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Archive for October, 2010

The Sears Roebuck House in Urbanna, Virginia

October 28th, 2010 Sears Homes 2 comments

In early 2000, I was often on the road, traveling throughout the Midwest and giving lectures on Sears Homes (and selling books!).  At least a dozen times, kind-hearted Midwesterners would saunter up to me after the talk and ask, “Do you know about the Sears Roebuck house in Urbanna, Virginia?”

Seems like knowledge about this little house has spread far and wide.

A few years ago, I made the 75-minute drive to Urbanna to check out this “Sears Roebuck House.” It wasn’t hard to find, as Urbanna is a tiny fishing town and home of Virginia’s annual Oyster Festival.  (BTW, the Oyster Festival is THIS weekend!!)

Within ten minutes of driving up and town the few streets, I found my Sears Home. Here’s a photo of my little pretty.

I later learned that local folks didn’t realize that Sears had 370 designs, but thought there was just the one model, hence the name, Sears Roebuck House. In fact, this is a Sears Rodessa, one of Sears most popular models.

Sears Rodessa in Urbana

Sears Rodessa in Urbana

Sears catalog image

Sears catalog image

Sears Rodessa

Sears Rodessa

Sears Rodessa

Sears Rodessa

Sears Rodessa

Sears Rodessa

Do you have a Sears House? Learn how to identify Sears Homes by clicking here.

Sears Rodessa - A Pretty Little House

Sears Rodessa - A Pretty Little House

Sears Homes in Raleigh!

October 27th, 2010 Sears Homes 2 comments

When people think of Sears Homes, they think of Illinois or maybe the Midwest, but I’ve found many Sears Homes in the south!  In fact, I’ve found hundreds in the Hampton Roads area (Southeastern Virginia). Yes, hundreds.

Recently, I went to Raleigh and drove around to look for Sears Homes.  The ones I found were quite beautiful!

The first one (see pictures below) is a Sears Alhambra. The next one is either a Wardway Venice (a kit home from Montgomery Ward) or a Sears Winona. Hard to know for sure.

However, I am certain that they’re in unusually beautiful condition and a real treat to behold! And if they’re like most of the Sears Homes I find, the homeowners have no idea that they’re living in a historically significant house.

Buy Rose and Dale’s new book here.

Sears Alhambra from 1923 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Alhambra from 1923 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Alhambra in Raleigh!

Sears Alhambra in Raleigh!

Sears Walton

Sears Walton

Sears Walton, but if only I knew where! Its somewhere near downtown Raleigh.

Sears Walton, but if only I knew where! It's somewhere near downtown Raleigh.

Sears Crafton from the 1916 Modern Homes catalog.

The Wardway Venice

Wardway Venice or Sears Winona? (Raleigh, NC)

And I saved the best for last: The Sears Magnolia is in Benson, NC. There are only six known Magnolias in the country, so finding one in Benson was quite a thrill!

maggy_benson_nc

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Read another article about the Sears Magnolia  in nearby Benson, NC here.

The Martha Washington: Honor Bilt

October 27th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

Before I had my own websites, I didn’t realize that you can track the ways that people are led to your website. For instance, today several people came to this site with the search terms “Martha Washington Sears House.”  These things come in waves. Last week, the hot term was “Sears Vallonia.”

I’m hoping those people will come back and read this blog, because before this, I didn’t have much posted on the Sears Honor Bilt home, “The Martha Washington.” This blog is fun follow-up to my eight books, but the fact is, writing and posting pictures is a little time intensive!

Plus, I have more than 30,000 photos. It might take me a little time to get all those photos posted here! And the fact is, I’m adding to those photos all the time!

Let’s talk about the Martha Washington. It’s a beautiful and grand home, a classic Dutch Colonial and is one of my favorite Sears Homes. A little trivia: The Martha Washington has the same floor plan as the Sears Alhamba. The lone difference is the Martha Washington does not have that box window on the front.

Enjoy the photos!

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

To look at more pretty pictures of Sears Homes, click here.

The Martha Washington from the 1921 catalog

The Martha Washington from the 1921 catalog

This floor plan matches the floor plan for the Sears Alhambra

This floor plan matches the floor plan for the Sears Alhambra

Close-up of the Martha Washington

Close-up of the Martha Washington

Sears Martha Washington in Bedford, Virginia

Sears Martha Washington in Bedford, Virginia

Sears Martha Washington in Lombard, IL

Sears Martha Washington in Lombard, IL. Notice the original wooden storm windows!

All Things Vallonia, Part Deux

October 25th, 2010 Sears Homes 6 comments

The Sears Vallonia was easily one of Sears most popular designs.  It had a practical, thoughtful floor plan and it was an attractive design and offered a finished or unfinished second floor. Lots of expandable space for the not-so-expandable budget.

I’ll update this post with more information in the coming days, but for now, here are some photos.

