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Posts Tagged ‘why I love bungalows’

Burnt Ordinary Kit Homes: Lewis Winthrop

March 23rd, 2015 Sears Homes 3 comments

Believe it or not, that title is not “word salad” or aphasia: It will make sense in a minute.

On Sunday (March 22), my husband and I visited Williamsburg and (per my request) we drove to Toano (a few miles west of Williamsburg) so that I could look for houses from Penniman. I didn’t see any Penniman houses, but this little pretty caught my eye. I wasn’t sure where I’d seen it, but my first impression was “Lewis Manufacturing.”

This morning, I looked it up and sure enough, it’s a Lewis Winthrop.  (Lewis was a kit-home company based in Bay City, Michigan which [like Sears and Aladdin] sold kit homes through a mail-order catalog.)

As to the title, Toano (in James City County, another interesting term) was founded in the late 1800s, and this little fork in the road was originally known as “Burnt Ordinary.” (Yeah, it puzzled me, too.) Like so many of our modern terms “ordinary” meant something a little different 200 years ago.

An ordinary was a place where food and drink was served. In the 1700s, there was an “ordinary” at that site known as John Lewis’ Ordinary, and it was subsequently named Fox’s Ordinary, which burned down in 1780. In 1781, George Washington’s cartographer marked the area as “Burnt Brick Ordinary.”

In later years, it was designated “Toano” which is an Indian word for “high ground.”

Whilst driving through the tiny town of Toano, I spotted this house and took a picture with my TV-phone (as my husband calls it).

Best of all, it was my first sighting of a Lewis Winthrop, and it’s in beautiful shape!

To read about another Lewis Home, click here.

What’s a Penniman? Click here!

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As soon as I spotted this house, it tickled the neurons.

As soon as I spotted this house, it tickled the neurons. I knew I'd seen it somewhere.

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This morning, I pulled out my catalogs and found it!

This morning, I pulled out my catalogs and found it! (1924 Lewis Homes).

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That indented porch was a feature that caught my eye.

That indented porch was a feature that caught my eye.

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On the upstairs, the bathroom window is gone, which is not uncommon. These houses were built with tubs, and when its time to put in a shower, the bathroom window often disappears. This has has vinyl siding, so its easy to cover up such changes.

On the upstairs, the bathroom window is gone, which is not uncommon. These houses were built with tubs, and when it was time to put in a shower, the bathroom window often disappeared. This home had vinyl siding installed, so its easy to cover up such changes. Notice also the tiny closet window is gone. Removing this window creates a little bit more space in an already tiny closet. The "sewing room" (on the right rear) has no window on the side, which is also a good match to the house in Toano.

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Close-up on the sewing room side.

Close-up on the "sewing room" side.

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Toana

Unfortunately, that room addition on the side looks a lot like a mobile home.

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That darn tree made photographing the old house extra tough.

That darn tree made photographing the old house extra tough.

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Pretty house!

Pretty house! And I'm pleased that I "guessed" the right angle for my shot!

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Lovely Surprises in Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia!

March 10th, 2015 Sears Homes 3 comments

On March 9th, I visited Gloucester Courthouse (a small city bordered by the York River and the Chesapeake Bay), to do a little research on Penniman. The Gloucester-Mathews Gazette Journal is located in the historic downtown, and the paper’s proprietor (Elsa) graciously invited me to search the old editions for news of Penniman.

I’m not a modern girl, so I was delighted when Elsa told me, “You can look at the paper on microfilm, or if you prefer, we have the actual newspapers, too.”

I nearly swooned.

There’s something about the feel and smell of old newspapers that is especially alluring, and in these four years that I’ve been researching Penniman and reading old newspapers, this was the first time I’d looked at anything other than microfilm.

Perhaps best of all, I had the opportunity to meet Lori Jackson Black, a professional genealogist and historian. She agreed to help me look through the old papers in search of tidbits on Penniman, which was located across the York River from Gloucester Courthouse.

Despite a couple hours of searching, we didn’t find too much in the local papers, but Lori and I had lunch at Oliva’s, almost next door to the newspaper office.

Measured purely from a research standpoint, it wasn’t a red-letter trip (119 miles!), but from a personal standpoint, it was 100% stellar. Just spending a bit of time at an old-fashioned newspaper office was a lot of fun. I had a chance to take a peek at the massive off-set printing press in the back of the shop (which is an amazing piece of machinery), and I got to wander around a newspaper office for a time (a happy memory from my days as a reporter), and best of all, the #1 highlight of the day was meeting Elsa and Lori.

Both women care deeply about their community and its history. Meeting folks like that is always inspiring. On the 90-minute drive back to Norfolk, I reflected on the visit, and contemplated the happy fact that there are still plenty of history-loving folks out there, working quietly behind the scenes to make sure the unique history of their town is not forgotten.

By the way, while I was there, I found a fine-looking Aladdin “Kentucky” and a perfect Gordon Van Tine #594. Enjoy the photos!

To subscribe to the Gazette-Journal, click here.

Need a little help figuring out your family history? Lori can help!

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I was driving down Main Street when this little pretty raised its hand and softly called my name.

I was driving down Main Street when this little pretty raised its hand and softly called my name.

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Oh my, I thought to myself, havent I seen you somewhere before? Then I realized, this was the baby sister of the Aladdin Kentucky that I saw in Louisa, Virginia a couple years ago.

"Oh my," I thought to myself, "haven't I seen you somewhere before?" Then I realized, the house in Gloucester Courthouse was the baby sister of the Aladdin Kentucky that I saw in Louisa, Virginia a couple years ago.

