the difference between a shell-casing and a cartridge? How many times must I explain this to you? I don’t have any interest in writing this book for you.”

And with that, he stomped out of the room.

More than a year before his death, we sat at breakfast and chattered away as we did every morning. He mentioned a female colleague, and went on and on about his great admiration for her intellect and mental acuity.

“Wayne, I think I’m just as intelligent as she is, and perhaps even a smidge more.”

He replied, “You write these little history books. She’s a lawyer with seven years of schooling. It’s okay though. You’re smart when it comes to Sears Homes.”

It was a slice that cut me to the marrow. Throughout our marriage, he’d never been able to tell me that I was beautiful. And now he couldn’t even offer reassurances as to his pride in my intelligence.

In January 2016, after proofreading my preface he said, “This isn’t a good preface. It’s more like a first chapter.” He then urged me to try again. I brought him a pen and paper and said, “You just read my very best effort and that was the result of 12 months of writing. I’ve given it all I can. Why don’t you write a preface for me?”

Surprisingly, he agreed and for the next 60 minutes, he sat at the dining room table and wrote a four-page preface. He summoned me when he had finished and said, “This is a good preface for the book. It will explain your background.”

Eagerly, I sat down to read his writing. Below is a snippet.

I know relatively little about World War One. I’ve seen “The Blue Max,” part of “Gallipoli,” and part of “Sergeant York.” I’ve never read “All Quiet on the Western Front” or seen the movie, but I know they’re out there. I’ve seen “Downton Abbey” and its treatment of Matthew, Thomas, William and Archie. Efficient 20th century warfare required artillery, great guns that would hurl great shells great distances, and would explode doing great damage…

After reading this, I looked at him and said, “Are you serious?”

He sternly replied, “Yes, quite. You need to explain to the reader that you have no academic background or specific expertise.”

“You’re right, Wayne. I have no academic background or specific expertise, but I’d be willing to make a bet that I know more about early 20th century munitions than 99.9% of the people in the United States. In the last five years, I’ve now studied more than 25 books on the munitions of World War One, and that doesn’t include the many other World War One books on more generalized topics. And I think we’re going to have some trouble finding a vet from The Great War that can offer ’specific expertise.’”

The conversation did not end well. I retreated to my room and wept. I loved him dearly, but I was beginning to wonder if he was preparing to leave me. Something was off, and at the time, I had no idea what was going on.

About six months after Wayne’s death, I sat down and read through a dream journal that I had kept for several years. In the 12 months before his death, I had a recurring dream that he died suddenly, and I had to move out of my beautiful home into a depressing rental home. I’d often awaken from that dream with tears still flowing. More than once, after this recurring dream, I’d awaken Wayne and wrap my arms around him and say, “Wayne, I had this horrible dream that you died. It was terrifying. I don’t think I can live without you.”

He would hug me back and say flatly, “I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Promise me?” I’d say, still feeling very emotional.

“Yes, I promise.”

We had this conversation several times. The last time was less than a week before his death.

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In the last seven years, two of my dearest friends collapsed and died in the blink of an eye. In 2001, my mother passed suddenly as well. Every morning, as Wayne left for work, I gave him a proper hug. I’d hold him for at least a minute, and during that time, I asked God and His angels to surround him with love, to keep watch over him, bless him, and protect him, and keep him well, strong and healthy. And then I’d visualize the very angels of heaven surrounding Wayne in every action and in every moment. I’d always close with, “God, please bring him back home to me, safe and sound, at the end of this day.” Nine hours later, when I saw his green truck pull into the driveway in the evening, I’d always whisper, “Thank you, God.”

For reasons that should be obvious, his suicide has been a very hard slap down of my once-strong faith. It’s hard to imagine that any 63-year-old man was the recipient of more prayers than Wayne, and yet, it ended so horribly.

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When I sequestered myself in August 2015 to finish the Penniman book, I had no idea that those were to be the last months of my husband’s life. “Come snuggle with me,” he’d often say as the sun set in the western sky, and most nights (thank God), I’d reply, “Okay, give me three minutes to finish up a paragraph,” and then I’d save my work, arise from the chair and spend time with him. Thank God for that.

But now that’s another painful memory. The Penniman manuscript took up much space in my life and my mind and my heart. I convinced myself that telling the story of the “Canaries” at Penniman was God’s will for me, a utilization of my best talents, life experiences and passion for telling a story forgotten by the rest of the world. But was that correct? It doesn’t feel like it today. Perhaps in a few years or decades, the reception and success of this book will help me sort it out.

I do know that - if I let it in - this devotion of my energies to a book in the last months of his life, could be another source of crushing guilt. Those were the last breakfasts, lunches and dinners I’d ever have with Wayne, and I spent many of them buried in a manuscript.

“You need to turn off that computer and come pay attention to me,” he’d say frequently. Was that one of the clues that I missed? Looking back, how did I miss that? And more important, how do I forgive myself now?

And there was the more haunting comment - almost a mantra in those last weeks: “I’m old, and I’m going to be dead one day and you’re going to regret spending so much time on a book.”

I’d grab him and say, “Please don’t say such things. Not a day goes by that I don’t pray my best prayers for you. You are the beloved of God, and you’re going to live a very long time.”

“You’ll find someone else,” he’d say, as though he hadn’t heard a word. “You won’t be alone for long. Someone will snatch you up.”

