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The Dorchester: A Joy To A Woman’s Heart

October 17th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

In the last two years, I’ve visited Richmond three times and have seen many parts of the city, but it would seem that I missed the 5100-block of Riverside Drive all three times!

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Last month, after my lecture, a woman came up to the podium and said, “There’s a Lewis Dorchester here in Richmond.”
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If I had a nickle for every time I’d heard that…

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I’d have ten cents.

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Fellow old-house-lover Molly Dodd graciously offered to get a picture of the house for me, and lo and behold, it appears to be the real deal.

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A Lewis Dorchester in Richmond!

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This city - less than 100 miles from my home in Norfolk - has been an endless source of entertainment for me, as we’ve found kit homes from Sears, Gordon Van Tine (including an original “testimonial house”), Aladdin and Harris Brothers. And now, not only does it have a kit home from Lewis Manufacturing, but it has their biggest and best kit home - The Dorchester.

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Thanks to Dale Wolicki for providing original catalog images of the Lewis Dorchester, and thanks to Molly Dodd for taking pictures of the Richmond Dorchester.

To learn more about the kit homes in Richmond, click here.

Lewis Homes was a company that sold kit homes through their mail-order catalogs in the early 1900s. Heres a cover of the 1925 Lews Homes catalog.

Lewis Homes was a company that sold kit homes through their mail-order catalogs in the early 1900s. Here's a cover of the 1925 Lews Homes catalog, courtesy Dale Wolicki.

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The Dorchester was a spacious house with more than 2,600 square feet. For a kit home, thats most ununual.

The Dorchester was a spacious house with more than 2,600 square feet. For a kit home, that's most unusual. The Dorchester had a sunporch, library, 2.5 baths and four bedrooms.

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love it

"A joy to a woman's heart." How poetic!

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house

The first floorplan shows that this was a spacious and fancy home. The breakfast room was accessible from both the kitchen and dining room, which is a really nice feature!

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floor

The bedroom in the upper left was probably maid's quarters, as it was at the top of the rear staircase and had it's own tiny bathroom. Notice that there's a separate shower in the main bathroom. Very progressive for 1925.

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doges

Good golly, that's a big house.

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Dorechester molly tooddd

My oh my, Richmond has its own Dorechester! Photo is copyright 2014 Molly Todd and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Close-up of the front entry.

Comparison of the catalog image (left) and extant house (right) shows that it really is a perfect match, right down to the downspouts! Only problem is, our Richmond house is missing its "hospitality benches."

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Do you know of any other kit homes in Richmond? Perhaps there’s a Magnolia lurking behind a row of wax-leaf legustrums somewhere? If so, please leave a comment below!

Learn more about “hospitality benches” by clicking here.

To read more about the kit homes in Richmond, click here.

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Hopeless in Hopewell (Part 72)

September 24th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

“Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes during their 32 years in the kit house business,” I tell folks at my lectures, “but judging from my emails, you’d think that number was 70 million kit homes.”

Some people really, really, really want their house to be a kit house, but not every 1920s house is a kit house.

And if I were queen of the world (a title I aspire to), I’d make that Hopewell’s town motto.

When I visited Hopewell in 2003, I caused a stir when I proclaimed that 36 of the town’s 44 Sears Homes in Crescent Hills weren’t really Sears Homes. As you can imagine, that didn’t go over well.

And the fact is, I might have made a mistake.

Rachel Shoemaker and I have reviewed some of the photos, and we now believe that 38 of the town’s 44 Sears Homes may not be Sears Homes.

Still, that leaves six Sears Homes in Crescent Hills (Hopewell).

After the “stir” in 2003, I didn’t hear back from Hopewell. But then, several years ago, I offered to help Hopewell do a proper survey of their kit homes - for FREE!

The town never responded to my emails or letters.

Eight years later, when I returned to Hopewell in Spring 2011 (wearing a wig and a fake nose), I focused on the amazing collection of Aladdin kit homes in that city. While Hopewell has only a few Sears Homes in Crescent Hills, they have dozens and dozens of Aladdin kit homes near the downtown area. More on that here and here.

However, I couldn’t resist driving through Crescent Hills and photographing a few of the fake Sears Homes.

For instance, the city’s brochure states that the house at 201 Prince George Avenue is the Sears Van Jean.

Let’s make this simple.

It’s not.

It has a gambrel roof and a chimney and some windows, but that’s about it.

The photos below make that pretty clear.

Learn about the Aladdin homes in Hopewell here.

Read my favorite blog on Hopewell here.

Hopewell, if you’re listening, you can contact me by leaving a comment below!

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The Van Jean, as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Van Jean, as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Note

Notice the double windows centered on the 2nd floor, and the double windows on the first floor. Notice also the placement of the home's chimneys. These things do matter.

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Details matter. The Sears Van Jean has large cornice returns.

Details matter. The Sears Van Jean has large cornice returns.

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This Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a fine house but its not a Van Jean.

This Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a fine house but it's not a Van Jean. The 2nd floor windows are wrong, and the front porch is also not a match - for many reasons. The Van Jean has those oversized cornice returns. This house has none. I'd expect that the footprint for this house is also wrong. In short, it's *not* a Sears kit house.