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In 1914, the Aladdin Kentucky was offered in two sizes: Regular and Super-sized (although I dont think they called it supersized in 1914).

In 1914, the Aladdin Kentucky was offered in two sizes: Regular and Super-sized (although I don't think they called it supersized in 1914). The larger model was 43 feet wide.

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And a much bigger house.

And a much bigger house.

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The smaller model was

The smaller model was a mere 32 feet wide, and didn't have that kitchen off the back.

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Aladdin was a company which, like Sears, sold entire kit homes through their mail-order catalog. Aladdin started selling kit homes in 1906, two years before Sears. By 1940, Sears called it quits. Aladdin continued to sell their kit homes by mail order until 1981.

Aladdin was a company which, like Sears, sold entire kit homes through their mail-order catalog. Aladdin started selling kit homes in 1906, two years before Sears. By 1940, Sears called it quits. Aladdin continued to sell their kit homes by mail order until 1981.

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The Kentucky in Gloucester Courthouse was definitely the smaller version.

The "Kentucky" in Gloucester Courthouse might be the smaller version. The dormer is certainly narrower than the dormer on the super-sized version (in Louisa, Va). And yet, it has the six porch columns and six front windows. The floor plan for the "regular-size Kentucky" has four columns and four front windows. Now I'm puzzled.

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From the side,

From the side, it sure is a nice match.

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But its definitely a Kentucky!

But it's definitely a Kentucky!

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The Kentucky was a big deal for the Aladdin company, and it was built

The Kentucky was built at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. In 1915, San Francisco hosted the exposition (a nine-month event) to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, and to highlight the rebuilding of San Francisco after the devastating earthquake in 1906. The building of the Canal was an American achievement unlike any other, and it showcased America's fledgling hegemony.

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bt

"It is probably the most interesting, practical story ever told of the most interesting of subjects - home-building."

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And I also spotted a Gordon Van Tine #594. Like Sears and Aladdin, Gordon Van Tine was another national kit-home company that sold houses through a mail-order catalog.

And I also spotted a Gordon Van Tine #594 on Belroi Road. Like Sears and Aladdin, Gordon Van Tine was another national kit-home company that sold houses through a mail-order catalog.

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I love the GVT 594 because its so easy to spot. Lots of distinctive features (1924 catalog).

I love the GVT 594 because it's so easy to spot. Lots of distinctive features (1924 catalog).

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Those windows down the side always catch my eye, as does the smaller front porch roof

Those windows down the side always catch my eye, as does the smaller front porch roof and three porch columns. And the ad says it provides "real comfort," which is so much better than fake comfort.

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A massive old tree obscured the views, but peeking through the branches, you could

A massive old tree obscured the views, but peeking through the branches, you could see that distinctive bumpout, with the unusual window arrangement.

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Were it not for the tree, I could have done better on the angles here, but you can see theyre a nice match!

Were it not for the tree, I could have done better on the angles here, but you can see they're a nice match! Check out the detail on the front porch! Very pretty!

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Did any of the 200+ houses from Penniman end up in Gloucester Courthouse or surrounding areas? I suspect they did, but I dont know where.

But here's the $64,000 question that got me started on Gloucester Courthouse: Did any of the 200+ houses from Penniman end up in Gloucester Courthouse or surrounding areas? I suspect they did, but I don't know where. I didn't see any in Gloucester Courthouse when I was there. Picture is from the "Virginian Pilot" (December 1921) and shows houses from Penniman being moved to Norfolk's "Riverfront" area.

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And a final happy note about Lori: I’ve spent four years researching Penniman, but when I got home, I found she’d sent me a few emails. Doing a “little poking around,” Lori had found more than a dozen wonderful documents on Penniman that I’d never laid eyes on before! I can personally attest to the fact that she’s an exceptional researcher!

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Contact Lori by clicking here!

Do you know of a Penniman house in Gloucester County? Please contact Rose by leaving a comment below.

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“I Bet a Man a Hat Today…”

March 2nd, 2015 Sears Homes No comments

For four years, I’ve been researching Penniman, and still, the most wonderful surprises keep popping up.

Last week, fellow history buff Mike Powell discovered a wonderful article in the Peninsula Enterprise (Accomac, Virginia) about moving houses from Penniman to Norfolk. It was dated December 24, 1921.

Emboldened by this enchanting discovery, I dragged my buddy Milton Crum down to the Newport News Public Library to see if we could find anything more in the local papers about these houses being moved. At this point, all we’d seen was the blip in the Virginian Pilot (with photo) from December 5th, 1921 (see below).

Lo and behold, Milton discovered an indepth article in the Newport News Times-Herald (November 23, 1921), which included a lot of specific information on the mechanics of moving a house - by barge - in 1921.

The article, titled “Plan to Move 31 Houses to City From Yorktown,” said,

W. T. and Guy Hastings purchased 31 more residences built by the government…The purchase of the 31 houses is the result of the success met in moving five, which were bought from the government some weeks ago.

“I bet a man a hat today,” said Mr. Hastings, “that I could have all 36 houses at Norfolk within five months, and I belive that I am going to win the bet. The work of moving them down to the water has been carried on by five men but today, I sent ten more men up the river and we shall move faster now.”

The article goes on to say that they started with a tractor, and using wooden logs and cast-iron pipe, they moved the houses down to the waterfront. Later, they used a steam derrick and made better progress. From this account, I also learned that the houses were “scattered about at Penniman,” and the average distance from house to riverfront was about four blocks.

