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Posts Tagged ‘york river’

The Bungalow in the York River

February 17th, 2017 Sears Homes 3 comments

Bunny Trails: They’re one of the best parts of doing historical research. And while researching Penniman, Virginia, I read newspaper accounts from Pennimanites, talking about a house “sitting on stilts” in the York River.

And while systematically reading through every single page (from 1916 to 1925) of the Newport News Daily Press, I found this gem: “[John Ross] Built His House On the Waters” (September 1922).

It was an indepth article about John’s home in the York River. And then last month, it got even better when Carolyn Willis contacted me through this website, and shared some pictures from a family photo album of Joseph and Ola Whisnant. She’d found the word “Penniman” on the old snapshots, but didn’t know exactly what a Penniman was - until she googled the word.

Carolyn’s photos showed me pictures of day-to-day life within Penniman, and provided an incredible peek of life inside the village. Each of the 22 pictures was a treasure, and I’m so grateful that Carolyn found me, and was willing to share those pictures.

The article in the Daily Press said,

John E. Ross is wiser than the man who ‘built his house on the sands,’ as related in the Bible, to have it destroyed when the winds came. The windws may come, storms may kick up a sea in the York River, and the ice-packs of winter may crunch and grind around his abode, but it will stand the buffeting of every day assaults that nature can make. At least it has done so for years past and appears to be as firm and safe as when first it rose above the waters…Mr. Ross and his family live in happiness and security in one of the oddest abodes in this section.

Mr. Ross is a well-to-do oyster planter and located near here years ago. He conceived the idea of building a bungalow on stilts in the York River, far enough out to escape the discomforts on inshort. Pilings were sunk and upon this structure arose the neat little house that has long been the home of his family. He solved the water problem by sinking a deep artesian well and has one of the best over-flow wells in this section. A fast motor boat tired up at the foot of a pair of steps leading down in the water solves the transportation problem.

The Ross home, located almost at the mouth of King’s Creek, several hundred yards out in the water, is one of the most unique in this section and never fails to attract attention from visitors. It is just off Penniman. Probably 20 feet off water is to be had the house, and all all Mr. Ross has to do when he wants fresh fish for a meal is to drop a line out the kitchen window and wait for a bite.

They live happily in peaceable surroundings, not disturbed even by their neighbors’ chickens (September 8, 1922).

A local genealogist found this additional information on John Ross: John Edward Ross left this house sometime in the 1920s and in 1930, he was living at 24 Channing Avenue (the Cradock section of Portsmouth). In 1910, he was a widow with a child and living with his father. By 1920, John, wife Grace and 16 year son Edward Ross (by John’s 1st wife) were living on the York River.

The Hurricane of 1933 destroyed a tremendous amount of property along the York River, and this bungalow on stilts was surely one of the houses that became flotsam.

Thanks to Carolyn and the family of Joseph and Ola Whisnant for the pictures shown below.

Learn more about Penniman here.

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Hagley Panoramic

The panoramic image of Penniman shows a house out in the York River, not far from the Penniman Spit. Image is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Hagley Panoram

A close up of the "bungalow on stilts." Hagley Museum and Library.

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Permission Carolyn Something

Here's a picture of John's house on the York River. According to the "Daily Press," it's at "the mouth of King's creek, several hundred yards out in the water, and is one of the most unique in this section. It's just off Penniman." Thanks again to Carolyn Willis for sharing this image. Photos are the courtesy of the family of Joseph and Ola Whisnant.

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House in Nansemond

I've never seen anything like the John Ross house but there is a duck-hunting club sitting in the middle of the Nansemond River. I took this photo from the bridge that spans the Nansemond River on an early Sunday morning as I drove to church in Suffolk. Fortunately, there were no cars behind me.

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Bungalow in the York

Close-up of the duck-hunting club in the Nansemond River. I am curious as to how this building handles the discharge of waste.

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Do you know of any houses built in the middle of a river? Please send photos. I’d ask for an address, but that would be problematical.

Learn more about Penniman 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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The Home of C. F. Sauer, in Richmond

February 28th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

UPDATED!  See new photos below!!