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Close-up, comparing the porch.

The edges of Van Jean's porch roof are aligned with the primary roof. The Hopewell porch roof extends well beyond the roofline. The Sears House porch has a closed triangle, with a cross member at the bottom and then a fascia board below that. The Hopewell porch roof terminates at the cross member.

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Hopewells brochure explains the differences (ahem) between the Van Jean in Hopewell and the Sears Van Jean.

Hopewell's brochure explains the "differences" (ahem) between the Van Jean in Hopewell and the Sears Van Jean. Oopsie. They neglected a few details. And a few facts. And one big reality: This ain't no Van Jean.

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Will there ever be a day when someone in Hopewell exclaims, “Enough of this! Let’s call that gal in Norfolk and get this right - once and for all!!”?

I wonder.

In the meantime, Hopewell certainly does offer a lovely opportunity of how not to promote historic architecture.

To learn more about the real kit homes in Hopewell (and they’re not from Sears), click here.

To read about Sandston, click here.

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September 25th + Richmond + Sears Homes + Rose = A LOT OF FUN!

September 15th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Full house at our talk on September 25th!

And a good time was had by all!

If you’re new to this site, you may be wondering, what is a Sears Home?

Sears Homes were 12,000-piece kit houses, and each kit came with a a 75-page instruction book. Sears promised that “a man of average abilities” could have it assembled in 90 days.

The instruction book offered this somber warning: “Do not take anyone’s advice on how this house should be assembled.” The framing members were marked with a letter and a three-digit-number to facilitate construction. 

Today, these marks can help authenticate a house as a kit home.

Searching for these homes is like hunting for hidden treasure. From 1908-1940, about 70,000 Sears Homes were sold, but in the 1940s, during a corporate housecleaning, Sears destroyed all sales records. The only way to find these homes is literally one-by-one.

And I’ve found a whole caboodle of kit homes in Richmond!

If you’ve always wanted to learn more about this fascinating topic, here’s your best chance! I give fewer than five lectures a year now, so this might be the last!

Below are just a few of the many unique (and even rare) kit homes I’ve found in Richmond.

Please share this link with your friends and/or on your Facebook page.

To learn more about the talk and obtain tickets, click here.

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One of the many ways to identify Sears Homes begins with slogging down to the basement (or crawlspace) and looking for marked lumber! This mark, together with a 75-page instruction book, helped homeowners figure out how to put together those 12,000 pieces of house.

One of the many ways to identify Sears Homes begins with slogging down to the basement (or crawlspace) and looking for marked lumber! This mark, together with a 75-page instruction book, helped homeowners figure out how to put together those 12,000 pieces of house.

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Sometimes, the markings found on lumber arent what you might expect!

Sometimes, the markings found on lumber aren't what you might expect! This was found in the basement of an Illinois Sears home, and was a remnant from the original wooden shipping crate. "Bongard, ILLS" was the name of the train depot where the house arrived. I've often found shipping crate lumber repurposed ror shelving or coal bins.

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The blueprints were specifically designed for the neophyte, and included great detail, such as how far apart to space nails! BTW, your Sears House came with 75 pounds of nails!

The blueprints were specifically designed for the neophyte, and included great detail, such as how far apart to space nails! The typical 1920s Sears House came with 750 pounds of nails!

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One of my favorite finds in Richmond is the Sears Strathmore.

One of my favorite finds in Richmond is the Sears Strathmore (1936 catalog).

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Oh my, whats not to love!

Oh my, what's not to love! Beautiful house with a Buckingham slate roof and original windows. Be still my heart!

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This was Sears Modern Home #190, offered in the early 1910s.

This was Sears Modern Home #190, offered in the early 1910 (1912 catalog).

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Perfect in every way!

Perfect in every way!

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The Sears Avalon is one of my favorite houses, and Richmond has several. I would love to know the back story on this. The Avalon wasnt that big a hit for Sears, and yet Ive found five in Richmond.

The Sears Avalon is one of my favorite houses, and Richmond has several. I would love to know the back story on this. The Avalon wasn't that big a hit for Sears, and yet I've found five in Richmond. I've seen ten of these in the United States, and five of those ten are in Richmond.

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Pic

And it's just a spot-on match to the catalog picture. Notice the small window in the front gable? And the three vents on the side gable? Picture is copyright 2014 Melissa Burgess and may not be used or reproduded without written permission. So there.

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Another Avalon in Richmond, also in beautiful shape.

Another Avalon in Richmond, also in beautiful shape. This one has the original railings. All of these Avalons have that distinctive arched pattern and faux belt course on the brick chimney.

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My favorite Avalon. Oh, what a beauty!

My favorite Avalon. Oh, what a beauty!

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Close-up

Close-up of that arched inset and belt on the Avalon in Richmond.

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In addition to Sears, there were other companies selling kit homes on a national basis, and Gordon Van Tine was one of the larger ones. Total sales were probably a bit more than 50,000, compared to Sears total sales of less than 75,000. The Sussex was one of the Gordon Van Tine models that I found in Richmond.

