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Archive for January, 2011

Harmony in House Design: The Sears Concord

January 27th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

The Sears Concord was a 1930s kit home that proved to be one of their most popular post-1929 houses.

Not surprising, housing starts plunged nationwide in 1932. Finding post-1932 Sears homes can be tough. That’s why it’s an extra thrill to find a Sears Concord. These were offered from about 1930 to the final years of the Sears Modern Homes program, 1940.

Below are some pictures of the Sears Concord.

Sears

The Sears Concord as it appeared in the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Concord

The Sears Concord could be had for $30 a month in 1933. This image is from the tiny (billfold size) Sears Modern Homes catalog that was issued in late 1932.

Sears Concord in Nashville, Illinois

Sears Concord in Nashville, Illinois. Note water tower peeking up from the back of the house.

Sears

A cold Concord in Elgin, Illinois.

Sears

This is a photo from the 1933 World's Fair (Century of Progress) in Illinois. The Sears Concord was built and open to the public. Judging from the crowd, this was a popular attraction. Note the stadium lights in the background. Apparently all Concords have some kind of industrial background items springing up behind them.

If you know anything more about the photo above, please drop me a note. My email is thorntonrose@hotmail.com.

If you’d like to read more about Sears Homes, click here.

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“Coming Out of the Mud”

January 26th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

If you could spend a day in the early 1900s, you might have a little trouble understanding what people were saying! Some words had radically different meanings.

For instance, there’s the word “slacker.”  A slacker was any able-bodied young man who did not volunteer to serve in the military (and subsequently become part of the American Expeditionary Force).

Wanting to learn more about this time period in American history, I also studied World War 1. It wasn’t called WW1 until the late 1930s, when WW2 broke out. In the late 1910s, it was known as “The Great War.” It’s other name was also a political promise that we - the American people - were given sold to engender our support. We were told it was “The War to End All Wars.”

One of the most chilling definitions I learned was the true meaning of “basket-case.” During the The Great War, when a soldier lost his limbs in battle, a wicker basket was used to carry the limbless figure off the battlefield. One can only imagine the mental state of such a soldier. The fellow soldiers described him as “a real basketcase.”

“Smut” was another interesting term. It was a disease of the wheat crop, and in the early 1900s, smut damaged so much wheat that it caused a nation-wide shortage of wheat.

An article in the 1920 Stanolind Record (employee newsletter of Standard Oil) said that soon Carlinville residents would be “coming out of the mud.” (Carlinville’s “Standard Addition” neighborhood has 152 Sears Homes in a 12-block area. Carlinville is in central Illinois.)  For several months, I asked every smart person I knew what this meant. No one had a guess. Finally, I found a clipping that said a neighborhood had just “come out of the mud.” It showed freshly paved streets and sidewalks. “Coming out of the mud” meant the subdivision now had proper sidewalks and city streets.

yyrr

Vintage photo of Carlinville's Standard Addition before they "came out of the mud." This photo was taken sometime in 1919.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book on Sears Homes, click here.

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Two of My Favorite Things: Sears Homes and the Blue Ridge Mountains

January 25th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

For most of my years, I’ve dreamt of living in the Blue Ridge Mountains. And I will get there one day. In the meantime, I’ll spend my spare time driving around in the hills, looking for Sears Homes. 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.

Here are a few of the Sears kit homes I’ve found in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. First, my favorite find in Shenandoah, Virginia.

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

Original image from 1916 catalog

Original image from 1916 catalog

Sears Maytown - original catalog image

Sears Maytown - original catalog image

Sears Home in Shenandoah, Virginia

Sears Home in Shenandoah, Virginia

This next house is currently in use as a B&B. It’s the only Sears Milton I’ve ever seen, and it’s in Stanley, Virginia. It’s quite a magnificent house! Note the tall columns and flanking pergola on the front porch. The Milton was one of Sears’ biggest and best homes. Probably the only house that was fancier was the Sears Magnolia.

mill_10

Sears Vallonia, from the 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog. This was a very popular house.

