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Posts Tagged ‘Rosemary Thornton’

Peace Pipes and Fourplexes: The Calumet

October 24th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

The Calumet is a rare Sears kit house that was offered for a brief time in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Sears did offer a few apartment buildings (yes, as kits), and the Calumet was one of them. My favorite feature of the Sears Calumet is the wall-bed, and the Calumet had two wall beds per unit.

The bed frame was included in the kit (but not the mattress).

It’s also interesting to note that the word Calumet comes from the Latin word calamellus, meaning “little reed.”  According to my online dictionary, a calumet is a “ceremonial smoking pipe, traditionally smoked to seal a covenant or treaty, or to offer prayers in a religious ceremony.”

Next time you’re watching TV with your friends and an Indian starts smoking a peace pipe, you can exclaim, “Why, he’s smoking a calumet!”

They’ll be so impressed with your esoteric knowledge!

Want to learn more about Murphy Beds (Wall Beds)? Click here!

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The Calumet, as seen in the 1918 catalog.

I just love the math: 20 rooms in 12! How do they do it? :)

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The Calumet, as seen on Wikipedia.

The Calumet, as seen on Wikipedia.

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Bs

The Calumets had four porches, each with their own coal bin, whichwas nothing more than a small bin. Not nearly as luxurious as it sounds. Plus, it has "handy closets." I wonder which model had the "unhandy closets"?

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That would have been a heck of a kit house!

That would have been a heck of a kit house!

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Bloomintong

Notice that the wall beds have their own windows - in a closet!

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bed

The Calumet - as seen in the 1918 catalog.

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The only Calumet Ive ever seen - and its in Bloomington, IL.

The only Calumet I've ever seen - and it's in Bloomington, IL. You can see those two "closet-bed windows" on the right side. Sadly, the second-story porches are long gone. That first step outside of those 2nd floor doors is a doozy!

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Do you think that the wallbed in the Calumet *ever* looked as good as it did in this accompanying image? I kinda doubt it!

Do you think that the wallbed in the Calumet *ever* looked as good as it did in this accompanying image? I kinda doubt it!

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In another catalog promotion, Sears promises that folding up that wall bed is so easy even a child can do it.

In another catalog promotion, Sears promises that folding up that wall bed is so easy even a child can do it.

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In the silent short film (1:00 a.m.), Charlie Chaplin does battle with a recalcitrant wall bed (also known as a murphy bed).

In the silent short film (title, "1:00 a.m."), Charlie Chaplin does battle with a recalcitrant wall bed (also known as a murphy bed). The full video (about 10 minutes) is at youtube. See link below.

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To see the Charlie Chaplin short, click here.

To read another fascinating blog, click here.

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The Dorchester: A Joy To A Woman’s Heart

October 17th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

In the last two years, I’ve visited Richmond three times and have seen many parts of the city, but it would seem that I missed the 5100-block of Riverside Drive all three times!

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Last month, after my lecture, a woman came up to the podium and said, “There’s a Lewis Dorchester here in Richmond.”
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If I had a nickle for every time I’d heard that…

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I’d have ten cents.

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Fellow old-house-lover Molly Dodd graciously offered to get a picture of the house for me, and lo and behold, it appears to be the real deal.

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A Lewis Dorchester in Richmond!

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This city - less than 100 miles from my home in Norfolk - has been an endless source of entertainment for me, as we’ve found kit homes from Sears, Gordon Van Tine (including an original “testimonial house”), Aladdin and Harris Brothers. And now, not only does it have a kit home from Lewis Manufacturing, but it has their biggest and best kit home - The Dorchester.

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Thanks to Dale Wolicki for providing original catalog images of the Lewis Dorchester, and thanks to Molly Dodd for taking pictures of the Richmond Dorchester.

To learn more about the kit homes in Richmond, click here.

Lewis Homes was a company that sold kit homes through their mail-order catalogs in the early 1900s. Heres a cover of the 1925 Lews Homes catalog.

Lewis Homes was a company that sold kit homes through their mail-order catalogs in the early 1900s. Here's a cover of the 1925 Lews Homes catalog, courtesy Dale Wolicki.

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The Dorchester was a spacious house with more than 2,600 square feet. For a kit home, thats most ununual.

The Dorchester was a spacious house with more than 2,600 square feet. For a kit home, that's most unusual. The Dorchester had a sunporch, library, 2.5 baths and four bedrooms.

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love it

"A joy to a woman's heart." How poetic!

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house

The first floorplan shows that this was a spacious and fancy home. The breakfast room was accessible from both the kitchen and dining room, which is a really nice feature!