In addition to Sears, there were other companies selling kit homes on a national basis, and Gordon Van Tine was one of the larger ones. Total sales were probably a bit more than 50,000, compared to Sears total sales of 70,000. The Sussex was one of the Gordon Van Tine models that I found in Richmond.

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Gvt

Picture perfect, this Gordon Van Tine "Sussex" still retains many of its original features.

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This classic Craftsman Style bungalow was a popular model for Gordon Van Tine.

This classic "Craftsman Style" bungalow was a popular model for Gordon Van Tine.

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And heres a fine-looking example of Model #507. Photo is copyright 2012 Taber Andrew Bain and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

And here's a fine-looking example of Model #507. The photo was taken from a side that does not replicate the angle in the catalog , but it's clearly a GVT #507. Photo is copyright 2012 Taber Andrew Bain and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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One of my favorite finds was the Gordon Van Tine #124.

One of my favorite finds in Richmond was the Gordon Van Tine #124.

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Although next time Im in town, I need to bring my chain saw so I can get a better photo.

Next time I'm in town, I need to bring my chain saw so I can get a better photo. Nonetheless, I'm confident it's the real deal, as I found the original testimonial in a 1913 GVT catalog.

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Aladdin was another major contender in the kit home business. In fact, they were larger than Sears. Aladdin had a mill in WIlmington, NC which explains why - typically - Ive found more Aladdin homes in Virginia than Sears Homes.

Aladdin was another major contender in the kit home business. In fact, they were larger than Sears. Aladdin had a mill in WIlmington, NC which explains why - typically - in Virginia, I've found more Aladdin homes than Sears Homes. Shown above is The Ardmore from the 1922 Aladdin catalog.

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Ive never seen an Ardmore. I suspect its a fairly rare kit home. Is this house in Richmond an Aladdin Ardmore?

I've never seen an Ardmore. I suspect it's a fairly rare kit home. Is this house in Richmond an Aladdin Ardmore? The distinctive bracketing on that front porch roof sure suggests it might be, together with that unusual arched porch on the side. It's bigger than the Ardmore, but we know that 30-50% of kit homes were customized when built. So is it an Aladdin or not? Only her builder knows for sure.

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In addition to Sears, Gordon Van Tine and Aladdin, there was another national kit home company: Harris Brothers. They were based in Bay City (as was Aladdin), but Ive found a few Harris Brothers homes in Virginia.

In addition to Sears, Gordon Van Tine and Aladdin, there was another national kit home company: Harris Brothers. They were based in Chicago , but I've found a few Harris Brothers' homes in Virginia. When HB started business, they were known as The Chicago House-Wrecking Company. One hundred years ago, "wrecking" was another word for the careful disassembly of a house. "Wrecked houses" were typically moved and rebuilt at a new site.

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Heres a fine example of

Here's a fine example of HB-1017N. And it's for sale! The side windows flanking the front door are distinctive, as are the tops of those porch columns. The stucco is in good shape, too.

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Heres another example of a Harris Brothers house.

Here's another example of a Harris Brothers' house (Model 1513).

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Oh yeah, baby. Thats what Im talking about!

Oh yeah, baby. That's what I'm talking about! Another perfect match!

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Another Harris Brothers

Another Harris Brothers' #1513, from a different side. That's two of these sweet things in Richmond.

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1928

The Sears Osborn is another beautiful bungalow (1928).

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Osborne

And here's another beautiful example of The Osborn in Richmond. Wow.

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There are also pattern book houses in Richmond. Pattern book homes were different from kit homes, because these houses didnt come with building materials. Youd browse the pages of the catalog, select a home and then youd receive full blueprints and a list of all building materials necessary to build the house. Shown here is

There are also pattern book houses in Richmond. Pattern book homes were different from kit homes, because these houses didn't come with building materials. You'd browse the pages of the catalog, select a home and then you'd receive full blueprints and a list of all building materials necessary to build the house. The image above came from the Harris, McHenry and Baker Company catalog, but these plan book houses were offered by many regional lumber companies.

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fe

Love the stucco pattern! I've never seen this pattern before, but I suspect there's a name for it.

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Shown above is but a smattering of the kit homes we’ve discovered in Richmond. To learn more, come to the talk on Thursday night (the 25th), and meet Rose!

It’ll be a fun evening, and informative, too!

To learn more about the talk and obtain tickets, click here.

Thanks to Rachel for sharing her images from the 1913 Gordon Van Tine catalog.

Thanks to Melissa for the wonderful picture of the Sears Avalon!

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The Aladdin Cumberland: 100 Years Old

August 23rd, 2014 Sears Homes 5 comments

In May 2014, we traveled to Wilmington, DE and Philadelphia, PA to do research at the Hagley Museum (Wilmington) and at the National Archives and Records Administration (Philadelphia).

Along the way, we stopped at Carney’s Point, New Jersey to check out some of the Aladdin kit homes.

There in Carney’s Point, we found an abundance of DuPont Houses (probably DuPont designs, but built with ready-cut materials ordered from Aladdin) and also Aladdin Kit Homes (Aladdin designs and Aladdin materials).

