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A Penniman Murder Mystery: Ethel and Ralph

February 7th, 2016 Sears Homes 1 comment

Ralph and Ethel were married, but not to each other.

About 7:00 o’clock, standing on a sidewalk at a busy intersection in downtown Richmond, Ralph and Ethel got into an argument. Ethel had just stepped off the train, and the two started quarreling. Ralph pulled a pistol out of his pocket and shot 39-year-old Ethel twice in the chest. She collapsed immediately. Ralph (55) then turned the pistol on himself, and managed to shoot himself twice in the chest before he fell. Splayed on the sidewalk, bleeding out from the two wounds, Ralph summoned the strength to prop  himself up on an elbow and fire the last two bullets at Ethel, with one bullet striking her in the head.

Ralph then fell back on the sidewalk, where a sailor kicked the empty pistol out of his hands.

Richmond Patrolman Walter M. Angel had just passed the couple at 14th and Main moments earlier. Upon hearing the gun shots, he rushed back to the corner, and commandeered a citizen’s vehicle. Ethel was rushed to Virginia Hospital, a modern three-story hospital about a mile away. Another patrolman rushed Ralph to the hospital, where he died less than 30 minutes later.

It was November 13, 1918. The Great War had ended two days earlier. The entire world rejoiced when Germany surrendered and hostilities ceased, except for Ralph E. Walker, as it meant that he’d soon be separated from Ethel.

The two had met each other at DuPont’s munition plant at Penniman, Virginia, about seven miles from Williamsburg. Many of Penniman’s residents regularly took the C&O train to Williamsburg when they wanted to get out of the village. Ralph and Ethel probably hoped that Richmond would be a safer bet, where it wasn’t as likely that they’d be recognized. According to newspaper articles, the story of their involvement was already well known throughout the munition plant.

In Chattanooga, Ralph’s hometown, this story of the “suicide-slayer” was headline news for several days. The Chattanooga News immediately sent a reporter to Richmond to interview Mrs. D. S. McDonald of Williamsburg, where Ralph had been a boarder. According to Mrs. McDonald, Ralph had told several people that he had “a sweetheart at the DuPont plant.” Ralph also told Mrs. McDonald that she shouldn’t be surprised if she came into his room one morning and found that he’d committed suicide.

Ethel lingered for 10 days. As soon as Ethel’s mother received the news, she rushed to Ethel’s bedside from her home in North Girard, Pennsylvania. Ethel, who was lucid part of the time, refused to make any statement about the events, admitting only that they’d been quarreling, and that Ralph had a terrible temper. Despite intense questioning from both the medical staff and law enforcement officers, both Ethel and her mother managed to keep Ethel’s true identity secret. The story made the headlines up and down the Eastern Seaboard, but - from what I can glean - nothing appeared in the newspapers around Ethel’s hometown of Girard.

At Penniman, Ethel was in a supervisory position (probably on the shell-loading line) and Ralph managed the livestock at the stables,  at the edge of the Penniman camp. Back in Chattanooga, Ralph had a wife and six children. They lived at 801 Union Avenue. His eldest child, Ralph E. Walker, Junior (30) had been in a tragic streetcar accident years earlier and was now an invalid who suffered from frequent convulsions. Ralph, Sr. came from a prominent Chattanooga family, with two judges in his immediate family (a brother and a cousin).

Before meeting Ethel at the train, Ralph had checked into Rueger’s Hotel under the pseudonym of F. H. Armstrong of Birmingham, Alabama. Letters from his wife and youngest child (Mark) were found in his suitcase.

Despite the agony that Ethel must have been experiencing, she wouldn’t give anyone her real name, identifying herself only as “Mrs. N. E. Brown.” Eventually, she told the staff that her name was Ethel Mae Brown. The newspaper articles explained that she wished to keep her identity a secret, because her husband was “a prominent physician in Pennsylvania.”

By all accounts, Ethel’s sufferings were great. With Mother at her bedside, Ethel dictated a will, bequeathing her “jewelry, diamonds and other effects” to her. On November 22, 1918, Ethel succumbed to her injuries, “with the secrets of this [story] still locked in her heart” (Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 23, 1918).

And for 98 years, that’s about all we knew about the murder/suicide in downtown Richmond.

Soon after I discovered this story, I asked Milton Crum, my BFF and genealogy genius if he could “spare a few minutes” to track down this mysterious Mrs. Brown. Frankly, I thought it was hopeless. But he found her, and that’s when we learned the rest of the story.

Ethel’s husband back in Girard was not a prominent physician, but a 41-year-old army doctor who enlisted in March 1918, and was serving somewhere in France. His name was Dr. Sydney R. Titsworth, and he met Ethel in the early 1900s, when she was a nursing student at J. Hood Wright Hospital in New York. Secretly married in 1905 after a very brief courtship, they had no children.

Milton first found Ethel when he discovered her death certificate. Her mother (the informant) gave false information on this document as well, stating that her daughter’s last name was “Brown,” and giving her age as 28.  A 1900 Census gives a birth date of 1879 for Ethel, which corresponds to newspaper reports, putting her age at “about 35″ in 1918.

Ethel’s mother, Carrie Grace Schneittacher, made the necessary arrangements to have her only child, Ethel Mae, buried in Girard Cemetery. Ethel’s tombstone bespeaks the deep shame her own family felt toward her. Stripped of her married name, deprived of the traditional familial connections and dates, it says only, “Ethel, dau of J.W. and C.G. Schneittacher.”

Less than 14 months after Mrs. Ralph Walker (Mary) buried her husband in disgrace, her eldest son (Ralph, Jr.) died during a convulsive fit. He was 31 years old. Mary died in 1938 at the age of 70. Her occupation was listed as “domestic.” It must not have been an easy life for either family. Four years after Ethel’s tragic death, her father (Wilford Joseph Schneittacher) died from cirrhosis of the liver.

