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 design that was anything close.
Someone in town said the houses were built at the 300th anniversary fair at Jamestown (1904) 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 1910s. And somewhere, we heard that there had been a DuPont factory in Penniman, Virginia (about 30 minutes from Norfolk), and that the houses might have come from the factory at Penniman.
And then I started doing research on Hopewell, Virginia and learned that it had also been the site of a DuPont munitions factory. So 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.
If I was doing this project on my own, it probably would have ended when I couldn’t find the houses in my mail order catalogs. But I’m not alone. Norfolk historian David Spriggs and Researcher Extraordinaire Mark Hardin have been doing most of the heavy lifting. And they’ve made some amazing discoveries.
It was Mark who found our “Ethels” in other cities (Butte, Montana and Dupont, Washington), and it was Mark who found a plethora of info on the architecture history of DuPont’s “Munition Towns.”
It was David who found an article about George P. Hudson in a newspaper article dated April 14, 1922. Hudson owned several lots where Ethels landed, and also owned a barge company here in Norfolk.
A few months ago, Mark Hardin sent me a photo of a Dupont design in Old Hickory, Tennessee (near Nashville). I looked at it, but I wasn’t sure what to think. And then last week, David Spriggs said, “I think I’ve identified a two-story Dupont design here in Riverview.”
I thought, “Okay, I’ll look at it.”
And that’s when things took a turn for the better.
Looking at the architectural details of David’s “two-story Dupont house,” and comparing it to our Ethels, I had to say, he was right. The two houses shared several important architectural features. And then I noticed the two-story house had a long tall attic window. Where had I seen that before? In the picture that Mark sent me, of the houses in Old Hickory.
David and I had also been told that there were some houses on Major Avenue (another part of Norfolk), that had come here by barge. We drove down Major Avenue and that’s when it all started to come together. The houses on Major Avenue had a very distinctive attic window that we’d just seen on the two-story “Dupont Design” in Riverview.
Pictures are a lot better than words, so here are a few pictures (below).
I’d be grateful for any information anyone can share about Old Hickory, TN.
*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!
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're now pretty well certain that these houses came from Penniman (site of a Dupont Munitions Factory) and floated by barge to this location. According to an article in the "Richmond News Leader" (June 1938) there are 51 of these homes in Norfolk, in varying designs. Thus far, we've found fewer than 30 of the 51 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, Tennessee. Note the narrow windows by the front door.
There are nine of these "Dutchie Dupont' designs on Major Avenue and Glenroie Avenue in Norfolk. These Norfolk houses are a perfect match to the houses in Old Hickory, TN.
One of the many "Dutchies from DuPont" found 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).
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-storyy Dupont designs.
It all started with these little bungalows that we've named, The Ethels. There are 16 of these in Riverview (Ethel Avenue) and two in Highland Park (51st Street) in Norfolk.
I spent many hours of my life, poring through old mail order catalogs, trying to identify these bungalows as kit homes. And it turns out, they were built by Dupont for their employees at Penniman (Virginia). Dupont had a massive munitions plant there in Penniman, and after it was closed, the houses were shipped out to other cities, including Norfolk. That's where these "Ethels" came from.
And there are dozens of "Ethels" in Dupont, Washington, site of another Dupont Munitions plant.
This dormer window on these "Ethels" is a pretty distinctive feature.
If you have any information about the houses in Old Hickory, please leave a comment below.
And there was an employee newsletter called, “The Projectile,” which featured a story on the building of these houses. That would also be an incredible resources. Thanks in advance for any and all help.
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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