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South Carolina, Churlish Chiggers, and Fake Maggies

July 25th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

Last month, I spent several days traveling in South Carolina. I visited many cities in the northern part of South Carolina but found very few Sears Homes. The highlight of the trip was Anderson, where I found several kit homes from Sterling Homes (a competitor to Sears).

Click here to see photos of those houses.

I did, however, find more than 20 chiggers. Or should I say, they found me. I was in Pumpkintown, SC merrily traipsing through a happy, happy meadow when I picked up Satan’s microscopic hitchhikers.

Suffice it to say, my sufferings in the next few days rivaled that of Job, who used pottery shards to relieve the itch of his sores. (Having endured this misery, I’m now convinced that old Job hisself got into a mess of chiggers.)

But I digress…

During an earlier trip to Blacksburg, South Carolina (February 2011), I’d visited the twin of the Sears Magnolia.

The house in Blacksburg turned out to be a fake Sears Magnolia. And yet, it was so close to the real thing. After spending three days at this fine house, I decided it could not be a Magnolia.

In retrospect, I believe it may have been an early pattern book house, and that the fine folks at Sears discovered this pattern book design and incorporated it into their “Book of Modern Homes,” calling it, The Magnolia.

The house in Blacksburg was built about 1910 (according to tax records), which also fits with my pattern book theory.

This “SCFM” (”South Carolina Faux Maggy”) is four feet wider and four feet longer than the Sears Magnolia, which is interesting (and also fits with the above theory). When Sears “borrowed” patters from other sources, they’d change the dimensions a bit, and in the case of the SCFM, it was a tiny bit too big for Sears purposes, so shrinking the footprint made a lot of sense.

One more interesting detail: The underside of the front porch (eaves) shows that there are ten brackets on the Sears Magnolia. The SCFM has eight brackets. The Magnolia’s dormer has four of these eave brackets. The SCFM has three. These are the kind of details that matter.

I seriously doubt the SCFM is the only one of its kind. Does your town have a fake Magnolia?

To read my favorite blog on the Sears Magnolia, click here. It’s an old carpenter telling about HOW he built a Magnolia in the 1920s.

To read about the sweet ride that carried me to old South Carolina, click here.

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The Sears Magnolia, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

The Sears Magnolia, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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And heres the SCFM in Blacksburg. Its NOT a Sears House, but it sure is close.

And here's the SCFM in Blacksburg. It's NOT a Sears House, but it sure is close.

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Really, really close.

Really, really close.

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I mean, cmon. You cant get much closer than this. And yet, this is not a Sears Magnolia. Sadly.

I mean, c'mon. You can't get much closer than this. And yet, this is not a Sears Magnolia. Sadly. All the details are just so darn close...

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Even has those distinctive marginal lites.

Even has those distinctive marginal lites.

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And the porch is a good match, too.

And the porch is a good match, too.

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One of the first thigns that caught my eye were these columns. Theyre concrete. The Sears Magnolia had hollow wooden columns (poplar). No kit house is going to come with concrete two-story Corinthian columns. The weight would be enormous. When I saw these columns I knew - this was not a kit home from Sears.

One of the first details that caught my eye were these columns. They're concrete. The Sears Magnolia had hollow wooden columns (poplar). No kit house is going to come with concrete two-story Corinthian columns. The weight would be enormous. When I saw these columns I knew - this was not a kit home from Sears.

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And its a beauty, too.

Minus the concrete columns, it's still such a good match.

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Inside the house, it has a Magnolia room!

Inside the house, it has a "Magnolia Room"! How apropos!

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The citys records show that this house was built in 1910, and those city records are not always right, but in this case, I suspect theyre close. The SCFM had a fireplace in every room and they were coal-burning fireplaces, which was typical for homes built in the first years of the 1900s.

The city's records show that this house was built in 1910, and oftimes, those city records are not always right, but in this case, I suspect they're close. The SCFM had a fireplace in every room and they were coal-burning fireplaces, which was typical for homes built in the first years of the 1900s. The Magnolia had two fireplaces, both wood-burning.

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This beautifully decorated house has a massive entry hall...

This beautifully decorated house has a massive entry hall, but that's one of the problems. The floorplan for this SCFM is NOT a good match to the Magnolia's floorplan. Plus, the Sears Magnolia had nine-foot ceilings. The ceilings in this house were 10' or more.

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The staircase in the real Magnolia is in a different spot.

The staircase in the real Magnolia is in a different spot. It's much closer to the front of the house, whereas the SCFM's staircase is much further back, and its hallway goes straight back to a rear entry door (unlike the floorplan above).

