Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Gordon-Van Tine Certificate For a No. 535 In Ooltewah, Tennessee

Authenticated Gordon-Van Tine No. 535 in Ooltewah, Tennessee
Authenticated Gordon-Van Tine No. 535 in Ooltewah, Tennessee
I don't have much to say about this house, except how excited I was to learn about it today, from its owner. The story behind her owning it, and the story about how it came to be built, are why I love learning about kit homes. As our newest researcher described it, our searching for these houses is like a big, non-stop treasure hunt. And, with a treasure hunt, even if you had nothing whatsoever to do with finding the treasure, when it appears in front of you, it's a special thing. 

The thing that we were treated to with this house, was that the owner, Rebecca, shared with us a certificate. A certificate from Gordon-Van Tine, signed by E. C. Roberts, the then president of Gordon-Van Tine, authenticating this house as a No. 535 model by his company. I've never seen a certificate like that from GVT (as we call the company) -- I don't know if any of us who love looking for these houses, has seen one before. But, it's pretty cool... and, here it is:
20 year guarantee certificate from Gordon-Van Tine company for Uriah Figgins' house in Ooltewah TN, signed by E. C. Roberts
Mr. Figgins' 20-year guarantee from Gordon-Van Tine
I guess the certificate is just a guarantee of quality... a publicity piece, in a way. I'm sure that they had no idea, that almost a hundred years later, there would be people who would look at this as an amazing find... but, there is always a great little thrill when you find authenticating documentation for a kit house. When we find a mortgage, or find shipping labels for a house that matches the catalog offerings, or see blueprints, or... come across something like a certificate that was awarded at the time of purchase, in 1925... the house we're looking at takes on a bit of a new dimension. There's no denying it's a kit. We aren't just making an educated guess. We aren't going to be proven to be mistaken. It's kind of like seeing your ancestor's immigration papers, signed by the Tzar of Russia... it's not like I didn't know my great grandfather came from Russia... it's not like I didn't know he sought citizenship here... it's not like I didn't know he was an immigrant... but, seeing the actual historic papers tying him to his history, like this little guarantee of quality, made a different kind of connection for me.

That signature at the bottom of the certificate, by the way, is "E. C. Roberts". E. C. Roberts was the president of Gordon-Van Tine in 1925, when this kit was ordered. And, E. C. Roberts was the reason that this very model was offered by GVT, because he lived in one himself, beginning in about 1909 or 1910. He must have hired an architect to design his house for him... and, then, in 1916, probably to recoup some of that cost, he decided to offer the plans for this same house, in the Gordon-Van Tine catalog of Ready-Cut homes. The model even graced the cover, and we've seen many examples of it around the country. I'll show a photo, below, of that original house (first marketed as the No. 560), and show how it appeared in the catalog, but if you'd like to read about E. C. Roberts and his house, you can find that blog post here.

Here is Mr. Roberts' house, as it stands today:
Home of E.C. Roberts Davenport Iowa, Gordon-Van Tine president, 918 E. Locust St
And here it is, as offered in the 1916 Gordon-Van Tine catalog:
GVT No. 536 GVT No. 560 shown inside 1916 Gordon-Van Tine catalog as home of president of Gordon-Van Tine Co

GVT No. 536 GVT No. 560 shown on cover of 1916 Gordon-Van Tine catalog
You can see the full catalog here, on Archive.org.
But, let's get back to Mr. U. F. Figgins and his house!

The U. F. of Mr. U. F. Figgins, stands for Uriah Frances... Figgins. And it was Mr. Uriah Frances Figgins who, at about the age of 78, ordered this house to be built, as a wedding gift for his new bride, Maude. Maude was considerably younger than Uriah, at 36, and was the postmaster of their town, Ooltewah, Tennessee (had been, since at least 1922). They married on June 30, 1925, and, the next year, had a daughter, whom they named Roberta. Roberta lost both of her parents at an early age... Uriah, her father, passed away when she was not quite a year old, and her mother passed away in 1938, leaving Roberta the lone heir, at age 11. Here is how it was all explained to me by Rebecca, the woman who now owns--and cherishes-- the lovely home in Ooltewah:

It was originally purchased by Uriah Figgins. He bought it as a wedding gift. He was 78 and his bride was 36. Uriah was a Civil War veteran. They had one daughter, Roberta, who lost her father at 11 months and her mother at 11 years old. Roberta's aunt raised her and the two of them lived in that home. Roberta was my grandmother's best friend and they lived next door to each other. Roberta never married or had children and she and I were very close. When she passed away she left the house to me because she knew how much I loved it.