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floor

The bedroom in the upper left was probably maid's quarters, as it was at the top of the rear staircase and had it's own tiny bathroom. Notice that there's a separate shower in the main bathroom. Very progressive for 1925.

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doges

Good golly, that's a big house.

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Dorechester molly tooddd

My oh my, Richmond has its own Dorechester! Photo is copyright 2014 Molly Todd and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Close-up of the front entry.

Comparison of the catalog image (left) and extant house (right) shows that it really is a perfect match, right down to the downspouts! Only problem is, our Richmond house is missing its "hospitality benches."

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Do you know of any other kit homes in Richmond? Perhaps there’s a Magnolia lurking behind a row of wax-leaf legustrums somewhere? If so, please leave a comment below!

Learn more about “hospitality benches” by clicking here.

To read more about the kit homes in Richmond, click here.

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Montgomery Ward’s Mail-Order Homes

October 14th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

Christmas is coming.

Sooner than you think.

And I have just the thing for that “hard-to-shop-for” friend or relative.

A book with hundreds of pictures of old houses! Old Montgomery Ward Kit Houses!

To buy the book, click here.

Whether youre searching for kit homes, or maybe you just love looking at pictures of old houses, this is a thorougly enjoyable read.

Whether you're searching for kit homes, or maybe you just love looking at pictures of old houses, this 347-page book is a thorougly enjoyable read.

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Would you like to browse its pages? :D

Would you like to flip through a few of its pages? :D Scroll on down!

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What makes this

What makes this book so enchanting is that it's TWO books in one! :D Has many vintage catalog images (such as is shown above), with extant photos of Wardway homes - side-by-side. And it's also an itneresting book with lots of history about the mail-order companies of the early 1900s.

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Ext

The left-side page shows the catalog image and right-side image is the real-life example.

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Did you know Montgomery Ward sold Spanish Villa kit homes?

Did you know Montgomery Ward sold Spanish Villa kit homes?

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And they did

It's a fun read with many such examples of Wardway Houses throughout the country.

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Teddy The Dog thinks its a great read!

Teddy The Dog thinks it's a great read!

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Several decades from now, this book will be a timeless classic, like womens suits and VW super beetles!

Several decades from now, this book will be a timeless classic, like women's suits, platform shoes and 1974 VW Super Beetles!

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To buy the book, click here.

To read more about Wardway Homes, click here.

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Why I Love Ferguson, Missouri

October 5th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

In Fall 2002, I was broke, depressed, lonely and very worried about the future. Months earlier, my beloved mother had died unexpectedly and my marriage of 24 years had ended in divorce.

Those were tough times.

I had one thing going for me: My newly published book, The Houses That Sears Built.

Working 100-hour weeks, I did nothing but promote that book and send out free copies to local media outlets. I slept and I worked. There wasn’t time or money for anything else.

If the book didn’t start selling fast, I’d have to do something I dreaded: Get a real job, and jobs in Alton, Illinois were tough to find.

Sometime in late 2002, I drove around Ferguson, Missouri and found a few Sears Homes. I’m sorry to say I’ve forgotten how it unfolded from there, but I hooked up with a local architect and history lover named Alan. He put me in touch with a couple folks from the city of Ferguson. In time, I was hired to do a survey of the kit homes in the city of Ferguson.

Alan drove me around to the different neighborhoods and it was great fun. Most of what I knew about architecture came from reading books. Alan graciously answered my many simple questions about architecture. I will always remember his kindness and patience.

After I’d identified a few kit homes,  the city had a lovely ceremony, and each Sears Home owner was presented with a beautiful plaque. I was invited to be part of the presentation ceremony.

It was a lovely memory for so many different reasons.

First and foremost, the folks in Ferguson - homeowners, Alan the Architect, city officials and employees  - showed me so much kindness and respect.

Secondly, this was my rubicon.

My divorce had been heart-breaking, but this experience in Ferguson showed me that my work had value and my life had purpose, and that there were people in the world who shared my passion for these old houses.

Some time later, the kit homes in Ferguson were featured on “Show Me St. Louis” (a popular TV show),  and that also warmed the cockles of my heart, and gave me new hope that I could make a career out of this vocation.

In subsequent years, my book and I have been featured on PBS History Detectives, CBS Sunday Morning News, A&E’s Biography, MSNBC, NPR, BBC Radio, and many more. I’ve traveled to 25 states doing surveys and giving talks.

But it all started with the grace and kindess of the many fine folks in Ferguson.

That’s why I love Ferguson so much.

