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Posts Tagged ‘york county’

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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house

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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What Exactly Did You Have in Mind, Mr. Dozier?

April 24th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

It was Mr. J. M. Dozier of Lee Hall, VA that purchased Penniman after World War I ended.

Thursday, after spending many hours at the York County Courthouse, I learned that Mr. Dozier bought Penniman from DuPont in April 1926, after the U. S. Army left.

J. M. Dozier and his wife Annie paid $84,375 for the whole kit and caboodle, which included 2,600 acres, and all tenements, hereditaments and appurtenances.

DuPont even financed the sale for Mr. Dozier with no money down.

The first payment of $28,125 was due in April 1927, the second payment due one year after that, and the third (and final payment) due in April 1929.

It was a pretty sweet deal.

According to an article that appeared in the January 1926 Virginia Gazette, Mr. Dozier had big plans for Penniman.

“The development of [Penniman] will entail the expenditure of a considerable sum,” said the article in the Virginia Gazette (January 15, 1926).

And yet, it never happened.

In 1926, $84,375 was a tremendous sum of money. Surely Mr. Dozier had plans to develop this 2,600-acre tract on the York River. Did something go wrong?

Did they discover that the land was uninhabitable for some reason? Or did they find a few too many buried live shells, left over from the U. S. Army?

What happened?

After 1926, Penniman disappeared from the pages of the daily papers until 1938, when Dick Velz with the Richmond Times Dispatch did a retrospective piece on this “Ghost City,” which had been left largely undisturbed since the U. S. Army cleared out in the early 1920s.

Penniman is a fascinating piece of Virginia’s history but there are days (like today) when the mysteries pile up so high and so deep that I fear I may never figure out enough of its story to write a worthy tome.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

If you have a theory as to what happened to Mr. Dozier’s big plans, please leave a comment.

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January 16, 1926

Sounds like these two "outstanding Peninsula business men" had big plans for Penniman. ("Virginia Gazette," January 16, 1926).

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Richmond

What happened after Mr. Dozier paid $84,375 for 2,600 acres of choice real estate on the York River? Did something go terribly wrong? Did they learn that the land was unsuitable for residential development? (This appeared in June 1938 in the "Richmond Times Dispatch.")

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Penniman

Amongst the piles of papers I have collected on Penniman is this treasure asking Dr. Goodwin if he's interested in buying Penniman on the York River. And look at the date. It was after Mr. Dozier had paid off his note to DuPont.

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Penniman

Penniman was situated between Kings Creek and Queens Creek, on the York River, and during WW1, it was home to about 15,000 people. It was probably one of York County's finest pieces of land. This map shows the village of Penniman as it looked in Spring 1918. Map is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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To read more about Penniman, click here.

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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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house

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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Virginia’s Very Own Ghost Town: Penniman

January 31st, 2012 Sears Homes 8 comments

It was called Virginia’s own Ghost Town.

Penniman, Virginia, sat on the land now occupied by Cheatham Annex (near Williamsburg) and started - quite literally - as a Boom Town.

In late 1916, DuPont selected the site as their 37th munitions plant, probably because of its location:  It bordered the broad York River and it was safely away from population centers. When you’re manufacturing explosives and a mistake occurs, things go BOOM.  (Google “DuPont Munitions Plant Explosions” to find a dozen pre-WW1 examples.)

Penniman was named in honor of an American Chemist, Russell S. Penniman, who figured out how to build a better munition. Alfred Nobel’s original-recipe dynamite used nitroglycerine, but Penniman invented an ammonia-based dynamite, which was much safer than nitroglycerine.

According to an article that appeared in the Virginia Gazette, the wages paid at “DuPont Plant #37″ were so high that laborers poured in from all over the area.

“Local farmers found laborers almost impossible to hire, and certainly not at the old low wages. With thousands of men and women manufacturing shells at Penniman and living wherever they could, Williamsburg boomed. Rental space, whether for offices or for living, was impossible to find at any price. The mass exodus of workers was so great, area farmers were left wondering how they’d get their crops planted” (Meyers, Terry. “The Silence of the Graves.” Virginia Gazette June 3, 1998).

“In time,” writes Martha McCartney, author James City County; Keystone of the Commonwealth, “the [DuPont plant at Penniman] employed 10,000 people and the community bordering the plant had a population of 10,000 to 20,000″ (McCartney, Martha W.  James City County; Keystone of the Commonwealth. James City County, Virginia, Donning Company Publishing, 1997).

In August 1918, local papers reported that the United States Navy would take over the 12,500 acre facility. It would now be called, “The Naval Mine Depot.”  On  November 11th 1918, the “War to End All Wars” was over. It was President Woodrow Wilson who’d coined that phrase. Now that the earth had endured the last war that would ever be fought, it was time to dismantle Penniman.

But then something happened on the way to de-construction: The flu epidemic.

According to Meyers, the hospital at Penniman was overwhelmed with fatalities from Spanish Influenza, with bodies being shipped back to their waiting families in North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and other southern states. Many Penniman employees had traversed great distances to find work at DuPont Plant #37, and when they died, DuPont paid a “death benefit” which helped with the costs of shipping the bodies back home, wherever that may be.  Meyers writes:

On October 12, the Daily Press reported that undertakers were being kept busy by the toll at Penniman: “the baggage cars are always full of caskets.” And on October 13 came a report that “a local [Williamsburg] undertaker had to requisition a truck to haul bodies from Penniman this morning…There is a scarcity of coffins here, the dealers having had in hand only a small stock prior to the grip epidemic  (Meyers, Terry. “The Silence of the Graves.” Virginia Gazette June 3, 1998).