So what is the mystery? There are many.

Did the Pennsylvania papers carry anything on this story? I’ve searched several archived newspaper sites (LOC’s Chronicling America, Newspapers.com and Find My Past) and can not find a single mention of this story. What happened to Ethel’s mother, Carrie Grace Schneittacher? She just disappeared after the death of her husband.

And what about Ethel? Did anyone in Girard ever know what happened to her? Was there an obituary for Ethel? The family had been in Girard since the 1900 Census. Surely, someone would have missed this woman.

Lastly, is Ethel buried in the family plot, or in some corner, forgotten by her family - even in death? If Girard wasn’t so far from Norfolk, I’d drive up there, just to see for myself.

There are many interesting stories we’ll find when we go digging around in history, but this story of Ethel is one that I’ve found especially sad and haunting.

Thanks so much to Milton Crum and Anne Hallerman for assisting with the voluminous research.

The above is a preview from Rose’s forthcoming book, Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City. You can read more about Penniman here.

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Pasted

Ralph and Ethel met at Penniman, Virginia, a World War One munitions plant and village, built by DuPont. It was located about seven miles from Williamsburg. At its peak, more than 15,000 people inhabited the 6,000-acre site on the York River. Penniman was established in Spring 1916, and by 1921, it was a ghost town.

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Penniman

About 6,000 men and women worked at Penniman, loading shells for The Great War. After the war, Penniman was disassembled and in 1942, the land was purchased for use by the Navy (Cheatham Annex).

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Thanks to Hagley Museum and Library, we have many wonderful images from Penniman, but no names.

Thanks to Hagley Museum and Library, we have many wonderful images from Penniman, but no names. This shows the freight depot, where the 155mm and 75mm shells were shipped out to Newport News, for transport to France.

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Ralph had a background in buying, selling and managing livestock. At Penniman, he got a job managing the livestock.

Originally from Chattanooga, Ralph had a background in buying, selling and managing livestock, and that became his job at Penniman. In the upper left hand corner, you can see the stables for the donkeys, horses and other animals. The small square buildings at the top are chicken coops. Located on the edge of the property, this is probably where Ralph spent much of his day.

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This is the lone photo of Mrs. Ethel Brown. It was published only in the Chattanooga News, and the accompanying article described her as a good-looking woman.

This is the lone photo of "Mrs. Ethel Brown." It was published only in "The Chattanooga News" with the accompanying headline, "Same Old Story of Human Emotions Repeated in Virginia City."

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News

This article appeared in the "Richmond Times Dispatch" on 11.14.18

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Ethels mother, the informant misrepresented the true facts about Ethels name, age

It was my history loving buddy and genealogical wizard Milton Crum who figured out Ethel's real last name, and I'm still not sure how he did it, but I think it was the discovery of this death certificate that started it all. Ethel's mother, the "informant" misrepresented the true facts about Ethel's name and age.

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It was my history loving buddy and genealogical wizard Milton Crum who

This 1900 census shows Ethel is still living with her father "William" and mother "Gracie" Schneittacher in Girard, Pennsylvania. In 1918, when Ethel "disappeared" did anyone in Girard ask about her?

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Ra

Ralph Walker's body was shipped back to Chattanooga where a "family only" service was held.

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Ethels husband

Ethel's husband was discharged nine months after Ethel's death, in August 1919. He spent the next several years traveling the oceans, working as a ship's physician. He remarried in 1925.

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Most heart-breaking of all is this tombstone at the Girard Cemetery.

Most heart-breaking of all is this tombstone at the Girard Cemetery in Erie County, Pennsylvania. Stripped of her legal, married name, Ethel's marker is nondescript. It's my impression that - even in death - Joseph Wilford and Carrie Grace wanted to put a little distance between themselves and their only child.

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An interesting update - just as I was finishing up this blog, I found this article in a Pennsylvania paper, The Kane Republican.

An interesting update - just as I was finishing up this blog, I found this article in a Pennsylvania paper, "The Kane Republican" (November 15, 1918).

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Sometimes, It Takes a Village of Historians to Document a Hillrose…

February 5th, 2016 Sears Homes No comments

Until just a few months ago, I’d never seen a 1920s Sears Hillrose in real life. And then in August 2015, I had the delightful opportunity to visit a stunning Hillrose in Brandy Station, Virginia. Shortly after I wrote that blog, Greg Decker and Carrie Milam (from our Sears Homes Facebook group) discovered a Hillrose in Griffith, Indiana, and took a plethora of first-class photos!

Next, Rachel Shoemaker had the presence of mind to check Rebecca Hunter’s wonderful book, “Putting Sears Homes on the Map,” and found two more of this very same model in Convoy, Ohio and nearby Antwerp, Ohio. Fuzzy online images of the Sears Hillrose in Convoy really piqued my interest: It appeared to be in mostly original condition.

Next, I contacted the County Economic Development Officer in nearby Van Wert, Ohio, who forwarded my email to Adam Ries, with Main Street Van Wert Inc., who contacted Larry Webb at the Van Wert County Historical Society. Mr Webb was kind enough to run out to the house in Convoy and photograph the house from several angles.

Now if I could just get some photos of that Hillrose in Antwerp!

When the Hillrose was first offered, it was known as a “prize winner.” Read more about that here.

Thanks again to Larry Webb for these wonderful photos.
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The Hillrose, as seen in the 1916 Modern Homes catalog.

The Hillrose, as seen in the 1916 Modern Homes catalog.

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As you can see from these floor plans, it was an unusually spacious house.

As you can see from these floor plans, it was an unusually spacious house.

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Its a house with several distinctive features, making it easy to spot.

It's a house with several distinctive features, such as that slender window in the upstairs closet, the large squared bay at the rear and the off-center front door. The spacious porch with the flared columns is also eye-catching, but sometimes, porches get dramatically altered through the years.