BTW, if you know the addresses of these homes or even street names, please send me a note or leave a comment.  When I did this survey, I didn’t know much about the other kit home companies. I’d love to come back and do a more thorough survey.

Lastly, these images are from 12-year-old slides. The colors are off and the images are grainy.

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One of the reasons there are so many kit homes in St. Louis is because there was a Sears Modern Homes sales center in St. Louis. There were only 40 of these in the country, and these were only placed in areas where sales had been strong. And once a Modern Homes sales center opened, sales were even stronger!

One of the reasons there are so many kit homes in the St. Louis area is because there was a Sears Modern Homes sales center in St. Louis. There were only 40 of these in the country.

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And in the early 30s,

Sears only placed these "Sales Centers" in communities where sales were strong.

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Ferguson

Sears Walton as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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Ferguson

I remember the homeowner here was just THRILLED to learn she had a Sears House!

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Leanon

The Lebanon was a popular house for Sears (1921 catalog).

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Lebanon

Lovely Lebanon in Ferguson. Notice the placement of the door next to the one window.

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Marina

Sears Marina (1916)

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Marina

A perfect Marina in Ferguson.

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Lex

The Sears Lexington was one of their biggest and most expensive homes.

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Lexington

Initially, I'd missed this stately Lexington hiding behind the hedge, but this IS a Lexington!

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compare

Nice comparison of the Lexington entryway. Although it's somewhat obscured, you can see the fan light in the 1928 image. The details on the porch are spot on!

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Ferguson

Sears Barrington (1928).

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Pattern book

Although I initially identified this as a Barrington, I'm starting to wonder if it is a pattern book house. These many years later, I do not remember if we went inside this house.

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Gordon Van Tine

In addition to Sears Homes, I also found a Gordon Van Tine home in Ferguson.

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GVT

Very distinctive house!

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Ferguson House

The porch has been enclosed, but this is a lovely GVT #605 in Ferguson.

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Spent years

I have spent many years trying to identify this house. I've yet to find it in any pattern books, kit house catalogs or magazines. But hey - it's only been 12 years. I'm still looking!

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To read about the kit homes I found in Kirkwood, click here.

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

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Nice House: Basement Sometimes Floods

September 26th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

When Hubby and I were in Brattleboro last month, we saw this old building *in* the river. I’ve never seen anything quite like this, and would love to know a little more about it.

My first impression is that it was a mill with a water wheel, but I wonder - was it BUILT in all this water, or did the waterways change a bit after the construction?

On a recent trip to Brattleboro, we saw a cool house!

On a recent trip to Brattleboro, we saw a cool house!

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house

Admittedly, I was just a flatlander tourist seeing the sites, but this structure caught my eye. Yes, that's Vermont rock at the far left, and the building was set within the river (or so it appears).

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Basement

If I were the Realtor writing up the listing for the structure, I'd include this disclaimer: "Sometimes, the basement floods." It would be fun to go fishing off the balcony.

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house

Was it built as a mill? I suspect it might have been.

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To learn more about the kit homes I found in New England, click here.

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Hopeless in Hopewell (Part 72)

September 24th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

“Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes during their 32 years in the kit house business,” I tell folks at my lectures, “but judging from my emails, you’d think that number was 70 million kit homes.”

Some people really, really, really want their house to be a kit house, but not every 1920s house is a kit house.

And if I were queen of the world (a title I aspire to), I’d make that Hopewell’s town motto.

When I visited Hopewell in 2003, I caused a stir when I proclaimed that 36 of the town’s 44 Sears Homes in Crescent Hills weren’t really Sears Homes. As you can imagine, that didn’t go over well.

And the fact is, I might have made a mistake.

Rachel Shoemaker and I have reviewed some of the photos, and we now believe that 38 of the town’s 44 Sears Homes may not be Sears Homes.

Still, that leaves six Sears Homes in Crescent Hills (Hopewell).

After the “stir” in 2003, I didn’t hear back from Hopewell. But then, several years ago, I offered to help Hopewell do a proper survey of their kit homes - for FREE!

The town never responded to my emails or letters.

Eight years later, when I returned to Hopewell in Spring 2011 (wearing a wig and a fake nose), I focused on the amazing collection of Aladdin kit homes in that city. While Hopewell has only a few Sears Homes in Crescent Hills, they have dozens and dozens of Aladdin kit homes near the downtown area. More on that here and here.

However, I couldn’t resist driving through Crescent Hills and photographing a few of the fake Sears Homes.

For instance, the city’s brochure states that the house at 201 Prince George Avenue is the Sears Van Jean.

Let’s make this simple.