“Wayne, I don’t want anyone else. You’re the love of my life. Please - don’t say such things. We’re going to grow old together.”

If I permitted it, the review and rehearsal of those excruciating conversations could lead me to insanity.

When I find myself circling that mountain again, I use every iota of willpower to “focus on the light and love.” It’s an act of great will, and I tell myself, “It only takes 12 repetitions to form a habit. Focus on good thoughts. Stop thinking about the horror of this.”

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I’m so very grateful that the Penniman book is done. If it had been left wholly to me, the unfinished manuscript would have been tossed into a bin and carted off to a local history room at the closest library. But thanks to so many dear friends, that did not happen. And today, I’m actually feeling a little joy and hope, looking forward to sharing the story of Penniman with the rest of the world.

The book that cost me so much may well be one more thing that helps to lift me out of the mire. I find myself earnestly hoping that this book is well received, and accomplishes its purpose of showcasing the amazing sacrifice of the men and women who gave so much to help win The Great War. Their story has been largely forgotten by time. This new book of mine will correct that gaping hole in local, state and national history, and for that, I’m truly grateful.

In the following weeks or months, I’ll go out into the world and give a few lectures and sell a few books. That will be very good for me. And focusing on future happy thoughts rather than depressing past events helps promote the healing of my shattered heart.

When my quivering hand struggles valiantly to write out a daily gratitude list, some iteration of this comment appears every day: “The Penniman book is done. Thanks be to God for that.”

It’s a good book, and it’s an important book, and hopefully, it will bring many blessings to its readers.

Please leave a comment below, or you can contact Rose directly at pennimanva@gmail.com

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To pre-order a copy of “Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City,” click on the Paypal button below. Price is $29.95 plus $6.00 shipping. This first printing will be only 200 copies, each of which will be signed by the author.

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Did I miss something

This photo was taken seven days before his death. I've often studied this photo and wondered, did I miss something?

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Eeyes

I knew those eyes better than anyone, yet I had no inkling that he had a plan.

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Pennima

Front cover of the Penniman book.

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cover

The rear cover - just as it will appear.

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This Penniman worker has traversed a great distance to buy the new book.

This Penniman worker has traversed a great distance to buy the new book.

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To pre-order a copy of “Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City,” click on the Paypal button below. Price is $29.95 plus $6.00 shipping. This first printing will be only 200 copies, each of which will be signed by the author.

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Kit Homes in Kinston - What a Bonanza!

January 25th, 2016 Sears Homes 2 comments

Was I surprised to find 19 Aladdin kit homes in Kinston? My oh my, yes! And those 19 were found during a very quick windshield survey. There are more lurking about, I’m sure.

Last week, my husband and I visited New Bern, and while there, we drove out to Kinston to look at the local architecture. Lo and behold, we found an Aladdin kit home on almost every street in the older neighborhoods. In one memorable area (near Harding and Pollock Streets) we found seven Aladdin homes together.

The older suburbs we visited had many wide-open spaces, suggesting that many of these early 20th Century kit homes have already been demolished.

If you’re new to this website, you may be wondering, what is a kit home? In the early 1900s, aspiring homeowners could order a “kit home” from the Sears Roebuck catalog. Each 12,000-piece kit came with a 75-page instruction book and a promise that the neophyte homebuilder could have the house ready for  occupancy in 90 days. In addition to Sears, there were other companies selling kit homes through mail-order catalogs, such as Aladdin (based in Bay City, Michigan) and Gordon Van Tine (Davenport, Iowa).

Aladdin was bigger than Sears, in business longer, and sold more homes than Sears, but they’re not as well known as Sears. Aladdin had a mill in Wilmington, North Carolina, which explains why Aladdin Homes were so popular in the Southeast.

Based on my research, the overwhelming majority of people living in these kit homes didn’t know what they had, until I contacted them (or they discovered their home on my blog).

What was the industry that promoted Kinston’s growth in the early 1900s, and put them on the map? Industries often turned to Aladdin to supply housing for the workers. It’s likely that someone turned to Aladdin for the houses we’re now finding in Kinston, but who was it?

Lastly, before we get into the photos, I’m hoping some progressive-minded soul in Kinston will contact me about coming back to town to do a thorough survey. Perhaps identifying these bungalows as historically significant kit homes can be a key to revitalizing parts of Kinston.

Let’s hope.

Contact Rose by leaving a comment below.

In addition to the 19 Aladdin homes, I found a lone Gordon Van Tine home: The Peach House Restaurant! And it’s a real beauty! You can read more about that by clicking here!

You can read here about the kit homes I found in New Bern, NC.

UPDATE! We found a Montgomery Ward kit home in Kinston, too!

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1914 Moosejaw

Aladdin sold more homes than Sears, but was not as well known.

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1916

What was the industry that promoted Kinston's growth in the early 1900s, and put them on the map? It seems very likely that *that* employer turned to Aladdin to supply worker homes in Kinston.

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houses

Aladdin had catalogs devoted to "solving the problem of industrial housing."

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Aladdin 1916

Aladdin was named for the magical genie who built "a house in a day" for his master. Apparently, Old Genie is perusing the latest catalog to find a snappy design.

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1919

The Shadow Lawn is one of my favorites. It was spacious and beautiful (1919).

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Shadow two

When I drove in Kinston, the first house I spotted was this Aladdin Shadowlawn on Lenoir Avenue. Looks like it walked right off the pages of the 1919 catalog (shown above).