And it’s within this article that we learned that the government built 275 houses at Penniman.

The article found by Mike Powell in the Peninsula Enterprise offered some interesting insights, too.

W. T. Hastings of Norfolk has just moved eight houses across the Chesapeake Bay to Norfolk, a distance of about 24 miles. During the war, the government built a war city at Penniman. All of these houses are of the very best material and are so well constructed that they could not be demolished without wrecking them beyond repair.

It goes on to say that Hastings had originally intended to disassemble the houses and rebuild them elsewhere.

[Hastings] found that the houses had been built on the cost-plus plan, and there were so many nails in them it would mean almost total destruction to tear them down.

My favorite piece of this article contains this little tidbit:

Several workmen crossed the bay on the first barge that brought the houses. They had an oil stove in one of the houses. They got hungry and decided to cook some bacon and eggs. They also heated some coffee. They enjoyed a meal cooked in one of the houses while it was being towed to Norfolk.

Today, almost 100 years later, I’ve found more than 60 of these houses in Norfolk, about two dozen in Williamsburg (most of which have been torn down) and that’s it. I know there are more, but finding them is proving quite difficult. The good news is, there’s one for sale right now in Williamsburg, and it’s a mere $900,000.

Inch by inch, I’m working on completing my manuscript on Penniman. It’s slow going, but there is some progress every day.

Join the fun! If you’ve found any amazing articles about Penniman, please drop me a note at Rosemary.ringer@gmail.com!

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Penniman was a

Penniman was quite a place. At its peak, there were 15,000 people living and working within its borders. That's the York River in the background. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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House

Built as a shell-loading plant for WW1, Penniman was short lived. Three years after DuPont agents first started buying up farm land on the York River, it was all over and Penniman was sold off. More than 60 of the two-story houses built at Penniman ended up in Norfolk. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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At Penniman, workers filled 155mm and 75mm shells with TNT and Amatol.

At Penniman, workers filled 155mm and 75mm shells with TNT and Amatol. You'll notice that some of these buildings have two-story chutes leading to the ground. Alice Hamilton was a female physician and researcher who studied the problem of TNT poisoning in WW1 in America, and she wrote a book titled, "The Dangerous Trades." In that book she talks about touring a plant like Penniman and was told that she should keep alert to sparks from static electricity, and if she saw one, "Dash for that door and slide down and when you hit the ground, don't look behind you and keep right on running." Milton calls these, "Get the heck out doors." Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Penniman

The houses were built near the York River (at top of page). Our Ethels are by the water tower (far left). Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Hse

Here's a close-up of The Haskell, which was built at Dupont Munitions Plants in Penniman, Hopewell (Virginia), Old Hickory, Tennessee, Carney's Point, New Jersey and more. Many Penniman Haskells ended up in Norfolk.

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In fact, Mr. W. T. Hastings moved into one of the houses that he shipped in from Penniman. This photo was taken about 1937.

In fact, Mr. W. T. Hastings moved into one of the houses that he shipped in from Penniman, and gifted several of the houses to family members. This photo was taken about 1937. He's missing his hat. I hope he didn't lose that bet.

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Three Haskells were moved to Ocean View, to 13th View Street in Norfolk.

Three Haskells were moved to Ocean View, to 13th View Street in Norfolk.

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Heres a glimpse of the three Haskells about 1969.

Here's a glimpse of the three Haskells about 1969 (Norfolk Tax Assessor's Office).

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Here are some of Mr. Hastings homes floating down the Chesapeake Bay. This is from the Virginian Pilot (December 5, 1921).

Here are Mr. Hastings' homes floating down the Chesapeake Bay. This is from the "Virginian Pilot" (December 5, 1921).

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According to these newspaper articles, the houses moved by Hastings were up to four blocks in from the York River.

According to these newspaper articles, the houses moved by Hastings were up to four blocks in from the York River. This map shows - in detail - the location of the residences in Penniman. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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One of the choicest tidbits in these articles is the story that the workers cooked a nice breakfast on the oil stove in the Penniman house. Why did the engineers/architects decide on oil cook stoves for their little houses? Without exception, every house that DuPont erected in a WW1 munitions plant had a centralized steam heating plant (for obvious reasons), but why an oil cook stove? Ive read that the oil cook stove was very efficient. Was this a way to make sure there were no embers flying out the chimney? Matches were prohibited on the reservation. If you were caught with matches on your body, you were given one warning. The second time, you were fired. Were oil stoves matchless?

One of the choicest tidbits in these articles is the story that the workers cooked a nice breakfast on the oil stove in the Penniman house. Why did the engineers/architects decide on oil cook stoves for their little houses? Without exception, every house that DuPont erected in a WW1 munitions plant had a centralized steam heating plant (for obvious reasons), but why an oil cook stove? I've read that the oil cook stove was very efficient. Was this a way to make sure there were no embers flying out the chimney? I wish I knew.

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To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Mr. Jones, Where Are Your Lovely Photos?

February 23rd, 2015 Sears Homes No comments

In that process of rummaging through my notes on Penniman, I was reminded that I’d been looking for photos taken by Drewry Jones of Williamsburg. Despite lots of poking around, I never have been able to locate those photos (originals or reproductions), or anyone who has even heard of Mr. Jones’ collection of photos.

The photos appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch in an indepth article on Virginia’s Own Ghost City: Penniman (June 1938). The article featured a wide photo of Penniman’s village (with all those little houses).