Today, I was at the Norfolk Public Library reading an old Richmond Times Dispatch from October 23, 1921 when I stumbled across this “pictorial record” of a fine old house in Richmond.

It caught my eye for several reasons:

1)  In the 1921 article, it was claimed that this was one of the oldest houses in its neighborhood (”The Lee District”).

2)  It had been moved from another location (from Broad Street to Grace Street).

3)  It’s massive and grand, and has a brass fireplace mantel (yes, brass).

4)  It was occupied by General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War (”Battery #10″).

And it’d be interesting to know if the owners are aware that these interior photos were featured in a 93-year-old Richmond newspaper.

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House

"Talavera is probably the oldest house in Lee District, being built 90 years ago when this part of Richmond was all woods" (Richmond Times Dispatch, October 23, 1921)

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Heres my favorite part

And was moved from Broad Street (I wonder where!), and was moved to Grace Street.

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Mr. C. F. Sauers home had a brass fireplace mantel.

Mr. C. F. Sauer's home had a brass fireplace mantel.

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Sitting room

Wonder who the fellow in the picture is?

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According to the caption,

According to the caption, the sideboard (barely visible in this image) is more than 100 years old (in 1921) and is made from solid oak. Despite repeated efforts, this was the best photo I could get from the old newspaper pages.

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Is the old C. F. Sauer house still alive and well?

Is the old C. F. Sauer house still alive and well?

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Ooh, a nice update! The house is alive and well! Heres a picture of it, as seen on February 28, 2014. Thanks to Brice Anderson for snapping a picture for me!  (Picture is copyright 2014 Brice Anderson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

Ooh, a nice update! The house is alive and well! Here's a picture of it, as seen on February 28, 2014. Thanks to Brice Anderson for snapping a picture for me! (Picture is copyright 2014 Brice Anderson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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House

What a pleasure to see that this old house still looks much like it did when photographed for the Richmond Times Dispatch in 1921. What a pure joy!

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And this is the same C. F. Sauer that, at the tender age of 21, founded his own spice and seasonings company.

And this is the same C. F. Sauer that, at the tender age of 21, founded his own spice and seasonings company, which is still in business today. (Picture is copyright 2014 Brice Anderson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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To read about the Sears Homes I found in Richmond, click here.

And to see what I found in Sandston, click here!

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Moving House: Williamsburg Style

November 22nd, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

Like thousands of good little schoolchildren before me, our elementary school class trekked off to see Colonial Williamsburg sometime in the 1960s. Little did I know that parts of this “Colonial” site were a mere 30 years old at the time.

Despite being a native of this area, it wasn’t until 2007 that I learned that part of Colonial Williamsburg was re-created in the early 1930s through the beneficence and foresight of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Hubby and I were touring Colonial Williamsburg when I pointed out that there’d been some restoration work done on these buildings in the 1920s or 30s. He looked at my quizzically and said, “You know that many of these buildings are re-creations done in the early 30s, right?”

Oops.

Seven years later, while researching Penniman, DuPont’s 37th munitions plant on the York River, I discovered that the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation) had several aerial photos of Williamsburg from the late 1920s and 1930s. David Spriggs and I drove to the library Tuesday morning to get a better look at these photos.

And it was a fascinating field trip.

Marianne, the Vital Resources Editorial Librarian, was every researcher’s dream. She was not only knowledgeable and well-versed, but eager to help us solve a few mysteries.

In looking at these old aerial photos, it was my hope to find a few of the 17 houses that were moved to Williamsburg from Penniman in October 1921 by W. A. Bozarth (according to the Virginia Gazette).  I did find nine Penniman houses in the photo.

Sadly, judging from these vintage photos, many early 20th Century houses and eight of our relocated Penniman houses went bye-bye during the Colonial Williamsburg restoration. (Kind of pitiable really. The little Penniman houses survived the “leave no board behind” government salvage at Penniman, and then died a tragic death just 10 years later.)

Finding those Penniman houses was fun, but there was hidden treasure I discovered in that photo that was even more fun!

Scroll on down.

To learn more about John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation), click here

To read more about Penniman, click here.

