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Dad

August 31st, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

Despite my personal commitment to post something at this blog each day, I’ve fallen short. In June, we moved my elderly father (91 and counting), into an assisted living facility here in Portsmouth. I’d hoped that ONCE he got into assisted living, my troubles would cease. I was wrong. Nearly every day, there’s something to be done, or someone to be called, or paperwork to tend to. It’s a lot to deal with.

In 1974, my father left my life for several decades. I didn’t re-enter his life in any significant way until 2000, when his second wife passed on. When I think of my father, I think of him as I remember him as he looked in the late 60s and early 70s. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

Dad with Tommy and Rickey, mid-1950s

Dad with Tommy and Rickey, mid-1950s

My father and my brothers at the Fleishhacker Zoo in San Francisco, about 1966.

My father and my brothers (Rick and Ed) at the Fleishhacker Zoo in San Francisco, about 1966.

Sears Home in Lexington, Virginia: Where am I?

August 28th, 2010 Sears Homes 2 comments

About three years ago, my husband and I revisited his old Alma Mater (Washington and Lee). We also drove around town and found this Sears Alhambra (see photo below) in a quiet residential area in Lexington. I’ll be retuning to Lexington in a few days and would love to get the address for this house, so that I can re-visit it, and also scope out the neighborhood for other Sears Homes. If you know the address of this house or its street name, please leave a comment below!

Do you know what a Sears Home is? These were true kits, 12,000 pieces of house, sold out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. Sears promised that “a man of average abilities” could have one of these kits built in 90 days. Click here for more info on Sears kit homes.

To see more pictures of Sears Homes, click here.

Sears Alhambra, as shown in the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Alhambra, as shown in the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Alhambra in Lexington, but where?

Sears Alhambra in Lexington, but where?

Richard Warren Sears: My Hero

August 28th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

In the mid-1880s, while working as a railway station agent in Redwood Falls, Minnesota, Richard Warren Sears paid $50 for a shipment of watches that arrived at the train station and had been refused by a local merchant. Selling them to other railway agents and passengers, Sears turned $50 worth of watches into $500 in a few months.

His timing could not possibly have been any better.

With the advent of the steam locomotive and reliable passenger rail service, people could now travel hundreds of miles each day, but there was a problem with all this expeditious movement. In the early 1880s, the United States had 300 different time zones. You read that right: 300.

In November 1883, railway companies established four time zones to help manage and standardize the complex train schedules. As folks adapted to the new time zones, watches became a hot commodity.

In 1886, 23-year-old Sears invested his $5000 cash profit into a new watch business and called it the “R. W. Sears Watch Company.” He advertised his watches in regional newspapers and in a short time, he moved the business from Minneapolis to Chicago.

Around 1891, Sears and Roebuck published their first mail order catalog, offering jewelry and watches within its 52 pages. By 1893, the little watch and jewelry catalog had grown to 196 pages and offered a variety of items, including sewing machines, shoes, saddles and more. One year later, another 300 pages were added, creating a 507-page mail order catalog.

On November 1, 1908, 44-year-old Richard W. Sears emerged from a terse closed-door meeting with his business partner Julius Rosenwald and announced that he would resign as President from his own company. Sears’ reason for retiring: He “didn’t see the work as fun anymore.” A short time later, Sears sold his stock for $10 million dollars. There was another reason for his departure. Sears wanted more time to take care of his ailing wife, who had suffered from ill health for years.

In September 1914, at the age of 50, Sears died, having turned $50 worth of pocket watches into a multi-million dollar mail order empire. His estate was valued at more than $20 million.

Richard Warren Sears at his office at 925 Homan Avenue, Chicago, IL

Richard Warren Sears at his office at 925 Homan Avenue, Chicago, IL

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To read more about Sears Modern Homes, click here.

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The Amazing Collection of Sears Homes - in the Midwest!

August 28th, 2010 Sears Homes 10 comments

Sears Homes were kit homes that were sold right out of the pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog in the early 1900s. More than 370 designs of kit homes were offered - everything ranging from Arts and Crafts bungalows to foursquares to Colonial Revivals. These homes came in 30,000-piece kits and were shipped to all 48 states. Sears promised that a man of average abilities could have these homes assembled in about 90 days.