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Shadow

During our brief time in Kinston, I initially missed this Shadowlawn (another beauty) on Atlantic Avenue. Shown above is a screenshot from Google Maps. It's another delightfully original house.

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1916

The "Colonial" was probably Aladdin's biggest (and fanciest) kit home.

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19 Colonial

And there's one in Kinston! Do the owners know that they're living in a kit home?

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1919 Classic Bungalow

The Pomona was a classic early 20th Century bungalow (1919).

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Pollock 805

This was my favorite Pomona in Kinston (which has three of them). This house still as so many of its original features, including the half-timber effect on the porch gable, original windows with diamond muntins and those rectangular eave brackets. And that appears to be an old wooden storm door.

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305 Washington

This Pomona on Washington Street is also a lovely home, but its windows have been replaced.

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810 Collge

The years have not been kind to this Pomona on College Street.

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Carolina 1923

In all my travels, I'd never seen an Aladdin "Carolina." It seems fitting that there are not one but two Carolinas in Kinston, North Carolina. This image is from the 1923 catalog.

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605 Rhem

This Carolina on Rhem Street is in picture-perfect condition.

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308 Capitol

This is an Aladdin "Carolina" and it does have its original windows, so that's a plus. It's had some insensitive remodeling. Anything salt-treated on an old house is just not a good plan.

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Willard 1919

I've not seen that many "Willards" in my travels, but there are two in Kinston (1919).

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Details

It's also a cute little house with lots of interesting details and features.

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Willard 413 Harding

And this Willard on Harding Street is perfect - right down to the lattice!

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Willard on Harding

From every angle, it's a beauty!

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Porch

And it's astounding that 100 years later, that lattice is still in such good shape.

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811 Pollock

On an opposing corner, I found this Willard which has had some remodeling, but still looks a lot like a Willard. It's a pity that the guy-wire got in the way of an otherwise perfect picture.

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1919

The Virginia was a popular house for Aladdin (1919).

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310 Capitola

This "Virginia" on Capitola Street is next door to the Carolina shown above!

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Capitola

Okay, so we lost the little girl (in the image on the right) and gained a trash can, but other than that, it's a lovely match. And a pretty house, too!

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Florence 1916

The Florence was a popular house for Aladdin and I've found an abundance of these in North Carolina's mill towns. There are two Florence models in Kinston.

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Florence

And they're across the street from each other. This is on Harding.

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406 Harding

And so is this one.

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1919 BLVD

The Aladdin Boulevard was not a hugely popular house (1919).

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BLVD

But it is distinctive with that low shed dormer and the window arrangement. The Boulevard has 12/1 windows on the front porch (1919).

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Street

This was the first "Boulevard" I've ever seen. On this model, someone took out those living windows when they put in that fireplace. There's also an addition on the rear of the house.

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House

In this picture, you can see those 12/1 windows on the Kinston "Boulevard."

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1924 Sunshine

The "Sunshine" was a popular house with a really cute name (1924).

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Sunshine

"You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine..." This was the only Sunshine we found in Kinston.

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Street

These four models were lined up like little soldiers in a row on Pollock Street in Kinston.

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Harassment Street

The Willard is to the far left, with the Sunshine next, the Boulevard beyond it, and the Pomona at the end of the run. Kitty-corner to this Willard was The Perfect Willard, and the two Florences are behind this WIllard. These are the seven Aladdins mentioned above.

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Bruns 1923

I've been looking for an Aladdin Brunswick for a long time, butt prior to coming to Kinston, I'd never laid eyes on the real deal (1923 catalog).

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509 Washington

And Kinston has two of them. This house is on West Washington.

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Brunsh

A distinctive feature of the Brunswick is this window arrangement on the side of the house. The centered window is a staircase-landing window. The small windows are closet windows.

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Brusnswisk

This is another house that I missed on my first drive through town, and found when I was double-checking addresses via Google Maps. It's in pitiable shape. It's just off Perry and Atlantic, and just around the corner from that stunning Aladdin Shadowlawn. I hope this home has a hope of restoration.

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GVT

And the Gordon Van Tine #705 was the only non-Aladdin home I found in Kinston.

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Moo

Now this is a beautiful house - and it's also a restaurant!

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Gustatory Delights

Had we only been more familiar with the delicious delights offered at The Gordon Van Tine #705 Restaurant, errr, the "Peach House" we would have stopped there for lunch!

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At the end of the day,

At the end of our trip to Kinston, Hubby was mighty glad to get back to our "home away from home," The Aerie Bed and Breakfast in New Bern. He was tired of looking at houses.

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You can visit The Peach House website here.

To read about what I found in nearby New Bern, click here.

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Montrose - or Something Like It…

December 29th, 2015 Sears Homes 1 comment

Sometimes, looks can be really deceiving.

Take Hubby for example. He’s a handsome fellow, and a tough-as-nails litigator, and yet he has a tender heart and a sweet nature.

Wayne

Wayne, the hubby. With his Christmas tie. And his tender heart.

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And heres another place where looks can be deceiving.

And here's another place where looks can be deceiving: Sears Homes and their clones. These are two different houses - theoretically. They sure do look alike.

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This is a Sears Montrose.

This is a Sears Montrose (1928).

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This is not.

This is a design from the 1923 Homebuilder's Catalog: "The Arlington."

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Heres the floorplan for the Sears Montrose (1st floor).