Despite two trips to Hagley Museum and Library (in Wilmington, Delaware) and several billion trips to area museums and libraries, I’ve never seen anything like those photos. They were truly unique in that they captured a great view of Penniman’s residential village.

Augustus Drewery (sometimes spelled “Drewry”) danced off this mortal coil on April 8, 1977. His obituary was published in the Newport News Daily Press on April 10, 1977, and named two nephews as his lone survivors.

I’ve sent two letters to Mr. Jones’ only surviving nephew (”Dr. John M. Pitman” of Williamsburg) and haven’t heard a peep. That was 18 months ago.

The rest of Mr. Jones’ obit reads,

Augustus Drewery Jones of Williamsburg died Friday in a Williamsburg Community Hospital after a long illness.

A lifelong resident of Williamsburg, Mr. Jones was a graduate of the College of William and Mary. After a long career with the Peninsula Bank and Trust Company, he was appointed state treasurer of Williamsburg-James City County and retired from office in 1959.

He was past chairman of the board of deacons and ruling elder of Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, a member of the Association for the Preservation of Antiquities, the Pulaski Club, Sons of American Revolution, Williamsburg Rotary Club, and a former member of the Williamsburg Rotary Club.

Mr. Jones loved Penniman. In fact, in the early 1920s, he had one of the old Penniman houses moved to a lot on South England Street, and he lived there until his death. In fact, that house is currently for sale! Click here to see pictures!

And he owned photo(s) of Penniman - that he shared with the Richmond Times Dispatch - which were taken from an angle that I’ve not seen anywhere else.

Drewry Jones was fairly well-connected, as an alumn of William and Mary College, a banker with the Peninsular Bank and Trust Company and state treasurer of James City County. Someone somewhere must know this fellow.

I’d be so grateful if anyone could help me find out what became of Mr. Jones’ collection of photos.

For the intrepid researchers here, below is a list of where I have already checked for these photos.

1)     Valentine Museum

2)     York County Museum

3)     William and Mary Swem Library

4)     Virginia Historical Society

5)     Preservation Virginia

6)     Colonial Williamsburg ’s “Rockefeller Library”

7)     York County Library

8)     Waterman’s Museum ( Yorktown )

9)     Virginia Department of Historic Resources

10)   Library of Virginia

11)   Newport News War Museum

12)  Richmond Times Dispatch

So where are Mr. Jones’ photos?

There are a handful of Penniman houses in Williamsburg. Click here to learn more.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

See the interior of Mr. Jones’ home by clicking here.

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PHotos

Here's a grainy reproduction of Mr. Jones' photo, as seen in the Richmond newspaper (June 2, 1938).

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Here's the original newspaper reference to "a print belongin gDrewry Jones of Williamsburg" (RTD, June 2, 1938).

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If you squnit your eyes a lot and look closely at this photo of Penniman (1918), you can see two of the DuPont "Georgias" in the photo. As one historian said, "Penniman was not erased, it was dispersed." Many of these houses were moved to nearby cities. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Georgia

Drewry's house was a DuPont design, The Georgia."

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House

Drewery loved Penniman. He purchased this house from DuPont's 37th munitions plant on the York River, and had it moved to Williamsburg. Drewery lived in this house on South England for many years.

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Drewr

After Mark Hardin first spotted this house, we traveled out to Williamsburg to see it "in the flesh." It's had some pretty substantial additions added onto it in the intervening 90 years.

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Heres a Georgia that started life at Penniman, and landed (with 64 other Penniman houses) in Norfolk, Virginia. The houses were shipped by barge from Penniman to the Riverfront neighborhood in Norfolk (Glenroie Avenue and Major Avenue).

Here's a Georgia that started life at Penniman, and landed (with 64 other Penniman houses) in Norfolk, Virginia. The houses were shipped by barge from Penniman to the Riverfront neighborhood in Norfolk (Glenroie Avenue and Major Avenue). Notice the windows flanking the front door.

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The Georgia was designed by DuPonts architects, and was *probably* built with building materials from North American Construction Company (also known as Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes). The houses were built by Hancock-Pettijohn. Shown below is a chit found at the old Penniman site, maybe used for checking tools out of the tool shed.

The Georgia was designed by DuPont's architects, and was *probably* built with building materials from North American Construction Company (also known as Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes). The houses were built by Hancock-Pettijohn. Shown below is a chit found at the old Penniman site, maybe used for checking tools out of the tool shed.

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The only other tidbit I have is that on March 17, 1918, this item appeared in the Virginia Gazette.

The only other tidbit I have is that on March 17, 1918, this item appeared in the Virginia Gazette. Seems Mr. Jones resigned from C&P (as manager) on March 1, 1918.

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And on January 15, 1926

And as of January 15, 1926, Mrs. Drewry Jones was chair of The Little Theater League.

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To read more about Penniman, click here.

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To Think That It Happened on Mulberry Street!

September 8th, 2014 Sears Homes 6 comments

Yesterday, my husband and I spent 10+ hours coming back home via “The Vermonter,” an Amtrak train that runs between Washington, DC and Vermont. The train pulled into DC about 11:00 pm last night, and then we got in the car and drove 200 miles home back to Norfolk!

What a long day!

While Hubby and I were in Vermont, I couldn’t resist looking for kit homes in The Green Mountain State. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t find much.

One of the towns we visited was Claremont, New Hampshire (just across the Connecticut River from Vermont). While driving through the older parts of town, I saw a sign that said, “Mulberry Street.”

I told Hubby, “I just know there are some kit homes on Mulberry Street!”