Shiawassee History

This undated aerial view of Williamsburg was probably from the early 1930s. Those familiar with Williamsburg will recognize "The Triangle" where Richmond and Jamestown Roads merge at Duke Of Gloucester Street. These photos were taken by the Army Corps of Engineers and the detail is stunning. (Photo is courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.)

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House

When I first saw this house, I told my husband, "Why, it looks like that house is sitting in the middle of the street!" And then I realized, that the house IS sitting in the middle of S. England Street! The photographer managed to catch a picture of Williamsburg on a day when a house was being moved. With all the development of Colonial Williamsburg, I'm grateful to know that a few houses were moved rather than destroyed, and this image offers photographic proof! Most likely, the house is being moved backwards, and headed south on S. England Street. The absence of power lines and overhead wires made it a lot easier to move houses. In fact, in the early 1900s, moving houses was a surprisingly common practice. (Photo is courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.)

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house house

And if you look real close, you'll see what appears to be a pair of tracks behind the house. From what I can glean, S. England street was a paved street at the time of this photo. Those rails would have been used to move the house. They were laid behind the house (where it's advancing) and then as the house moved, the sections were taken up from the front and moved to the rear. Remember, the house is being moved backwards. Moving a house back in the day was a very slow process. Often, houses couldn't be moved from old site to new site in a single day, so at the end of the day, the workers went home and left the house sitting in the middle of the street. Given that I see no workers present, I suspect that's what is going on here. (Photo is courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.)

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Shiawassee

One of the finest examples of early 20th Century moving that I've ever come across is this picture from the Shiawassee History website. See link below. If you look at the image above, you'll see rails laid down in front of the house. At the website (below), there's a thorough explanation of how this move was accomplished, but in short, the horse walked in a circle around that capstan which was anchored to a tree or some solid object. The winding of the rope around the capstan acted like a winch, pulling the house forward on those rails, SLOWLY.

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For a real life example of how this capstan works, click here to see it in use.

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In October 1921, the Virginia Gazette reported that

In October 1921, the Virginia Gazette reported that Mr. Bozarth had moved 17 houses out of Penniman and into Williamsburg. Better yet, they were "desirable houses"! I wonder how many "undesirable houses" he moved?

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Just this morning, I was talking to a curator at a local museum who told me, “I heard that some houses were moved by barge from York County to Norfolk, but I told the person making the inquiry that they didn’t move houses in the early 1900s, and that it was just a myth. Just too difficult for a variety of reasons.”

Alas!

In fact, it was much MORE common in the early 1900s than it is today. The absence of overhead power lines made it even better, plus this country had a different mindset about wasting precious resources.

To read about the houses that came by barge to Norfolk, click here.

Click here to visit the *fabulous* Shiawassee History website, and learn more about the how and why of moving houses in the early 1900s.

The site also offers a splendiferous explanation of how (and why) so many houses were moved, rather than destroyed (as they are today).

For all our 21st Century noise about recycling, we’re way too eager to send old houses to the landfill. The house shown probably represents 250,000+ pounds of irreplaceable building materials.

To learn more about the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library in Williamsburg, click here.

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William & Mary and Penniman, Virginia

November 16th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

After the War to End All Wars ended (November 1918), the whole world changed.

The bloom of Virginia’s youth had gone to Europe to fight in The Great War. Between mustard gas and powerful munitions, many suffered crippling injuries and many never made it back home at all. Most of the young men who saw battle were never the same again.

Returning vets got hit with two obstacles to home ownership: During the war, resources had been diverted to the front, and housing analysts estimated that 1-2 million housing units were needed immediately for the returning soldiers. Secondly, after the war, the cost of building materials soared, with prices doubling and tripling in the months following.

These were challenging times for many colleges, and William and Mary was no exception.

Due to a growing enrollment, the college needed more space for dorms, classrooms and dining areas. Perhaps someone at the college pointed out that with the closing of Penniman, there would be many buildings available for sale - cheap.

According to the Board of Visitors’ minutes from June 8, 1920, William and Mary’s Committee on Student Accommodations paid $985 for their first two “temporary” Penniman buildings, with $3,000 set aside for their re-building.