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Many thanks to

Now that's a fine-looking house. It's so rare to find these 100-year-old houses in original condition. Yes, the house needs a little sprucing up, but it's a rarity and a real gem in a world filled with HGVT-crazed homeowners. Many thanks to Larry Webb at the Van Wert County Historical Society for providing these photos.

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My goodness, what a house.

My goodness, what a house. Once you see a house "in the flesh," it becomes infinitely easier to identify other models out in the world. Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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From the homes side

These Sears Homes had cypress clapboards and window trim. Even without paint, this siding will endure for many years. However, it appears that the current owners are painting this classic old foursquare. Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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What a glorious find on a road that literally straddles Indiana and Ohio. And quite a testament to old-fashioned paint, that would hang on through the decades! Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Mr. Webb had the presence of mind to photograph this home from the rear!

Mr. Webb had the presence of mind to photograph this home from the rear! This angle shows (again) how delightfully original this Hillrose is, with an original wooden storm door on the back porch. Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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If you compare the floor plan to the Hillrose, you'll see how delightfully original this old kit house truly is. Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And if you look really close, youll see another relic of a bygone era: A cistern.

And if you look really close, you'll see another relic of a bygone era: A cistern. See how the rounded downspout disappears into the ground, and the concrete pad on top of that area? Odds are good that this was an underground cistern (typically lined with brick) and this water was used for washing clothes, as it was the softest water imaginable. The beautiful old hand pump in the foreground may have been piped into that cistern. Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Last but not least, there's another Hillrose about 20 miles due north of our Hillrose in Convoy, Ohio. If someone could just hop in their Sears Allstate sedan and run up to Antwerp and get that photo...

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Thanks to Rebecca Hunter, Rachel was able to locate those two Hillroses in Ohio! This is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.

Thanks to Rebecca Hunter's well-researched book, Rachel was able to locate those two Hillroses in Ohio! This is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.

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Here's the Hillrose that Carrie Milam and Greg Decker found in Griffith, Indiana. Sadly, the front porch is MIA. Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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When the Hillrose was first offered, it was known as a “prize winner.” Read more about that here.

Read about the Hillrose in Brandy Station here.

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Sears Modern Home, “The Winston”

January 31st, 2016 Sears Homes 4 comments

It’s been 17 years since I wrote my first article on Sears kit homes, and I’ve learned a lot in those years. Yet even now, there are still lots of surprises. That’s the nature of history, and probably the #1 reason I love history so much - it’s always shifting and changing - and there’s always something new to learn.

When Bob Gentzel posted pictures of his “Sears Winston” in our Facebook group, I was skeptical. I took a moment to study the house, but then I scrolled on to the next shiny bauble on Facebook, hoping that someone else might gently explain to him that it wasn’t really a Sears House. I was running out of nice things to say to people who were similarly confused.

A couple days after he posted his photos, I was looking up something in a plan book house and I stumbled across a Standard Homes Plan called, “The Winston.” Better yet, it was a spot-on match to Bob’s house in Pennsylvania. I went back to Bob’s photos on Facebook and posted the images I’d found from Standard Homes and explained to him that it was a plan-book house and people often confused plan-book houses with kit homes.

Bob was grateful to see his house in a plan-book catalog, but he remained insistent that it was a Sears House.

I asked how he knew it was a Sears House. His reply piqued my interest: “The name ‘Sears & Roebuck’ appears on the home’s original blueprints.” Frankly, I was still a little doubtful. I asked for photos, and Bob supplied them.

That’s when I became a believer. Bob Gentzel’s custom Sears House in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s a real doozy. And it’s a real Sears House!

Thanks so much to Bob Gentzel for sharing this fascinating story and providing me with the photos below.

To read about another custom Sears House, click here.

Learn more about plan-book houses here.

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Its a Sears House, they always tell me, and I have to be the one to tell them, Sorry, Charlie. Its not even close. But in this case, I was wrong - this really IS a Sears House, built with plans from Standard Home Plans.

"It's a Sears House," is a refrain that's quite popular, but sometimes wrong, and often I have to be the one to tell them, "Sorry, Charlie. It's not even close." But in this case, I was wrong - this really IS a Sears House, built with plans from Standard Home Plans. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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When I found this image in the Standard Homes Planbook (1920s), I thought, Poor guy. Hes got a plan book house and he thinks its a kit home.

When I found this image in the Standard Homes Planbook (1920s), my first thought was, "Poor guy. He's got a plan-book house from Standard Homes and someone told him it's a kit home." Well, Bob's house is two amazing homes in one! It's a plan-book house - with blueprints and building materials from Sears & Roebuck, Chicago, Illinois.

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There's no arguing with this little tidbit, on the corner of the blueprints for Bob's house. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Blue

The describe the house as "Special Winston." Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

And its special in other ways, too. The Winston (as shown in the SHP floor plan) is 26 feet wide. Bobs Special Winston is 34 feet wide, adding a lot of extra square footage to the house.

And it's special in other ways, too. The Winston (as shown in the SHP floor plan) is 26 feet wide. Bob's "Special Winston" is 34 feet wide, adding a lot of extra square footage to the house.

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Upstairs, there's a darling little alcove in that front gable.

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Bobs Special Winston has Sears La Tosca hardware.

Bob's "Special Winston" has Sears "La Tosca" hardware (1930 catalog image).

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Which

"La Tosca" was very popular in Sears Homes (1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

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Bob found this

Glued to the back side of the blue prints, Bob found this unique tape. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And Bob has the o

And Bob has all manner of original documentation for the house, such as this wonderful letter. My favorite line is, "If you have any irregularity of any kind, write to us and we shall take prompt action." In other words, if you find anything missing or in error, we'll make it right. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And

This list delineates the special changes made to the Special Winston. And there were quite a few. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And its even signed!

And it's even signed! Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And theres this...