Sears Vallonia, from the 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog. This was a very popular house.

A beautiful Sears Vallonia in Lewisburg, WV

A beautiful Sears Vallonia in Lewisburg, WV

The Sears Altona, as shown in the 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog

The Sears Altona, as shown in the 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Altona in the tiny town of Ronceverte.

Sears Altona in the tiny town of Ronceverte, West Virginia.

Sears Lynnhaven, as seen in the 1929 catalog

Sears Lynnhaven, as seen in the 1929 catalog

Sears Lynnhaven in Rainelle, WV

Sears Lynnhaven in Rainelle, WV

Sears Marina, Model #2024

Sears Marina, Model #2024

Although significantly remodeled, this is clearly a Sears Marina, #2024

Although significantly remodeled, this is clearly a Sears Marina, #2024. This house is in Lewisburg, WV. Note how the shed dormer still retains its three little windows.

Aladdin was another prominent kit home company, with a large lumberyard and mill in Greensboro, NC. There were many Aladdin Kit Homes in WV, too.

Aladdin was another prominent kit home company, with a large lumberyard and mill in Greensboro, NC. There were many Aladdin Kit Homes in WV, too. Here, you can see the Aladdin Genie going back into his bottle (presumably on the back porch) after building a house for his master in a day (I'm guessing here).

The Aladdin Pasadena was one of Aladdins most popular homes.

The Aladdin Pasadena was one of Aladdin's most popular homes.

As a point of comparison, this is a PERFECT Pasadena in Lynchburg, Virginia. Note, the side porch is still in original condition.

As a point of comparison, this is a PERFECT Pasadena in Lynchburg, Virginia. Note, the side porch is still in original condition.

An Aladdin Pasadena in a small town just outside of Rainelle, WV. Sometimes, its hard to identify these kit homes because of surrounding landscaping. This house called my name from the highway, and once you hear the sound of an Aladdin Pasadena, you never forget it.  :)

Here's a nice Aladdin Pasadena in a small town just outside of Rainelle, WV. To the uninformed, this may look like a grove of trees, but there is an Aladdin House there. Sometimes, it's hard to identify these kit homes because of surrounding landscaping. This house called my name from the highway, and once you hear the sound of an Aladdin Pasadena, you never forget it. :)

Aladdin Virginia from the 1919 Aladdin catalog

Aladdin Virginia from the 1919 Aladdin catalog

An Aladdin Virginian in White Sulphur Springs, not too far from the famous hotel, The Greenbriar.

An Aladdin Virginian in White Sulphur Springs, not too far from the famous hotel, The Greenbriar.

Gordon Van Tine was yet another popular kit home company of the early 1900s. Heres the GVT Durant, a fairly popular little bungalow.

Gordon Van Tine was yet another popular kit home company of the early 1900s. Here's the GVT "Durant," a fairly popular little bungalow.

The Durant, in Lewisburg, WV.

The Durant, in Lewisburg, WV.

To buy Rose’s book on Sears Homes, click here.

To read another article on Sears Homes, click here.

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Make Blocks For Fun and Profit with The Wizard Block-Making Machine

January 24th, 2011 Sears Homes 12 comments

In the first years of the 20th Century, cement was all the rage. And the idea of making your own cinder blocks (for fun and profit) apparently also became quite popular. In the early 1900s, the pages of American Carpenter and Builder (a building magazine from that era) were filled with advertisements for block-making machines and cement-stirring machines.

Sears offered the Wizard Block Making machine which retailed for $57.50 (a bargain at twice the price!). And Sears suggested that a man could save a lot of money on building a new home if he made his own blocks. Now if a man devoted himself to making nothing but blocks and if a man had someone else preparing the cement for pouring, he could make about one every two minutes. To do this, the poured cement was loaded into a form, pressed down, and then removed. The form was not removed until the concrete had hardened a bit. That meant if you were serious about making blocks, you had to have several forms on hand.

