Having lived in Norfolk for seven years now, I have scoured every street in this city, searching for mail-order kit homes. I’ve ridden around with several friends, studied maps, queried long-time residents and harangued my husband and I was quite certain that I’d seen every early 20th Century neighborhood that Norfolk had to offer.
Wednesday night, my buddy Milton and I were on our way to CERT class, and we swung by Church’s Fried Chicken to buy some of their world-famous honey biscuits. For reasons I can’t explain, an integral part of the CERT class is a pot-luck supper. (We’re expected to bring a piquant and palatable platter of something wonderful to these weekly classes.)
As we pulled out onto Virginia Beach Blvd, I noticed a lovely Dutch Colonial staring back at me.
“Huh,” I thought to myself. “That Dutchie has an interior chimney, just like the Martha Washington (Sears Home). Isn’t that something?”
And then I noticed that it had the curved porch roof, just like the Martha Washington.
And then I looked again and thought, “And it’s got those short windows centered on the second floor, just like the Martha Washington.”
Next, I looked at the small attic window and thought, “And it’s got that half-round window in the attic, just like the Martha Washington.”
As Milton drove down the road, I twisted my head around and saw that the Dutchie had the two distinctive bay windows on the side, just like the Martha Washington. Those two windows are an unusual architecture feature, and that was the clincher.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I told Milton. “I think that’s a Sears House.”
Now anyone who’s hung around me for more than 73 minutes knows that I’m a pretty big fan of Sears Homes, and my friends understand that a significant risk of riding around with Rose is that there will be many detours when we pass by early 20th Century neighborhoods.
Milton gladly obliged and gave me an opportunity to take a long, lingering look at this Dapper Dutchie.
That night at the CERT meeting, I kept thinking about the fact that one of the most spacious and fanciest Sears Homes ever offered was sitting right here in Norfolk, and after seven years of living in this city, I just now found it.
The next day, Milton picked me up around 11:00 am and we returned to the Sears Martha Washington so that I could take a multitude of photos. Sadly, as we drove through the adjoining neighborhoods, we saw that the nearby college (Norfolk State) had apparently swallowed up great gobs of surrounding bungalows.
Between that and some very aggressive redevelopment, it appears that hundreds of early 20th Century homes are now just a dusty memory at the local landfill.
Do the owners of this Martha Washington know what they have? Based on my research, more than 90% of the people living in these historically significant homes didn’t know what they had until I knocked on their door and told them.
What a find! What a treasure! And it’s right here in Norfolk!
So is there a Magnolia hiding somewhere nearby?
To learn more about the kit homes in Norfolk, click here.
To learn how to identify marked lumber, click here.
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The Martha Washington was a grand and glorious house. According to this page from the 1921 catalog, it had seven modern rooms. I wonder how many "old-fashioned" rooms it had?
Here's a Martha Washington that was featured in the back pages of the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog. This house was built in Washington, DC, and shows the house shortly after it was finished.
This line drawing from the 1921 catalog shows those two bay windows on the side.
This was described as a "snowy white kitchen de Lux." For its time, this really was a very modern kitchen. Notice the "good morning stairs" too the right, and the handy little stool under the sink. According to a 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog, the "average woman spends 3/4ths of her day in the kitchen." So maybe that's why she got a hard metal stool to sit on at the sink?
"Judge for yourself how attractive, bright and sanitary we have made this home for the housewife." And a "swinging seat"! I guess that's a desperate attempt to make kitchen work seem more recreational, and less like drudge work.
An “exploded view” shows the home’s interior. That baby-grand piano looks mighty small!
Check out that bathtub on the rear of the house. And that's a sleeping porch in the upper right. Again, that furniture looks mighty small.
As you can see from the picture (1921), this was a fine home!
Be still my quivering heart! And it's right on Virginia Beach Boulevard!
A view from the side, showing off those bay windows.
The PVC fish scales over the porch are a pity (and do a fine job of hiding the beautiful fan light), and the badly crimped aluminum trim on that porch roof doesn't look too good, and the wrought-iron is a disappointment, but (and this is a big but), at least it's still standing.
The porch, in its pre-aluminum siding salesmen and pre-wrought-iron and pre-PVC state.
A comparison of the Martha Washington in DC with the house in Norfolk!
And here's a Martha Washington in Cincinnati, Ohio.
To learn more about the Martha Washington, click here.
To learn more about biscuits, click here.
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