In reading the minutes I was interested to learn that the college did not merely “move” these structures. They disassembled them, and then hauled the building materials to the campus and re-assembled them, board by board. Kind of like building a pre-cut Sears kit home, but without a 75-page instruction book or numbered lumber.

On October 4, 1920, the BOV minutes stated that the, “President of the College was authorized to dismantle and bring the buildings recently purchased from the government at Penniman to the College and rebuild them here at an approximate cost of $5,000.”

I hope President Chandler was handy with his hands.

On January 8, 1921, The Flat Hat (student newspaper) reported that the “Hotel at Penniman has been bought and will be moved on the campus in the near future,” with construction beginning in mid-January.

Judging by the description, this was a large building.

One “wing” of the new building was for the Biology Department (five large laboratories and a lecture room). Another wing would be used as a dining hall (with seating capacity of 150 students) and another wing would serve as a dorm, with space for 50 students.

In June 1923, the BOV minutes reported that there was a great need for additional class room space. Mr. Bridges and Colonel Lane were instructed to run out to Penniman and “make some purchases at Penniman on the 13th of June, so that the temporary buildings may be constructed cheaply.”

Reading these minutes, you get the impression that they were running out to Penniman like we run up to the Home Depot.

It was recommended that the new building be placed behind the existing Citizenship Building “even though it may look bad to connect cheaply with the steam pipes” (that’s my favorite part).

William and Mary thought much more highly of these “temporary buildings” after they were erected on the hallowed grounds of the campus. In a document titled, “Valuation of College Land and Building,” they estimated that the value of two of their Penniman buildings (presumably the two with an estimated $5,000 outlay), to be $45,000 (June 1923).

Wow! At that kind of appreciation, they should have bought everything Penniman had to offer!

In June 1925, a fire destroyed the “Penniman Building”  (the one used as a dining hall/biology building). In 1926, the college was given a $60,000 grant (by the Virginia General Assembly) to put up some prettier buildings that did not look bad or connect cheaply with the steam pipes.

To learn more about Penniman, click  here.

To read about another interesting facet of Penniman’s history, click here.

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house with iron

According to the caption that appeared with this photo in "The Romance and Renaissance of the College of William and Mary in Virginia" (1924), the original tar-paper siding on this lovely building was replaced with "galvanized iron." Frankly, I think that's got to be a misstatement. Perhaps they intended to say galvanized metal. You have to wonder if the W&M folks went to Penniman and said, "Could you please sell us the ugliest structure you have on this 6,000 acre site?" Now *that* would be a believable story. And who decided to ramp up The Ugly by covering this building with metal? Did W&M have an abundance of students that liked to practice archery with flaming arrows? (Photo is from "The Romance and Renaissance of the College of William and Mary in Virginia," William & Mary Endowment Association, 1924, with special thanks to Terry Meyers and Kris Preacher for providing a digital version of this wonderful old photo.)

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house longer

Here are the Twin Uglies in their native habitat at Penniman, Virginia (1918). The vertical line is from the stitching of the two photographic images into one glorious whole. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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Longer view

Longer view showing The Twin Uglies at Penniman, with the York River in the background. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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house

Also shown in "The Romance and Renaissance of the College of William and Mary in Virginia," is this building. The book states that it was moved to the college campus about 1924, which isn't right, unless you put a lot of weight on that word "about." "The College of William and Mary, A History, Volume II" states that these buildings were built at Penniman in 1914. That's also a little boo boo. (Photo is from "The Romance and Renaissance of the College of William and Mary in Virginia," William & Mary Endowment Association, 1924, with special thanks to Terry Meyers and Kris Preacher for providing a digital version of this wonderful old photo.)