Here's the floorplan for the Sears Montrose (1st floor).

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Heres the floorplan for the other house.

Here's the floorplan for the Homebuilder's Arlington.

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Heres a comparison of the two - side by side.

When you compare the two side-by-side, you can see some minor differences, but not a lot. They're almost the same house. Interior room dimensions were shifted just a wee bit, but other than that, these two are mighty close.

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And a comparison of the second floor.

And a comparison of the second floor shows a few other minor differences - again - mainly with room dimensions. And these are line drawings, so the proportions are not always accurately reflected.

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So how do you distinguish these look-alikes? How can you tell if its a Sears House (or an Aladdin, or GVT or Lewis), or its twinkie from Homebuilders?

So how do you distinguish these look-alikes? How can you tell if it's a Sears House (or an Aladdin, or GVT or Lewis), or its twinkie from Homebuilder's?

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Its a question that may have no easy answer.

It's a question that may have no easy answer. Shown above is a Montrose in Kirkwood, MO.

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And within my collection of Sears Montroses - I am left wondering, how many of these are Homebuilders designs?

And within my collection of Sears "Montroses" - I wonder, how many of these are Homebuilder's designs? (House shown above is in Moorefield, WV.)

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Its a puzzler!

It's a puzzler! (Portsmouth, Virginia)

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Good thing theres only one Wayne! ;)

Good thing there's only one Wayne! ;)

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To learn more about the Montrose, click here.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.

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“Save the Clock Tower!”

July 23rd, 2015 Sears Homes No comments

Anyone familiar with the movie Back to The Future” will recognize that refrain.

Early in the movie, an older woman thrusts a coffee can toward Michael J. Fox, and bellows, “Save the clock tower!”

It was 30 years ago that I first saw that movie, and yet even then, I bonded instantly with that delightful character. Somewhere deep inside my heart, I knew I was glimpsing my very own future.

That day has arrived.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m a native of Portsmouth, Virginia. I grew up admiring the architecture of this historic port city in Southeastern Virginia. When I was a little girl, my father would drive me around downtown Portsmouth and I’d study the architecture. One of the most impressive images of the landscape was the Confederate Monument at High and Court Street.

This monument has been an icon in Portsmouth for more than 130 years, and now Portsmouth’s city council is seriously considering taking it down.

Construction on the 55-foot tall obelisk was started in 1876, after the horrors of Reconstruction had loosened their grip on Portsmouth, Virginia. After the war, Portsmouth was broken and bankrupt, with more than $300,000 in debt. In today’s dollars, that’s $4.3 million.

Eleven years after the Civil War ended, the Ladies of the Confederacy - women who had lost everything in this war - banded together and created the Portsmouth and Norfolk County Monumental Association, with the hopes of erecting a memorial to their sons, their fathers, and their husbands.

It took more than 11 years for the people of Portsmouth to raise the money to finish the statue. It’s one of only three statues in the South that feature all four branches of service.

When the Civil War began, Portsmouth had 900 registered voters, and yet more than 1,200 soldiers were mustered from Portsmouth. Of those 1,242 soldiers, 199 died in the war. Many of the war dead were buried where they fell. Others were left in the fields to rot. Some were laid to rest in mass graves, or unmarked graves, far from their home in Portsmouth, their names forgotten in time.

This monument is a grave marker for those men who were never given a proper burial.

To read about the Northern view of our Confederate monuments, click here.

If you’re interested in donating money to help in the legal fight to save this 139-year-old monument, please click on this tab or the “Tip Jar” tab at the top of this page. All paypal funds received into that account within the next 60 days will go directly to Stonewall Camp #380, to help defray their legal expenses.

If you’re interested in learning more about this remarkable and rare monument, scroll on down, and read the captions on the pictures below.

To donate directly to legal fees to save the statue, please send a check to:

Stonewall Camp

P. O. Box 8484

Virginia Beach, VA  23450

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Portsmouth

I was in my 20s when I first saw this movie, but even then I knew that one day, I'd be this woman.

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Save the clock tower!

The infamous clock tower, as seen in "Back To The Future."

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Save the

The monument in downtown Portsmouth is on the National Registry, and is considered historically significant for many reasons. For one, it's one of only three monuments in the South that feature all four branches of service.

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Confederates

The wrought-iron fencing is original to the statue.

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Clock tower

It took 11 years for the people of Portsmouth to raise the money for this monument. When the statue was dedicated, schools and businesses were closed for the day, as the happy throngs filled the streets to celebrate its completion.

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Four gents

The four branches of service honored on this monument are the Infantry, Navy, Cavalry and Artillery. When commissioned, the zinc soldiers were to be 6'3" tall, but when they arrived, they were a mere 5'8" tall (according to contemporary newspaper accounts). After much discussion, it was decided to accept the shortened statues.

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Save the clock tower.

According to the National Registry application for the statue, the four soldiers featured on the statue were Portsmouth men. The Artillery man was modeled after J. Shirley Hope; Frank Wonycott - Cavalry; William Henry Buchanan, a Civil War veteran was either the Cavalry representative or the Navy man. James W. Nicholson was the other model. The sailor (shown here) was my favorite fellow.

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One of my earliest childhood memories has been this tall statue in downtown Portsmouth. It's an important part of our history.

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To donate money for legal fees to save the statue, please send a check to:

Stonewall Camp

P. O. Box 8484

Virginia Beach, VA  23450

To read more about the historical significance of this statue, click here.

