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“One of These Things is Not Like The Other…” (Part II)

August 30th, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

As mentioned in a prior blog, Sesame Street children are familiar with a toe-tapping ditty that helps them learn how to observe what makes things similar and dissimilar.

Those same life lessons are of inestimable value in identifying and authenticating Sears Homes.

In Hopewell, Virginia, they have eight beautiful Sears Homes in Crescent Hills. Unfortunately, in Hopewell, Virginia, they’re claiming to have a lot more than eight Sears Homes in Crescent Hills.

Hey boys and girls, can you figure out which of these is different from the others?

Hey boys and girls, can you figure out which of these is different from the others?

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This example (with houses) is even easier than the example above!

This example (with houses) is even easier than the example above!

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Now there are folks in Hopewell claiming that all three of those houses (with the dormers, and the two windows flanking the front door and the symmetrical front gable and the three windows in the living room) are Sears Rochelles.

Sadly, they’re wrong.

Will the real Sears Rochelle please stand up?

The

It's been remodeled quite a bit, but this is the real Sears Rochelle (in Lombard, Illinois). You may notice that it's very different from the three Hopewell houses shown above. For one thing, it has no dormer. For another, it's got an asymmetrical front gable (around the door). The houses in Hopewell have symmetrical gables. This is a pretty substantial detail. (Photo is copyright 2012 Rebecca Hunter and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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The Rochelle shown above (in Lombard) is the only Rochelle I’ve ever seen.  This Rochelle was photographed by Dr. Rebecca Hunter (Elgin, IL). You can visit her website here.

So, what is it they have in Hopewell?

I’ve no clue, but I do know, it is NOT a Sears Rochelle!

Sears Roechelle as seen in the 1930 catalog.

Sears Rochelle as seen in the 1930 catalog.

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You may notice, the house above (catalog image) bears no resemblance to the Hopewell houses.

To read more about the many differences between these Hopewell homes and the real deal, click here.

To learn more about Dr. Hunter, click here.

To learn more about Hopewell, click here or here.

Interested in Aladdin kit homes? Hopewell has several. Click here to read about them.

And Then There’s Sterling Homes…

July 13th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Sterling was one of the six national companies selling kit homes through a mail-order catalog. Like Aladdin, Sterling Homes was based in Bay City, Michigan. While Sterling was successful in selling their kit homes nationwide, they were a much smaller company than Aladdin or Sears. To learn more about Sterling, click here.

Pictured below is the catalog page for the Sterling Homes “Browning-B.” The “B” is usually a reference to a different floorplan for the same house design. (Despite looking through my reference materials, I never did find a “Browning-A.)

Compare the catalog page with the extant homes below. The roof on the back of the house doesn’t drop down near as far as the front. And look at the pair of gabled dormers, connected by the small shed dormer. Most interesting is the bay window on the front of the house, next to the front door.

Sterling

From the Sterling Homes catalog.

Sterling

There are several of these models in Hopewell's downtown area, interspersed with Aladdin kit homes. Is this the Sterling "Browning B"? It sure is a perfect match. The only flaw is the size of the eaves on the dormer window. Everything else is perfect, and that's remarkable, because this is a very unique house.

Aladd

Another Sterling Browning-B in Hopewell? Appears to be!

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Sterling

A close-up of the house as it appeared in the catalog.

Another one

Side-by-side comparison of the two houses.

Another Sterling Browning B in Hampton, Virginia

Another Sterling Browning "B" in Hampton, Virginia? It certainly looks very close, and yet it appears to be a little bigger (deeper) than the other Sterling Homes (above). The rest of the details (see below) are a very, very good match.

The homes left side is a perfect match to the catalog page.

The home's left side is a perfect match to the catalog page.

Sterling

Pretty unique house!

d

Floorplan shows that over sized bay window on the first floor, which is an unusual feature for a house of this size. Both the house in Hopewell and Hampton also have this. The second floor sure has a lot of doors!

Very unusual arrangement around the dormer windows, too.

Very unusual arrangement around the dormer windows, too. Also a perfect match to the original catalog image.

Sterling

Detail around those funky dormers (catalog).

Even the rafter tails are a spot-on match!

Even the rafter tails are a spot-on match to the Sterling catalog.