Sears Vallonia from the Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Vallonia from the Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Vallonia in Lewisburg, WV

Sears Vallonia in Lewisburg, WV. Even porch railings are original!

Sears Vallonia - compared  with the catalog image

Sears Vallonia - compared with the catalog image

Sears Vallonia in Charleston, WV

Sears Vallonia in Charleston, WV

Sears Vallonia in Cairo, Illinois.

Sears Vallonia in Cairo, Illinois. Yes, that is a Vallonia back there.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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All Things Vallonia

October 25th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

The Sears Vallonia was the classic Craftsman-style bungalow, with its lone gabled dormer sitting atop a side-gabled bungalow. It’s a cutie for sure and one of the most enduring designs that Sears offered. It was first offered in the mid-1910s and also appeared in the final Sears Modern Homes catalog in 1940.

Through the years, it changed a bit. Here’s a picture from the 1920 Modern Homes catalog. Note how the dormer is small and has only two diminutive windows.

There’s a wonderful Sears Vallonia in Springfield, Illinois - right next to the Amtrak train tracks! If anyone knows the address, please leave a comment below!

Click here to read All Things Vallonia, Part II.

Sears Vallonia from the 1916 catalog.

Sears Vallonia from the 1921 catalog.

In 1922, the Sears Vallonia changed its appearance a bit. The dormer now has three casement windows. The Vallonia maintained this look with few changes for the next 18 years.

Sears Vallonia as shown in the 1922 catalog

Sears Vallonia as shown in the 1920s

What year

The Vallonia also showed up in an early 1920s SEROCO paint catalog - and in color! Seroco was Sears own brand: SEars RObuck Company. Cute, huh?

Sears

Close-up of the Sears Vallonia

A perfect - and I mean PERFECT - Sears Vallonia in Columbia, Illinois.

A perfect - and I mean PERFECT - Sears Vallonia in Columbia, Illinois.

Sears Vallonia in Greenville, IL

Another perfect Sears Vallonia in Greenville, IL

Sears Vallonia in Aurora, Illinois

Sears Vallonia in Aurora, Illinois

And heres a perfect Vallonia in Grafton, Illinois.

And another fine-looking Vallonia in Grafton, Illinois.

Vintage photo (circa 1920s) of newly completed Sears Vallonia in Illinois

Vintage photo (circa 1920s) of newly completed Sears Vallonia in Illinois

Click here to read Part II of “All Things Vallonia.”

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Click here to read about the Sears Martha Washington.

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Sears Modern Homes - With Indoor Plumbing - Usually!

October 24th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

From 1908-1940, Sears sold houses by mail order. These 12,000-piece kits came with a 75-page instruction book that told the wanna-be homeowner how to put it all together. Sears promised that a “man of average abilities” could have it 100% complete in 90 days. Sears offered 370 designs, including foursquares, cape cods, neo-tudors, trailing edge Victorians, Colonials and more.

The specialty catalogs - devoted to “Modern Homes” - averaged about 100 pages with the peak being 1924, when the catalog hit 140 pages, with 100 designs. These “Sears Modern Homes” catalogs can now be found on eBay for a variety of prices.

And these really were modern homes. Think about this. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her “Little House” books describing life on the plains in the 1870s and 1880s. She talked about living in a soddie - a house made with dirt blocks - and waking up to find frost on her comforter.

At the turn of the 20th Century, American architecture evolved very quickly. We went from living in tiny cabins and soddies (sans lights, central heat and indoor plumbing) to these sweet little bungalows with three bedrooms, a full bathroom, and a kitchen - wired for electricity!

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

Sears Osborne, catalog image from 1924

Sears Osborne, catalog image from 1924

In fact, sometimes these mail-order homes were more modern than the communities in which they were sold.

And that’s why the plumbing and electrical fixtures were NOT part of the kit home, but were purchased separately. If electrical service and municipal water systems were not available in your community, you wouldn’t need to spend money on the plumbing and electrical supplies!

In the back pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs, this little jewel was offered:

And it has two seats - for more family fun in the outhouse!!

And it has two seats - for more family fun in the outhouse!!

The Sears Modern Homes department closed their doors in 1940. During a corporate house-cleaning after WW2, all sales records, blueprints, ephemera and other items were destroyed. The only way to find these 75,000 kit homes today is literally, one by one.

To learn more, buy Rose’s book, The Houses That Sears Built.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.


Jim Walter Homes - Where’d They Go?

October 24th, 2010 Sears Homes 3 comments

In 1978, soon after my first husband and I were first married, we sat down and looked through a Jim Walter Homes catalog. The idea of building a kit home was hugely appealing to us. In the end, we decided to buy an existing home, but throughout the years, the idea of building our own sacred space held a special appeal.

In 1999, I was asked to write an article about the Sears Homes in Carlinville, Illinois. As a freelance writer scrambling to make a living, I gladly obliged. Once I laid eyes on those 156 Sears Homes in a 12-block area, I was completely and hopelessly in love. The 1000-word article that should have taken a few hours took a few weeks. The editor asked for “a couple photos” and I submitted 96 photos. This was back in the days of film, and those 96 photos represented FOUR ROLLS of film!