To learn more about old houses, click here.

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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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A Kit House in Lebanon! (New Hampshire)

September 12th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last week, Hubby and I traveled to Vermont to see all the pretty things up there (including the Ben and Jerry’s Factory).

Sadly, I didn’t see much in the way of kit homes, but I did discover this gorgeous “San Fernando” offered by Lewis Homes (early 1920s).

The house is just across the Connecticut River in New Hampshire in a small town known as Lebanon. (We ended up staying at the Fireside Inn and Suites in West Lebanon.)

Lewis Homes was a kit home company (like Sears and Aladdin), and it was based in Bay City, Michigan. While Sears and Aladdin tend to get all the ink, the fact is that there were six companies selling kit homes on a nation-wide basis.

As you can see from the pictures below, it is a gorgeous house and has its original windows and siding. Might even be the original storm windows!

To read about the other pretty houses I found in this area, click here.

Read about my train adventure by clicking here!

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The Lewis San Fernando is a beautiful bungalow.

The Lewis San Fernando is a beautiful bungalow (1924 catalog).

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It merited a two-page spread in the 1924 catalog!

It merited a two-page spread in the 1924 catalog!

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And with two floorplans!

And with two floorplans!

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2

These floorplans appear to be the same (mostly), but this one is two feet longer (1924).

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It really is a beautiful bungalow!

It really is a beautiful bungalow!

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House

Located on Main Street in Lebanon, NH, this is a beautiful San Fernando!

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Perfect - DOWN to the details!

Perfect - DOWN to the details!

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windows

Hard to say for sure, but these are either original storms or fine-looking replacements.

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Heres a San Fernando that Dale and I found in Ohio.

Here's a San Fernando that Dale and I found in Ohio. That's Dale looking at the house.

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While in Vermont, we drove up to Graniteville to visit the Rock of Ages Quarry. That was great fun!

While in Vermont, we drove up to Graniteville to visit the Rock of Ages Quarry. The water is turqouise color due to some of the minerals leeching out from the rock.

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Permanent Furniture II: Beautiful Staircases

December 3rd, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

In the early 1900s, we seemed to place more value on the idea that we should surround ourselves with beauty.

The staircases shown in the 1927 Builders’ Woodwork Catalog ranged from simple to fancy, and yet they’re all elegant and beautiful.

Too many modern staircases (post-1970) are not just utilitarian; they’re seriously ugly. Looking through several online listings of “new” houses for sale (under $500,000), I didn’t see any staircase pieces and parts that I haven’t seen for sale at Lowes. In other words, the focus of modern staircase building seems to be “fast, cheap and easy.”

What happened to the idea of making a beautiful entry?

As the 1920s text says below, “The staircase is the central feature of the hall or living room and must be judiciously selected to be in harmony with the architectural treatment of the dwelling.”

Perhaps that explains why contemporary staircases are so blasé and unappealing.

The pedestrian staircases in modern homes are “in harmony” with their pedestrian surroundings.

Many thanks to Bill Inge for sharing his historic architecture books with me!

Read about bookcase colonnades here!

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Staircase

Even the front page for this chapter is a thing of beauty!

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Stiarcase

"The designs...represent harmonious units." The text also adds, "The staircase...must be judiciously selected to be in harmony with the architectural treatment of the dwelling." How many builders today stop and think about how much "harmony" is expressed by their creations? (In the text above, K.D. stands for "knocked down.")

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staircase 1

"For the modern American small home, this design is very pleasing and practical."

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staircase 2

Another very simple design, and yet it's quite attractive. This type of staircase is often found in mail-order kit homes, because it's both simple and easy to construct.

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staircase 8

According to the accompanying caption, those doors lead out to an "elevated sunporch." I don't recall ever seeing an elevated sunporch off a landing like this - in real life.

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staricase

Another simple staircase, but with a 90-degree twist.

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staircase 8

"The unusual panel effect is a distinctive feature of this staircase..."

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staircase 7

This staircase is categorized in the original literature as a "Colonial design."

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house house house

Another favorite staircase. Years ago, I looked at a house for sale in South Norfolk (Chesapeake, VA) on Park Avenue and it had this very same design, all with original varnish/shellac. I thought it was the prettiest bit of "permanent furniture" that I'd ever seen. I shudder to think what's become of that house and it's gorgeous interiors. Note the phone niche next to the bench.

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staircase

"This panel buttress staircase is suitable for English or modern American homes. The complete absence of balusters and handrail make it easy to keep clean." While I do love the rope, I'm sure modern codes would not allow it.

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staircase

"The charm of this Colonial stairway is the continuous handrail ending in the graceful turning of a volute." Please raise your hand if you knew that this "round thing" at the end of the banister was known as a "volute." :D

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staircase 38

"Very suitable for the modest home without a reception hall." If a mother could have favorites, this would be one of mine. So pretty and so elegant, and yet, "suitable for a modest home."

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house house

"The attractive arches give it real character."

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house house house

Another beautiful staircase. The window mirrors the pattern on the built-in bookcase.

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staircase

"The large central hall is an attribute of the Colonial home, the main feature of which is the stairway." This is the same stairway we had in our 1925 Colonial Revival on Gosnold Avenue (Norfolk), even down to the tapered spindles and center post. Lone difference is, we had three spindles per tread, where this has two. Nary a soul entered that reception hall without making a nice comment about the beauty of that staircase.