And that’s where I found three kit homes! In fact, those were the only three kit homes I saw in Claremont, New Hampshire.

In this blog, I want to focus on my favorite find: The Sears Castleton. I sure hope the owners know what they have. And this Castleton is in beautiful shape. Despite the harsh New England winters, this house retains its original siding. Looks much like it did when built almost 100 years ago!

Enjoy the photos, and please share the link with other people who love Sears Homes and/or New England!

To learn more about how to identify kit homes, click here.

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The Castleton is an easy house to spot.

The Castleton is an easy house to spot. That unusual staircase bay on the side is very distinctive. Also notice the full-length rails on the front porch.

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Those three windows

And those potted plants on the "cheeks" are pretty distinctive too!

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This Castleton was featured in the 1924 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

This Castleton (built by F. W. Grisso) was featured in the 1924 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Fairly spacious house, too.

Little bit different from the classic four-square floor plan.

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Check out that Butlers Pantry! Pretty fancy!

Check out that Butler's Pantry! Pretty fancy!

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Those three windows

Looks like it has box gutters. This may be a not-fully-accurate line drawing, because I don't know of any other Sears House with box gutters.

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Oh yeah, baby! Isnt that a pretty thing!

What a pretty thing! And what a delight to see that it has its original siding!

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A view from the other side.

A view from the other side.

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And just down the street from the Castleton, I found this early 1930s Sears house, The Lorain!

And just down the street from the Castleton, I found this early 1930s Sears house, The Lorain! More on that later!

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Nice match, isnt it?

Nice match, isn't it?

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White the Vermont/New Hampshire area didnt have many Sears Homes, it did have a lot of covered bridges. This one is the Windsor/Cornish Bridge, spanning the Connecticut River.

While the Vermont/New Hampshire area didn't have many Sears Homes, it did have a lot of covered bridges. This one is the Windsor/Cornish Bridge, spanning the Connecticut River.

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To join our Facebook group, “Sears Homes,” click here.

Click here to learn more about how to identify Sears Homes.

Do you know the owners of these houses? Please leave a comment below!

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Village For Sale. Cheap.

March 24th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Incredible researcher and smart cookie Mark Hardin has made another remarkable discovery. He found an advertisement (dated October 1922) in the Richmond Times Dispatch, offering the Village of Penniman for sale.

By this time, most of the contents of the WW1 munitions plant had been sold off (per the terms of a contract between DuPont and the U. S. Government [dated December 1917]). All proceeds went to the U. S. Government.

There’s still so much I don’t know about Penniman, but in this advertisement, I found something mentioned that took my breath away. It said, “Full particulars regarding the offerings…and other details of this auction will be found in the catalogs which may be obtained from Philadelphia District Ordnance Salvage Board, Frankford Arsenal.”

Catalogs?

Catalogs?!

Be still my heart.

If anyone has any idea where I might find these catalogs, please let me know.

To learn more about this amazing “Ghost City,” click here.

To read about how Norfolk got tangled up with Penniman, click here.

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Rich

Where are these catalogs now? (Richmond Times Dispatch, 10.28.1922)

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Quite a village

At its peak, there were 15,000 people in Penniman. This is just one small piece of a massive panorama showing the village of Penniman. That's the York River in the background. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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The building of Penniman began in Spring 1916.

The building of Penniman began in Spring 1916. Judging from the old photos, the laborers who built Penniman were overwhelmingly African-Americans. The laborers who toiled in the air-less bunkers, loading powdery, yellow TNT into 155-mm shells were mostly women. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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First

The first "salvage" ad that I've found appeared March 10, 1921 in the Virginia Gazette.

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Dispersed Penniman

The best salvage ad is this one (Richmond Times Dispatch, October 23, 1921). Lots of detail, including the costs of these various structures. (Thanks to Mike Powell for finding this ad!)

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One of the best Penniman quotes Ive seen is this from a 1983 article in the Newport News Times Herald:  Penniman was not erased; it was dispersed.

An article in the Newport News Times Herald said, "Penniman was not erased; it was dispersed" (September 5, 1983). Shown here is a DuPont design, "The Denver." There were many Denvers at Penniman, and several of them were moved to Williamsburg. Unfortunately, most of them have been torn down.

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This Denver came from Penniman.

This Denver, which now rests on Capital Landing Road, originally came from Penniman.

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picture two

Just last month, I had the good fortune to find this late 1910s catalog of Dupont designs. On the cover, it shows a Denver in a bucolic setting, with a DuPont plant in the background.

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If you have any idea where I might find these catalogs, please let me know.

To learn more about Penniman, click here.

To read about how I became involved with Penniman, click here.

Was your great-grandfather stationed at Penniman? Click here to find out.

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Our First Public Talk on Penniman!

February 6th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Thursday night, David Spriggs and I gave our first talk on Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost Town.

While preparing our powerpoint presentation, I learned two things I had not known before:

1)  Sometime in 1917 or 1918, a German sub made its way to the York River, in a bid to blow up Penniman.

2)  Women who did the shell loading were known as “The Canary Girls,” because the exposure to the TNT and other chemicals turned their skin, hair and nails a bright, canary yellow. Many died as a result of this poisoning.

Below, you’ll find a VERY condensed version of our powerpoint presentation, which shows a mere 10 of the 100 historical photos we’ve unearthed during our research.


To read more about Penniman, click here.

One

While doing research for this book, I learned that many of these shell loaders died terrible deaths as a result of their exposure to the powerful chemicals and explosives. The information above comes from an extremely rare document, chronicling day-to-day life at Penniman.

