Since I moved to Norfolk in September 2006, the 16 identical bungalows on Ethel Avenue have been whispering my name, and imploring me to come close, and learn more about their unique origins. Problem was, I could never quite make out what they were saying.
For years, I pored through my vintage catalogs from Sears, Aladdin, Gordon Van Tine, Lewis Manufacturing, Sterling Homes and even Pacific Ready Cut Homes, hoping to identify them as kit homes from a mail-order company.
I never could find a matching design.
Someone in town said the houses were built for the Jamestown Exposition (1907) and moved from that site to their resting place in Riverview (Norfolk). That didn’t ring true, because these little bungalows were more typical of the early 1910s.
And then we learned that DuPont had a munitions plant in Penniman, Virginia (about 30 minutes from Norfolk), and that the houses might have come from Penniman. And then I started doing research on Hopewell, Virginia and learned that Hopewell has also been the site of a DuPont munitions factory. So Mark Hardin (Hopewell resident and fellow researcher) and I drove around Hopewell, trying to find our “Ethels” (as they came to be known).
There have been many interesting discoveries along the way. To read a full history of our* project, click here.
In short, DuPont had at least twelve designs of houses that were built for their workers in factory towns such as Dupont, Washington, Louviers, Colorado, Ramsay, Montana, Old Hickory, Tennessee, and Hopewell and Penniman Virginia.
In the 1910s and 1920s, it was widely believed that providing housing for employees created a more stable work force. In the case of DuPont, their plants manufactured things that went BOOM, such as dynamite and gun powder and gun cotton. DuPont built their factories outside of population centers, due to the constant threat of explosion. (In November 1915, 31 men died in a horrific explosion at the DuPont plant in New Jersey when a horse’s shoe created a metal spark, igniting several thousand pounds of black powder.)
After The Great War was over (November 11, 1918), some of these factories - such as the one in Penniman - were no longer needed. An unknown number of houses at Penniman were put onto a barge and floated down the York River and Chesapeake Bay to the Elizabeth River and then to the Lafayette River to Norfolk, Virginia. According to an article in the Richmond News Leader (1938), more than 50 houses came to Norfolk.
And then on January 9, 2012, Robert Hitchings (Head, Sargeant Memorial Room, Norfolk Public Library) sent me a photo of these houses coming to Norfolk via barge (see below).
And if anyone knows where I might find more of these “Dupont Designs” in Norfolk, please leave a comment below!
To read the first blog on this topic, click here.
*David Spriggs and Mark Hardin have done most of the research on this subject. On this project, I’ve been the blog writer and photo taker!
Photo from 1921 Virginian Pilot shows the houses being transported by barge down the Lafayette River. These are the houses that now sit on Major and Glenroie Avenue in Norfolk. There are two Dupont Designs shown here. The house on the left is the Dupont "Haskell," and the house on the right is the "Cumberland."
On the left is a vintage picture of a Dupont Design (The Haskell) that was built in Old Hickory, TN. On the right is a house in Norfolk (on Major Avenue). We now know that most of the houses on Major and Glenroie Avenue came from Penniman (site of a Dupont Munitions Factory) and were floated by barge to this location. According to an article in the "Richmond News Leader" (June 1938) there are 51 of these "Dupont Homes" in Norfolk, in varying designs.
This Dupont "Haskell" still retains most of its original features. You can see the unique window arrangement on the Haskell design in this photo, with the left side of the brown house and the left side of the white house next door (which is also a Haskell).
Some of these DuPont "Haskells" have undergone significant remodeling since being moved here in 1921. They were probably built about 1912 - 1914 at Penniman.
Some are turned 90 degrees on the lot.
And some have a gabled roof on the front porch, but they're all Dupont houses.
Vintage photo of Old Hickory (site of a Dupont Munitions Plant in Tennessee) shows two of the eight housing styles found there. These are the same two housing styles found on Major Avenue and Glenroie Avenue in Norfolk, VA.
This little Dutch Colonial was one of the "Dupont Designs" found in Old Hickory, TN. Note the narrow windows by the front door. This house was named "The Georgia."
There are nine of these "Georgia" (Dupont' designs) on Major Avenue and Glenroie Avenue in Norfolk. These Norfolk houses are a perfect match to the houses in Old Hickory, TN.
Another "Georgia" on Major Avenue.
There are many "Georgias" in Norfolk!
The Cumberland was one of 12 designs created by Dupont and found in both Norfolk and Old Hickory. There are two of these on Major Avenue (Norfolk). It's one of the houses shown on the barge in the photo above.
And here's one of two Cumberlands on Major Avenue. It is a perfect match to the Dupont Cumberland found in Old Hickory, TN.
The other Cumberland on Major Avenue.
This is the two-story house (ensconced in the land of Ethels) in Norfolk. Note the tall thin attic window which is a perfect match to the Old Hickory house above. There are other architectural features which lead us to believe that this is also a "Dupont Design." This house was floated by barge to its location here in Norfolk. This is a big house to move!
Close-up of the attic window found on all the two-story Dupont designs.
And it all started with these houses on Ethel Avenue (which are also DuPont designs).
And there are dozens of "Ethels" in Dupont, Washington, site of another Dupont Munitions plant. This Ethel is in Dupont, Washington (and shares the neighborhood with 100 identical twins).
They're 3,000 miles away, but these houses in Dupont, Washington are identical to our "Ethels" in Norfolk on Riverview.
While we call them "Ethels," they were actually given a name - "The DuPont Model."
This dormer window on these "Ethels" in Riverview (Norfolk) is a pretty distinctive feature. And it's a spot-on match to the Ethels (er, Duponts) in Dupont, Washington.
In the early 1900s, making things go boom was a very popular idea.
The picture above was from a DuPont pamphlet, but there was an employee newsletter called, “The Projectile,” which featured a story on the building of these houses. Finding that would also be an incredible bonus!
We’re still hoping to find more “Ethels” (and Haskells and Cumberlands and Georgias) in Norfolk and other parts of Hampton Roads. If you know the location of any more of these “DuPont Designs,” please leave a comment below!
If you’d like to read earlier posts, start with Part I.
And then go to Part II.
To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.
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