Thanks to Pat Spriggs for driving me all over Hampton!

And thanks to Mark and Lisa Hardin for finding the Hopewell Brownings!

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Have You Seen This House? (Part 5)

May 2nd, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

Here in Norfolk, we have 16 little bungalows that were originally built at another location, and then moved here (by barge) sometime after The Great War ended in 1918. For years, that’s pretty much all that was known about them.

Last month, we learned that 3,000 miles away in Dupont, Washington, there are dozens of identical bungalows, built by Dupont for the dynamite factory there.  Thanks to Lee and Joh from the Dupont Historical Museum in Dupont, Washington, I now have a vintage newspaper article that says the little houses were built in 1909.

And now there’s a new wrinkle.

Indefatigable researcher Mark Hardin has found another neighborhood of these “Ethel Bungalows” (our pet name for these little houses) in a little village just outside of Butte, Montana. (It was Mark who found the houses in Dupont, too.)

So, our Ethel Bunaglow in Norfolk (which came from somewhere else) is a spot-on match to the company houses in Dupont, Washington and Butte, Montana.

We know that Dupont often turned to Aladdin kit homes to provide them with houses for their workers. We know that Dupont used Aladdin to provide housing at their sites in Carney’s Point, NJ, Old Hickory, TN, and Hopewell, VA. According to local lore, Dupont also used Aladdin to provide houses for their workers at their guncotton factory in Penniman, Virginia.

It’s looking more and more likely that our “Ethels” came that guncotton factory in Penniman, Virginia (now the site of Cheatem Annex, a military installation). Dupont built hundreds of houses for the workers, and purportedly, some of those houses were moved after The Great War. This fits nicely with the story of the our Ethels in Norfolk.

Norfolk historian David Spriggs did some digging and found that the Norfolk lots which are now home to our “Ethels” were purchased by George P. Hudson on April 14, 1922, and with a little more digging, he found that George P. Hudson was was listed in the 1925 city directory as “President of Hudson Transportation Co. and New Home Corporation.”  The business of Hudson Transportation Company was listed as, “Lighters and Barges.”

As David says, who would be in a better position to move 16 houses from Penniman to Norfolk than a man who owned a company called, “Hudson Transportation Co. and New Home Corporation”?

And who says history isn’t fun?  :)

And yet, many unanswered questions remain.

If you’ve any information to contribute, please post a note in the comment’s section below!

House

One of our mystery bungalows on 51st Street. Photo is courtesy of David Spriggs and may not be reused or reprinted without permission from David Spriggs.

Another

Good shot of the two bungalows on 51st Street. This photo is courtesy of David Spriggs and may not be reused or reprinted without permission from David Sprggs.

house

This is one of the houses in Riverview that's in mostly original condition. The little dormer on the side was added in later years.

Close-up of railing

Close-up of railing

Close-up of dormer

This dormer window is a pretty distinctive feature.

another Ethel

Another "Ethel Bungalow" in Riverview

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 if a company provided housing for its employees, this would create a more stable workforce. And that was probably true. Dupont turned to Aladdin to supply homes for Hopewell, Virginia and Carney Point, New Jersey and Old Hickory, TN. (1919 Aladdin catalog)

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Have You Seen This House?

April 12th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

To read the most recent update, click here!

There are 16 of these little bungalows in Norfolk (see below) moved from another location. According to local lore, these houses were floated up the Lafayette River from an unknown city (where they were originally built). Fourteen of the houses were then placed on lots along Ethel. Lucerne, and Lavalette Avenue (in the Riverview section of Norfolk), and two of the bungalows landed in Highland Park (a few blocks away on 51st Street).

They’re fairly distinctive little houses, and the $64,000 question is, where did they come from?

One story alleges that the houses came from Hopewell. That’d be especially interesting because Hopewell had hundreds of Aladdin kit homes, built for the workers at the Dupont factory (where they manufactured gun cotton). Another story says that these houses came down the York River.  That could also be an interesting story, because DuPont built 600+ homes for their workers at Penniman, Virginia (now Naval Weapons Station Yorktown and Cheatham annex). (By the way, this was one of the largest collections of Aladdin Homes in the country, and all these houses are now GONE.)