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In

In the mid-1910s, a skin cream was developed - just for women shell loaders - to help them cope with the yellowing of their skin, nails and hair. Brunette women saw their hair turn green. Many women lost their hair completely. As one woman said, "No amount of washing would take that yellow away." Sadly, no one knows how many women died from this work, but it's said that their numbers were significant. Image is from Wikipedia.

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The Ch

A British officer credited DuPont with helping them win the war. At a time when chemistry was greatly needed, DuPont did a lot to gear up for the war, and obviously, made a huge difference.

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In addition to the dangers of things

In addition to the dangers of chemical poisoning and explosions at Penniman, Mr. Kelley states that the Germans were hoping to launch an attack on Penniman. Hiland Kelley was a superintendent at the plant.

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Penniman got it from all sides. Even the local hoity toity folks didnt want them there.

Penniman got it from all sides. Even the local hoity toity folks didn't want them there.

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It

From the Morecock Family Papers.

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I became interested in Penniman in 2010, when I tried to figure out the true source of 17 bungalows in Riverview (Norfolk) that had been barged in - from somewhere.

I became interested in Penniman in 2010, when I tried to figure out the true source of 17 bungalows in Riverview (Norfolk) that had been barged in - from somewhere. The image above shows one of our "Ethel Bungalows" in Penniman. The image below is from the 1948 City Assessor. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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We've counted 18 "Ethels" in this vintage photo of Penniman. There may be more out of frame. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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To continue reading about Penniman, click here.

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Penniman Remnants in Williamsburg

November 27th, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

“Penniman was not erased, it was dispersed” (R. Wythe Davis).

While organizing my 2,000+ pages of research notes on Penniman, I found the above quote. It was in amongst some materials shared with me by author and historian Will Molineux. It offers quite an insight on what happened at Penniman after its closing in 1919 (following the Armistice).

To really wrap your mind around history, it has to be set in context. And in the early 1900s, we were a very thrifty people.

Americans were very wise about salvaging and re-using anything that could be salvaged and re-used, and houses were not an exception. Immediately following The Great War, there was a profound shortage of building materials, making Penniman’s abundance of “almost new” lumber ever more appealing.

Newspaper articles reflect that several local developers and real estate men went into Penniman and purchased houses to move to other areas. Residents recalled that it was a common sight to see houses being moved down Williamsburg’s streets in the 1920s.

An article Richmond News Leader states that local businessmen E. T. Davis and city councilman John Warburton moved several houses out of Penniman. William and Mary College also purchased 5+ Penniman structures over a period of five years.

In October 1921, the Virginia Gazette reported that developer W. A. Bozarth moved 17 houses from Penniman to Williamsburg, and placed many of them “on Capitol Landing Road.” Two months later, the Virginian Pilot reported that W. T. Hastings had purchased 40+ houses from Penniman to move into Norfolk, via barge. Sometime in 1923, George Hudson moved more than 20 Penniman bungalows to Norfolk (also by barge). The Richmond News Leader says that several Penniman houses landed in “Newport News and surrounding cities” (Richmond News Leader, June 22, 1938).

Mr. Davis was right: Penniman wasn’t erased, it was dispersed. And he’d be in a position to know. He was a Yorktown native, a Navy retiree, and served as Officer-in-Charge of Cheatham Annex for a time. And he was also the husband of Marguerite Bozarth Davis, who was born and raised in a Penniman house on Nelson Street (Williamsburg).

Sadly, most of these many Penniman houses landed in the path of Rockefeller’s 1930s redevelopment of Williamsburg.

However, Mark Hardin and I have located a handful of the survivors in Williamsburg.

It’s likely that there are more than we’ve found. Bear in mind, some of these structures were built as temporary homes, which means that they had tar-paper roofing, siding and temporary wooden foundations.

The exterior “walls” originally had horizontal planking (probably 1×4s), covered with Rubberoid (tar paper). It wouldn’t take a whole lot of work to transform that structure into a permanent one by adding clapboards and roofing shingles and setting it up on a substantial (masonry) foundation.

And Marguerite’s childhood home got a second story added, a few porches and solid brick walls. Absent Mr. Davis’ information, I wouldn’t have identified the Bozarth home as a Penniman house in a kajillion years.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

houses poorly built

This wonderful photo shows some of the ongoing construction at Penniman (1917 or 1918). Check out the foundations being laid for these buildings, known as "Six room apartments." The foundations are nothing more than wooden pilings with vertical framing members across the top. And if you look closely at the building to the right in this photo, you can see the horizontal planking on the walls. After zooming in on these photos, I'd say it looks like the wall studs are on 16" centers. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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The predominant DuPont design we found in Williamsburg is the Florence.

The predominant DuPont design we found in Williamsburg is the "Florence." A notable feature is the windows flanking the front door. Also note the three matching windows down the side (bedroom, bath, bedroom). Check out the description: "Interior finished in beaver-board." In other words, the interior did not have sheetrock, but a product akin to beaded paneling. It was a composite material, made of compressed wood pulp. Today, you'll occasionally find it installed in the attic of pre-WW2 houses.

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Heres a Florence that Mark discovered, just off Capitol Landing Road.

Here's a Florence that Mark discovered, just off Capitol Landing Road in Williamsburg. Seems likely that this was one of W. A. Bozarth's "17 houses" moved out of Penniman.

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If you zoom in,

If you zoom in, you can see those windows flanking the door. This house is a dandy, because it's in largely original condition. Even that simple shed roof on the front porch is original.