One of the models I saw in Carney’s Point that I had never seen before was the Aladdin “Cumberland.” This is such a pedestrian  foursquare that I’m now wondering how many of these I’ve overlooked in other places. There’s not a lot to distinguish this house from the tens of thousands of foursquares that cover America.

The house was offered in the 1914 and 1916 catalog. It’s likely that these houses in Carney’s Point were built in 1916, but they’re very close to the 100-year mark!

Hopefully, now that I’ve seen one live and in person, I shan’t miss another one!

Read about some of the other houses I’ve found in Carney’s Point here, and here.

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1914

The Cumberland, as seen in the 1914 catalog.

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1914

View from the staircase side. BTW, the house was built about six minutes ago, and that lattice work uner the porch deck already looks pretty crummy.

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1914

View from another side (1914 catalog). Lattice work looks worse on this side.

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1916

The Cumberland's living room (1916 catalog). Love the couch!

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1914

Traditional floorplan for a foursquare (1914).

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1916

"Sensible" equals uh, well, "pedestrian" (from the 1916 catalog).

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uddated

An undated view of Carney's Point. That's a Cumberland on the far right (foreground).

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1914

Staircase side (1914)

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Milto

This photo shows why it's so difficult to identify these houses a few decades later! Look at all the changes this house has endured through the years. Three fine windows - gone. At least that crummy lattice work has been repaired.

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milton

Another Cumberland on Shell Road in Carney's Point. Photo is copyright 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. So there.

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other side 1914

View from the other side (1914).

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other ilton

At least this side is a better match to the original catalog image. Photo is copyright 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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House house

That dormer is unfortunate. Who thought *that* was a good idea? :( Photo is copyright 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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BGunches

Long view of the many Aladdin kit homes on Shell Road in Carney's Point. In the foreground is an Aladdin Cumberland, followed by an Aladdin Georgia, Aladdin Amherst, Aladdin Gerogia and another Cumberland. Photo is copyright 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To read more about DuPont and why they were in Carney’s Point, click here.

To read about Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City, click here.

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Carnation Kit House: You’re Gonna Love It In an Instant

August 22nd, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

UPDATE! Rose will be giving a talk in Richmond on September 25th at the Virginia Center of Architecture! Click here for more details!

Hopewell! Alas, poor Hopewell.

They have an interesting collection of Aladdin kit homes, and yet for reasons that elude me, they’ve done nothing to promote these homes.

One example is this Aladdin “Carnation” (shown below). It sits in a working class neighborhood within Hopewell that has suffered two egregious fates: 1) These kit homes - modest, working class homes - have been largely ignored, and 2) Many of these modest homes have already been demolished.

For years, I’ve been trying to identify this particular house, as it’s smack dab in the middle of an Aladdin neighborhood (in Hopewell), but I couldn’t find a perfect match.

And then recently, while I was scanning a 1916 Aladdin catalog, I discovered this particular model.

One day - some day - I’m going to create a post of all the cool and unusual Aladdin homes I’ve found within this working class neighborhood in Hopewell. Today, I’ll just focus on my newest find: The Aladdin Carnation.

To read about the only Aladdin Brighton I’ve ever seen (and it’s within Hopewell), click here.

To learn more about the “back story” of Hopewell’s confusion on kit homes, click here.

Wondering where that title came from? Click here.

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For years, I was trying to match up the Hopewell house Id found (photo further below) with this particular model, but it just wasnt a good match.

For years, I was trying to "match up" the Hopewell house I'd found (photo further below) with this particular model, but it just wasn't a good match (1916 Aladdin Catalog).

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And then I discovered this house: The Carnation.

And then I discovered this house: The Carnation. It's very similar to the Forsythe (shown above) but it's a little bigger and has the double windows. The floorplan is radically different.

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house

Cute house, too. I love the windows flanking the door.

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Nice match, isnt it?

Nice match, isn't it?

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And lookie next door! Theres another Aladdin house, but I cant quite make it out.

And lookie next door! There's another Aladdin house, but I can't quite make it out.

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Oh, I love looking at them side-by-side!

Oh, I love looking at them side-by-side!

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The floor plan

Note the built-in "permanent furniture" in the front bedroom!

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hosue

Many of these "permanent family abodes" have already been torn down in Hopewell. It's so troubling for so many reasons, but in my opinion, the working class neighborhoods are an important part of our cultural and architectural heritage as well. More and more communities are coming to recognize that simple fact.

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Hopewell is still struggling with what is, and what is not a Sears Home.

Hopewell is still struggling with what is, and what is not a Sears Home. One of these houses is not like the other. Three of these homes are Sears Magnolias. One of these houses is in Hopewell. Which one is not a Magnolia? If you guessed the brick colonial (lower right), you guessed right. And yet in Hopewell, for many years, they claimed that this house was a Sears Magnolia, and when I tried to correct this error, I was not well received.

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To learn more about Hopewell’s booboos, click here.

Interested in learning how to identify kit homes by the marks found on lumber? Click here.

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The Sheridan: A Jewel of a Bungalow In the Midst of a 1980s Neighborhood

August 8th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last week, I was in the St. Louis area, visiting my precious daughter and her family.