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house house house

Construction on Penniman began in April 1916. Within Penniman, this was known as a "boarding house," (admittedly, a much gentler term than "barracks," the word that was used to describe these buildings in W&M literature). As built, the structure might have had as many bedrooms as there are windows (40+), with 4-8 bathrooms and a long central hallway. No need for a kitchen because there was a mess hall in another part of the village. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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house house house

As you can see from this 1918 photo, W&M had many buildings from which to choose. At its peak, Penniman had 15,000 people within its borders. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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Penniman Hotel

As to the 1921 acquisition, there's only one building at Penniman that resembles a hotel, and that's this long structure shown above. When "The Flat Hat" stated that W&M had purchased the "hotel at Penniman," surely they didn't mean those crummy boarding houses or one of the Twin Uglies. If so, I hope that the student that wrote that piece had a chance to travel around a bit after he graduated. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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hotel hotel hotel

A more expansive view of The Penniman Hotel. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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barge Dec 1921

Here in Norfolk, our 50+ Penniman houses arrived whole and intact (and by barge!). Thanks to Robert Hitchings for finding this wonderful photo in the December 1921 Virginia Pilot.

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house house

By May of 1921, The Garden City Wrecking Company (a 1920s term for architectural salvage) was inviting the general public to come pick at the bones of Penniman. Pretty depressing, really, and yet also shows how prior generations took recycling very seriously. The same colleges that rant and rave about saving every scrap of paper don't hesitate to tear down old houses, thus sending 300,000 pounds of irreplaceable building materials to the landfill. I now have first-hand evidence of three colleges tearing down three rare kit homes in the last 10 years. This advertisement appeared in the May 1921 Virginia Gazette.

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After the war, building material costs soared.

After the war, returning vets wanted homes of their own, but the cost of building materials had soared. Plus, housing analysts estimated that 1-2 million housing units were needed immediately. It was the high cost of lumber that probably inspired W&M to turn to Penniman for their building needs. (This photo came from Stereoscope cards that I found at a friend's house. The images are quite clear, given their age and original purpose.)

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To read more about Penniman, click here.

To read about Penniman’s forgotten flu victims, click here.

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Sandston, Virginia: Another DuPont Town

November 10th, 2013 Sears Homes 13 comments

Figuring  out how many of the old Penniman houses were shipped to Norfolk has been a challenge. In addition to the many “DuPont Designs” found at Old Hickory (Tennessee), we’ve been finding additional designs at other DuPont plants around the country.

And last month, I purchased “DuPont: One Hundred and Forty Years” (Dutton, William S., Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951), and found this:

DuPont Engineering Company was operating a shell-loading plant at Penniman, Virginia…and it was operating plants for the bag-loading of cannon powder at Tullytown, Pennsylvania and at Seven Pines, Virginia, all vitally important projects” (p. 247).

Took me and the hubby a few minutes to figure out that Seven Pines, Virginia was now Sandston. And my heart sank a little when I learned that Sandston is also the site of the current Richmond Airport.

Colleges and hospitals are notorious bungalow eaters. Only one corporate entity is worse: Airports.

On Saturday, as Milton and I were returning from the Virginia Historical Society (in Richmond) we saw the Sandston exit off I-64. I couldn’t help but take the exit into the small town of 7,500 people (2010 Census). And there in Sandston we found many examples of our DuPont houses.

However, I suspect that dozens (or more) were torn down when the airport was built. In fact, uncharacteristically, they apparently tore down the big fancy DuPont models and left an abundance of the modest “Six-Room Bungalows” (and yes, that was their official name).

Surely there are some vintage photos of Sandston (pre-airport) somewhere in the world. If so, I’d love to find them. Because based on our 30-minute visit to this town, there is at least one never-before-seen DuPont model present in Sandston that we’ve not seen in any other DuPont towns.

And I’m also wondering if the residents of Sandston know much about the history of their many pre-WW1 bungalows.

Lastly, it’s a puzzle as to why DuPont had so many munitions plants in such a small area of Virginia. There were munitions plants at Penniman, Hopewell and Sandston (then Seven Pines). At least Hopewell and Sandston got to keep a few of their old DuPont houses.

To  learn more about Penniman, click here.

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One of finer homes in the DuPont line was the Arlington.

One of "finer" homes in the DuPont line was the Arlington. This house was built at Carney's Point, NJ, Old Hickory, TN and probably at Penniman as well.

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To the typical McMansion buyer, this may look like small potatoes, but for industrial housing, this was high living.