Today, the only way to find these kit homes is literally one by one. And that’s what I do. When I decided that Sears Homes would be my career, I endeavored to memorize each of those 370 designs of Sears Homes. Now I can drive the streets of small town America and find the Sears Homes - one by one.

Not surprisingly, the Midwest has an amazing collection of Sears Homes in particular and kit homes in general. Below are a few pictures of the kit homes I’ve found during my travels in the Midwest.

In addition to Sears, there were other companies that sold kit homes, including Aladdin, Gordon Van Tine, Montgomery Ward, Harris Brothers and more.

To read about an Illinois ghost town that once had many Sears Homes, click here.

Did you know Buster Keaton built a kit home? Learn more about that here.

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Interested in old murder mysteries? Click here to read about my Aunt Addie!

The Sears Sherburne was not a very popular house, but it was a beauty!

The Sears Sherburne was not a very popular house, but it was a beauty!

Close-up of the catalog image

Close-up of the catalog image

Sears Sherburne in Peoria, IL

Sears Sherburne in Decatur, IL

Sears Willard, as seen in a 1928 promotional ad

Sears Willard, as seen in a 1928 promotional ad

Sears Willard in Peoria, Illinois

Sears Willard in Peoria, Illinois

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The Sears Ivanhoe was one of thir most magnificent homes.

The Sears Ivanhoe was one of their most magnificent homes.

And here it is, in Elmhurst, Illinois

And here it is, in Elmhurst, Illinois

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The Bandon was not a popular house for Sears.

The Bandon was not a popular house for Sears.

The only Bandon Ive ever seen was in Pulaski, Illinois (near Cairo, at the southern most end of Illinois).

The only "Bandon" I've ever seen was in Pulaski, Illinois (near Cairo, at the southern most end of Illinois). This Bandon is a perfect match to the catalog picture.

A pre-WW1 Sears Home: Modern Home #264P202

A pre-WW1 Sears Home: Modern Home #264P202

The Sears #264P202 in the flesh. This house is in Okawville, IL

The Sears #264P202 in the flesh. This house is in Okawville, IL

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From the Sears Modern Homes catalog, heres the Sears Glendale

From the Sears Modern Homes catalog, here's the Sears Glendale

Sears Glendale in Cairo, Illinois

Sears Glendale in Cairo, Illinois

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Sears Gladstone from the Modern Homes catalog

Sears Gladstone from the Modern Homes catalog

A Sears Gladstone in Carbondale, Illinois

A Sears Gladstone in Carbondale, Illinois

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Sears Fullerton

Sears Fullerton

This Fullerton is in Aurora, Illinois

This Fullerton is in Aurora, Illinois

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The Alhambra was a very popular model for Sears

The Alhambra was a very popular model for Sears

An Alhambra in Casey, Illinois

An Alhambra in Casey, Illinois

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The Sears Argyle was also a very popular house for Sears

The Sears Argyle was also a very popular house for Sears

Heres a Sears Argyle in New Baden, Illinois.

Here's a Sears Argyle in New Baden, Illinois.

Below is a perfect little Crescent in Bloomington, Illinois. Every detail is perfect!

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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To see more pictures of Sears Homes, click here.

Portsmouth’s Got a Brand-New Train

August 26th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

Recently, Norfolk and Western’s #1134 settled into its new home in downtown Portsmouth. According to the The Lost Engines of Roanoke website, the old steam locomotive was rescued from the Virginia Scrap Iron and Metal Yard in Roanoke, Virginia where it had been dying a slow-death by rust for the last 60 years. The website also states that #1134 and her siblings (#917, 1118 and 1151) landed there in in the 1950s, having been relegated to the scrap heap when newer, more modern steam engines were ordered by the railroads.

The Virginian Pilot reports that on Tuesday (May 18, 2010), the 250,000-pound locomotive was back on the tracks again at its new home in Portsmouth. Unfortunately, this shining black beauty is not ready to be run out of town on a rail. She’s had a “cosmetic restoration,” meaning that she’ll never ride the rails again under her own steam.