It’s not.

It has a gambrel roof and a chimney and some windows, but that’s about it.

The photos below make that pretty clear.

Learn about the Aladdin homes in Hopewell here.

Read my favorite blog on Hopewell here.

Hopewell, if you’re listening, you can contact me by leaving a comment below!

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The Van Jean, as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Van Jean, as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Note

Notice the double windows centered on the 2nd floor, and the double windows on the first floor. Notice also the placement of the home's chimneys. These things do matter.

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Details matter. The Sears Van Jean has large cornice returns.

Details matter. The Sears Van Jean has large cornice returns.

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This Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a fine house but its not a Van Jean.

This Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a fine house but it's not a Van Jean. The 2nd floor windows are wrong, and the front porch is also not a match - for many reasons. The Van Jean has those oversized cornice returns. This house has none. I'd expect that the footprint for this house is also wrong. In short, it's *not* a Sears kit house.

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Close-up, comparing the porch.

The edges of Van Jean's porch roof are aligned with the primary roof. The Hopewell porch roof extends well beyond the roofline. The Sears House porch has a closed triangle, with a cross member at the bottom and then a fascia board below that. The Hopewell porch roof terminates at the cross member.

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Hopewells brochure explains the differences (ahem) between the Van Jean in Hopewell and the Sears Van Jean.

Hopewell's brochure explains the "differences" (ahem) between the Van Jean in Hopewell and the Sears Van Jean. Oopsie. They neglected a few details. And a few facts. And one big reality: This ain't no Van Jean.

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Will there ever be a day when someone in Hopewell exclaims, “Enough of this! Let’s call that gal in Norfolk and get this right - once and for all!!”?

I wonder.

In the meantime, Hopewell certainly does offer a lovely opportunity of how not to promote historic architecture.

To learn more about the real kit homes in Hopewell (and they’re not from Sears), click here.

To read about Sandston, click here.

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September 25th + Richmond + Sears Homes + Rose = A LOT OF FUN!

September 15th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Full house at our talk on September 25th!

And a good time was had by all!

If you’re new to this site, you may be wondering, what is a Sears Home?

Sears Homes were 12,000-piece kit houses, and each kit came with a a 75-page instruction book. Sears promised that “a man of average abilities” could have it assembled in 90 days.

The instruction book offered this somber warning: “Do not take anyone’s advice on how this house should be assembled.” The framing members were marked with a letter and a three-digit-number to facilitate construction. 

Today, these marks can help authenticate a house as a kit home.

Searching for these homes is like hunting for hidden treasure. From 1908-1940, about 70,000 Sears Homes were sold, but in the 1940s, during a corporate housecleaning, Sears destroyed all sales records. The only way to find these homes is literally one-by-one.

And I’ve found a whole caboodle of kit homes in Richmond!

If you’ve always wanted to learn more about this fascinating topic, here’s your best chance! I give fewer than five lectures a year now, so this might be the last!

Below are just a few of the many unique (and even rare) kit homes I’ve found in Richmond.

Please share this link with your friends and/or on your Facebook page.

To learn more about the talk and obtain tickets, click here.

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One of the many ways to identify Sears Homes begins with slogging down to the basement (or crawlspace) and looking for marked lumber! This mark, together with a 75-page instruction book, helped homeowners figure out how to put together those 12,000 pieces of house.

One of the many ways to identify Sears Homes begins with slogging down to the basement (or crawlspace) and looking for marked lumber! This mark, together with a 75-page instruction book, helped homeowners figure out how to put together those 12,000 pieces of house.

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Sometimes, the markings found on lumber arent what you might expect!

Sometimes, the markings found on lumber aren't what you might expect! This was found in the basement of an Illinois Sears home, and was a remnant from the original wooden shipping crate. "Bongard, ILLS" was the name of the train depot where the house arrived. I've often found shipping crate lumber repurposed ror shelving or coal bins.

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The blueprints were specifically designed for the neophyte, and included great detail, such as how far apart to space nails! BTW, your Sears House came with 75 pounds of nails!

The blueprints were specifically designed for the neophyte, and included great detail, such as how far apart to space nails! The typical 1920s Sears House came with 750 pounds of nails!

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One of my favorite finds in Richmond is the Sears Strathmore.

One of my favorite finds in Richmond is the Sears Strathmore (1936 catalog).

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Oh my, whats not to love!

Oh my, what's not to love! Beautiful house with a Buckingham slate roof and original windows. Be still my heart!

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This was Sears Modern Home #190, offered in the early 1910s.

This was Sears Modern Home #190, offered in the early 1910 (1912 catalog).