During our time together, we journeyed to Edwardsville, IL. I asked Levi (husband of precious daughter) to take me to a part of Edwardsville where there’s a lake, and he took me to the area around Circle Drive.

A quick glance at the post-Vietnam War houses told me I was in the wrong area, but as we continued around the lake, I spotted a familiar 1920s bungalow.

Taking a closer look, I realized we had found the lone 1920s house in a neighborhood full of very modern houses!

And even better, it was a perfect Gordon Van Tine #612 (also known as The Wardway “Sheridan”)!

Was this the original “Farm House” for that community? Did the original owner of this bungalow sell off 250 acres to create the modern subdivision that now surrounds it? I’d love to know.

The owners have taken good care of this old house, and again, I wonder, do they know that they have something special there?

And if you have any friends in the Edwardsville area, please share the link with them!

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

To learn more about kit homes, click here.

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Edwardsville House

The Gordon Van Tine #612 was a spacious, classic bungalow (1926 catalog).

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Dandy floorplan

The #612 had a dandy floorplan and spacious rooms.

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house

Close-up of the house. Love the porch!

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And here's the GVT 612 in Edwardsville, IL. The home's front door has been moved to the side. It'd be interesting to know if it was built this way, or modified in later yaers. I suspect it was built like this.

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If that side entry is not original to the house, it was certainly done with much care and forethought. And it makes sense, too!

If that side entry is not original to the house, it was certainly done with much care and forethought.

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house house

Close up of the front porch, complete with an electric meter! Note the pattern on the chimney.

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house house

The house has been modified on the side, too, but it's tastefully done.

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house house

Here's a close-up of the catalog image, showing the home's side view

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house

To the rear of the house is a small addition that was also nicely done.

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Interior of the GVT #612, as seen in the 1926 catalog. Many thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for providing the scanned image!

The Living Room of the GVT #612, as seen in the 1926 catalog. Note the paired windows flanking the fireplace. Many thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for providing the scanned image!

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Sheridan

And here's another beautiful #612 in Northern West Virginia.

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To read more about the Sheridan, click here.

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

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Lynchburg, Virginia: A Colossal Caboodle of Kit Homes

July 29th, 2014 Sears Homes 7 comments

UPDATED at 7.30 am (Wednesday)!  New photos added below!

Lynchburg is one of the prettiest cities in the prettiest state in the Union, and best of all, it’s blessed with an abundance of kit homes.

In 2004, 2008, and 2011, I spent several hours driving around Lynchburg seeking and finding its kit homes. (In 2008, I was with Dale Wolicki, who identified many Aladdin houses that I might otherwise have missed!)

For years, I’ve tried to stir up interest in these kit homes in Lynchburg but without success. And yet, this really is a lost piece of Lynchburg’s history! Based on my research, more than 90% of the people living in these homes didn’t realize what they had until I knocked on their door and told them.

How many of these home’s owners (in Lynchburg) know about their home’s unique historical significance?

I love Lynchburg and I’d love to have an opportunity to give a lecture on this abundance of early 20th Century kit homes in this fine city.

If you’re new to this site, you may be wondering, what IS a Sears kit home?

In the early 1900s, you could buy an entire house out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. These were not prefab houses, but real “kits” (with about 12,000 pieces of building materials!).

The lumber came pre-cut and numbered to help facilitate construction. Those numbers, together with a 75-page instruction book, and blueprints designed for a novice, enabled a “man of average abilities” to build their own home.

Sears promised that you could have a house assembled and ready for occupancy in 90 days!

When Sears closed their “Modern Homes” department in 1940, all sales records were destroyed, so the only way to find these homes in one by one.

In the early 1900s, there were six national companies selling these mail-order kit homes. Aladdin was one of those six companies, and it was in business longer than Sears (and sold more houses), but is not as well known. And yet, Lynchburg has more Aladdin Homes than Sears Homes!

Finding these kit homes is just like discovering hidden treasure, and it’s time to spread the happy news of these discoveries!

Come join our group “Sears Homes” on Facebook by clicking here!

To read about the Sears Homes in Vinton, Virginia, click here.

Interested in seeing the kit homes of Bedford? Click here.

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One of my favorite finds in Lynchburg is the Sears Alhambra.

One of my favorite finds in Lynchburg is the Sears Alhambra (1921 catalog).

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And technically, it wasnt even MY find! My buddy Bill Inge discovered this Alhambra many years ago, and shared the address with me. Oh boy, what a house!

And technically, it wasn't even MY find! My buddy Bill Inge discovered this Alhambra many years ago, and shared the address with me. Bill tells me that this Sears House has undergone some significant remodeling since this photo was snapped in 2008. Pity too, because it had its original windows in 2008, even though the parapet and dormer were MIA.

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The Sears Westly was a popular house for Sears, too.

The Sears Westly was a popular house for Sears, too (1916 catalog).

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A splendiferous example of a Westly in Lynchburg!

A splendiferous example of a Westly in Lynchburg!

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The Berwyn was offered in the late 1920s and into the 1930s (1929 catalog).

The Berwyn was offered in the late 1920s and into the 1930s (1929 catalog).