To the typical McMansion buyer, this may look like small potatoes, but for "industrial housing," this was high living. Typically, these homes were for the supervisors of the plant.

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Arlington

This Arlington looks darn good considering that it was built as industrial housing in 1916.

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Another Arlington in Sandston.

Another Arlington in Sandston. This one is in beautifully original condition.

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The Haskell was also present at

The Haskell was also present at Carney's Point, NJ, Hopewell, Penniman and Sandston.

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This was not a very wide house.

This was not a very wide house. In fact, it appears to have been about 20' wide.

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This is a sideways Haskell in Willoughby Spit (Norfolk). It was moved here in the early 1920s - from Penniman.

This is a "sideways" Haskell in Willoughby Spit (Norfolk). It was moved here in the early 1920s - from Penniman. It's not a very big house.

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There are several of these houses in Sandston. Too wide to be a Haskell and too narrow for the Arlington. Ive dubbed it a Baby Arlington.

There are several of these houses in Sandston. Too wide to be a Haskell and too narrow for the Arlington. I've dubbed it a "Baby Arlington."

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Another Baby Arlington

Another "Baby Arlington"

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And yet another.

And yet another.

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Another DuPont model at Sandston is The Ketcham.

Another DuPont model at Sandston is The Ketcham.

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Dupon

The windows have been replaced in this old DuPont house, but it's still readily identifiable as a "Ketcham."

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Dupont kit

I'd just love to know if the homeowners know about the unique history of their old house.

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And

Ketcham Number Three, in Sandston, Virginia.

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But hands down, the #1  most prevalent house found in Sandston is the

But hands down, the #1 most prevalent house found in Sandston is the"Six Room Bungalow."

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And

And they are everywhere in Sandston. In the last 97 years, they've undergone all manner of renovation.

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Some

Some are mostly original.

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Some

Some have had been thoughtfully added on to.

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Some

Some look like quite modern and tidy.

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Some

Some are barely recognizable as one of DuPont's "Six Room Bungalows."

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Some

Some have had a rough time of it.

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What happened to the big fancy modes there in Sandston?

What happened to the big fancy DuPont models that were almost surely there in Sandston?

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house

Were they reduced to rubble when the airport was built?

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Mark Hardin found this in Sandston. Very interesting marker, but is it right? The 230 houses

Mark Hardin discovered this plaque for Sandston, Virginia. Very interesting marker, but is it right? The "230 Aladdin Houses" are (apparently) the DuPont houses. In Penniman, Virginia and DuPont, Washington, E. I. DuPont Nemours contracted with local business to build these company houses. Did they use a different approach in Sandston? Photo is copyright Leon Reed, 2010.

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

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The Mystery of Our “Ethels” in Riverview is SOLVED!!

November 4th, 2013 Sears Homes 6 comments

Soon after I moved to Colonial Place/Riverview (Norfolk) in March 2007, I heard the story about the little bungalows in Riverview that (allegedly) had been moved there from The Jamestown Exposition (1907). According to the local legend, the houses had been built for the Exposition (at Sewell’s Point in Norfolk), and later moved to Riverview.

After looking at the bungalows on Ethel Avenue, I seriously doubted the veracity of the Exposition story. The build-date for the “Ethels” (our pet name for the bungalows) felt wrong. The houses looked like they’d been built after 1910.

And that’s how it all began.

For the last three years, David Spriggs (Norfolk), Mark Hardin (Hopewell) and I have been researching this story, and it’d take a full book to review the sum total of what we learned along the way. (And within the next few months, that book should be finished. More on that later.)

Looking back, it’s fun to see the progression and evolution of our thought processes. At first, I suspected the “Ethels” were from Aladdin (a kit home company). After all, when you’re a kit house historian, that’s your natural default. Despite lots of digging through lots of old catalogs, I couldn’t match them up.

Our first big break came when Mark Hardin discovered our Ethels out in Dupont, Washington and Ramsay, Montana, the site of two DuPont World War One-era munitions plants. The houses had been built there in the 1910s, to provide housing for the workers at the DuPont plants.