And there's this. All these documents were passed along to Mr. and Mrs. Gentzel when they purchased the house in 1985. The Gentzels purchased the house from the daughter and son-in-law of the original owners. God bless the home's prior owners for hanging on to all this documentation and ephemera! Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Its a mighty fancy kit house!

It's a mighty fancy "kit house"! You don't often find exposed beams in a 1930 house. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The fireplace mantel is fairly unusual, too.

The fireplace mantel is fairly unusual, too. I wonder if that's rock that's been locally quarried. I'm in awe that the house retains its original varnished woodwork. It's stunning. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The entry foyer made me swoon.

The entry foyer made me swoon. Every piece and part of that staircase is breathtakingly beautiful unpainted wood. I'd be interested to know what that little door is for. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And who doesnt love a breakfast nook?

And who doesn't love a breakfast nook? Unfortunately, these darling little nooks are often removed by an aggressive remodeler. Nice to see the original nook in this old house! Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Upstairs

Here's a view of the nook upstairs, in that front gable. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The house is a spacious beauty from top to bottom. Heres a view of the master bedroom, looking in to what is now a master bathroom.

The house is a spacious beauty from top to bottom. Here's a view of the master bedroom, looking in to what is now a master bathroom. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another view of the master bedroom, looking toward the hallway.

Another view of the master bedroom, looking toward the hallway. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Returning to the first floor, theres this little mystery.

Returning to the first floor, there's this little mystery. That's a door leading into the closet, and that's a small inward-swinging casement window inside the closet, but is that a SINK in the corner of the closet? Sure looks like it to me. But why a sink in the corner of a coat closet? Is it a graphic for a hat shelf? If so, it's a mighty odd one.

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Bob very graciously supplied a picture of the house from that angle, just to assuage my curiousity.

Bob very graciously supplied a picture of the house from that angle, just to assuage my curiosity. He also explained that his house had been modified, so that little closet wasn't present in his Special Winston. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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I found Bobs house in this reproduction of a 1920s Standard Home Plans catalog. I bought it a few years ago on Amazon. And I love that design on the front cover.

I found Bob's house in this reproduction of a 1920s Standard Home Plans catalog. I bought it a few years ago on Amazon. And I love that design on the front cover.

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And look whats next door to Bobs Special Winston.

Ruh Roe. Just look what's next door to Bob's "Special Winston."

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To read about another custom Sears House, click here.

Learn more about plan-book houses here.

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Kit Homes in Kinston - What a Bonanza!

January 25th, 2016 Sears Homes 2 comments

Was I surprised to find 19 Aladdin kit homes in Kinston? My oh my, yes! And those 19 were found during a very quick windshield survey. There are more lurking about, I’m sure.

Last week, my husband and I visited New Bern, and while there, we drove out to Kinston to look at the local architecture. Lo and behold, we found an Aladdin kit home on almost every street in the older neighborhoods. In one memorable area (near Harding and Pollock Streets) we found seven Aladdin homes together.

The older suburbs we visited had many wide-open spaces, suggesting that many of these early 20th Century kit homes have already been demolished.

If you’re new to this website, you may be wondering, what is a kit home? In the early 1900s, aspiring homeowners could order a “kit home” from the Sears Roebuck catalog. Each 12,000-piece kit came with a 75-page instruction book and a promise that the neophyte homebuilder could have the house ready for  occupancy in 90 days. In addition to Sears, there were other companies selling kit homes through mail-order catalogs, such as Aladdin (based in Bay City, Michigan) and Gordon Van Tine (Davenport, Iowa).

Aladdin was bigger than Sears, in business longer, and sold more homes than Sears, but they’re not as well known as Sears. Aladdin had a mill in Wilmington, North Carolina, which explains why Aladdin Homes were so popular in the Southeast.

Based on my research, the overwhelming majority of people living in these kit homes didn’t know what they had, until I contacted them (or they discovered their home on my blog).

What was the industry that promoted Kinston’s growth in the early 1900s, and put them on the map? Industries often turned to Aladdin to supply housing for the workers. It’s likely that someone turned to Aladdin for the houses we’re now finding in Kinston, but who was it?

Lastly, before we get into the photos, I’m hoping some progressive-minded soul in Kinston will contact me about coming back to town to do a thorough survey. Perhaps identifying these bungalows as historically significant kit homes can be a key to revitalizing parts of Kinston.

Let’s hope.

Contact Rose by leaving a comment below.

In addition to the 19 Aladdin homes, I found a lone Gordon Van Tine home: The Peach House Restaurant! And it’s a real beauty! You can read more about that by clicking here!

You can read here about the kit homes I found in New Bern, NC.

UPDATE! We found a Montgomery Ward kit home in Kinston, too!

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1914 Moosejaw

Aladdin sold more homes than Sears, but was not as well known.

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1916

What was the industry that promoted Kinston's growth in the early 1900s, and put them on the map? It seems very likely that *that* employer turned to Aladdin to supply worker homes in Kinston.

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houses

Aladdin had catalogs devoted to "solving the problem of industrial housing."

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Aladdin 1916

Aladdin was named for the magical genie who built "a house in a day" for his master. Apparently, Old Genie is perusing the latest catalog to find a snappy design.

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1919

The Shadow Lawn is one of my favorites. It was spacious and beautiful (1919).

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Shadow two

When I drove in Kinston, the first house I spotted was this Aladdin Shadowlawn on Lenoir Avenue. Looks like it walked right off the pages of the 1919 catalog (shown above).

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Shadow

During our brief time in Kinston, I initially missed this Shadowlawn (another beauty) on Atlantic Avenue. Shown above is a screenshot from Google Maps. It's another delightfully original house.

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1916

The "Colonial" was probably Aladdin's biggest (and fanciest) kit home.

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19 Colonial

And there's one in Kinston! Do the owners know that they're living in a kit home?

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1919 Classic Bungalow

The Pomona was a classic early 20th Century bungalow (1919).