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Its a super-sized Berwyn! About 30% of Sears Homes were customized and the #1 customization was enlarging the house a wee bit.

It's a super-sized Berwyn! About 30% of Sears Homes were customized and the #1 customization was enlarging the house a wee bit.

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The Kilborn was a fine-looking craftsman bungalow, and was a big seller for Sears (1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

The Kilborn was a fine-looking craftsman bungalow, and was a big seller for Sears (1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog). The "five or eight rooms" depended on whether or not the 2nd floor was "expanded."

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It was the photographer and not the house thats a little tilted here.

It was the photographer and not the house that's a little tilted here. That purple foundation is interesting. BTW, this was a "windshield survey" and before these homes can be declared "Sears Homes," an interior inspection would be needed.

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The Sears Sunbeam was probably one of their top-ten most popular models. The open porch on the 2nd floor (known as a sleeping porch) often gets closed in.

The Sears "Sunbeam" was probably one of their top-ten most popular models. The open porch on the 2nd floor (known as a "sleeping porch") often gets closed in.

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Pretty

And what a fine-looking Sunbeam it is. I think. As mentioned, this is a windshield survey, and while I'm 90% certain this is a Sears Sunbeam, I'd really need to know the home's exterior footprint to affirm. Note that the sleeping porch has been enclosed. It's rare to see an Sunbeam with the open porch.

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Aladdin had a mill in Wilmington, NC so not surprisingly, I often find more Aladdin kit homes in Virginia than Sears kit homes. Shown above is the Aladdin Pasadena from the 1919 catalog.

Aladdin had a mill in Wilmington, NC so not surprisingly, I often find more Aladdin kit homes in Virginia than Sears kit homes. Shown above is the Aladdin "Pasadena" from the 1919 catalog.

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This is one of my favorite houses in Lynchburg. Its a *perfect* Pasadena.

This is one of my favorite houses in Lynchburg. It's a *perfect* Pasadena.

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Even has the original lattice work on the side porch.

Even has the original lattice work on the side porch.

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The Pasadena at a later date (about 2011).

The Pasadena at a later date (about 2011).

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Another Lynchburg Pasadena, just down the road.

Another Lynchburg Pasadena, just down the road.

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One of Aladdins best selling models was the Marsden (1916 catalog).

One of Aladdin's best selling models was the Marsden (1916 catalog).

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Oh yeah baby. There it is. Be still my heart.

Oh yeah baby. There it is. Be still my heart.

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The Pomona was a classic Arts & Crafts bungalow and also hugely popular.

The Pomona was a classic Arts & Crafts bungalow and also hugely popular.

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Flared columns and all, heres my sweet thing.

Flared columns and all, here's my sweet thing. Do they know they have a kit home? PRobably not.

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And I saved the best for last! The Aladdin Georgia, from the 1919 catalog.

And I saved the best for last! The Aladdin Georgia, from the 1919 catalog.

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Pretty house, isnt it?

Pretty house, isn't it?

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Twinkies! In Lynchburg! Two Georgias, side by side.

Twinkies! In Lynchburg! Two Georgias, side by side.

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And a third Georgia in another part of town.

And a third Georgia in another part of town.

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The Aladdin Edison was a very modest, simple house.

The Aladdin Edison was a very modest, simple house.

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Lyunch

And this one has a pretty stone wall in front.

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The Aladdin Avalon was a classic Dutch Colonial (1931 catalog).

The Aladdin Avalon was a classic Dutch Colonial (1931 catalog).

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The Assessors photo is a dandy, and it captures the Aladdin Avalon from the same angle as the old catalog image! Good job, Mr. Assessor!

The Assessor's photo is a dandy, and it captures the Aladdin Avalon from the same angle as the old catalog image! Good job, Mr. Assessor! And it's a fine exampe of the Avalon!

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And what would a city be without a kit house from Wards?

And what would a city be without a kit house from Montgomery Wards?

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Hopefully, the foundation is good and strong so it wont tip over. This is a Montgomery Ward Carlisle with a pretty big dormer added on!

Hopefully, the foundation is good and strong so the house won't tip over to the left. This is a Montgomery Ward "Carlyle" with a pretty big dormer added on! It needs a little love, but it has original siding and original windows!

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Aladdin

The Aladdin Colonial was quite a house. It was Aladdin's crème de la crème.

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This is

This is not the crème de la crème of Lynchburg housing. This house is now the poster child for insensitive remodeling. Interestingly, it's owned by Lynchburg College. This house has really had a hurtin' put on it.

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Did you enjoy the pictures? If so, please share the link with friends!

And leave a comment for Rose! I’m living on love here!  :D

To read about the Sears Homes in Vinton, Virginia, click here.

Interested in seeing the kit homes of Bedford? Click here.

There’s a missing kit home in Lynchburg. Read about it here.

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Still reading? :D On a personal note, I’ve been trying to move to the Lynchburg/Bedford area since 1994, but life had other plans. I do hope I get there - one day. It’s my favorite part of the country - and I have seen a LOT of the country!