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staircase

"This is one of the simpler lines, very economical in construction."

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staircase

Not my favorite, but it must be a design of enduring appeal, because I've seen it in many post-WW2 houses. Original caption says the "sturdy lines of English architecture are faithfully retained in this beautiful stairway."

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staircase 187

"The unusual feature is the handrail is mitered into the newel cap." Makes sliding down a bannister much easier (and less painful). Although it's a mighty short run.

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staircase 8883

"For real charm and beauty, a winding stairs can not be excelled."

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staircaseieie

"This Colonial stairway is very impressive." I agree. Check out the phone niche.

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In the 1920s, we seemed to have more of an understanding that it was important to surround yourself with beauty. Modern staircases are not just utilitarian; theyre ugly as sin.

The image on the left is from a $500,000 house currently for sale in Hampton Roads. The image on the right was a very simple design offered in the 1927 "Builders' Woodwork" catalog. In the 1920s, we seemed understand that low-priced and simple didn't have to equate with cheap and ugly.

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Stiars

To end on a happy note, I've always loved old houses, and that's due in large part to my mother, an artist, who always felt it was important to surround herself with beauty and light and color. She's shown here, sitting on the beautiful staircase of our Colonial Revival home in Waterview (Portsmouth, Virginia). It was about 1968, and she's holding "Bernard," a mutt she'd recently adopted from the local SPCA.

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To read Permanent Furniture, Part I, click here.

To read one of the most popular blogs at this site (featuring a beautiful staircase), click here.

Ready for a change of pace? Read about a really spooky basement here.

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The Fargo Mansion: An Architectural Gem in Wisconsin

September 16th, 2011 Sears Homes 7 comments

During my stay in Lake Mills in early September (2011), I was invited by gracious innkeepers Tom and Barry to be their guest at the Fargo Mansion Inn. So for two glorious days and two restful nights, I lived and moved and had my being inside the walls of this unspeakably beautiful old manse on Mulberry Street.

I’m an architectural historian. I’ve seen plenty of old houses. If I had a nickle for every old house I’ve seen…

However, the Fargo Mansion is in a class by itself. It’s an extraordinary building that’s been meticulously and faithfully restored to its former splendor. And it’s massive, with 7,500 square feet of architectural grandeur. Every single spot where your eyeballs happen to rest is a new view of opulence and magnificence and Victorian luxuriance.

When the Fargo Manse came into Tom and Barry’s life in the early 1980s, it was slated for demolition with a failing roof (and rain water infiltration), boarded up windows, frozen and busted pipes  (radiators and domestic water) and many of the fireplace mantels and moldings were gone. In anticipation of the home’s demolition, all utility connections had been removed from the building. Built in 1881, it’s a classic Queen Anne house, with towers and turrets and Victorian refinements and frippery and fretwork.

It’s disturbing to think that Wisconsin nearly lost this architectural gem.

In addition to its being a real gem, this was my great Aunt Addie’s home. Judging by the many photos I have of her in this house, this was a happy home for Addie - for a time. She moved in as a bride of 24 years old, and she died there, five years later.

This is one of those times when words are inadequate, so feast your eyes on the photos below. And if you’re ever within 100 miles of The Fargo Inn Mansion, you really should treat yourself to a night or two at the Inn. And did I mention, the breakfast that Tom served was one of the Top 15 Best Breakfasts I’ve ever had in my 52 years? And that morning memory was sweetened ever more when Tom brought in a small painted porcelain vase and set it down beside me on the table.

“This was your Aunt Addie’s,” he said softly. “I knew you’d like to see it.”

He was right.


The Fargo Mansion in 1896, soon after my Great, Great Aunt Addie moved in with her new husband, Enoch Fargo.  Enoch was 22 years older than Addie.

The Fargo Mansion in 1896, soon after my Great, Great Aunt Addie moved in.

Addie in front of the Fargo Mansion.

Addie in front of the Fargo Mansion.

The fam

The fam sits on the front step of the Fargo Mansion. Addie is on the lower left, with Enoch seated above her. Elsie (born 1876) is on the upper right and Mattie (born 1884) is on the lower right. Elsie was a scant four years younger than her new step-mother, Addie.

The same spot, 110 years later.

The same spot, 110 years later.

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Addie prepares to board the train. According to Mary Wilson's book ("The History of Lake Mills"), Addie was inspired to start a local chapter of the DAR when she met Mrs. James Sydney Peck on a train ride, coming home from Sparta. Note the traveling bag at Addie's side.

Just inside the main entry is this small (and high) window. Notice the beveled glass and ornate quartersawn oak trim. At first glance, I thought this was a mirror. I thought Id joined Addies world when I stood in front of this mirror and no one was looking back!

Just inside the main entry is this small (and high) window. Notice the beveled glass and ornate quartersawn oak trim. At first glance, I thought this was a mirror. I thought I'd joined Addie's world when I stood in front of this "mirror" and no one was looking back!

Interior shots of the mansion. This is the music room.

The music room inside the Fargo Mansion. I believe this is Mattie (seated with book), Addie at the piano and Elsie standing (far right).

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The grand staircase in the front reception hall. The woodwork is beautifully sculpted.

Close-up of the newel post.

Close-up of the newel post.

This is a shot from the foyer looking into the music room. If you look closely, youll see a guitar in the background.