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Pollock 805

This was my favorite Pomona in Kinston (which has three of them). This house still as so many of its original features, including the half-timber effect on the porch gable, original windows with diamond muntins and those rectangular eave brackets. And that appears to be an old wooden storm door.

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305 Washington

This Pomona on Washington Street is also a lovely home, but its windows have been replaced.

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810 Collge

The years have not been kind to this Pomona on College Street.

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Carolina 1923

In all my travels, I'd never seen an Aladdin "Carolina." It seems fitting that there are not one but two Carolinas in Kinston, North Carolina. This image is from the 1923 catalog.

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605 Rhem

This Carolina on Rhem Street is in picture-perfect condition.

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308 Capitol

This is an Aladdin "Carolina" and it does have its original windows, so that's a plus. It's had some insensitive remodeling. Anything salt-treated on an old house is just not a good plan.

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Willard 1919

I've not seen that many "Willards" in my travels, but there are two in Kinston (1919).

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Details

It's also a cute little house with lots of interesting details and features.

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Willard 413 Harding

And this Willard on Harding Street is perfect - right down to the lattice!

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Willard on Harding

From every angle, it's a beauty!

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Porch

And it's astounding that 100 years later, that lattice is still in such good shape.

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811 Pollock

On an opposing corner, I found this Willard which has had some remodeling, but still looks a lot like a Willard. It's a pity that the guy-wire got in the way of an otherwise perfect picture.

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1919

The Virginia was a popular house for Aladdin (1919).

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310 Capitola

This "Virginia" on Capitola Street is next door to the Carolina shown above!

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Capitola

Okay, so we lost the little girl (in the image on the right) and gained a trash can, but other than that, it's a lovely match. And a pretty house, too!

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Florence 1916

The Florence was a popular house for Aladdin and I've found an abundance of these in North Carolina's mill towns. There are two Florence models in Kinston.

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Florence

And they're across the street from each other. This is on Harding.

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406 Harding

And so is this one.

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1919 BLVD

The Aladdin Boulevard was not a hugely popular house (1919).

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BLVD

But it is distinctive with that low shed dormer and the window arrangement. The Boulevard has 12/1 windows on the front porch (1919).

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Street

This was the first "Boulevard" I've ever seen. On this model, someone took out those living windows when they put in that fireplace. There's also an addition on the rear of the house.

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House

In this picture, you can see those 12/1 windows on the Kinston "Boulevard."

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1924 Sunshine

The "Sunshine" was a popular house with a really cute name (1924).

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Sunshine

"You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine..." This was the only Sunshine we found in Kinston.

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Street

These four models were lined up like little soldiers in a row on Pollock Street in Kinston.

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Harassment Street

The Willard is to the far left, with the Sunshine next, the Boulevard beyond it, and the Pomona at the end of the run. Kitty-corner to this Willard was The Perfect Willard, and the two Florences are behind this WIllard. These are the seven Aladdins mentioned above.

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Bruns 1923

I've been looking for an Aladdin Brunswick for a long time, butt prior to coming to Kinston, I'd never laid eyes on the real deal (1923 catalog).

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509 Washington

And Kinston has two of them. This house is on West Washington.

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Brunsh

A distinctive feature of the Brunswick is this window arrangement on the side of the house. The centered window is a staircase-landing window. The small windows are closet windows.

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Brusnswisk

This is another house that I missed on my first drive through town, and found when I was double-checking addresses via Google Maps. It's in pitiable shape. It's just off Perry and Atlantic, and just around the corner from that stunning Aladdin Shadowlawn. I hope this home has a hope of restoration.

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GVT

And the Gordon Van Tine #705 was the only non-Aladdin home I found in Kinston.

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Moo

Now this is a beautiful house - and it's also a restaurant!

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Gustatory Delights

Had we only been more familiar with the delicious delights offered at The Gordon Van Tine #705 Restaurant, errr, the "Peach House" we would have stopped there for lunch!

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At the end of the day,

At the end of our trip to Kinston, Hubby was mighty glad to get back to our "home away from home," The Aerie Bed and Breakfast in New Bern. He was tired of looking at houses.

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You can visit The Peach House website here.

To read about what I found in nearby New Bern, click here.

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J. M. Cunningham and The Sears Hillrose

January 5th, 2016 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last August, my husband I visited a beautiful Hillrose in Brandy Station, Virginia. We were traipsing about the great Commonwealth, doing our own self-guided “Tour of the Confederacy”, and we traveled from our home in Norfolk to Richmond (where we toured the White House of the Confederacy) to Appomattox (site of Lee’s surrender) and then Lexington (Lee Chapel and VMI Museum) and then on to Brandy Station (Graffiti House) and last but not least…

The home of Confederate hero Captain J. M. Cunningham and it’s a Sears Hillrose!

Truthfully, I didn’t know about the home’s ties to Civil War history until after we arrived there, and talked with the homes’ owners, Brian and Melody. They shared a 75-year-old newspaper article containing the obituary for Captain J. M. Cunningham, and proudly explained that he’d lived in their Hillrose for many years.

Brian’s parents purchased it from the Martin family, who’d purchased it from the estate of Captain Cunningham.

In the early 1900s, John Miller Cunningham was known around Culpepper County as “the grand old man.” He was born in 1843 in Powhatan County, and graduated from Virginia Military Academy in 1861. The 18-year-old soldier was brought to Richmond by Commandant Thomas Jackson (later known as “Stonewall”), to help train the newly formed army. The 1,500-word obituary for Captain Cunningham tells of many heroic deeds on the battlefield, but the most remarkable story is this one, attributed to Federal General Winfield Hancock:

The greatest obstacle to our advance [at the "Bloody Angle" at the Battle of the Wilderness] was a young artillery officer, standing in the breach, rallying his men so courageously that [I] did not have the heart to order my sharpshooters to pick him off. This young officer was Cunningham.

The 22-year-old Captain mustered out of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865 at the Appomattox Court House.