By late 1920, the Spanish Flu had taken (by conservative estimates) more than 50 million lives. Penniman was now in the hands of the Navy. And it was time to get rid of the 250 houses that had been built at the DuPont Munitions Plant.

December 5, 1921, a little piece appeared in the Virginian Pilot, describing several houses being floated down to Tanner’s Creek (now the Lafayette River in Norfolk). It said the houses had been erected by the government near Yorktown. That’s not factually correct. It was DuPont that actually built these houses, just as they had done at other munitions plants in Old Hickory, TN and Hopewell, VA and Carney Point, NJ and Ramsay, MT.

The houses shown on the barges (pictures below) came from DuPont Plant #37 in Penniman, Virginia.

Now, after a great deal of research, we’ve learned that DuPont offered several models, and we’ve found these models at the DuPont cities listed in the prior paragraph. Most recently, we were able to get our hands on a picture of the houses - as they stood - in Penniman in the late 1910s. So now we have placed the houses at Penniman, and then floating on a barge, and then in place in four different Norfolk neighborhoods.

And it all started with DuPont Plant #37, site of Virginia’s very own Ghost Town.

And now for Rose’s wish list: I wish that we could find more/better photos of Penniman.

BTW, as of October 18, 2013, we’ve decided it’s time to write a book, so that others can enjoy this lost piece of history, too!

Update:  We found the Ethels!!!

To read part II of this story, click here.

To read part III, click here.

To read an update, click here (Oct 22,  2013).

To read more about Old Hickory, click here.

To read about the Sears Homes of Norfolk, click here.

Penniman was a massive operation in its brief time.

Penniman was a massive operation. This photo is a piece of a panoramic photo from the Library of Congress and is the only known photo of Penniman, Virginia from its days as DuPont Plant #37. I'd love to find out more about the history and source of this photo.

Photo

Clustered together, near the banks of the York River, are the DuPont Houses built for the workers. This photo is a piece of a panoramic photo from the Library of Congress.

This is the last known surviving Dupont Design at Penniman (now Cheatham Annex). This was known as The Hopewell design, and there are several of these homes at the DuPont plant in Hopewell, Virginia.

This is the last known surviving "Dupont Design" at Penniman (later called, Naval Mine Depot, and now Cheatham Annex). This particular model was known as "The Hopewell" design, and there are several of these homes at the DuPont plant in Hopewell, Virginia. About 95 years ago, this acreage would have been filled with houses, built for the workers at the plant.

The views in Penniman (and the views from our last Penniman house) would have been spectacular. Just beyond this bit of brush is an expansive view of the York River.

The views in Penniman (and the views from our last Penniman house) would have been spectacular. Just beyond this bit of brush is an expansive view of the York River. If you were standing on the front porch of our Penniman house (shown above) this is what you'd see.

The

To my utter dismay and frustration, this is the only photo I've been able to find of Penniman, as it looked in the late 1910s. This photo appeared in The Richmond Times Leader on June 22, 1938, on an article they did on Penniman. On the forefront are three "Haskells," and behind them are two "Georgia" models.

The

Sometimes, zooming in really doesn't help a lot.

The Haskell

The Haskell was a DuPont design and there's an entire community of these DuPont houses in Old Hickory, Tennessee. Apparently, there were many of these houses in Penniman.

An article in the December 5, 1921 Virginian Pilot shows these two Haskells on a barge, being floated down Tanners Creek and into Norfolk.

An article in the December 5, 1921 Virginian Pilot shows these two Haskells on a barge, being floated down Tanner's Creek and into Norfolk.

The same article also showed two Cumberlands coming here from Penniman.

The same article also showed two "Cumberlands" coming here from Penniman. They're shown here on the barge, at the end of their long journey which began on the York River.

The

The accompanying text in the December 1921 article in the Virginia Pilot.

The Cumberland was another model that was moved from Penniman to Norfolk.

The Cumberland was another model that was moved from Penniman to Norfolk.

The Haskell arrived in Norfolk, and was planted on Major Avenue. In fact, its one of 50 houses from Penniman.

The Haskell arrived in Norfolk, and was planted on Major Avenue. In fact, it's one of 50 houses from Penniman. The vintage image (of a Haskell in Old Hickory) is on the left. The Penniman house (from DuPont Plant #37) is on the right.

There are two Cumberlands on Major Avenue, next to the Haskells.

There are two "Cumberlands" on Major Avenue, next to the Haskells. The Cumberland is also seen above on the barge, being floated down Tanner's Creek.

The third housing style we have from Penniman is The Georgia. This is a modest (but cute) Dutch Colonial. You can see these in the background of the grainy photo from the Richmond News Leader.

The third housing style we've found in Norfolk (from Penniman) is "The Georgia." This is a modest (but darling!) Dutch Colonial. You can see these houses in the background of the grainy photo from the Richmond News Leader.

And it started in Riverview.

And it started with these 16 matching bungalows in Riverview (Norfolk). For years, we'd heard that these matching houses came from The Jamestown Exposition (1907), but that is NOT true. In fact, these are "Dupont Houses" and they were originally built at Penniman, and shipped by barge to Norfolk when Penniman was shut down. Later, we learned that the name of this design is "The DuPont." How apropos!

The original news article from the 1938 Richmond News Leader.

The original news article from the 1938 Richmond News Leader.

To read more about the houses that came to Norfolk from Penniman, click here.

To learn about the murder of Addie Hoyt, click here.

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