This is a shot from the foyer looking into the music room. If you look closely, you'll see a guitar in the background. Note the newel post on the right.

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This is a closer view of the "music room" (seen above) taken from the stairs, but it shows the horse-hair bench that sits within the rounded tower. According to Innkeeper Tom Boycks, this bench is original to the house.

Looking into the dining room

This tiled "solarium" sat at the edge of the expansive dining room. Tom explained that with its southern exposure, it made the perfect spot for growing plants and other greenery. The floor inside the massive bay window is tiled. At the far left was a small sink (cold water and a drain) for watering the plants, which was removed in later years.

Close-up  of the tiled floor

Close-up of the tiled floor, which is in beautiful condition. The floors throughout the Fargo Manse are maple, upstairs and downstairs, and they're in stunningly beautiful condition.

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Notice the massive windows in the front parlor. As Tom pointed out, it's a tough house to decorate. It's all windows and doorways and radiators and fireplaces.

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Detail of the oak trim and frieze in the front parlor.

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This shot was taken from the steps, looking down toward the front door. Notice that curved wall by the front door. And all that wainscoting and trim is quartersawn oak. See that radiator to the far right? Every radiator throughout the house was destroyed when the house endured a Wisconsin winter with no heat. Tom and Barry sought out and found salvaged radiators for every room in this 7,500 square foot house. That's what's so remarkable about the Fargo Manse. To look at it today, you'd never guess that they started with a shell of a building, and brought it back to life.

Another view of this incredible staircase

Another view of this incredible staircase (second floor).

Curved hallway on the second fllor.

Curved hallway on the second floor.

Addies room is at the top of the stairs.

Addie's room is at the top of the stairs.

Close-up

Addie was a beautiful young woman. She was 24 here.

Addie in her wedding gown?

Addie in her wedding gown.

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My favorite photo of all.

My favorite photo of all. I love the detail and the beauty and the opulence. This was Addie in the master bedroom, now known as the Enoch Fargo room.

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Close-up of the bed.

Happier times at the Fargo Mansion

Addie loved her cats. Judging by the look on this one's face, I'm not sure the feeling was mutual.

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Addie stands in a bower of flowers on the grounds of the Fargo Mansion.

The Fargo Mansion today (or yesterday, actually).

The Fargo Mansion as it appears today. This photo is courtesy of Brice Anderson (copyright 2011) and can not be reproduced or used without written permission.

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Fargo Mansion in Lake Mills. This photo is courtesy of Brice Anderson (copyright 2011) and can not be reproduced or used without written permission.

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This grandiose Victorian manse was built in 1881 and extensively remodeled about three or four years later. This photo is courtesy of Brice Anderson (copyright 2011) and can not be reproduced or used without written permission.

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The porch of the Fargo Mansion. This photo is courtesy of Brice Anderson (copyright 2011) and can not be reproduced or used without written permission.

Mattie

Addie sits with someone (Elsie?) on the front porch of the house. The original fretwork and railings are still evident in the contemporary picture (above).

Addie in front of the house

Addie standing in the home's side yard.

Tall tower

Tall tower of the Fargo Mansion. This photo is courtesy of Brice Anderson (copyright 2011) and can not be reproduced or used without written permission.

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Porte Cochere on the Fargo Mansion. This photo is courtesy of Brice Anderson (copyright 2011) and can not be reproduced or used without written permission.

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A view of the home's rear. This photo is courtesy of Brice Anderson (copyright 2011) and can not be reproduced or used without written permission.

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Addie's obituary.

If you’ve any information to share, please leave a comment below.

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Was Aunt Addie Shot in the Head? (Part IX)

August 30th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

In a few days, I’ll be visiting Lake Mills, Wisconsin, and giving a talk about Aunt Addie. To learn more about Aunt Addie, click here.

Here’s the super short version:  On June 19, 1901 Addie Hoyt Fargo - a 29-year-old socialite in the prime of her life - died very suddenly and unexpectedly from diphtheria. Married to one of Lake Mills’ wealthiest men, Addie lived with Enoch and his two daughters in one of Lake Mills‘ most grandiose homes, The Fargo Mansion.

According to local lore and two published reports, Addie Hoyt Fargo didn’t really die of diphtheria. That was a contrived story created to cover up the truth: Addie died from a gunshot wound to the head, delivered by her ever-loving husband, Enoch Fargo.

The 51-year-old Enoch Fargo was in love with Maddie Hoyt (no relation to Addie) and wanted Addie out of the way so he could marry Maddie. The same sources claim that Dr. William H. Oatway openly stated years later, “No one was fooled” by Oatway’s alleged falsification of Addie’s death certificate (showing diphtheria as the cause of death), and that folks knew Enoch had killed his young wife as she lay sleeping in her bed.

To read the rest of the story, click here.

My involvement in this began on June 13, 2011 when I was cleaning out my late father’s apartment and found a couple old photo albums amongst his possession. Inside the old albums were pictures of people I knew nothing about, and a couple photos were dated 1896. I would later learn that these were photos of my great Aunt Addie, born in 1872, married in 1896, and dead - at the age of 29 - in 1901.

This is the 9th blog I’ve written about Addie’s death and I’ve posted dozens of pictures but of all the pictures I’ve posted, there are four photos that I find especially haunting. I’ve included them below.

