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Spotted in the Wilderness: A Perfect Elsmore

Whilst driving along State Route 501, between Lynchburg and Glasgow, I spotted this Elsmore in Big Island, Virginia. (And why was a town high atop a mountain named "Big Island"?) Nonetheless, this Elsmore is a beauty, and it looks like it stepped right off the pages...

Multitudinous Blessings

It's amazing how something as pedestrian as an old-house website can turn out to be such a catalyst for multitudinous blessings. Through this website (and its accompanying page on Facebook), I have met so many people. With few exceptions, old house people are the...

And Her Name is C-Biscuit…

The Prius C is known as the "Aqua" in Japan, and has consistently been one of the best selling cars in that country. In the United States, sales have not been as strong. Rumors abound that 2018 will be the last year for the Prius C in America, but with gas prices...

Who Doesn’t Love a Story About Ghost Towns?

On May 26th, I'll be giving a talk on Penniman (with lots of new pictures). For a variety of reasons, I'm not sure how much longer I will be living in this area, so if you'd like to hear me give a talk on Penniman, please attend this talk in Williamsburg. And if...

Pink Bathrooms: Extinction Looms

Remember the very first commandment of old house renovation? Thou shalt not destroy good old work. That's it. More than 35% of the garbage at America's landfills is construction-related waste. That's a phenomenal amount of debris. What's worse is this: The replacement...

Boardwalk Empire and Sears Kit Homes

The last few weeks, I've been watching Boardwalk Empire (HBO), set in 1920s Atlantic City. It's centered around the real life story of prohibition-era gangster Enoch Johnson, who's known as Enoch ("Nucky") Thompson on the show. From the start, one of my favorite...

Ladies, Where Are Your Names (and Stories)?

While little is known about the men who worked at Penniman, even less is known about the women of Penniman, and yet, the majority of the workforce at DuPont's 37th munitions plant were women. Loading TNT powder into 75mm and 155mm shells was a nasty bit of business,...

The People of Penniman: Personal Papers?

There's no doubt in my mind that a "Pennimanite" left behind a personal reminiscence or journal or unpublished manuscript or something, telling about his war-time experiences at Penniman, Virginia. The problem is finding these people, and then finding their...

Is That You, Dr. Cottrell?

Last month, Steven Beauter was kind enough to share an incredible vintage photo album with me, which featured more than a dozen pictures from 1918-era Penniman, Virginia, a "ghost city" six miles from Williamsburg. There are several unidentified folks within the pages...

Nope, It’s Not a Sears Magnolia…

In the last 20 years, I've probably received more than 200 emails and inquiries from folks who think they've found a Sears Magnolia. In the last 20 years, I've found four Magnolias as a result of these emails and inquiries. That means that 2% of the time, these...

Pulchritudinous Poquoson and Its Kit Homes

Several months ago, I went looking for a GriefShare group to join, and chose one in Poquoson (Virginia). The primary reason was this: I didn't know anyone in Poquoson, so if I had a panic attack or started crying or acted like a fool, I could surreptitiously slip out...

Penniman: We Have Alleyne’s Last Name!

After that last blog, Milton, Mark and David (three faithful researchers that have been with me since the start of this project) went to work to find Alleyne's last name. This morning, I found an email from Mark Hardin, explaining that he'd found Alleyne.  Her full...

The People of Penniman – We Have Pictures!

Now we just need some names. Thanks to Steven Beauter, a sharp-eyed and devoted historian and lover of history, we have pictures of the people of Penniman. A few years ago, Steven purchased an early 20th century photo album that he'd found on eBay. More recently, he...

Love, Prayers and “Standard Bilt” Sears Homes

Yesterday started out tough but ended up on a lovely note. There were several decisions to make, hard things to do, and then, after breakfast, I discovered a jagged edge on my bottom front tooth. It had been feeling a little odd for about a month, but I'd ignored it....

When Real Estate Photos Make Me Laugh Out Loud…

As someone who spends a fair amount of time looking online at real estate listings and photos, I can tell you, some of these photos are real doozies. My favorite site, for ease of use, is Zillow. There are other websites that I frequent, but many of them are so heavy...

Another “Sears House” Featured on HGTV?

An update! It's not a "Sears kit house," but a Penniman house. Kind of. 😀 And "Sears House" is in quotes, because we all know, 99% of the time (or maybe 100%), these horrible TV shows get it wrong. And they are horrible. One of the first rules of old house ownership...

Flipping Insane…

Back in the day, "Flipper" was a television show, featuring a bottle-nose dolphin. Flipper was, in fact, a lot like Lassie with fins. I remember crowding around the television with the fam to watch Flipper on Saturday nights. (As I tell my daughter, ours was the last...

Hey – You There – How’d You Get Here?

In the beginning, I joined Facebook under protest and only with the stated purpose of creating a stronger internet presence for me and my books and my career. Subsequently, I've found that if I write a blog and do NOT post a link on Facebook, this site gets...

The Open Floor Plan and the Downfall of Society

Last February, as Robert, Pat and I sat together in Robert's Sears Home, he said, "The open floor plan will probably be considered one of the most heinous atrocities ever committed against American architecture." A man after my own heart. When historians write about...

C’mon Realtors…You Can Do Better

For the last few weeks, I've been on the hunt for a house in a quiet place with a little bit of land. I've been working with a true real estate professional, Tracie Gaskins, who is not only a queen among real estate agents, but an angel let down from heaven. When you...

That Rascally Haskell

Today, despite all the publicity about recycling, we're still a very wasteful society, and even more so when it comes to housing. More than 35% of all debris at modern landfills is construction debris. HGTV is the worst offender, encouraging millions to rip out and...

The Bungalow in the York River

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...

Christmas in Carlinville (Illinois)

In an effort to be "anywhere but here," I traveled to Illinois for the holidays and spent them in Carlinville, Illinois, home of a large collection of Sears Homes, built by Standard Oil. It was a treat to find the Town Square all lit up for the holidays.