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Sears Catalog House or Something Like It (Hopewell, VA)

July 25th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

Last week, Hopewell was in the local news again, touting their Sears Homes. I’m not going to post a link to the article that appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch, because it was rife with errors.

I’m somewhat incredulous that a paper as prestigious as the Richmond Times Dispatch didn’t do some fact-checking before publishing this story.

The recording and publishing of history is such a sacred trust, and writers have a solemn charge to get the facts right, before sending this information into perpetuity.

And there’s this: I’ve been sought out and interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, BBC Radio, All Things Considered (PBS)  and more. I’ve been featured on PBS History Detectives, CBS Sunday Morning News, A&E’s Biography, and MSNBC.

It’s disheartening to know that a newspaper so close to home ran this article without seeking me out for a quote, or even asking me to help with the fact checking (which I would have gladly done).

Hopewell and I have a history.

When I visited Hopewell in 2003 (to give a talk), I was shown a small brochure touting 44 Sears Homes in Crescent Hills.

As mentioned in several other blogs (click here), Hopewell is mighty mixed up about what is, and what is not a kit house.

Of those 44 purported “Sears Homes” in Crescent Hills, only eight are the real deal, and frankly, it may not be eight. Some of those eight could well be plan book homes.

On that “list of 44,” this house (see below) was featured.

To read more about Hopewell, click here.

Many thanks to Rachel Shoemaker who successfully identified this house!

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Nice House

The brochure promoting the Hopewell Sears Homes stated that this was a Sears "Newbury." Ooh, nice try and thanks for playing. We have some lovely parting gifts for you.

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Ruh

The Hopewell brochure states that it looks JUST LIKE a Newbury, except for the "sloping roof, full width dormer, extra windows and round columns." Good grief, if that's our criteria I could say that my dog Teddy looks like just like a Sears Magnolia.

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House

Except for the absence of a hip roof, full width windows, round columns and cypress wood, these two dwelling places are stunningly similar. You'll note that the subject on the right also does not have ears or fur, but both of these items could have easily been removed during an earlier remodeling.

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Newbury

Sears Newbury, from the 1936 catalog.

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compare

Wow, look at this! The house on the left is in Illinois and it actually LOOKS like a Newbury!

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compare

Ruh Roh. These don't look anything alike!

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Monticello

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker, we now know that this house in Hopewell came from "Standard Homes Plans" (1923, 1928 and 1929). You may notice that THIS looks a lot like the house in Hopewell!

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Montie

In fact, "The Monticello" is on the cover of the catalog! What a beauty!

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Wow

And lookie here. It is a very fine match!

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Big and fancy

Did anyone from Hopewell ever go into this house and compare the interior layout? If so, I hope the homeowner gave their seeing-eye dog a tasty biscuit. The floor plan for the Monticello is radically different from the Sears Newbury (shown directly below). And the Monticello is 50% bigger. These details matter.

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What

The Newbury is a modest, simple house (1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

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If you dont love this house, theres something wrong with you!

According to the text in the ad, if you don't love the Monticello, there's something seriously wrong with you!

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It’d really be swell if Hopewell would invite me back to do a thorough and proper survey. I would be more than happy to get the facts right and help them create a new brochure.

In fact, I really wish they’d give it a go. It’s time to make this right.

To learn more about Hopewell, click here.

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

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World War One and the Working Women of Wilmington

July 13th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Based on our research, more than 50% of the workers in the Penniman Shell Loading Plant were women. The high explosives used in the plant turned the worker’s skin a bright yellow color. This was such a common problem that it became a frequent topic in early 20th Century medical journals. It was called “TNT poisoning.”

The women workers became known as “Canary Girls,” because of their bright yellow skin and ginger-colored hair. At lunch time, the Canary Girls were segregated in the cafeteria, because everything they touched turned yellow.

The body’s reaction to to the TNT usually began with sneezing fits, a bad cough, severe sore throat and profound digestive woes. Some women said the worst of it was the constant metallic taste in their mouth.

Many women simply couldn’t tolerate the suffering produced by the super-fine explosive dust that hung in the air, and left after the first day.  Others left when their health failed, days or weeks later. A few died.

The medical journals of the day stated that only 24% of the workers (male and female) showed no symptons of TNT poisoning (based on blood tests).

More than 3/4ths of the workforce were affected by the daily exposure to the high explosives. Some dramatically.

TNT poisoning depressed the development of red and white blood cells, which explains why the Spanish Flu was so devastating at Penniman. It wasn’t the tight quarters that killed Penniman employees by the dozens: It was the compromised immune system.

But more on that later.

According to news articles, almost 100 women left their homes in Wilmington, NC to go to Penniman in September 1918. And that was just the first two waves.

I wonder if anyone in Wilmington knows more about this piece of their local history?

What inspired all these women from Wilmington to jump on a train and go “stuff one for the Kaiser” at this plant in Virginia? Did any of these women share their story about life at Penniman after the war? Did all the women come back to Wilmington healthy and strong? Did some perish during the Spanish Flu epidemic?

As usual, I have more questions than answers.