Nonetheless, it’s wonderful that a handful of visionaries in Portsmouth have worked so tirelessly to preserve a piece of our country’s past. And Norfolk and Western’s #1134 is the capstone in the privately-funded Railroad Museum of Virginia. According to the article in the Pilot, contributions are welcome and can be made to:

The Railroad Museum of Virginia, Inc.
c/o Willard J. Moody Sr. Esq.
500 Crawford St. Suite 300
Portsmouth, VA 23704

The beautiful and cosmetically restored #1134 sits on the rails in downtown Portsmouth

The beautiful and cosmetically restored #1134 sits on the rails in downtown Portsmouth

Another view of N&W 1134

Another view of N&W 1134

close up of the wheels

close up of the wheels

Steam Locomotives and Sears Homes

August 26th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

I love trains, and especially steam engines from the early 20th Century. It is these trains that hauled that 12,000-piece kit from the mill in Cairo, Illinois to prospective homeowners throughout America. Trains are magical and amazing and intriguing and a marvel of modern engineering.

Pictured below is the “A Class” Norfolk and Western 1218, as seen at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke. That’s my 5′8″ hubby standing beside the behemoth. Number 1218 was, in its day, the most powerful steam locomotive in the world, with a tractive effort of 114,000 pounds-force . The N&W 1218 (an articulated train) was born in 1943 and retired from rail service in 1959.

To read about Portsmouth’s brand new train, click here.

Big Train and Not-so-big hubby.

Big Train and Not-so-big hubby.

To read about Portsmouth’s new steam engine, click here.

Sears Kit Condos

August 24th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

Years ago, my friend Rebecca Hunter drove me to an Midwestern suburb and showed me this Sears Westly (see pictures below). She made me close my eyes as we pulled up to the house. Sitting squarely in front of it, I exclaimed that it looked  like a nice little Westly. Then she giggled a bit and pulled forward, so I could see “The rest of the story.”

I gasped in horror. Incredibly, someone built a neighborhood behind this once-darling Sears Westly. Why anyone would do this, is a puzzle. How anyone got zoning approval to do this is a BIGGER puzzle!!

To buy Rose’s book (and get it inscribed!), click here.

To learn how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

Sears Westly from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Westly from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Westly in Midwestern suburb

Westly in Midwestern suburb

Charleston, West Virginia: A Plethora of Sears Homes

August 23rd, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

How did Charleston, West Virginia end up with a large collection of kit homes from Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward and Aladdin Homes?  Were these homes purchased for industry workers? Were they built by a local  builder or developer? Or did word about these well-built kit homes just spread by word of mouth? I’d love to know.

In 2008, Ersela Jordan, Billy Joe Peyton and Henry from the Historical Society and I toured Charleston and found many kit homes, from several companies.

These early 20th Century kit homes were true kits, and were shipped via rail, arriving at the local train depot in 12,000 pieces.

Each kit came with a 75-page instruction book that told the hopeful homeowner how all those pieces and parts went together. Today, finding these homes is especially challenging. Unfortunately, when Sears closed their Modern Homes department in 1940, all sales records were destroyed.

To learn more about how to identify kit homes, click here.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

The Sears Dover as shown in the 1936 catalog

The Sears Dover as shown in the 1936 catalog

The Sears Dover - with a slate roof - in Charleston, West Virginia. This is one of the prettiest Sears Homes Ive ever seen!

The Sears Dover - with a slate roof - in Charleston, West Virginia. This is one of the prettiest Sears Homes I've ever seen!

Sears Chateau - from the 1932 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Chateau - from the 1932 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Very unusual house and unlike the more "traditional" Sears catalog homes.

Sears Chateau:  In my many travels, this is the only Sears Chateau that Ive seen. Note that the front door was moved from the left side (catalog image) to the middle. The homes living room spanned the full width of the house, so this was a simple change to make. Note the detail on the brick work above the windows.

Sears Chateau: In my many travels, this is the only Sears Chateau that I've seen. Note that the front door was moved from the left side (catalog image) to the middle. The home's living room spanned the full width of the house, so this was a simple change to make. Note the detail on the brick work below the windows. This Chateau is next door to the Sears Dover (pic above).