Penniman (about six miles east of Williamsburg) had been the site of DuPont’s 37th munitions plant, and it had closed down after The Great War had ended (November 1918).

Could our Ethels have come from Penniman?

Our next big break came when Norfolk historian Robert Hitchings said that there were several houses on Major Avenue (a Norfolk neighborhood known as “Riverfront”) that had been brought in by barge. Within about six weeks, Robert gave us a 1921 clipping from the Virginian Pilot, showing a barge bringing the houses down the York River. Read more about that here.

Break Number Three was also from Mark Hardin. He found an article in a 1938 Richmond newspaper, detailing the fascinating history of the “ghost city” of Penniman, Virginia. At its peak, the village boasted of 15,000 residents. It had its own bank, post office, YMCA, hospital, and schools. A grainy picture from the Richmond paper showed several Penniman houses, at Penniman. Those were the same model houses now sitting on Major Avenue. More on that here.

With that 1921 Virginian Pilot article in hand, David was able to find a local descendant of Mr. Hastings (a local stevedore who’d brought the houses into Norfolk by barge). I sent the descendant a note and she contacted me. She was able to fill in a lot of blanks, and tell us where even more of the Penniman houses were located (in Willoughby Spit).

And yet, we didn’t have any pictures of our Ethels on barges or at Penniman. We had a barge-load of circumstantial evidence that these houses came from Penniman, but we wanted more.

Digging for information on Penniman was very challenging. We searched and searched, and found bits and pieces here and there, but nothing substantive. When “The War to End All Wars” finally ended, all traces of Penniman went with it.

And then finally, after three years of research, I hit the Mother Lode.

Hagley Museum and Library (in Wilmington, DE) is a 235-acre site that is home to the original DuPont estate and gardens. According to Wiki, Hagley Museum and Library “tells the story of the people who worked for the DuPont company in the 19th Century.”

And fortunately, those folks kept good records. After a few emails and phone calls to Hagley, I learned that Hagley had many photos of Penniman. I literally jumped in the car and drove 483 miles (round trip) to look at those photos.

And let me tell you, it was worth the trip.

On October 25, I spent several hours at the Hagley Museum and Library, learning all about life in Penniman in the late 1910s. It was quite a thrill to look at the 100+ photos of a place that was now all but forgotten. It was remarkable to look into the faces of the men and women of Penniman, working assiduously to “stuff one [shell] for the kaiser,” and doing their part to win “The War to End All Wars.”

And best of all, I spotted the Ethels in their natural habitat.

As an architectural historian, I can tell you, that was a very happy memory that I won’t ever forget.

Three years of searching. Hundreds of  miles traversed. Countless hours of research. Mystery solved.

Below are a few photos that tell the story of our Ethels, and where they came from and where they landed.

Thanks so much to David Spriggs and Mark Hardin for helping solve an architectural mystery!

There is one more piece of the puzzle we’d really like to solve. We’re told by long-time Riverview residents that there is a picture of The Ethels, fresh off the boat, being rolled up Lavalette Avenue on pilings or logs. There has been a whole slew of us (David Spriggs, Milton Crum, Bill Inge and more) methodically searching the local papers for this photo, but we’ve found nothing. We’d love to find it!

If anyone has information on where we might find this photo, we’d be grateful to know.

Travel back in time and see the Ethels (in the 1940s).

To read Part I of this story, click here.

To read part II of this story, click here.

To read part III, click here.

To read more about Old Hickory (another DuPont plant with the same houses), click here.

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The Ethels have been a  mystery

The true source of these "Ethels" (as we call them) has been a puzzle for many years. Here are three in a row on Ethel Avenue in Riverview (Norfolk). The tax records give a build date of 1918, which (to my amazement) is right.These houses were built at Penniman in Spring 1918, and sometime in late 1923 or early 1924, they were floated down the York River to Lafayette River and into Riverview. According to DuPont's literature, this particular model was called, "The DuPont." Sadly, one of these old Penniman houses was torn down about 2008.

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Highland Park

There are two Ethels in Highland Park (49th Street) in Norfolk, side by side. Despite the oversized addition on the second floor, this house is in wonderfully original condition. (Photo is copyright 2009 David Spriggs.)