When that first article appeared, I was suddenly “the expert” on kit homes. I didn’t know that much about kit homes, but I did have a passion for the topic. I went looking for a book on the topic and found very little. “Houses by Mail” (a field guide to Sears Homes) was a fascinating book, but had very little textual history. And that’s how I came to write “The Houses That Sears Built.”

Within 90 days, my book was featured in The New York Times and then I was asked to appear on PBS’ History Detectives, A&E’s Biography, CBS Sunday Morning News and more. From there, it was off to the races.

And that’s the “back story” of how I came to be an expert on kit homes.

Now, I’m interested in learning more about Jim Walter Homes, based in Tampa, Florida. For the last six weeks, I’ve been tirelessly searching eBay for ephemera from this company but I’ve found nothing. If anyone has any ideas on how to get some info on Jim Walter Homes, please drop me a line! I’m also interested in finding pictures of existing Jim Walter Homes.

To contact me, please leave a comment below!

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

Cover of the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Cover of the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog

G

Pictured above is a Gordon Van Tine kit homes catalog from the late 30s/early 40s.

W

Wardway Homes catalog, about 1931.

Aladdin Homes, about 1916

Aladdin Homes, 1917. I'm not sure, but I think that's the genie going back into the bottle, after building a house for his master. Love the post-apocalyptic orange sky!

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Truth, Justice and the American Way (of Building Kit Homes)

October 22nd, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

In February 2010, I spent the better part of three weeks driving around the state of Illinois, looking for Sears Homes. After going through Cairo, I moved onto Metropolis. For those not familiar with Illinois geography, both of these small cities are in the southern most part of the state. I found a few Sears Homes in Metropolis, and I also found Superman.

I sent my brother an email and shared the photo I took of Superman (see below). My brother wrote back and said, “Metropolis is Superman’s birthplace? Ask to see Superman’s birth certificate. And while you’re there, ask about Obama’s too. More probable that we’ll see Superman’s first.”

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read more about nearby Cairo, click here.

Superman stands proud and tall in Metropolis

Superman stands proud and tall in Metropolis

Sears Westly from the 1919 catalog

Sears Westly from the 1919 catalog

Sears Westly in Metropolis

Sears Westly in Metropolis

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To read about the Sears Homes in Northern Illinois, click here.

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Sterling Homes

October 22nd, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

The following information on Sterling Homes originally appeared here, a website dedicated to Wardway Homes. All material is copyright  protected and owned by Dale Patrick Wolicki and Rosemary Thornton. Original research on Sterling Homes is courtesy of Dale Patrick Wolicki.

We will help you make your dream come true - your dream of a home that is really a home. We will send you a home that will be more cherished as the years pass on. We want to see you own a Sterling System Home which will be a joy through your life, and which will be passed on to your children as a fitting inheritance (1917 Sterling Homes).

Sterling Homes, based in Bay City, started out life as a lumber company, International Mill and Timber Company. In the early 1900s, Aladdin Homes turned to International Mill and Timber hoping that they’d be able to fulfill a backlog of millwork orders for Aladdin kit homes. International Mill was not able to meet the demand, so Aladdin Homes went elsewhere.

International Mill and Timber had glimpsed the Promise Land: Kit Homes sold through a mail-order catalog.

In 1915, this Bay City company launched their own line of pre-cut kit homes and called it, Sterling Homes.

Sterling Homes offered construction services for developers and one of their largest clients turned out to be General Motors, which paid for 1,000 houses built in Flint Michigan (for GM workers).

Post-war troubles and a recession in 1921 forced Sterling Homes into bankruptcy. Bay City businessman Leopold Kantzler purchased their assets and put Sterling Homes back in business with a new focus on cottages and smaller homes. During the Great Depression, the company focused on its retail lumber business (International Mill and Timber). Like other companies, it survived World War One by manufacturing wartime housing and military structures. After the war, during the building boom of the early 1920s, Sterling Homes shipped more than 250 homes a month.

Hampered by outdated models and advertising, Sterling Home sales dropped throughout the 1960s. The last catalog was printed in 1971, and the same catalog was sent out each year (with updated price lists) until 1974, when the company closed its doors, having sold about 45,000 homes.

Want to learn more about Sterling Homes? Montgomery Ward’s Mail-Order Homes has information on all the national kit home companies. To read more about this fascinating new book, click here.

Sterling Homes "Rembrandt" from the 1917 catalog

Sterling Rembrandt in Roanoke, Virginia

Poor Little Westly in Northern Illinois

October 22nd, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

In 2003, 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 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.  Sears Homes are a piece of America’s architectural history and should be cherished and appreciated and valued. They deserve better than this.

To read more about the Sears Homes in the Midwest, click here.

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