The “Boom Towns” of Dupont

Since I moved to Norfolk in September 2006, the 16 identical bungalows on Ethel Avenue have been whispering my name, and imploring me to come close, and learn more about their unique origins. Problem was, I could never quite make out what they were saying.

For years, I pored through my vintage catalogs from Sears, Aladdin, Gordon Van Tine, Lewis Manufacturing, Sterling Homes and even Pacific Ready Cut Homes, hoping to identify them as kit homes from a mail-order company.

I never could find a matching design.

Someone in town said the houses were built for the Jamestown Exposition (1907) and moved from that site to their resting place in Riverview (Norfolk). That didn’t ring true, because these little bungalows were more typical of the early 1910s.

And then we learned that DuPont had a munitions plant in Penniman, Virginia (about 30 minutes from Norfolk), and that the houses might have come from Penniman. And then I started doing research on Hopewell, Virginia and learned that Hopewell has also been the site of a DuPont munitions factory. So Mark Hardin (Hopewell resident and fellow researcher) and I drove around Hopewell, trying to find our “Ethels” (as they came to be known).

There have been many interesting discoveries along the way. To read a full history of our* project, click here.

In short, DuPont had at least twelve designs of houses that were built for their workers in factory towns such as Dupont, Washington, Louviers, Colorado, Ramsay, Montana, Old Hickory, Tennessee, and Hopewell and Penniman Virginia.

In the 1910s and 1920s, it was widely believed that providing housing for employees created a more stable work force. In the case of DuPont, their plants manufactured things that went BOOM, such as dynamite and gun powder and gun cotton. DuPont built their factories outside of population centers, due to the constant threat of explosion. (In November 1915, 31 men died in a horrific explosion at the DuPont plant in New Jersey when a horse’s shoe created a metal spark, igniting several thousand pounds of black powder.)

After The Great War was over (November 11, 1918), some of these factories – such as the one in Penniman – were no longer needed. An unknown number of houses at Penniman were put onto a barge and floated down the York River and Chesapeake Bay to the Elizabeth River and then to the Lafayette River to Norfolk, Virginia. According to an article in the Richmond News Leader (1938), more than 50 houses came to Norfolk.

And then on January 9, 2012, Robert Hitchings (Head, Sargeant Memorial Room, Norfolk Public Library) sent me a photo of these houses coming to Norfolk via barge (see below).

And if anyone knows where I might find more of these “Dupont Designs” in Norfolk, please leave a comment below!

To read the first blog on this topic, click here.

*David Spriggs and Mark Hardin have done most of the research on this subject. On this project, I’ve been the blog writer and photo taker! 🙂

Photo from 1921 shows the houses being transported by barge down the Lafayette River.

Photo from 1921 Virginian Pilot shows the houses being transported by barge down the Lafayette River. These are the houses that now sit on Major and Glenroie Avenue in Norfolk. There are two Dupont Designs shown here. The house on the left is the Dupont "Haskell," and the house on the right is the "Cumberland."

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On the left is a vintage picture of a Dupont Design (The Haskell) that was built in Old Hickory, TN. On the right is a house in Norfolk (on Major Avenue). We now know that most of the houses on Major and Glenroie Avenue came from Penniman (site of a Dupont Munitions Factory) and were floated by barge to this location. According to an article in the "Richmond News Leader" (June 1938) there are 51 of these "Dupont Homes" in Norfolk, in varying designs.

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

This Dupont "Haskell" still retains most of its original features. You can see the unique window arrangement on the Haskell design in this photo, with the left side of the brown house and the left side of the white house next door (which is also a Haskell).

Some of these DuPont Haskells have undergone significant remodeling, but

Some of these DuPont "Haskells" have undergone significant remodeling since being moved here in 1921. They were probably built about 1912 - 1914 at Penniman.

Some

Some are turned 90 degrees on the lot.

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

And some have a gabled roof on the front porch, but they're all Dupont houses.

Vintage photo of Old Hickory (site of a Dupont Munitions Plant) shows two of the eight housing styles found there. These are the same two housing styles found on Major Avenue in Norfolk, VA.

Vintage photo of Old Hickory (site of a Dupont Munitions Plant in Tennessee) shows two of the eight housing styles found there. These are the same two housing styles found on Major Avenue and Glenroie Avenue in Norfolk, VA.

This little Dutch Colonial

This little Dutch Colonial was one of the "Dupont Designs" found in Old Hickory, TN. Note the narrow windows by the front door. This house was named "The Georgia."

Dutchie

There are nine of these "Georgia" (Dupont' designs) on Major Avenue and Glenroie Avenue in Norfolk. These Norfolk houses are a perfect match to the houses in Old Hickory, TN.

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Another "Georgia" on Major Avenue.

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There are many "Georgias" in Norfolk!

Cumberland

The Cumberland was one of 12 designs created by Dupont and found in both Norfolk and Old Hickory. There are two of these on Major Avenue (Norfolk). It's one of the houses shown on the barge in the photo above.

And heres the real life example.

And here's one of two Cumberlands on Major Avenue. It is a perfect match to the Dupont Cumberland found in Old Hickory, TN.

The other Cumberland on Major Avenue

The other Cumberland on Major Avenue.

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

This is the two-story house (ensconced in the land of Ethels) in Norfolk. Note the tall thin attic window which is a perfect match to the Old Hickory house above. There are other architectural features which lead us to believe that this is also a "Dupont Design." This house was floated by barge to its location here in Norfolk. This is a big house to move!

Close-up of the attic window.

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

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

And it all started with these houses on Ethel Avenue (which are also DuPont designs).

And there are dozens of Ethels in Dupont, Washington, site of another Dupont Munitions plant.