The ad below suggests that the block could be removed immediately from the form. I’d love to know if that was accurate. Having never made a block in the Sears Roebuck Wizard Block Making Machine, I can’t say for sure.

Sears estimated that 1,300 blocks were needed for the basement of The Chelsea (one of their kit homes). The Chelsea was a modest foursquare on a short cellar. If you devoted yourself to the creation of those blocks and really hustled, you’d need about five eight-hour days to do nothing but work like a dog making blocks. And that’s if he had someone else preparing the cement. That’s a lot of work.

When I give talks on Sears Homes, I get a surprising number of questions about the Wizard Block Making Machine. Apparently this labor-intensive, cinder-block maker was quite a popular item for Sears.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

The Wizard

The Wizard

The catalog extols the many virtures of The Wizard

The catalog extols the many virtures of The Wizard

More info on the many benefits of The Wizard

More info on the many benefits of The Wizard

In what looks like a backwards evolution graphic, a man demonstrates how to use the easy-to-use Wizard block-making machine.

In what looks like a backwards evolution graphic, a man demonstrates how to use the "easy-to-use" Wizard block-making machine.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn more about Rose’s book on Sears Homes, click here.

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Eight Little Models in Carlinville’s Standard Addition

January 24th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Carlinville, Illinois has 152 Sears Homes in a 12-block area. The neighborhood with all these Sears Homes is known as Standard Addition. To read more about the history of this enclave of kit homes, click here. Part of a $1 million order placed by Standard Oil of Indiana, Standard Addition features eight designs of Sears Homes. (An aside: Carlinville does not have the largest collection of Sears Homes, as is often reported. That honor goes to Elgin, Illinois - with 210 Sears Homes.)

Interestingly, the houses in Standard Addtion are all two-story homes and they’re all modest homes, averaging about 1000 square feet (and less). The eight models are:

1)  The Warrenton

2) The Roseberry

3) The Whitehall

4) The Lebanon

5) The Langston

6) The Windsor

7) The Madelia

8 ) The Gladstone

Below, I’ve posted pictures of the original catalog page, followed by extant houses in Carlinville.

Sears Warrenton

Sears Warrenton as seen in the 1919 Sears catalog.

Sears Warrenton

Sears Warrenton in Standard Addition. I like the pink bottom, and I like the fact that this house retains its original sidings, but the lattice work around the porch is a little distracting.

Sears Roseberry

Sears Roseberry from the 1920 Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Roseberry in Standard Addition

Sears Roseberry in Standard Addition

Sears Whitehall

Sears Whitehall

Sears Whitehall

This Sears Whitehall is in originally wonderful condition!

Sears Lebanon

Sears Lebanon

Lebanon

The windows on the porch of the Sears Lebanon were probably added soon after the house was built, or in the 1930s. Very nicely done.

Gladstone/Langston

Gladstone/Langston. As you'll see below, there's very little difference between the Sears Gladstone and the Langston.

Langston

The salt-treated porch railings, foundation lattice work, and satellite dish are probably not original.

Carlin

The heading reads, "For Better Class Workers." I'm happy to report that Sears did not offer a house for "Lesser Class Workers."

Carlin

Desperate to remain in contact with the outside world after losing its front windows, this clever little Carlin erected a Ham Radio antenna.

Madelia

Madelia

Madelia

The railings and lattice work on this Sears Madelia are not original, but they are nicely done. A most attractive little house!

Gladstone

Gladstone

Gladstone

The spacious porch on this Gladstone was closed in, but the remodeling was done in a sensitive manner. You can still see the unique porch columns with their flared blocks at the top. This Sears House. The fireplace is a rarity among Standard Addition's homes. It was probably added later.

Sears

Vintage photo of Standard Addition, shortly after the houses were built.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Healthy Bungalows

January 23rd, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Dr. Joseph Lister - a 19th Century British physician - is largely responsible for the bungalow craze, but that’s one tidbit that I’ve never seen in my books on architectural history. The fact is, Joseph Lister and his germ theory dramatically changed the way Americans thought about their homes.