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In the end, I had to boldly declare that this was NOT a Sears Magnolia which made me very sad. However, it did tell me that this was probably a planbook house at some point. Now we just need to figure out WHICH plan book!

In the end, I had to boldly declare that this was NOT a Sears Magnolia which made me very sad. However, it did tell me that this was probably a planbook house at some point. Now we just need to figure out WHICH plan book!

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Also in Blacksburg, SC I found my favorite Alhambra of all time. Its LAVENDAR!

Also in Blacksburg, SC I found my favorite Alhambra of all time. It's LAVENDER!

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If you see this house, send me an email!

Such a beauty - but it's not from Sears.

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This is the real deal in Canton, Ohio.

This is the real deal in Canton, Ohio. Photo is copyright 2012 Janet Hess LaMonica and can not be used or reproduced without written permission. So there.

To contact Rose, leave a comment below.

To read more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

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The “Boom Towns” of Dupont

January 10th, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

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 shows the houses being transported by barge down the Lafayette River.

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."

H

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.

Of all the Dupont houses on Major, this one retains most of its original features.

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, but

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

Some are turned 90 degrees on the lot.

And some have gabled roofs, but theyre all Dupont houses.

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) shows two of the eight housing styles found there. These are the same two housing styles found on Major Avenue in Norfolk, VA.

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

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."

Dutchie

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.

OOO

Another "Georgia" on Major Avenue.

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There are many "Georgias" in Norfolk!

Cumberland

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 heres the real life example.

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

The other Cumberland on Major Avenue.

This is the two-story house (ensconced in the land of Ethels) in Riverview. Note the unusual attic window.

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.

Close-up of the attic window found on all the two-story Dupont designs.

I spent many hours of my life, poring through old mail order catalogs, trying to identify these bungalows as kit homes.

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.

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).

Theyre 3,000 miles away, but their identical to our Ethels in Norfolk.

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.

While we call them "Ethels," they were actually given a name - "The DuPont Model."

Close-up of dormer

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.

Dup

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.

Part III.

Part IV.

Part V.

Part VI.

Part VII.

Part VIII.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Hopewell’s Historic Sears Homes! Well, sort of. (Part 4)

April 2nd, 2011 Sears Homes 1 comment

As mentioned in Part 1, I recently visited Hopewell (Virginia) for the first time in several years.

In early 2003, I went to Hopewell to give a talk on Sears Homes. The talk went well and I sold a bunch of books and I had a wonderful time. Unfortunately, there was a downside to this otherwise delightful visit. Driving through the city, I discovered that most of their Crescent Hill “Sears Homes” being promoted in a local brochure were not Sears Homes.

Unfortunately, a handful of people did not agree with me, and Hopewell’s brochure - with its inaccurate information on their Sears Homes - was not to be changed.

It was very upsetting. Those who write about history have a solemn charge to make sure it is kept pure and honest. That’s something about which I feel passionate.

When I returned to Hopewell (March 18 2011), I was gratified to see that a few of the errors had been removed from the city’s well-promoted brochures, but many non-kit homes were still being wrongly identified as Sears Homes.  (Reader’s Note: This blog is Part 4 of a series.  Click on the links to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. To read about the collection of Aladdin kit homes in Hopewell, click here. Blogs with photos of Aladdin kit homes are labeled with Roman numerals.)

The beauty part of identifying Sears Homes is matching the houses to their original catalog image.

Below is one such example:

And the Sears Lynnhaven. There are two in Hopewells Crescent Hills.

The Sears Lynnhaven from the 1936 catalog.

Sears Lynnhaven #2

Sears Lynnhaven in Hopewell. Nice match!

Now that’s a nice match. The house in Hopewell looks just like the catalog image. That’s what makes this topic so fun and so intriguing and so delightful. And the cold hard fact is, if you can not match up a suspected kit home to an image in a vintage mail-order catalog, you got nothing.  The house must be a spot-on match (minus remodelings, substitute sidings, etc.).

And that’s my complaint with Hopewell’s purported “Sears Home” at 105 Prince George Avenue. The brochure offered at the Hopewell Visitor’s Center identifies this house as (and I’m quoting), “Original Sears model (remodeled).”

I kid you not.

That’s all the information offered on this house.

Speaking as someone who’s written several books on this topic, and as someone who’s traveled all over this country for the last 11 years, seeking and finding kit homes of every name and nature, I can say with authority, I have no idea what they’re talking about. Sears offered 370 designs of kit homes. Their very first catalog had 22 designs within its 44 pages, and not one of those designs was called, “Original Sears Model.”