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Dupont Mark

Mark Hardin found The Ethel in several other DuPont towns, such as DuPont, Washington, where they have more than 100 of these houses, lined up - one after the other - like little soldiers. In fact, Mark found that there's a "Penniman Street" in Dupont, Washington. The house shown above is in Dupont, Washington. (This photo is courtesy of Mark Mckillop and may not be reproduced without written permission.)

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Penniman houses 1938

One of our big breaks was when we found this in-depth story about Penniman in the Richmond News Leader. The article was dated June 1938, and gives an amazing insight into life in Penniman.We'd love to find Dick Velz' family and find out if they have any more information on Penniman. It's a long shot, but it's a shot.

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Penniman

At its peak, there were about 15,000 people working at DuPont's 37th munitions plant in Penniman. The houses were packed in there pretty tightly. Most of the houses had "rubberoid exteriors." In other words, they were pretty primitive. The Ethels were the better houses, and had a little bit of space around them. At the back of the photo you can see the "better class of houses" and the York River. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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Close-up of those finer homes at the back of the photo. The houses in the foreground were pretty simple dwellings, and most didn't have wood exteriors, but "rubberoid" (not unlike tar paper). (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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house native

Another panoramic shows the Ethels in place within Penniman. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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house house

The Ethels sat down by the York River for the first few months of their young lives. Five or six years after they were built, they were moved to Norfolk, Virginia. The two-story houses were "Miltons" and were moved - with the Ethels - to Riverview. There were more than 40 Penniman houses which were moved to Major Avenue and Glenroie Avenue (Riverfront area) in Norfolk. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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house house house Penniman

Three little Ethels in a row in Penniman. Check out the board walk. The houses were probably built on brick pillars, and the planks were added around the foundation to keep out the wind and the critters. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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house penniman

The two-story house facing the York River is what we call "The Milton" and it was also moved to Riverview - with the Ethels. There were 20 "cottages" according to contemporary newspaper articles, 18 Ethels and 2 Miltons. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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Another big break came

Another big break came when Robert Hitchings found this article in the Virginian Pilot (date December 1921). Warren Hastings moved at least 60 of these Penniman Houses to Norfolk. A man named George Hudson *apparently* moved our Ethels to Riverview. In October 1923, George Hudson bought the lots where the Ethels now reside, and like Hastings, Hudson owned a stevedore business (barges).

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Riverview front

Several Penniman houses landed on Major Avenue and Glenroie Avenue in Norfolk. The house on the left is a vintage image of a DuPont design, known as "The Haskell." The house on the right is on Major Avenue. It apparently survived its trip down the York pretty well.

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Houses in Willougby

Thanks to Warren Hasting's granddaughter (still living in the area), we found these Haskells in Willoughby Spit. They were also moved from Penniman by Warren Hastings.

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houses in

The yellow Ethel in Highland Park looks like such a happy Ethel.

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houses david

A side-by-side comparison of the two little Ethels shows there can be no doubt as to their origins! The house on the right is from Penniman. (Photo on left is copyright 2008, David Spriggs; Photo on right is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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In November 2013, I went to the city assessors office and saw photos of our Ethels from the 1940s.

In November 2013, I visited to the city assessor's office and saw photos of our Ethels from the 1940s. The quality of these photos was really remarkable - a historians dream!

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When these photos were taken, our Ethels were less than 30 years old!

When these photos were taken, our Ethels were less than 30 years old!

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Since

There are two of these "Miltons" in Riverview, and we're now convinced that these two-story homes also came from Penniman. One is on Ethel Avenue and the other fronts on Beach Avenue.

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Photo in Penniman

We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the forward-thinking people of DuPont, who hired photographers to document Penniman with these oversized panoramic photos the village. These photos (now safely stored in the archives at Hagley) provide an incredible level of detail, showing life in Penniman in 1918. How fun to see our Ethels in 1918! (Courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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To learn more about this fascinating topic, check out the links below.

To read Part I of this story, click here.

To read part II of this story, click here.

To read part III, click here.

Want to contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

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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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