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Perfect in every way!

Perfect in every way!

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The Sears Avalon is one of my favorite houses, and Richmond has several. I would love to know the back story on this. The Avalon wasnt that big a hit for Sears, and yet Ive found five in Richmond.

The Sears Avalon is one of my favorite houses, and Richmond has several. I would love to know the back story on this. The Avalon wasn't that big a hit for Sears, and yet I've found five in Richmond. I've seen ten of these in the United States, and five of those ten are in Richmond.

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Pic

And it's just a spot-on match to the catalog picture. Notice the small window in the front gable? And the three vents on the side gable? Picture is copyright 2014 Melissa Burgess and may not be used or reproduded without written permission. So there.

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Another Avalon in Richmond, also in beautiful shape.

Another Avalon in Richmond, also in beautiful shape. This one has the original railings. All of these Avalons have that distinctive arched pattern and faux belt course on the brick chimney.

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My favorite Avalon. Oh, what a beauty!

My favorite Avalon. Oh, what a beauty!

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Close-up

Close-up of that arched inset and belt on the Avalon in Richmond.

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In addition to Sears, there were other companies selling kit homes on a national basis, and Gordon Van Tine was one of the larger ones. Total sales were probably a bit more than 50,000, compared to Sears total sales of less than 75,000. The Sussex was one of the Gordon Van Tine models that I found in Richmond.

In addition to Sears, there were other companies selling kit homes on a national basis, and Gordon Van Tine was one of the larger ones. Total sales were probably a bit more than 50,000, compared to Sears total sales of 70,000. The Sussex was one of the Gordon Van Tine models that I found in Richmond.

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Gvt

Picture perfect, this Gordon Van Tine "Sussex" still retains many of its original features.

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This classic Craftsman Style bungalow was a popular model for Gordon Van Tine.

This classic "Craftsman Style" bungalow was a popular model for Gordon Van Tine.

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And heres a fine-looking example of Model #507. Photo is copyright 2012 Taber Andrew Bain and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

And here's a fine-looking example of Model #507. The photo was taken from a side that does not replicate the angle in the catalog , but it's clearly a GVT #507. Photo is copyright 2012 Taber Andrew Bain and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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One of my favorite finds was the Gordon Van Tine #124.

One of my favorite finds in Richmond was the Gordon Van Tine #124.

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Although next time Im in town, I need to bring my chain saw so I can get a better photo.

Next time I'm in town, I need to bring my chain saw so I can get a better photo. Nonetheless, I'm confident it's the real deal, as I found the original testimonial in a 1913 GVT catalog.

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Aladdin was another major contender in the kit home business. In fact, they were larger than Sears. Aladdin had a mill in WIlmington, NC which explains why - typically - Ive found more Aladdin homes in Virginia than Sears Homes.

Aladdin was another major contender in the kit home business. In fact, they were larger than Sears. Aladdin had a mill in WIlmington, NC which explains why - typically - in Virginia, I've found more Aladdin homes than Sears Homes. Shown above is The Ardmore from the 1922 Aladdin catalog.

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Ive never seen an Ardmore. I suspect its a fairly rare kit home. Is this house in Richmond an Aladdin Ardmore?

I've never seen an Ardmore. I suspect it's a fairly rare kit home. Is this house in Richmond an Aladdin Ardmore? The distinctive bracketing on that front porch roof sure suggests it might be, together with that unusual arched porch on the side. It's bigger than the Ardmore, but we know that 30-50% of kit homes were customized when built. So is it an Aladdin or not? Only her builder knows for sure.

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In addition to Sears, Gordon Van Tine and Aladdin, there was another national kit home company: Harris Brothers. They were based in Bay City (as was Aladdin), but Ive found a few Harris Brothers homes in Virginia.

In addition to Sears, Gordon Van Tine and Aladdin, there was another national kit home company: Harris Brothers. They were based in Chicago , but I've found a few Harris Brothers' homes in Virginia. When HB started business, they were known as The Chicago House-Wrecking Company. One hundred years ago, "wrecking" was another word for the careful disassembly of a house. "Wrecked houses" were typically moved and rebuilt at a new site.

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Heres a fine example of

Here's a fine example of HB-1017N. And it's for sale! The side windows flanking the front door are distinctive, as are the tops of those porch columns. The stucco is in good shape, too.

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Heres another example of a Harris Brothers house.

Here's another example of a Harris Brothers' house (Model 1513).

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Oh yeah, baby. Thats what Im talking about!

Oh yeah, baby. That's what I'm talking about! Another perfect match!