Sears Lexington, from the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Lexington, from the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Lexington in Charleston, WV. A real beauty!

Sears Lexington in Charleston, WV. A real beauty!

Sears Alhambra - one of their most popular designs.

Sears Alhambra - one of their most popular designs.

Sears Alhambra dressed in brick, in downtown Charleston

Sears Alhambra dressed in brick, in downtown Charleston

Sears Vallonia, another one of Sears most popular designs

Sears Vallonia, another one of Sears most popular designs

Sears Vallonia in Charleston.

Sears Vallonia in Charleston. Dormer windows have been replaced, but note original porch railings and columns. One of the unusual features on the Sears Vallonia is the small space between the two windows on the dining room bay.

Aladdin kit home: The Maplewood

Aladdin kit home: The Maplewood

A perfect Aladdin Maplewood in Charleston. We found several of these kit homes in one section of town.

A perfect Aladdin Maplewood in Charleston. We found several of these kit homes in one section of town. this Maplewood is in remarkably original condition, and even retains its original batten shutters. Note the detail around the front porch roof.

Gordon Van Tine catalog page.

Gordon Van Tine catalog page. GVT was a large kit home company based in Davenport, Iowa.

Gordon Van Tine Roberts in Charleston

Gordon Van Tine "Roberts" in Charleston

To read more about Sears kit homes in West Virginia, click here.

A Dazzling Collection of Sears Homes in Northern Illinois

August 23rd, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

Not surprisingly, there’s an abundance of Sears kit home in Northern Illinois.

In fact, Elgin, Illinois has the largest known collection of Sears Homes in the country! This southwestern Chicago suburb has more than 210 Sears Homes!

To learn more about the houses in Elgin, visit the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, and check out The Elgin Illinois Sears House Research Project (by Rebecca Hunter).

To learn how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

A bungalow from the Golden West the Osborn was another very popular house. This one is on a corner lot in Annapolis.

A "bungalow from the Golden West" the Osborn was another very popular house. This picture from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog also shows interior views of The Osborn.

Sears Osborn in St. Charles, Illinois

Sears Osborn in St. Charles, Illinois

The Sears Newcastle was a Colonial Revival and a popular design

The Sears Newcastle was a Colonial Revival and a popular design

Sears Newcastle in northern Illinois

Sears Newcastle in Geneva, Illinois

Sears Matoka, another popular Sears Homes

Sears Matoka, another popular Sears Homes

Sears Matoka in St. Charles

Sears Matoka in St. Charles

Sears Fullerton

Sears Fullerton

Sears Fullerton in Aurora, Illinois

Sears Fullerton in Aurora, Illinois

Sears Fullerton in Elgin, Illinois

Sears Fullerton in Elgin, Illinois

Sears Del Rey

Sears Del Rey

Sears Del Rey in Wheaton, Illinois

Sears Del Rey in Wheaton, Illinois

Sears Marina, Model #2024

Sears Marina, Model #2024

Sears Marina (2024) in West Chicago

Sears Marina (2024) in Geneva, Illinois

The Sears Hamilton was a modest, but a big seller for Sears.

The Sears Hamilton was a modest, but a big seller for Sears.

Sears Hamilton in Elgin, IL

Sears Hamilton in Elgin, IL

Perhaps one of their top ten most popular designs, the Sears Crescent was offered in two floor plans, with an expandable attic option in both plans.

Perhaps one of their top ten most popular designs, the Sears Crescent was offered in two floor plans, with an expandable attic option in both plans.

Crescent in Elmhurst, IL

Significantly remodeled Crescent in Elmhurst, IL

The most notable feature on the Americus (shown here from the 1925 catalog) was the oversized front porch roof, unique front columns and the second floor front wall that juts out a little from the first.

The most notable feature on the Americus (shown here from the 1925 catalog) was the oversized front porch roof, unique front columns and the second floor front wall that juts out a little from the first.

Sears Americus in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Sears Americus in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

To read the next blog, click here.