I ran across Maude and Uriah's marriage certificate, from June 30, 1925:
marriage record Uriah Figgins and Maude Whittenburg Figgins

marriage record Uriah Figgins and Maude Whittenburg Figgins
closeup of the upper portion of Uriah and Maude's marriage certificate

Uriah had, of course, been married previously. For a man of 78 years of age, that would not be a surprise. He was married first to Sue Berg, in 1874:
marriage record Uriah Figgins and Susan Berg Figgins
1874 Marriage certificate of Uriah Figgins and his first wife, Sue Berg.
Uriah had several children with Sue, but she passed away in 1901. Uriah had been a widower for many years when he married Miss Fannie Maude Whittenburg... he must have been so pleased to be beginning a new chapter in his life-- and, so, wanted to mark it with a fine new home.

family tree of Uriah Francis Figgins and wife Maude Figgins and wife Susanna Berg Figgins
This excellent family tree resource was provided to me by Rebecca, the owner of Roberta, Maude, and Uriah's home.

Maude and Uriah's daughter, Roberta, lived in her parents' home, after their deaths, with her aunt, who was Belle Whittenburg, Maude's sister. Belle had already been living with them in the Gordon-Van Tine house, in 1930, along with Maude and Belle's brother, Charles Whittenburg. The 1930 U. S. census shows us the family all residing together in the house:
Fannie Maude Whittenburg Figgins and Roberta Figgins 1930 US census Ooltewah TN
Snippet from the 1930 U. S. Census. You can see that Maude (whose real name was Fannie Maude [Whittenburg] Figgins) was shown to be 40 years old, little Roberta was just three, and Belle, Maude's sister, was 43.
I ran across this listing showing F. Maude Whittenburg being appointed as U.S. Postmaster in Ooltewah, in 1922... with the notation, "Name changed by marriage to F. Maude Figgins,  ...1925", on Ancestry:

F. Maude Figgins as US Postmastr in Ooltewah TN
From Ancesty.com
And, here is the new family, sadly, without Maude, in 1940:
Roberta Figgins and Belle Whittenburg US Census 1940 Ooltewah TN
The 1940 U. S. Census for Ooltewah, Tennessee, showing that only Roberta Figgins, and her aunt, Belle Whittenburg, were left living in the house. Maude had passed away in 1938.
The Various Versions Of the Gordon-Van Tine No. 535
In 1925, when this home was built, there were two floor plans available for this house: the No. 535, and the No. 535B. We can tell by the arrangement of the staircase, that Maude and Uriah's house was the original floor plan, not the newer B version. The B version's staircase goes up straight from the first floor, but the original floor plan has a stair case that turns. Let's take a look:
Gordon-Van Tine No. 535
From the 1926 Gordon-Van Tine catalog.

Gordon-Van Tine No. 535
The original, No. 535, floor plan

Gordon-Van Tine No. 535 floor plan
The No. 535B floor plan, with its straight staircase.

Gordon-Van Tine No. 535
Up in the corner, we see a drawing showing the straight-line staircase of the B floor plan.
Gordon-Van Tine No. 535
Here, though, is the turned staircase of Uriah and Maude's No. 535 -- that's the original floor plan.

Gordon-Van Tine No. 535
You can see the turn a bit better in this shot.
(Look at that lovely gold hook on the newel!)
Gordon-Van Tine No. 535
And this is a view of a home in Webster Groves, Missouri, that we believe to be a Gordon-Van Tine No. 535, as well (built in 1922). This shows how different the staircase looks, compared to the straight staircase of the B floor plan. If you'd like to read about that house, go here.
In 1919, the No. 535 was shown in color in the catalog:
Gordon-Van Tine No. 535 in 1919 catalog
Here's the full 1919 catalog online, at Archive.org

You may have noticed that this model is shown with a full, two-story sun porch on the side... though, in the 1916 catalog, it was shown with only a first floor sunporch on the side. Well, the house had several transformations, and was available not only with those two options, but also with the option of having no sun porch on the side (marketed as The Glencoe ). At one point, I decided to sit down with the catalogs, and clarify what all of the different versions were called (because this two-story sunporch version was first marketed as the No. 560... then as the No. 535... but then the B floor plan was added... and then the No. 536 was offered... and then the Glencoe), so I did just that, and wrote up my findings in a blog post. You can read that blog post here, but here is a summary:
Gordon Van Tine No 535 vs 536 vs Glencoe
That sums it up! And, to add more interest to the story, each of the models had some slight change to the floor plan.
More Information
If you are interested in more information, try these links:

Dale Wolicki's informative website showcasing the research he has done on the Gordon-Van Tine company

A previous blog post of mine about another authenticated No. 560 or 535, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Another previous blog post of mine, about the Glencoe version, located in the city of St. Louis, Missouri. That blog post, near the end, explains where the Gordon-Van Tine plant was located, in St. Louis (the plant was often mentioned in the Gordon-Van Tine catalogs, but I had a heck of a time locating it... until I realized that it was not listed by the Gordon-Van Tine moniker).

I would like to extend warm thanks to Rebecca Hope McNabb for sharing her home, and its history, with me, and allowing me to write about it. Rebecca, I wish you a lifetime of happiness in your special Gordon-Van Tine home!


  1. What a cool story -- I love finding all these treasures in our ongoing hunt! :) I also had no idea that the 535 had so many different variations! I think out of all of them, I prefer the 535 and it's original turned staircase.


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