For so many years, mothers could only watch in helpless horror as their young children died from any one of a myriad of “common” diseases. And then in the late 1800s, Dr. Joseph Lister discovered that germs were culprit. Mothers and fathers, weary of burying their infants, had a new arch enemy: household dirt. As is explained in the 1908 book, Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’ Cook-Book:

Not many years ago disease was most often deemed the act of Providence as a chastening or visitation for moral evil. Many diseases are now known to be merely human ignorance and uncleanliness. The sins for which humanity suffers are violations of the laws of sanitation and hygiene, or simply the one great law of absolute sanitary cleanliness… Every symptom of preventable disease and communicable disease…should suggest the question: “Is the cause of this illness an unsanitary condition within my control?”

Now that the enemy had been identified, modern women attacked it with every tool in their arsenal. Keeping a house clean was far more than a matter of mere pride: The well-being, nay, the very life of one’s child might depend upon a home’s cleanliness. What mother wanted to sit at the bedside of their sick child, tenderly wiping his fevered brow and pondering the awful question: “Was the cause of this illness an unsanitary condition within my control?”

Because of Dr. Lister and his germ theory, the ostentatious, dust-bunny-collecting Queen Anne, with its ornate woodwork, fretwork and gingerbread fell from favor with a resounding thud.

Simplicity, harmony and durability are the keynotes of the modern tendency. The general intention seems to be to avoid everything that is superfluous; everything that has a tendency to catch and hold dust or dirt. Wooden bedsteads are being replaced by iron or brass; stuffed and upholstered furniture by articles of plain wood and leather. Bric-a-brac, flounces, valances and all other superfluous articles are much less fashionable (from Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’ Cook-Book).

Remember the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”? There’s a 1920s scene where George Baily and his girlfriend pause in front of the massive Second Empire house. It sits abandoned and empty, deteriorating day by day. This was not an uncommon fate for Victorian manses in post-germ theory America. Who knew what germs lay in wait within its hard-to-clean walls?

The February 1911 Ladies’ Home Journal was devoted to the new housing style: Bungalows. One headline said, “The Bungalow, because of its easy housekeeping possibilities is becoming more popular every year.

And all because of Dr. Lister.

(By the way, Dr. Lister did not invent the popular mouthwash but it was named after him and his discoveries.)

To learn more about the bungalows sold by Sears, click here.

Germ Theory

The Clorox man's claim to fame was superior germ-killing abilities. Note the adoring women praising him. Sadly, they're all wearing aprons. Well, maybe it's not so much sad as SCARY!

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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The Lady on Horseback

January 22nd, 2011 Sears Homes 1 comment

In 1918, Standard Oil of Indiana made mail-order history when they placed a $1 million order with Sears Roebuck & Company for 192 Honor-Bilt homes. It was purported to be the largest order in the history of the Sears Modern Homes department. Standard Oil purchased the houses for their workers in Carlinville, Wood River and Schoper in Southwestern Illinois. Of those 192 houses, 156 went to Carlinville, 12 were built in Schoper and 24 were sent to Wood River.

These houses were built for the coal miners and refinery workers employed by Standard Oil.

Thee best part of the story is, Standard Oil hired a woman to supervise the construction of these 192 houses.  She was known as “The Lady on Horseback”  and her name was Elizabeth Spaulding. According to an article which appeared in the 1967 Illinois State Journal, Ms. Spaulding would ride her horse from house to house, keeping a close eye on the workmen. She kept the construction workers on their toes. Men she’d hired in the early morning were sometimes fired by noon (from the article, “Dear Sirs; Please Send Me 156 Houses”).

On April 23, 1919, The Carlinville Democrat printed a piece which said that the houses in Standard Addition to Carlinville were now ready for occupancy. “Prospective purchasers apply to Charles Fitzgerald, Office of Standard Oil Company (Indiana) corner High and Rice Streets.”