After the war, Captain Cunningham returned home and sometime between 1925-1930, he purchased the Hillrose in Brandy Station, where he kept Shetland Ponies on the farm. By all accounts, the diminutive horses were treated more like pampered pets than livestock. In a Richmond Times-Dispatch article dated November 18, 1934, Cunningham said his little ponies were “just a vest-pocket edition of a horse.”

When he died in July 1939, he was 96, and the highest ranking surviving field officer of the Confederate Army.

That’s the story behind the Hillrose in Brandy Station.

Today, Brian and Melody appreciate and understand their unique role as owners and caretakers of this wonderful old kit home. As you’ll see from these photos, the house is lovingly cared for, and the 100-year-old oak and pine trim inside the house retains its original finish, and there are even a handful of original light fixtures scattered throughout. In the kitchen, the hard-rock maple floor is flawless, and down in the basement, Brian has salvaged and preserved other original fixtures from the house, with the hopes of restoring them.

Thanks so much to Brian and Melody for allowing me and Wayne to spend a couple hours oohing and ahhing over their grand old home. It was a memorable afternoon and the highlight of our fun trip.

To read more about the Hillrose, click here.

Want to learn more about how to identify a Sears House? Click here.

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1916 Hillrose

The Hillrose, as seen in the 1916 catalog.

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1918

The Hillrose was one of the largest kit homes offered by Sears, with more than 2,200 SFLA.

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Floorplan 1916

It featured five bedrooms, which could be six (if you counted the parlor).

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Brandy Statino

The Hillrose in Brandy Station was the very first Hillrose I'd ever seen.

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Front

One of its many unique features is this: The front door is not centered. The window arrangement is also unique. Very few foursquares have three windows on the 2nd floor and single windows on the first.

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Dormer

The dormer is another eye-catching feature. That's a mighty small window for such a big dormer.

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FFF

The Hillrose, as designed, has a small closet window on this side (first floor). The Hillrose in Brandy Station was modified to have a full door here. Another interesting feature are the two dormers. These are the only dormers (front and left side) on this house.

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Come inside

The front door is original. How delightful is that! And the beveled glass is original too!

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Photo is

And here's a photo of Captain John Miller Cunningham, the highest ranking surviving field officer of the Confederate Army. He died in 1939 at the age of 96. Photo is courtesy Clark B. Hall.

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house bought

Brian, the home's owner, found a shipping label on the back of some millwork. The home's purchaser and builder was Dr. George M. Sparks. According to the 1920 Census. Dr. Sparks was a 50-year-old man with a 30-year-old wife (Daisy) and three children, 12, 10 and 2. Busy fellow, that Dr. Sparks. Seems that George married Daisy in 1905. In other words, in 1905, the 35-year-old doctor married a 15-year-old girl. Yowza. He died in 1925, and by 1930, Daisy was renting a home (with her three children) in Washington, D.C.

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original trim

As mentioned, much of the trim in this century-old house retains its original finish.

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Hingest

And what would a Sears House be without those classic Sears hinges?

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Hillrose

The French Doors that separate the living room from the parlor also retain their original finish.

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buffet

A built-in buffet, as per the home's original plans.

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Vintage

And even a vintage electrical switch.

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Sink 1920

One way to "date" an old house is to look under plumbing fixtures. This old pedestal sink (now relegated to the Hillrose's basement) has a casting date of January 1920, telling us that the house was built after January 1920.

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Score

God bless these wonderful homeowners. They've saved every piece and part that they've removed from the house, with the high goal of restoring these old fixtures and re-installing them.

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picture

Hopefully these sconces will one day grace the dining room walls again.

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Hillrose stair

The Hillrose staircase is in an unusual spot: Behind a door. It's also quite steep for a house of this size and vintage.

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stars

Close-up of the floorplan shows that staircase. And note the placement of that closet behind the stairs.

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window

A little piece of that 2nd floor closet window remains on this Hillrose.

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kitchen

In a Sears kit home, the floors in the kitchen and bath are typically hard maple. The original intention was that linoleum or some other traditional moisture-resistant floor covering be used. I've been in countless Sears kit homes where the homeowner removed layers of old flooring to expose the original maple. Beautiful, aren't they?

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Rrrrr

And this is what that large bay window looks like inside.

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house windo

I love this intricate detail on the wood trim.

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another angle

Another view of that spacious bay window.

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fffeeeff

Didn't I promise you that it was a grand and glorious home?

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To read more about the Hillrose, click here.

Want to learn more about how to identify a Sears House? Click here.

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Hmmm…Whom Do We Know in Ohio?

January 2nd, 2016 Sears Homes 1 comment

Preferably near Convoy, Ohio (or Dixon, Indiana) and specifically at 12716 S. State Line Road. This is the site of yet another Sears Hillrose, which Rachel Shoemaker found with a little detective work.

Turns out that State Line Road is so named because it marks the boundary between Indiana and Ohio.

Thanks to Rachel, we have a picture of the Hillrose on State Line Road, but it’s from the assessor’s website and it has its limitations. Nonetheless, a crummy picture is incomparably better than no picture, so I’m very grateful that Rachel was able to find this image.

The reason I’m so enchanted by this house is that it appears to have its original siding, windows and porch - three big pluses.

Now, if we just knew someone who lived close enough to get us a few good pictures of this Hillrose on State Line Road! (And, there’s another one in Antwerp, Ohio which isn’t that far away from Convoy!)

To read more about the Hillrose in prior blogs, click here or here or here.

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beaut 1916

The Hillrose as seen in the 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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1916

What a beauty! An interesting note: The front door on this house is not centered. That, with about a dozen other unusual features, makes this house easy to identify.

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Hillrose built in West Lafayette, IN

This Hillrose was built about 15 years ago (2000) in West Lafayette, Indiana. It's a modern recreation of an old classic, and has a few embellishments and upgrades.