Despite searching throughout my old Aladdin catalogs, I have not been able to identify these Norfolk bungalows as Aladdin kit homes, but it’s possible that Aladdin created some custom designs for these large orders for Dupont.

If we could find houses in other cities that match these Ethel Bungalows, that might help us figure out where they came from. So have you seen this house in your city? If so, tell me more!

If you’ve any information to contribute, please post a note in the comment’s section below!

Originally written April 12, 2011.

house

This is one of the houses in Riverview that's in mostly original condition. The little dormer on the side was added in later years.

Close-up of dormer

This dormer window is a pretty distinctive feature.

another Ethel

Another "Ethel Bungalow" in Riverview

porch

Close-up of the original porch railing.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Hopewell’s Historic Kit Homes: And They’re Not in Crescent Hills (Part V)

March 30th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

As mentioned in prior posts, Hopewell, Virginia is the proud owner of eight bona fide Sears homes in the Crescent Hills area.  That’s well and good, but they also have entire neighborhoods of Aladdin kit homes in other parts of Hopewell.   It’s a puzzle why the city invests so much effort in promoting those eight houses, while forgetting about the dozens of Aladdin kit homes. Why, if I were a little Aladdin home in Hopewell, I’d feel sorely neglected!

Most likely, the majority of the Aladdin Kit Homes were ordered by Dupont in 1914, for their dynamite factory in Hopewell.  And there along the waterfront - on Ramsey Avenue - are the Aladdin Wenonah, an Aladdin Brighton, and an Aladdin Plaza.

The Plaza sits at the end of Ramsey, and I’d just love to know - do these homeowners know that they’re sitting in a piece of Americana, enjoying their restful slumbers in a historically significant kit home, that was shipped in from Bay City, Michigan via boxcar, with 12,000 pieces of house?  And what about the city itself? Are they aware of these precious architectural gems that sit within its borders, uncelebrated, unheralded and unprotected?

It’d be a dandy idea for the city - at the very least -  to put a placard in front of these homes, identifying them as Aladdin kit homes, or perhaps include them on their tourism brochures. Urbana, Virginia has ONE Sears House, and look what they’ve done!

A city full of architecturally significant homes is a terrible thing to waste.

Click on these links to read Part I, Part II, Part III or Part IV of “Hopewell’s Historic Homes.”

Aladdin Plaza as shown in 1919 Aladdin catalog

Aladdin Plaza as shown in 1919 Aladdin catalog

Aladdin Plaza in Hopewell, very near the waterfront

Aladdin Plaza in Hopewell, very near the waterfront

To read Part VI, click here.

Click on these links to read Part I, Part II, Part III or Part IV.

Click here to buy Rose’s book.

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Hopewell’s Historic Sears Homes! Well, sort of.

March 21st, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

This last weekend, I visited Hopewell 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. I was treated like a queen and I really enjoyed my stay in Hopewell. Most of all, I loved doing something good and positive to help promote Virginia - my favorite state and the place where I was born and raised.

On my flight back to Illinois, I stared out the tiny plane window and thought, “This is what people mean when they talk about ‘Southern Hospitality.’”

The ladies who drove me around Hopewell were a living example of grace and gentility.

There was one downside to this otherwise delightful visit. Sadly, as I toured the city, I discovered that most of the “Sears Homes” in their infamous Crescent Hills neighborhood 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 one of the most upsetting events in my professional career. History is important and must be kept pure from defects or errors. That’s something about which I feel passionate.  But in the end, I decided that - as Joel Osteen says - sometimes you have to put life’s difficult events into a file folder labeled, “I don’t understand this, but I have to trust God has a plan here and go forward with my life and leave this in God’s hands.”

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 houses in Crescent Hills were still being wrongly identified as kit homes. A picture is worth a lot of words, I’m going to post the Hopewell house, together with an original image from the Sears catalog and (where possible), an extant example of that kit home in real life.

Let the reader judge for themselves.  :)

This house (106 Crescent) is purported to be a Sears Newbury.

The city's brochure claims that this house (106 Crescent) is a Sears Newbury. It's a massive house and note the inset on the huge shed dormer on the second floor. There's a flat space in front of that shed dormer. Plus, note how the rear roof is higher than the front roof. This house has two small closet windows on the front (second floor). The porch roof is on the same plane as the primary roof, and is flat and comes straight down - with no break. Also notice that this house has a spacious attic, due to the large footprint of the house, and steep pitch of the roof.