And there are dozens of "Ethels" in Dupont, Washington, site of another Dupont Munitions plant. This Ethel is in Dupont, Washington (and shares the neighborhood with 100 identical twins). Photo is copyright 2011 Mark McKillop and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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

They're 3,000 miles away, but these houses in Dupont, Washington are identical to our "Ethels" in Norfolk on Riverview. Photo is copyright 2011 Mark McKillop and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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

While we call them "Ethels," they were actually given a name - "The DuPont Model." Photo is copyright 2011 Mark McKillop and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

Close-up of dormer

This dormer window on these "Ethels" in Riverview (Norfolk) is a pretty distinctive feature. And it's a spot-on match to the Ethels (er, Duponts) in Dupont, Washington.

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In the early 1900s, making things go boom was a very popular idea.

The picture above was from a DuPont pamphlet, but there was an employee newsletter called, “The Projectile,” which featured a story on the building of these houses. Finding that would also be an incredible bonus!

We’re still hoping to find more “Ethels” (and Haskells and Cumberlands and Georgias) in Norfolk and other parts of Hampton Roads. If you know the location of any more of these “DuPont Designs,” please leave a comment below!

If you’d like to read earlier posts, start with Part I.

And then go to Part II.

Part III.

Part IV.

Part V.

Part VI.

Part VII.

Part VIII.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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9 Comments

  1. JennW-M

    I stumbled upon this web-site today. I have a 1918 adobe (clad in Steel siding) home in Gallup, NM that needs some front porch work and was looking for inspiration (it is more craftsman style then traditional adobe). So Sears Modern Homes was my inspiration to try and make our front look as original as possible, without removing the siding.

    Anyway, I found this snippet about the DuPont homes. I now live in Gallup, NM but grew up in Old Hickory, TN! I have so many fond memories of this little town. Some of my friends had grandparents that had retired from DuPont and remained in their homes. They had numerous beautiful, though small, houses. The supervisor homes were much larger and over looked Old Hickory Lake. I had no clue that there were other communities like Old Hickory.

    The house I clearly can remember was the ‘Georgia.’ I thought it was so interesting that they only had tubs and no stand up shower. I have to say the Old Hickory community is very proud of those homes.

    My family now lives on the Old Hickory Lake side of Mt. Juliet, TN, the town next to Old Hickory.

    Thank you for the wonderful walk down memory lane. When we return to visit this spring I will have to drive through again, now knowing the DuPont Homes names. Thank you.

  2. Sears Homes

    @JennW-M
    Hi Jenn, The DuPont name has been around forever, and I used to live on Glenroie Avenue (where these DuPont houses are now located), but I had no idea we had so many DuPont homes right here in Norfolk!

    They are such an interesting piece of our culture and our architectural heritage.

    And I’d love to visit “Old Hickory” sometime and see that village in person. I’m in the process of reading a book about the town, and it’s a great read!

  3. Kris

    I love this! I live in a Haskell in Old Hickory and work for DuPont currently. You touched on the architectural similarities between the houses in Old Hickory and elsewhere. One thing I’ve noticed about the houses in Old Hickory is that not many of the front doors are original. The original ones are easy to spot. It looks like the same can be said for the similar houses in other parts of the country! One cool note about Old Hickory is that a lot of the houses were built without cellars. At one point a man that went by the name of “digging Bill” started digging out cellars for people by hand (supposedly for liquor money). I have a “digging Bill” basement and you still can see the pick marks. The history of Old Hickory is a fascinating one.

  4. Charlie Demarest

    There are plenty of the “Haskell” DuPont designs in Haskell NJ where the original “Haskell” powder plant was.

  5. Mikie Coogan

    @Kris
    Digging Bill was famous in Old Hickory, Dupontonia and Rayon City but would not work on Saturday.

    My Dad hired him to dig in our back yard in Rayon City. I heard Bill tell my Dad he would just as soon work on Sunday as to work on a Saturday.

    He was a good worker and I use to fix his sister’s hair, a very nice funny lady, when I worked at Billie’s Beauty Shop in 1970-71.

    I always loved to visit my friends that lived in the Village DuPont homes because they were two-story homes (like my grandmother’s home) and seemed so big. The ones by the lake were especially nice. Thanks for the memory.

  6. stephen gale

    I would like to find out more about the layout and landscaping for Dupont towns; started with Louviers Colorado which is laid out with quadrangles and landscaped with trees, went on to Dupont Washington where the Company “hired a landscape designer from Tacoma” for the town which has several oversized wide streets with “tree lawns” or spaces between the street and sidewalk for landscaping.

    I would like to find out more about Old Hickory and it’s layout and landscaping,

  7. Marjory Duetsch Praml

    @Charlie Demarest
    Lived on Decker Road, Haskell in a Dupont “Haskell” home. Was told that my grandmother saw an advertisement for these homes in a NY paper.

    Parents took a Sunday drive to see and later purchased. I have been trying to research advertisements for these homes and came up with nothing.

  8. Lynda Spooner

    @Mikie Coogan

    Hi Mikie, I’m wondering if you know the history of the bungalows and Ray’s Market building(s) in Rayon City.

    I’ve searched historical records and find tons about DuPont’s birth of the village homes, but nothing about Rayon City’s shops and homes.

    I lived here 21 years and am 3rd of 4 generations from Old Hickory.

  9. Lynda Spooner

    @Kris

    Hi Kris, Does DuPont OH have records? I’m wondering if you know the history of the bungalows and Ray’s Market building(s) in Rayon City.

    I’ve searched historical records and find tons about DuPont’s birth of the village homes , but nothing about Rayon City’s shops and homes.

    I lived here 21 years and am 3rd of 4 generations from Old Hickory. Thanks!