There is no “original Sears model” (remodeled or not).

Further, I’m of the opinion that the house at 105 Prince George Avenue is not a Sears Home. And if it was a Sears Home, I’d show you a catalog image so you - the reader - could contrast and compare the two pictures.

But on this house - I got nothing. No idea. So here’s the house in Hopewell that the brochure identifies as, “Original Sears model (remodeled).”

Frustrating

That vinyl picket fence might be from Sears. Maybe that's what they're talking about.

To read more about identifying Sears Homes, click here.

To see Danville’s amazing collection of Sears Homes, click here.

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Hopewell’s Historic Kit Homes: And They’re Not in Crescent Hills!

March 23rd, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

More than 80% of the time, people who think they have a Sears kit home are wrong. Often, those folks do have a kit home, but it’s not a kit home from Sears. Here in Virginia (where I live), most “Sears homes” that I investigate turn out to be kit homes from Aladdin.

Aladdin was based in Bay City, Michigan (a long way from Virginia), but they had a lumber mill in Wilmington, North Carolina (not so far from Virginia).

Hopewell, Virginia has eight Sears homes in their Crescent Hills neighborhood, but they have dozens of Aladdin kit homes throughout the city. It’s a puzzle why so much focus is put on those eight Sears Homes, while the many Aladdin homes are ignored! If I were a little Aladdin Home in Hopewell, I might feel snubbed!

The eight Sears Homes in Crescent Hills are fine-looking residences. The cluster of Aladdin homes are definitely more modest, but they also have a story to tell. They tell about Dupont coming to Hopewell in the early 1900s and building a factory and creating jobs and investing in modest homes for their workers.

And it’s a part of Hopewell’s history that’s getting lost - quickly. Judging by the landscape in this neighborhood (where the Aladdin Homes are located), countless numbers of these modest homes have already been leveled. Perhaps as people become aware that this is a piece of Hopewell’s history, the rest of these houses might be spared.

Unfortunately, I know very little about Hopewell’s history and I’m hoping my readers will share what they know by leaving a comment.

In the coming days, I’ll post several blogs on Hopewell and their Aladdin kit homes, but I’ll start by featuring the Aladdin Edison.

Enjoy the photos and please leave a comment.

Aladdin promoted itself to companies as a supplier of industrial housing. It was believed that providing housing for workers created a more stable workforce. And that was probably true.

Aladdin promoted itself to companies as a supplier of industrial housing. It was believed that providing housing for workers created a more stable workforce. And that was probably true. (1919 Aladdin catalog)

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A close-up of the text from the 1919 catalog.

A close-up of the text from the 1919 catalog.

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The Aladdin Edison was a modest home, but darn cute. And easy to identify these many years later.

The Aladdin Edison was a modest home, but darn cute. And easy to identify these many years later.

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The Aladdin Edison was really a pretty small house. Take a look at the floor plan. How many people today would be content in such a wee tiny house? Typically, the front porch is enclosed on these 90+ year-old houses to create a little more living space. Enclosing the porch created an additional 240 square feet. Pretty significant in a house that measured 30 x 20.

Close-up of the Aladdin Edison

Close-up of the Aladdin Edison

First, my favorite Edison in Hopewell.

First, my favorite Edison in Hopewell. Oh, that's a cute house!

And from the side...

And from the side...

Another well-dressed Edison...

Another well-dressed Edison...

And another...

This one is located on Ramsey Street (near the water) and is in wonderfully original condition! Look at all those original windows! Somebody give this house a pretty placard identifying it as a beautiful example!

This little house is not in original condition

This little house is not in original condition, but it's still cute, and it's feeling happy because it has flowers growing in its front yard.

Pretty

On the Aladdin Edison, the bedroom (front left) and the dining room (front right) are both 10x10. The owner of this house probably wanted to add a little space to those tiny rooms. All in all, the remodeling done to this house isn't too bad. And they saved those awesome old windows in the dormer!

Ouch.

Hmmm. Looks like someone put a great big upholstery tack on that dormer.

Ocu

This house needs a red-tipped cane.

The little Edison waves good-bye, and hopes that someone will take action to include it, in Hopewells preservation efforts. A little house can dream...

The little Edison waves good-bye, and hopes that someone will take action to include it, in Hopewell's preservation efforts. A little house can dream...

To read part II, click here.

To learn more about Hopewell’s kit homes, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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