This is a catalog picture of the Sears Newbury.

This is a catalog picture of the Sears Newbury. Notice, this house has a bellcast roof. In other words, the porch roof has a "swoop" (like the cast of a bell). It does not come down in a straight plane, but takes a little curve upward. It does not have an attic and the roof is not very steep. It has a gambrel roof (like a barn roof). It's also a much smaller house than the house in Hopewell (pictured above). There's no inset in front of those second floor windows.

Heres a close-up of the Sears Newbury

Here's a close-up of the Sears Newbury

Heres a Sears Newbury in Elmhurst, Illinois. Youll notice that it looks a lot like the house in the catalog picture.

Here's a Sears Newbury in Elmhurst, Illinois. You'll notice that it looks a lot like the house in the catalog picture.

Now take another look at the Hopewell house. Hmmm...

Now take another look at the Hopewell house. Hmmm...

The house in Hopewell (pictured above) is a much larger house. And the rooflines are dramatically different.

Comparison of the Newbury with a known Newbury

Comparison of the Sears Newbury with a known Newbury

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Now, take a look at the photo below:

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Oopsie.

Oopsie.

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Sears Homes, one must remember, were patterned after the popular housing styles of the day. They were - by their very design - intended to look like the average house. When identifying Sears Homes, details are hugely important. But one of the most important details is the home’s footprint. If the catalog image says the home was 32 by 22, the subject house should be 32 by 22.  The Hopewell house (above) is much larger than the Sears Newbury.

Now let’s look at Hopewell’s purported “Oakdale” at 106 Oakwood Avenue.

I aint sayin nothing.

I ain't sayin' nothing.

Sears Oakdale as seen in the 1928 catalog.

Sears Oakdale as seen in the 1928 catalog.

An Oakdale in Cairo, Illinois

An Oakdale in Cairo, Illinois. You'll notice that this house looks a lot like the house in the catalog image (above). One of the goofy features of the Sears Oakdale is that the side door is RIGHT by the front of the house! See it on the side, with the small awning? That always catches my eye. Those three vents on the front porch are also distinctive. This is a small two-bedroom house, measuring 24 by 38 feet.

Close-up of the Sears Oakdale

Close-up of the Sears Oakdale

Oakdale Floorplan

The Oakdale has a very unusual floorplan, with the living room spanning the home's width, and the two bedrooms spanning the width in the rear. The brick house in Hopewell (seen below) has the more traditional layout of living room, dining room, and kitchen on the left, with bedroom, bath, bedroom on the right.

I aint sayin nothing.

This has has a projecting gabled bay. The Oakdale has a small, tucked-under-the-eaves squared bay. This house has a recessed wall on the front. The Oakdale is flat across the front. This has has a cute little diamond vent up top. The Oakdale has three rectangular vents. This house has a bedroom on the right front. The Oakdale has a full-width living room, with a side door on the right front. In fact, this house has a completely different floorplan than the Sears Oakdale! And notice the roof pitch is very different from the Oakdale. This house has three columns and a larger porch. The Oakdale has two. This is wider than the 22' (size of the Oakdale). Other than this, the two houses are a perfect match! <wink, wink>

Oopsie.

Oopsie.

Which leads me to the real puzzle.

Hopewell claims to have TWO Oakdales. The second “Oakdale” is next door to the first.

Nope.

That doesn't look like an Oakdale!

However, it sure looks a lot like a Sears Walton!

However, it sure looks a lot like a Sears Walton!

And it even has the little box window on the front of the house!

And the house in Hopewell even has the little box window on the front of the house! Wow, it's a good match to the floorplan!

Side by side comparison

Side by side comparison

So why are they labeling a Sears Walton a Sears Oakdale? I’ve no idea. But I’ll make a $100 bet with anyone who cares to wager that this house at 102 Oakwood Avenue in Crescent Hills is indeed a Sears Walton. :)  Interestingly, there’s another Sears Walton in a different part of the city! That’s two Waltons in Hopewell!

Enjoying the discussion?  There’s a lot more on Hopewell here.

To learn more about how to to identify Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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