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Triton

This appeared in in a 1918 US Army publication titled "The Shell Loader," which gave some wonderful insight into day-to-day life at Penniman. Notice that one of the things a Penniman soldier should know is, "Whether Triton (TNT) or Nature made his girl's hair that way."

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Rude girls

Oatine Face Cream was marketed specifically to Canary Girls. Notice the 155-mm shells scattered about on the ground. Image is from "Nice Girls and Rude Girls: Women Workers in World War I (Social and Cultural History Today)" published in 2000 by I. B. Tauris and written by Deborah Thom. Great book!

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Over

"Mrs. Lamb and Miss Jackson are astonished by their response to their appears for volunteers for war work..." (August 30, 1918, Wilmington Morning Star.)

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Not

Wages: 34 cents per hour. And by the way, if you or your parents were born in Germany (or Austria or Hungary or The Ottoman Empire), you would not be employable at Penniman.

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house house house

This article appeared in the "Wilmington Morning Star" on September 7, 1918.

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house

And someone took pictures! This appeared in "The Wilmington Morning Star," on September 9, 1918. Based on my ciphering, that picture should appear on September 15th, plus or minus three days. Bottom of first paragraph: "The Wilmington women are carried away with...the surroundings." Really?

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Surroundings

"The Wilmington women are carried away with...the surroundings." In Summer 1918, Penniman had more than 15,000 living within its small borders. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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The workers at Penniman wore an outfit such as this.

The women workers at Penniman probably wore a "uniform" such as this. It was found that skin contact with TNT caused severe dermatitis, and that the ankles, wrists and waistband were particularly susceptible, so there were elasticized bands at these points. Gloves were also worn in the shell-loading plants. (Ladies' Home Journal, June 1918.)

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Sadie Bowers of Newberry, SC - Please Tell Me More?

June 24th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

The truly patriotic women are willing to work in the booster plants. Do not come for the money only. The compensation is not commensurate with the hazards.

So wrote Sadie Bowers, who left her home and family in Newberry, SC in 1918 to work at the WW1-era munitions plant in Penniman, Virginia. Her detail-filled letter was published in her hometown newspaper “The Herald and News.”

It was mostly women that worked on the shell-loading lines at Penniman. The work was considered so dangerous that these plants were called “The second-line trenches.”

Penniman was the only booster plant in America, and before Penniman went online, the boosters were inserted after the shells arrived in Europe.

In England, shell-loading plants, like Penniman, were called “Filling Factories,” and the section of the plant where boosters (or “gaines”) were inserted was called, “The Danger Zone.”

Sadie’s English contemporary was a woman named Mabel Lethbridge, who worked at the Hayes-Middlesex Munitions Factory (near London). Like Sadie, Mabel worked in a section of the plant where the shells were prepared to receive the boosters. Like Sadie, Mabel came from an upper-income family but felt compelled to do her part for the War Effort.

On October 23, 1917, 17-year-old Mabel was working in The Danger Zone when an explosion ripped through her building, killing several women*.

Mabel’s family was summoned with a simple message: “Mabel has been taken to St. Mary’s Hospital in a Dying Condition.”

Mabel survived, but lost her leg at the knee.

It was Mabel’s third day at the plant.

After Armistice (November 11, 1918), Sadie Bowers returned to her home on College Street in Newberry and in the 1940s, she took a job as Postmaster and was living with her mother. Sadie died in Newberry, the town where she was born and raised, in 1976.

As you’ll see below, Sadie Bowers was a first-rate writer, and according to the 1920 Census, Sadie had a four-year degree, and her father was a professor (Andrew Bowers). This well-educated woman, born into the upper echelons of society, left home and hearth to travel to Penniman, Virginia to “stuff one for the Kaiser.”

In the late 1930s, Sadie’s young niece (Martha Jane Gray Click) lived with her for a time. Many years later, Sadie’s positive influence was noted in the preface of Martha Jane’s book, “Through The Bible.”

Several weeks after I first read Sadie’s wonderful letter, it dawned on me that perhaps this woman had written more than just a single letter. Perhaps there were articles, personal narratives, unpublished manuscripts, or subsequent interviews.

I’d love to know more about Sadie and her life at Penniman.

I’ve contacted the college (two responses, but they’ve got nothing on Sadie), and the local library (no response yet) and even the Mayor of Newberry (who has been a wonderful help), but thus far, nothing has been found.

If you’ve got an insights or suggestions on finding more on Sadie, please contact me.

Thanks so much to Mark Hardin for finding this article on Sadie!

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*  Despite much effort, I’ve found precious little on the explosion at the Hayes-Middlesex Munitions Factory on October 17, 1917. According to Mabel Lethbridge’s autobiography (”Fortune Grass, 1934″), several women were killed in the explosion, but an exact number is not given.

Full text of article

Full text of article that appeared on October 11, 1918 in the Newberry "Herald and News."

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se

This is one of the shells that the women were loading at Penniman and Hayes. The image is from "America's Munitions: 1917-1918" by Benedict Crowell. It was printed by the Government Printing Office in 1919.

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Picture

Picture of Sadie E. Bowers from the 1940s (from http://genealogytrails.com).

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To learn more about Penniman, click here.

To read about Sears Homes, click here.

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