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BS

Last August, the owners of this glorious Hillrose invited me to come see their home. It's in Brandy Station, Virginia (about three hours northwest of Norfolk, VA) and it's in wonderful condition.

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Gre

Carrie Milam found this old Hillrose in Griffith, Indiana. Sadly, the front porch is MIA. Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Dixon

And here's our sweet little Hillrose in Dixon, Ohio. Many thanks to Rachel for finding this photo at the city assessor's website. The Hillrose retains its original windows, siding and porch, which just makes me swoon. Perhaps best of all, that tiny closet window (2nd floor) is still in place! My kingdom for a few dozen photos of this treasure!

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Ruh Roh. Street view shows this house isnt feeling too well.

Ruh Roh. Street view shows this house isn't feeling too well. Google shows it as Convoy, Ohio.

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Im

I'm starting to wonder if this sweet thing is still among the living.

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Visit Rachel’s fascinating blog here.

Read more about the $1,000,000 Hillrose (built about 15 years ago in West Lafayette, IN) here.

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And a Hillrose in Griffith, Indiana!

January 1st, 2016 Sears Homes No comments

A couple days ago, I did a “preview” blog on a stunning Hillrose in Brandy Station, Virginia (about three hours north of my home in Norfolk), and posted it in our Facebook group, Sears Homes, together with a blurb saying that there were other Hillroses in Griffith (Indiana), Alvada (Ohio), Stratford (Iowa), Waterman (Illinois), and Houghton (New York).

A long-time member of that group - Carrie Milam - spoke right up and offered to go find the Hillrose in Griffith, Indiana. I was tickled pink, as the Hillrose in Brandy Station was the only Sears “Hillrose” I’d ever seen.

Here’s the thing: Folks often promise to “go find that house” and I never hear back from them, but Carrie and her husband Greg jumped right in their car and started hunting for the house. Carrie said that it took about an hour to find our missing (and forgotten) Hillrose.

The house in Griffith has endured many changes in the last 95 years, but it’s still standing.

Thanks so much to Carrie Milam and Greg Decker for supplying the photos!

To read more about the Hillrose in Brandy Station, click here.

Why is the Hillrose such a prize? Read about it here.

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The Hillrose, as seen in the 1918 catalog.

The Hillrose, as seen in the 1918 catalog.

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And weve still got a few missing!

And we've still got a few missing!

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1916

It's a distinctive house with some remarkable features, such as that oversized bay with three windows and a wide attic dormer with a small squared window. The window arrangement on the 2nd floor is also unique. It's unusual for a foursquare of this vintage to have two sets of three windows (with the widest window in the center), and smaller windows on the first floor. In other words, this house should be easy to spot!

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FP

Lots of nice features inside too, such as a wash room for the hired hands (1918).

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Upstairs

There are four bedrooms upstairs, but they're not too big.

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Sweet thing, isnt it?

Sweet thing, isn't it?

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And here it is in Griffith, Indiana, on North Harvey Street.

And here it is in Griffith, Indiana. It's been through many changes, but I'd bet my hat that it's a Hillrose. Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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A close-up on that bay shows that the details are right.

A close-up on that bay shows that the details are right. In place of the diminutive small window (between the two long windows), there's a full-size window, but it's altogether possible that the house was built this way. The smaller window (shown in the catalog image) probably got swallowed up by that large addition on the rear. Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Long

If you look down that left side and compare it to the floorplan, you can see that it's a good match. There's a tiny window in that closet (between the two large rooms on the left). Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house

The Hillrose in Brandy Station (shown on the right) has a door at the end of that first floor hallway, and a small porch has been added to the side of the house.

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fff

The 2nd floor is also a good match to the floorplan. That small window on the 2nd floor is a landing window. Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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So what happened to the porch?

So what happened to the porch?

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The Hillrose in Brandy Station still has its magnificent porch

The Hillrose in Brandy Station still has its magnificent porch but it's endured some significant repairs through the years. What a pity that the Hillrose in Indiana suffered a porchectomy. That's a grievous loss for a foursquare.

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The vinyl-siding installers also had their way with the attic window.

The vinyl-siding installers also had their way with the attic window. Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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With a little bit different angle provided by Google maps, you can see its definintely a Hillrose dormer.

With a little bit different angle provided by Google maps, you can see it's definitely a Hillrose dormer.

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F

Perhaps one day, the home's happy owners might consider restoring the front porch. That brick decking is a puzzle, as it looks newer than the home, and yet it appears to have the same footprint as the original porch. Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Just around the corner from the Hillrose, Carrie and Greg found this darling Sears Crescent.

Just around the corner from the Hillrose, Carrie and Greg found this darling Sears Crescent. Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Nice match, isnt it? (1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog)

Nice match, isn't it? (1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog)

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So where are those other Hillroses?  :D

So where are those other Hillroses? :D

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Thanks again to Carrie and Greg for finding this house and providing the wonderful photos.

To read more about the Hillrose in Brandy Station, click here.

Why is the Hillrose such a prize? Read about it here.

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Coming Up - A Comprehensive Blog on The Hillrose

December 30th, 2015 Sears Homes 1 comment

In the last few days, I seem to have crossed the Rubicon with search engines, and am now consistently getting 1,500+ hits per day, and sometimes more than 2,000. That’s certainly happy news, as I’ve been faithfully blogging for five years and it is a major time sink.

Thus far, I have written 942 blogs here, each heavy laden with photos.

Ever since August, I’ve been wanting to do a blog on one of my favorite finds: A Sears Hillrose in Brandy Station, Virginia but I knew that this would be a time-intensive blog (requiring 4-5 hours to complete). With the holiday season, there is no time, so I thought it was time to do a truncated version of that time-intensive blog.

We’ll just call this a preview!

To read my earlier blog about another Hillrose, click here. (You should really read this blog first, as it gives some background on how the Hillrose came to be.)