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The Sears Homes in Elkins, West Virginia

August 22nd, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

My cutie-pie husband is from Elkins, West Virginia (see picture below).  Wayne graduated from Davis and Elkins College in 1977, and Washington and Lee (School of Law) in 1980.  This weekend (August 20th), we drove from Norfolk to Elkins to attend his cousin’s 30th Wedding Anniversary party (part of the Skidmore clan). It was a happy, happy time.  Surprisingly, I found quite a few Sears Homes.  (Story continues below photo of cutie-pie husband)

Darling Hubby Wayne from Elkins

Darling Hubby Wayne from Elkins, poised atop a rock in the Cheat River

What is a Sears Home? These were true kits sold out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. The houses were shipped via rail and contained 30,000 pieces of house. Each kit came with a 75-page instruction manual and a promise that a “man of average abilities” could have one assembled and ready for occupancy in about 90 days. Today, there are about 70,000 Sears kit homes in America. Incredibly, about 90% of the people living in these homes don’t realize what they have! The purpose of this website is to help people learn more about this fascinating piece of America’s history.

Here are a few of the houses I found within the city limits of Elkins, West Virginia.

The Sears Lynnhaven was one of Sears most popular kit homes.

The Sears Lynnhaven was one of Sears' most popular kit homes.

Sears Lynnhaven in Elkins, hidden behind a few trees.

Sears Lynnhaven in Elkins, hidden behind a few trees.

Sears Matoka, another popular Sears Homes

Sears Matoka, another popular Sears Homes

Sears Home or Wardway Home? Hard to know for sure. This house was offered (in identical floorplans) by both Sears and Mongtomery Wards. One things for sure: Its a beautiful old kit house!

Sears Home or Wardway Home? Hard to know for sure. This house was offered (in identical floorplans) by both Sears and Mongtomery Wards. One thing's for sure: It's a beautiful old kit house. It's in South Elkins.

Sears Hazleton high atop the hillside in Elkins

Sears Hazleton from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Unfortunately, I had to photograph this house from the opposite side shown in the catalog image, but this bungalow (high atop a hill in Elkins, WV) is unmistakeably a Sears Hazleton. Looking at the house from the right side, you can see that unusual bay window with six windows (four large, one small).

Unfortunately, I had to photograph this house from the opposite side shown in the catalog image, but this bungalow (high atop a hill in Elkins, WV) is unmistakeably a Sears Hazleton. If you looked at this house from the right side, you'd see that unusual bay window with six windows (four large, two small) on that left side. It's located in Wees Historic District.

Sears Cornell from the 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Cornell from the 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Cornell

Sears Cornell. Although this looks like just another foursquare, this Cornell has a goofy floorplan, with a tiny bathroom (and tiny window) on its left side. When you look on the home's left side, you'll see that the oddly-placed bathroom window is right where it should be. THe Cornell was a very popular house for Sears, and I'm confident that this house is a Sears Cornell.

Sears Marion/Lakecrest from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Marion/Lakecrest from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Is this a Sears Marion? Id say it is. Its a good match on all sides and has a raised roof in the back, which was probably added in later years.

Is this a Sears Marion? I'd say it is. It's a good match on all sides and all the windows are in their right place. One eye-catching feature is the swoop of the bellcast roof on the front of the house. The raised roof in the back was obviously added in later years.

Sears Glendale from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Glendale from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Glendale in Elkins, WV

Is this a Sears Glendale? It looks like it. However, it is not a spot-on match.

And there’s even a Lustron Prefabricated post-WW2 home in Elkins.  Lustron Homes were made of 20-gage 2×2 metal tiles, covered with a porcelain enamel finish (just like the top of a high-dollar washing machines!).  These houses were all metal - inside and out - and hanging a picture required sticking magnets to the walls! Nails and other fasteners would damage the porcelain enamel finish. Lustron was based in Columbus, Ohio and less than 3000 Lustron Homes were sold in this country. They were remarkable, strong and long-lasting houses - definitely ahead of their time. Finding this three-bedroom model in Elkins was a special treat, as the three-bedroom Lustrons were very rare.

Lustron Home in Elkins, WV

Lustron Home in Elkins, WV

Close-up of 2x2 metal tiles on Lustron Walls.

Close-up of 2x2 metal tiles on Lustron Walls.

To learn more about Lustrons, click here.

To read more about Sears Homes in West Virginia, click here.

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