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Another Harris Brothers

Another Harris Brothers' #1513, from a different side. That's two of these sweet things in Richmond.

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1928

The Sears Osborn is another beautiful bungalow (1928).

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Osborne

And here's another beautiful example of The Osborn in Richmond. Wow.

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There are also pattern book houses in Richmond. Pattern book homes were different from kit homes, because these houses didnt come with building materials. Youd browse the pages of the catalog, select a home and then youd receive full blueprints and a list of all building materials necessary to build the house. Shown here is

There are also pattern book houses in Richmond. Pattern book homes were different from kit homes, because these houses didn't come with building materials. You'd browse the pages of the catalog, select a home and then you'd receive full blueprints and a list of all building materials necessary to build the house. The image above came from the Harris, McHenry and Baker Company catalog, but these plan book houses were offered by many regional lumber companies.

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fe

Love the stucco pattern! I've never seen this pattern before, but I suspect there's a name for it.

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Shown above is but a smattering of the kit homes we’ve discovered in Richmond. To learn more, come to the talk on Thursday night (the 25th), and meet Rose!

It’ll be a fun evening, and informative, too!

To learn more about the talk and obtain tickets, click here.

Thanks to Rachel for sharing her images from the 1913 Gordon Van Tine catalog.

Thanks to Melissa for the wonderful picture of the Sears Avalon!

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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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Amtrak’s “Vermonter”: The Good, The Bad, and The Smelly

September 9th, 2014 Sears Homes 13 comments

Update! Amtrak contacted me and offered me $180 voucher for future travel! I’m not sure how they arrived at the math, but the customer service rep said it was the difference between a coach fare and the business class fare.

In last week’s blog, I mentioned my 10+ hour trip on Amtrak. In this blog, I’d like to tell a little bit about my experience on the The Vermonter between Brattleboro and Washington, DC.

When it comes to trains, I’m a hopeless romantic. I love, love, LOVE the idea of train travel. It’s an adventure, it’s relaxing, it’s environmentally sound, and “riding the rails” is an integral part of our American culture and history.

Plus, it’s a great way to find kit homes. My little pretties were often built right along the rail lines.

However, after my most recent experience on the Vermonter, I’d have to say that this country’s rail system needs some big help.

First, the good parts.

Frequent flyers will have culture shock when they board a train for the first time. The train slows down and stops at the platform, you climb on board, stow your luggage, pick a seat and get comfy.

That’s it.

No full body-cavity searches, no presentation of ID, no long wait to board. A few minutes into the trip, the conductor will walk down the aisle and ask for your ticket. Rarely do they ask for any ID. In my 20+ trips on Amtrak, I’ve been asked to produce ID only twice.

Our seats in “Business Class” were spacious and comfortable, and the long, tinted windows offered a broad and comfortable view of the world outside. There was an abundance of leg-room, and our brown-leather seats had foot rests and cup holders.

If you’re going to go Amtrak, Business Class is the way to travel. It’s been my experience that passengers in this car are usually well-coiffed, quiet, and mature  (35+). The cost to upgrade to Business Class is minimal.

Business Class is typically located within the Cafe Car, and the plus is, you have ready access to all manner of tasty treats (chips, drinks, pizzas, etc.). The downside is, Hubby spent $52 on snack food during our 10-hour ride back to DC. His sub sandwich, with a bag of pretzels and a small bottle of orange juice cost $22.

The other plus is that a train trip offers views that you’re not going to see on our highways and byways. And there’s a little splash of voyeurism too. You get a sneak peak into America’s back yards, as well as abandoned factories, dilapidated buildings and forgotten farm houses.

Train travel can be so very relaxing, and for the most part, fellow passengers are in good spirits. The rhythmic clicking of the wheels against the metal tracks soothes the weary soul. The gentle to and fro rocking can induce a meditative, almost euphoric state of mind.

With every train ticket you buy, you’re supporting an alternative to flying and driving. America desperately needs alternate modes of transportation.

Those are the good things.

Ready for the not-so-good things?

The trip from Brattleboro to DC (the trip home on Sunday) was less pleasant than the outbound trip, because every seat on the train was sold. This meant that the bathrooms saw a lot of use. Within three hours of our departure, the smell from the bathroom (within the cafe car) was horrific. And the bathroom looked worse than it smelled.

There were small puddles of urine on the floor, together with a few wads of used toilet paper. (My husband reported that on an earlier train trip, the bathrooms in coach had much bigger problems than “just” puddles of urine. Yikes.)