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And I dont know how he did it, but Mark also found this Florence on Capitol Landing Road.

Mark also found this Florence on Capitol Landing Road. The windows flanking the door are hidden by the screened-in porch, but if you look hard, you can see them. The dormer was probably added when the house was moved, and the Denver-esque porch columns (six total) were also an add-on. The windows in the dormer (nine lite) wouldn't have been hard to find, considering that Penniman houses were also being sold as "salvage" (in pieces and parts). If you look at the other Penniman houses, you'll see that they had 9/1 windows. Photo is copyright 2013 Megan Hardin and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another house is the Denver

Another popular DuPont model was "The Denver." This also had beaver-board interior walls.

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Denver Capitol

This DuPont Denver is located on Capitol Landing Road. Sadly, it's surrounded by commercial development which means many of Mr. Bozarth's Penniman homes are now sitting in a landfill somewhere.

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Denver

Fun comparison of the extant Denver with the original catalog picture.

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Mark found this vintage now torn down

Mark Hardin found this vintage picture of a Denver that was located at 811 Capitol Landing Road. We've no idea when it was torn down, but as Mark pointed out, those look like 1950s chairs on the front porch.

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houses moved

How was W. A. Bozarth related to Marguerite Bozarth Davis? The 1940 Census shows Marguarite, age 9, living with her grandfather, James Bozarth. According to R. Wythe Davis, their home on Nelson Street came from Penniman, although it sure doesn't look like a Penniman house today! This article (above) appeared in the "Virginia Gazette" in October 1921.

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Another design we found in Williamsburg is the

Another design we found still standing in Williamsburg is the Georgia. In Norfolk, we have several of these on Major and Glenroie Avenue (brought here by W. W. Hastings in 1921). There's only one remaining in Williamsburg.

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Drewery Jones

According to the 1940 Census, this DuPont "Georgia" was the home of Augustus Drewery Jones. Mr. Jones passed on in 1977. Mr. Jones is of special interest to me because in a 1938 "Richmond News Leader" article, he's given credit as being the owner of some fine vintage photos of Penniman, Virginia. Oh, how I'd love to see those originals! I've contacted his one surviving heir (a couple times) but haven't heard back. Someone must have those originals!

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Drewery Jones lived here

Drewery Jones, where are your photos? I'd be happy to find Mr. Garrett's photos, too!

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The pictures shown in the 1938 Richmond News Leader article came from Drewery Jones. I have 200+ pictures of Penniman (thanks to Hagley Museum and Library), but I dont have anything from this angle, showing all the pretty little houses.

The pictures shown in the 1938 "Richmond News Leader" came from Drewery Jones. I have 200+ pictures of Penniman (thanks to Hagley Museum and Library), but I don't have anything from this angle, showing all the pretty little houses.

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Mr. Jack Garrett took this photo of the ruins of Penniman.

Mr. Jack Garrett took this photo of the ruins of Penniman (as of 1938).

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Richmond News Leader 1938

In 1938, the "Richmond News Leader" gave some specifics about the dispersing of Penniman.

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This ad first appeared in April 1921 Virginia Gazette.

This ad first appeared in April 1921 Virginia Gazette. In the early 1920s, "Wrecking Company" was another word for "architectural salvage." At this point, the houses were being sold in pieces and parts, as well as whole.

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The house that started it all, The Ethel, has not been found anywhere but Norfolk, Virginia.

The house that started us down this long and winding research path: "The Ethel of Riverview." In DuPont literature, this house was known as "The DuPont," and DuPont, Washington (site of a DuPont plant) is full of DuPont "DuPonts," but you can see why we've stuck with the name, The Ethel. Heretofore, the Ethel has not been found anywhere but Norfolk, Virginia. Our Ethels were built at Penniman in Spring 1918 and moved by barge to Norfolk in 1923. Are there more Ethels out there? If so, I wish they'd contact me.

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Are there more Penniman remnants in Williamsburg that we have yet to discover?

I suspect that there are!

To see pictures of our Ethels in the 1940s, click here.

To read about the Penniman houses in Norfolk, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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Wood River, Illinois and “The Chilton”

September 24th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

For about a dozen years, I lived in Alton, Illinois. In fact, that’s where I researched and wrote The Houses That Sears Built.

Last week, I returned to Alton to visit family.

Of course, I couldn’t resist driving around my old stomping grounds a bit and looking at the old houses. I left the area in Spring 2006. Since then, I’ve acquired many “new” old catalogs and learned a great deal. While in the Riverbend area last week, I made many “fresh” discoveries.

One of the more interesting finds was this Sterling “Chilton” in nearby Wood River, Illinois

Sterling was based in Bay City, Michigan, and was one of six national companies that sold kit homes in the early 20th Century through mail-order catalogs.

They started out life as International Mill and Timber Company, and in 1915, they launched their own line of pre-cut kit homes, and re-named their company, “Sterling Homes.”

Sterling Homes offered construction services for developers and one of their largest clients turned out to be General Motors, which paid for 1,000 houses to be built in Flint Michigan (for GM workers). Their last catalog was printed in 1974. Total sales during their 59 years in business were about 45,000 homes. (Thanks to Dale Wolicki for the stats and facts on Sterling!)

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for providing me with the scanned images from the 1917 Sterling Homes catalog!

Learn more about the history of Sterling Homes by clicking here.

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The Sterling Chilton, from the 1917 Sterling Homes catalog.

The Sterling Chilton, from the 1917 Sterling Homes catalog.