Brandy Station is also the site of a famous Civil War campaign. Learn more about that here.

This Hillrose was owned for many years by J. M. Cunningham, a famous Confederate war hero.

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The Hillrose has long been one of my favorites - and apparently is several peoples favorites! It won a design prize (sponsored by Sears) in 1914.

The Hillrose has long been one of my favorites - and apparently is several people's favorites! It won a design prize (sponsored by Sears) in 1914.

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1916

According to this image from the 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog, there are also Hillroses built at Griffith Indiana, Alvado Ohio, Stratford Iowa, Waterman Illinois and Houghton New York.

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Nice spacious floorplan, too.

Four bedrooms and good layout.

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fff

While it's true that I love them all, the Hillrose is a favorite.

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And heres the Hillrose in Brandy Station, Virginia.

And here's the Hillrose in Brandy Station, Virginia. And best of all, for many years, it was owned by a famous Civil War hero, J. M. Cunningham, the highest ranking surviving field officer of the Confederate Army at the time of his death in 1939. He was 96 years old when he passed. More on this hero in the next blog. And interestingly enough, I discovered this glorious house thanks to a comment left at my blog! The home's owner contacted me and said he had a Sears Hillrose. If I had a nickle for every time I heard that! ;) But in this case, he really did!

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Beautiful, isnt it?

Beautiful, isn't it? It's a historically significant home, located in a historically significant city, and formerly owned by a historically impressive Confederate war hero. Wow.

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From the aft side

A true beauty from every angle!

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What a house.

What a house, and it sits in such a beautiful, bucolic place. My oh my.

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In the next blog, well take a look at the inside of this fine old home.

In the next blog, we'll take a look at the inside of this fine old home.

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To read my earlier blog about another Hillrose, click here. (You should really read this blog first, as it gives some background on how the Hillrose came to be.)

Brandy Station is also the site of a famous Civil War campaign. Learn more about that here.

This Hillrose was owned for many years by J. M. Cunningham, a famous Confederate war hero.

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Montrose - or Something Like It…

December 29th, 2015 Sears Homes 1 comment

Sometimes, looks can be really deceiving.

Take Hubby for example. He’s a handsome fellow, and a tough-as-nails litigator, and yet he has a tender heart and a sweet nature.

Wayne

Wayne, the hubby. With his Christmas tie. And his tender heart.

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And heres another place where looks can be deceiving.

And here's another place where looks can be deceiving: Sears Homes and their clones. These are two different houses - theoretically. They sure do look alike.

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This is a Sears Montrose.

This is a Sears Montrose (1928).

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This is not.

This is a design from the 1923 Homebuilder's Catalog: "The Arlington."

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Heres the floorplan for the Sears Montrose (1st floor).

Here's the floorplan for the Sears Montrose (1st floor).

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Heres the floorplan for the other house.

Here's the floorplan for the Homebuilder's Arlington.

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Heres a comparison of the two - side by side.

When you compare the two side-by-side, you can see some minor differences, but not a lot. They're almost the same house. Interior room dimensions were shifted just a wee bit, but other than that, these two are mighty close.

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And a comparison of the second floor.

And a comparison of the second floor shows a few other minor differences - again - mainly with room dimensions. And these are line drawings, so the proportions are not always accurately reflected.

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So how do you distinguish these look-alikes? How can you tell if its a Sears House (or an Aladdin, or GVT or Lewis), or its twinkie from Homebuilders?

So how do you distinguish these look-alikes? How can you tell if it's a Sears House (or an Aladdin, or GVT or Lewis), or its twinkie from Homebuilder's?

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Its a question that may have no easy answer.

It's a question that may have no easy answer. Shown above is a Montrose in Kirkwood, MO.

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And within my collection of Sears Montroses - I am left wondering, how many of these are Homebuilders designs?

And within my collection of Sears "Montroses" - I wonder, how many of these are Homebuilder's designs? (House shown above is in Moorefield, WV.)

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Its a puzzler!

It's a puzzler! (Portsmouth, Virginia)

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Good thing theres only one Wayne! ;)

Good thing there's only one Wayne! ;)

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To learn more about the Montrose, click here.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.

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Another One Bites The Dust! Part II

December 22nd, 2015 Sears Homes 1 comment

How many homes must a nation tear down, before they can say it’s enough?

Old kit homes, that is.

Earlier this week, I wrote about a kit home in Haymarket, Virginia that is now on Death Row. Through the years, I’ve written about many kit homes that have been torn down. It does get depressing.

Today, there’s a new one: The Sears Crescent in Godfrey, IL.

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It started when a dear reader left this comment.

It started when a dear reader left this comment.

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You heard it here first.

You heard it here first.

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Sadly.

Sadly, it died sometime in late 2014 or early 2015.

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Google

A Google view of the site shows a fresh wound on the earth, where our Sears Crescent stood for more than 80 years. The "street view" (captured 12.21.2015) was taken by Google on July 2015.

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House

Here's an old 35mm slide of the house from about 2004 (or earlier).

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Heres an old 35mm slide of the house from about 2004 (or earlier).

In February 2010, I photographed the house for inclusion in my book, "The Sears Homes of Illinois." It's so disturbing to see the Midwest tearing down these homes.

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The Sears Crescent was a popular house for Sears, and probably arrived at the Alton train station in about 12,000 pieces. Some family labored for months to assemble their fine kit home (1929 catalog).

The Sears Crescent was a popular house for Sears, and probably arrived at the Alton train station in about 12,000 pieces. Some family labored for months to assemble their fine Sears Crescent (1929 catalog). Each house came with a 75-page instruction book and a promise that "a man of average abilities" could have the house assembled in about 90 days.

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When are we going to decide, enough is enough?

When are we going to decide, enough is enough?

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To learn more about what makes Sears Homes historically significant, click here.

There are several other kit homes in the Alton/Godfrey area. One of my favorites is here.

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