The bathroom trash can was filled well past overflowing. I skipped the paper towel portion of my visit so that I could avoid placing my hand into the mass of used debris stuffed into the trash receptacle. Again: Ick.

Fortunately, I had an adequate supply of disposable wipes in my briefcase.

A not-so-well-coiffed woman in Business Class threw her McDonald’s bag and an empty bottle of soda on the floor when she was finished with breakfast. And there it remained for four hours (despite several conductors stepping over it). When I arose to use the facilities, I picked up the bag and carried it to the overflowing trash can in the cafe car.

Admittedly, slobs and litter bugs are not the fault of Amtrak, but Hubby and I were both surprised that the conductors walked right past it repeatedly.

More bad.

As my closest friends know, I’m highly allergic to little children, especially when they scream loudly and jump about and make lots of unexpected, dramatic movements. Less than an hour into the trip, a young father came into Business Class with two children (ages 5 and 7, I’d guess). The children crawled all over the seats and made a fair amount of noise and I don’t think they sat still for more than 20 seconds at a time. That took away a lot of the enjoyment of a “peaceful, quiet ride.”

Whey they got off the train, my husband, who’s far more tolerant of little children than said, “That’s a relief. Those kids were nerve-wracking.”

It was disappointing that the conductor didn’t ask those children to remain seated - especially in Business Class.

Which brings me to the next “Oh Dear” comment.

Some of the staff onboard the train were not pleasant. One conductor came into our car and literally yelled for all  of us to produce our tickets immediately. It was a piercing, strident voice and really not needful for the 20 passengers seated in the small section. Another employee - the cafe car attendant - made no secret of the fact that he was annoyed when someone showed up at the snack bar, and he had to get up out of his seat and wait on them.

On the north-bound journey, the Vermonter is moved onto a track at Palmer, Massachusetts and a new engine is put on. From Palmer to the end of the line (in our case, Brattleboro), the train goes backwards. If you’re in the Coach Section, you can switch seats (if there are openings) and find a backwards-facing seat. If you’re in the Business Class section, you’re kind of stuck.

Both Hubby and I have a bit of a tendency to motion sickness, so going backwards was a no-go for us. We moved to the cafe section and sat at a table, so we could face the right direction.

And there was one really big surprise.

Occasionally, the conductor would tell the passengers that they had “five minutes for a smoke break” at the next stop. Whenever these announcements were made, I’d hop out of my seat and go stand outside for a couple minutes to stretch my legs and get some fresh air. At one such stop, the rear door in the Business Section was opened. I wasn’t sure how long we’d be at that stop, so I stayed inside and admired the view from the safety of the car.

Good thing too, because without warning, that door slammed shut and the train started rolling. In other words, there was no conductor checking for passengers at the back of the train and no one yelling, “All aboard!”

I didn’t realize it until that moment, but those doors can be - and ARE - operated remotely from the front of the train. Had I stepped out of the car, I would have been left on the platform! Let me tell you, that would have taken a lot of fun out of the trip!

Factoring the four-hour drive between DC and Norfolk, the trip from Brattleboro to Norfolk took 14+ hours of travel time. (Not counting parking, and other miscellaneous travel events.) Fortunately, the train was on time both ways. However, this is a trip that takes about 9-1/2 hours by car.

The two round-trip train tickets were $566 and it cost $132 to park at DC’s Union Station.

It was an adventure, and there are some good memories, but I shant be riding The Vermonter again, for all the reasons outlined above.

To Amtrak’s credit, I must add that during the many years I lived in the Midwest, I rode the rails at least a dozen times. I’ve been on The Cardinal (2010) and the Texas Eagle (2004). In 2005, I took the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle. That was 48 hours of bliss!  I also rode the commuter train between Alton and Chicago too many times to count.

Those train rides were great fun. The service was good, the cars were clean and the trains were on time 75% of the time. In 2008, Hubby and I took the Silver Star to Orlando, and that was also a pleasant ride.

As I said in the beginning of this blog, I dearly love train travel and our country has great need of ecologically sound alternatives to flying and driving, but Amtrak has some major issues that need to be resolved. And the Vermonter’s run along the Northeast corridor has a lot of room for improvement.

As of 2008 (the last year for which I could find stats), the US taxpayers were subsidizing air travel to the tune of $13 billion per year. Perhaps it’s time to do more for Amtrak, in the hopes that they could find better staff and get the restrooms cleaned up and establish high-speed rail in more areas.

In short, Amtrak needs some re-tooling so it can be a viable contender in the transportation industry.

To read what I found in the Vermont area, click here.

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The trip to Brattleboro was a big annual vacation, and Vermont is a beautiful place, but getting there aint easy.

