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!
I was driving down Main Street when this little pretty raised its hand and softly called my name.
"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.
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.
And a much bigger house.
The smaller model was a mere 32 feet wide, and didn't have that kitchen off the back.
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.
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.
From the side, it sure is a nice match.
But it's definitely a Kentucky!
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.
"It is probably the most interesting, practical story ever told of the most interesting of subjects - home-building."
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.
I love the GVT 594 because it's so easy to spot. Lots of distinctive features (1924 catalog).
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.
A massive old tree obscured the views, but peeking through the branches, you could see that distinctive bumpout, with the unusual window arrangement.
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!
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.
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!
Contact Lori by clicking here!
Do you know of a Penniman house in Gloucester County? Please contact Rose by leaving a comment below.
* * *
My sister-in-law works at the Gazette Journal! Gloucester is a nice town.
My parents lived in Gloucester Courthouse for several years, back in the 1980s.
They had a nice house in a new area, but touring the original older area was pretty cool back then. It was small and quaint, and apparently not a lot has changed!
I know we took chicken pox down there unknowingly from Indiana, and started a minor epidemic, because our son, who had been battling “the sniffles” for a couple of days, pulled up his shirt while we were in the car the day after we got there for a few days visit, and said “Hey mom, what’s all this?” Gagggghhhh!!
And we went down there for Thanksgiving weekend. All the family had already been to see us when we got there the day before Thanksgiving, so there was no point in cutting our visit short.
Everyone we came to see had already been exposed. I think he was about 6 or 7 at the time.
Both my kids had already been thoroughly vaccinated by then, (I saw to it when they were babies) but apparently either the vaccine for chicken pox wasn’t being done or wasn’t reliable, because my niece who lived there and is six months younger than my son got it from him, two weeks after we left of course, and my daughter, who is two years older got it after we returned home to Indiana.
It was making its way through the grade schools by the time we returned to Indianapolis, and had just begun before we left. I had no idea it was, or that he had been exposed.
Made for an interesting and quick trip home! We made it home without stopping overnight anywhere, by alternating the driving between my husband and myself while the kids slept in blankets in the back seat of the car.
I really didn’t want to be responsible for spreading it across the countryside on our way from southeastern Virginia to central Indiana!
The Penniman story stirs my interest and reminds me of the College Court bungalows in Suffolk, Va.. A link to a real estate site (http://www.debragriggs.com/Property/2-College-Court-Suffolk-Virginia) shows one of the six (or so) houses and has a link to a map.
The write-up by the realtors is the first knowledge I’ve found about “bungalow courts.”
I have no notion they are related to your search but they are a delightful find by any measure, in a delightful city.