Travel Back In Time With Me and Say Hello to The Ethels!

Thanks to a well-organized city assessor’s office in Norfolk, I was able to see and photograph several vintage photos of our “Ethels” (in Riverview – Norfolk) from the late 1940s and early 50s.

And I must say, it was very interesting!

These were the houses that were built at Penniman, VA (DuPont’s 37th munitions site) and moved – by barge – to Riverview. You can read more about that here.

The main reason for today’s blog is that I just *LOVE* looking at vintage pictures of houses, and the only thing better than looking at them myself is sharing the images with others. These early 20th Century bungalows looked so pure and simple and sweet back in the day. Best of all, when most of these photos were taken, the siding salesman hadn’t been invented yet.

And because of the Penniman connection, I have a special fondness for our Ethels.

So stroll down Ethel Avenue with me through the 1940s, and take a peek at our Ethels!

(Photos are courtesy Norfolk City Assessor’s Office.)

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To begin, here's an Ethel in its native habitat: Penniman, VA. These homes were built in Spring 1918 by DuPont to house the munitions workers at the plant. While built based on DuPont plans, the construction of these homes was actually funded by the U. S. Government. After The Great War ended, the government sold them off as salvage in an effort to recoup some of their investment. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)



Here's an "Ethel" in 1948. In the back yard, you can see the rear of another Ethel. And check out the sweet ride in the driveway. When photographed, this Ethel was a mere 30 years old, and had lived in Riverview for 25 years.


Lava Eth

Some of the photos were crisper than others, and some photos were newer than others. Wish I knew what kind of car that was (right corner). That might help "date" the photo.



This Ethel is looking so pretty and pure, but then again, it's still so young.



And this Ethel has a flower box. How sweet is that? Pretty house!


house hosue house

The Ethels looked a lot better without substitute siding.



Fine-looking house, and check out the curious housewife.


oeek a boo

I recognize that look. It's a "what-the-heck-are-they-doing-photographing-my-house" look.


house house

You can see the original railings on the other side of the screened porch.



People loved their porches in the days before air conditioning.


house hosue

And there's a curious feature I've noticed in these vintage pictures: There's additional wooden siding below the home's skirt board. I suspect that this has something to do with the house being built elsewhere and moved to this site, but exactly what it means is a mystery.


house house

Here's another close-up on the extra clapboards *below* the skirt board. I don't recall ever seeing anything like that before, and I've seen a lot of pre-1920s housing.



Another close up, and this one has cedar or cypress shakes to fill in the gaps. On most frame houses (such as our Ethels), the skirt board is the bottom-most vertical trim piece. Why did they add the extra trim?



In these Penniman photos (from 1918), there is some skirting but it's vertical planking and is used to keep the rodents and wind out of the crawl space. That extra siding below the skirt board was done at the Riverview site for reasons that elude me. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)


Mr. Hubby has mixed feelings about spending his lunch hour at City Hall, helping the crazy wife organize files and study old pictures, and yet, he remains a good sport about it all.

Mr. Hubby has mixed feelings about spending his lunch hour at City Hall, helping the crazy wife organize files and study old pictures, and yet, he remains a good sport about it all.


To learn more about Penniman, click here.

Want to see how many houses you can fit on a barge? Click here.

If you have a theory as to why that extra material was added below the skirt board, please leave a comment below!

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  1. Mark Hardin


    Were the houses placed on piers when they were moved to Riverview?

  2. Sears Homes

    Hi Mark,

    Seems to me that they must have been. David and I were underneath one of these Ethels about three years ago, and as I recall, they had traditional brick piers.

  3. Mark

    The skirting may be to seal off underneath the houses and hide the piers.

  4. Alan Winston

    Houses are moved by jacking them up, inserting the carrying supports and wheels underneath, and hauling them off.

    At the destination, they are jacked off the carrying vehicle [dolly? carriage? trailer?].

    Lowering them back down would presumably be a complicated, expensive, and possibly risky task, which would also make reconnecting plumbing and such more difficult, so maybe they just left them in the higher position, and covered the gap?