Vermont is a beautiful place, but getting there ain't easy.

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The Amtrak station was next door to the Latchis Hotel, which was convenient.

The Brattleboro Amtrak station was next door to the Latchis Hotel (where we stayed).

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Amtrak in 1915

The original train depot is a beautiful building in a beautiful setting. It's now a museum.

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Another view of this beautiful old train depot.

Another view of this beautiful old train depot. Kudos to Brattleboro for preserving it.

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The contemporary Amtrak station is carved out of a tiny piece of the original depot, in the back of the building. Pretty modest.

The contemporary Amtrak station is carved out of a tiny piece of the original depot, in the rear. That "does it fit?" frame in the left corner isn't used much apparently.

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New Haven

The Amtrak station in New Haven, Connecticut.

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Sometime

In New Haven, Connecticut, the pretty Amtrak diesel-electric locomotive was replaced with an electric train, which runs on catenary or overhead wire. From New Haven to DC, we were electric. (Photo is from Wikipedia.)

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A photo of our train at Penn Station in New York City.

A photo of our train at Penn Station in New York City. I'd love to know how old this thing is.

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Long view of our train at Penn Station.

Long view of our train at Penn Station.

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Busines

Hubby sitting in the Business Class section. The seats were quite comfy.

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I will always love trains, but from now on, I may stick with excursion trips, such as this one in Elkins, WV.

I will always love trains, but from now on, I may stick with excursion trips, such as this one in Elkins, WV. Ten hours on a train is too much for moi.

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I think these days are gone, but there must be a way that this country can make train travel a viable alternative for the weary traveler. Photo is from Wikipedia, showing a car on the Silver Meteor.

I know these days are gone, but there must be a way that this country can make train travel a viable alternative for the weary traveler. Check out those lamps. Photo is from Wikipedia, showing a car on the Silver Meteor.

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To read about the future of train travel, click here.

Or here.

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The Aladdin Cumberland: 100 Years Old

August 23rd, 2014 Sears Homes 5 comments

In May 2014, we traveled to Wilmington, DE and Philadelphia, PA to do research at the Hagley Museum (Wilmington) and at the National Archives and Records Administration (Philadelphia).

Along the way, we stopped at Carney’s Point, New Jersey to check out some of the Aladdin kit homes.

There in Carney’s Point, we found an abundance of DuPont Houses (probably DuPont designs, but built with ready-cut materials ordered from Aladdin) and also Aladdin Kit Homes (Aladdin designs and Aladdin materials).

One of the models I saw in Carney’s Point that I had never seen before was the Aladdin “Cumberland.” This is such a pedestrian  foursquare that I’m now wondering how many of these I’ve overlooked in other places. There’s not a lot to distinguish this house from the tens of thousands of foursquares that cover America.

The house was offered in the 1914 and 1916 catalog. It’s likely that these houses in Carney’s Point were built in 1916, but they’re very close to the 100-year mark!

Hopefully, now that I’ve seen one live and in person, I shan’t miss another one!

Read about some of the other houses I’ve found in Carney’s Point here, and here.

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1914

The Cumberland, as seen in the 1914 catalog.

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1914

View from the staircase side. BTW, the house was built about six minutes ago, and that lattice work uner the porch deck already looks pretty crummy.

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1914

View from another side (1914 catalog). Lattice work looks worse on this side.

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1916

The Cumberland's living room (1916 catalog). Love the couch!

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1914

Traditional floorplan for a foursquare (1914).

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1916

"Sensible" equals uh, well, "pedestrian" (from the 1916 catalog).

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uddated

An undated view of Carney's Point. That's a Cumberland on the far right (foreground).

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1914

Staircase side (1914)

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Milto

This photo shows why it's so difficult to identify these houses a few decades later! Look at all the changes this house has endured through the years. Three fine windows - gone. At least that crummy lattice work has been repaired.

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milton

Another Cumberland on Shell Road in Carney's Point. Photo is copyright 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. So there.

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other side 1914

View from the other side (1914).

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other ilton

At least this side is a better match to the original catalog image. Photo is copyright 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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House house

That dormer is unfortunate. Who thought *that* was a good idea? :( Photo is copyright 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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BGunches

Long view of the many Aladdin kit homes on Shell Road in Carney's Point. In the foreground is an Aladdin Cumberland, followed by an Aladdin Georgia, Aladdin Amherst, Aladdin Gerogia and another Cumberland. Photo is copyright 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To read more about DuPont and why they were in Carney’s Point, click here.

To read about Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City, click here.

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