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Sterling Homes was based in Bay City, Michigan, and while they were a national company, they were probably one of the smallest companies selling kit homes through mail order.

Sterling Homes was based in Bay City, Michigan. During their 59 years in business, they sold about 45,000 pre-cut kit homes. Shown here is the cover of the 1916 Sterling Homes catalog.

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I just love these graphics.

I just love these graphics. And notice the political commentary that was written in by some anonymous soul. Charles Evans Hughes ran against Woodrow Wilson in 1916. He put in a good showing and lost by a mere 594,000 votes. If Hughes had won California, we wouldn't have nearly so many high schools named after Woodrow Wilson.

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The Chiltons

The Chilton had an oversized living room and dining room, and two small bedrooms, one of which had a cedar closet. Notice the "Jack and Jill" bathroom.

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house house

The base of the columns on that Chilton are what make it really stand out! There's been some debate in our Facebook group as to the purpose of those projections on those stuccoed columns. Rachel suggested it was to have a safe place for your beer while you were out mowing the yard. Sounds pretty smart to me.

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Close

While not a spot-on match to the catalog image, I am confident that this house in Wood River is a Sterling Chilton. The front door is easy enough to move, and this is a common alteration. Plus, the house has replacement windows, aluminum siding (ick) and aluminum trim (sigh), so it's possible that it's been subjected to many "improvements."

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View from the other side.

View from the other side. Three windows have been added to the front gable, but the rest of the details on the home's front are very good, including the five brackets and their placement, the broad piece of fascia across the front and the size and shape of the porch wall.

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House

While the house in Wood River has a few details that are a bit off, this column is a spot-on match, and it's such a unique architectural feature, that I'm willing to bet money that this is indeed the Sterling Chilton.

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The reason for my return to the St. Louis area: My daughter will soon be married to this fine gent. Theyre sitting in front of the gazebo where their wedding will take place.

The reason for my return to the St. Louis area: My daughter will soon be married to this fine gent. They're sitting in front of the gazebo, gazing at the very spot where their wedding will take place.

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As a final note, sometime in 1999 or 2000, my (then) husband and I went to an open house in Alton, IL where we saw this house for sale. Its an Aladdin Magnolia. I drove more than 80 miles, criss-crossing every street in Alton looking for this house but could not find it. If you know where this house is, please leave a comment below. Ill be returning to Alton later for my daughters wedding and would love to get a photo of this house.

As a final note, sometime in 1999, my (then) husband and I went to an open house in Upper Alton, IL (near Edwards Street) where we saw this house for sale. Last month, I was looking through the 1953 Aladdin catalog and re-discovered this house. It's an Aladdin Magnolia, and as soon as I saw the image, I remembered seeing this very same house in 1999. When I was in Alton last week, I drove more than 80 miles, criss-crossing every street in the city, looking for this house but could not find it. If you know where this house is, please leave a comment below. I'll be returning to Alton later for my daughter's wedding and would love to get a photo of this house. Thanks!!

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To join our “Sears Homes” group on Facebook, click here.

To read more about the Aladdin Magnolia, click here.

If you know where that Aladdin Magnolia is, please leave a comment below! And please share this link with your Riverbend Friends!

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The Sunlight in Springfield!

January 31st, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

In today’s real estate market, a house with a mere 768 square foot would be considered pretty small, but in the 1920s, it proved to be a very popular size.  The Sears Sunlight had two diminutive bedrooms (12-feet by 10-feet) and a bathroom that was a mere 6-feet square.

An “expandable attic” was its saving grace.  There was a little bit of room on the second floor to add an extra bedroom or two (for short people).

The Sunlight is a hard house to identify because it’s small and - frankly - it looks like every other tiny bungalow that was built in the early 1900s.

I’ve never identified one on my own, but Cindy Catanzara and Rebecca Hunter seem to be old pros at finding these little houses!

One distinctive feature is the small clipped gable on the front and rear, and the hipped roof on the front porch, which juts out a bit beyond than the primary exterior walls. Another visual clue is the small enclosed space on the rear, but that often disappears after some remodeling.

Many thanks to Cindy Catanzaro for supplying so many wonderful photos of Sunlights in Springfield, Ohio!

1928 House house

The Sunlight, as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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Look at the size of those bedrooms!

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The Sunlight (1928).

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When I was in Elgin, Illinois in February 2010, Rebecca Hunter drove me out to this house and said, "Are you ready to see the most perfect Sunlight in the world?" It is in pristine condition and has been painstakingly restored. The homeowners have the original blueprints.

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Another view of the perfect Sunlight in Elgin, IL.

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Crystal Lake

Rebecca then drove me out to this Sunlight in Crystal Lake, Illinois. It's also in very good condition.

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Springfield Cindy

Cindy Catanzaro found this Sunlight in Springfield, Ohio. It's had some alterations, but is still identifiable as a Sunlight. Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Springfield Cindy

Another view of the Sunlight in Springfield. Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house springfield

This is an older picture showing a pretty little Sunlight that was feeling forlorn and forgotten. I'm happy to report that this home is now in the hands of a happy family who truly values the home's unique, historical origins. Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house sprinngfield

Same house as shown above, this Sunlight is already starting to feel loved and cared for, thanks to its new owners! Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house house house

And you might notice that this Sunlight has had an addition put on the back. As originally built, it had a mere 768 square feet. Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Why did the bungalow become so popular so fast? Click here to read a fascinating bit of history.

To see more pictures of Sears Homes in Ohio, click here.

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