Addie

This is a photo of Addie's home in Lake Mills, known as The Fargo Mansion. The handwriting on this photo is distinctively different from the handwriting on the other photos and the other photos' captions are written underneath the photo (on the album page) probably in Addie's own hand. This is a guess, but I'd bet money this caption was written by Addie's sister, Anna Hoyt Whitmore. This photo album was a gift from Anna to the Whitmores (Anna and Wilbur).

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So what makes this so haunting? Addie died in 1901. When did her family find out she was dead? Apparently, not immediately.

My fathers twin brother - Ed Fuller - is still alive and well and possesses an impressive degree of mental accuity.

My father's twin brother - Ed Fuller - is still alive and well and living on the West Coast. For a man of 92, he still possesses an impressive degree of mental acuity. Despite some rigorous questioning, the fact is he knew nothing of Addie Hoyt Fargo. What makes this even more incredible is that Addie's sister - Anna Hoyt Whitmore (Ed's grandmother) - lived with Ed for a time. Anna Hoyt lived to be 99 years old, and was sharp as a tack right to the end of her life. This story of Addie Hoyt Fargo was apparently one family secret that was never discussed. Which brings me back to the original question: When did the family - then living in Denver - first learn that Addie Hoyt Fargo was dead? Because judging by this photo, it appears that she was assumed alive as late as 1904.

My favorite photo of all.

Another haunting photo, this shows Addie sitting in her bedroom. Sadly, this is the very room where she was supposedly shot in her sleep.

Addie

There's a sweetness and naivete on this young woman's face that is wholly compelling. She was just a girl - 24 years old - and full of hope and dreams and ideas. Perhaps she'd planned on having a whole passel of children or maybe she was looking forward to being a socialite, carrying the torch for whatever causes that filled her heart with passion. She's so young and sincere-looking in this photo. So untarnished by the world. And five years later, she'd be dead, murdered (allegedly) by the man that had promised to love her for the rest of his life.

Addie

The most haunting photo of them all, is this one. It's a comparison of Addie's wedding photo with the last known photo taken sometime in late 1900. This photo presents an argument that Addie was sickly at the end of her life. Given the jagged and receding hairline (on the right), one could make a case that she was suffering from arsenic poisoning. There's also a swollen lip and other distortions around her nose. Perhaps she fell down a flight of stairs and landed on her face. I understand that Victorian-era women were very prone to such accidents. It's my theory that this photo - sent to her brother-in-law Wilbur Whitmore - was a plea to save her from this hellish marriage - before it was too late. Her message was not received in time.

Contrast

This shows the remarkable difference in the hairline.

Comp

Comparison of Addie's lips, showing the swelling and misalignment (on the latter photo on right).

To read part VIII, click here.

To read Part VII, click here.

To read Part VI, click here.

To read Part V, click here.

To read Part IV, click here.

To read Part III, click here.

To read Part II, click here.

Endless Entertainment - From an Old Vintage Catalog

June 24th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

The cover of the 1921 Sears Building Materials catalog has proven to be a source of endless entertainment for me. But then again, I’m pretty easily entertained. I’ve started scanning catalogs and ephemera so that it may be preserved and shared with a larger audience. And this website’s traffic is growing every day. In May, this site had more than 22,000 visitors.

Read the captions below to see what *I* see when I look at this 1921 catalog’s cover.

Pretty darn interesting!

The cover

The cover of the 1921 catalog is so interesting for so many reasons.

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people

We have the people showing up to look at the new house under construction.

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killer

Like the opening scenes of a low-budget horror flick, they have no idea that a massive elephant has surreptitiously blended into the landscaping behind them, and waits to pounce. Red arrow above is centered atop the forehead of the threatening beast.

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wow

"We just came from looking at those crappy little houses behind us," the man might be saying. "Over yonder is one of those little Sears kit homes." Pictured through this window is the Sears Ashmore, a classic Arts & Crafts bungalow.

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rl

"That's right," says the woman who wears a hat with a flared brim and oversized bow." The kitchen in that crummy Elsmore right behind me was abysmal."

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Verona

The second man speaks up and says, "And that Verona was so blase! Who'd want to buy a cookie-cutter kit home when you can have something nice that you've designed yourself!"

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people

"Yes," the man with the blueprints says, "We looked at those three little boxes behind us, but we want to talk to you about this nice house that you're building here!"

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tools

But oh no! These people shouldn't be turning to this fellow for help and guidance! He doesn't even know how to build a carpenter's tool box! How could he possibly build an entire home!

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boar

The house isn't even roughed in yet, and the door isn't set, and yet he's putting in the lath board! Plus, there are several puddles with a strange yellow substance throughout the house. Icky!

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dude

And some of that yellow stuff is on the carpenter, too!

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house

And perhaps most interesting, the house featured on the cover is clearly not a Sears kit home. Sears never ever offered a house with these arched windows. So the homebuyers have turned their back on the three Sears Homes (behind them), and are talking to this fellow about a custom-built house. Pretty darn interesting. And this image shows a better view of that angry elephant in the background.

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And yet, the back page of the catalog features an advertisement for Seroco Paint (first syllable of Sears, Roebuck and Company), and in that graphic, there are several Sears Homes featured.

And yet, the back page of the catalog features an advertisement for Seroco Paint (first syllable of Sears, Roebuck and Company), and in that graphic, there are several Sears Homes featured. Top is the Sears Sherburne, and along the bottom are the Sears Roanoke (two left) and the Sears Matoka (two on the right).

To read another article on Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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