To  learn more about the Sears Homes in Carlinville, click here.

To buy Rose’s newest book, click here.

jdj

Photo of Carlinville's Standard Addition, showing houses in various stages of construction.

house

Vintage photo of Sears Homes in Carlinville soon after construction was completed.

House 2

Another vintage photo from Standard Addition, about 1920.

house 3

Standard Oil's Sears Homes in Wood River

house 4

Sears Homes on 9th Street in Wood River, Illinois

house 6

Rear cover of 1925 Sears Modern Homes catalog

house 7Close up of letter from Standard Oil

To  learn more about the Sears Homes in Carlinville, click here.

To buy Rose’s newest book, click here.

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Beyond Standard Addition (Carlinville’s OTHER Kit Homes)

January 20th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

I get lots of interesting notes from lots of interesting people. Unfortunately I find that amongst those many emails and letters, there are a lot of common misconceptions about Sears Homes.  One of the more persistent myths is that Carlinville has the largest collection of Sears Homes in the country. This is not true. Elgin (in Illinois) has the largest known collection (with more than 210 Sears Homes), and that word “known” is an especially important one.

Is it possible that some community has more than 210 Sears Homes? Absolutely!!  I am personally acquainted with three serious researchers who have devoted themselves to this work:  Dale Wolicki (Bay City, Michigan), Dr. Rebecca Hunter (Elgin, Illinois), and myself (Norfolk, Virginia). We’ve traveled tens of thousands of miles visiting towns throughout the country. We’ve literally traveled from sea to shining sea looking for these kit homes. Personally, I’ve been from Chicago to Baton Rouge and Boston to Los Angeles on research trips.

My point is, in all our travels, we have not discovered any city that can beat Elgin’s 210 Sears Homes. But we haven’t been to every city in America. In fact, I’d guess that the three of us together have seen fewer than 10% of all the kit homes in America.

With that as a backdrop, let’s go back to Carlinville, Illinois. Interestingly, there are a handful of Sears Homes outside of Standard Addition (the 12-block area with 152 Sears Homes). And there’s a Gordon Van Tine house in Carlinville! (Click here to learn more about Gordon Van Tine.)

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

Heres a Gordon Van Tine Roberts in Carlinville. GVT was another kit home company that (like Sears) sold entire houses from a mail-order catalog. GVT was based in Davenport, Iowa.

Here's a Gordon Van Tine "Roberts" in Carlinville. GVT was another kit home company that (like Sears) sold entire houses from a mail-order catalog. GVT was based in Davenport, Iowa.

Gordon Van Tine home in Carlinville, not far from the Standard Addition neighborhood.

Pictured above is a Gordon Van Tine home in Carlinville, not far from the Standard Addition neighborhood. This was a popular home for GVT and was known as "The Roberts."

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Sears Beaumont in Carlinville, Illinois

Sears Beaumont in Carlinville, Illinois, and it's a beauty! I didn't know about this Sears house until early 2003, when someone attended a lecture I gave in Carlinville and told me that there was a Sears Beaumont "near the college"!

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Sears Sunbeam, as shown in the 1919 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Sunbeam, as shown in the 1919 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Sunbeam in Carlinville.

Sears Sunbeam in Carlinville.

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Sears Lebanon from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Lebanon from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

This little Sears Lebanon is outside of Standard Addition, but the Lebanon was one of eight models found in Standard Addition. The other houses were the Roseberry, the Warrenton, the Roanoke, the Langston, the Gladstone, the Whitehall and the Madelia.

This little Sears Lebanon is outside of Standard Addition, but the Lebanon was one of eight models found in Standard Addition. The other houses were the Roseberry, the Warrenton, the Roanoke, the Langston, the Gladstone, the Whitehall and the Madelia. This house is one of two Lebanons outside of Standard Addition.

To learn more about Standard Addition, click here.

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North Carolina’s Prettiest House: The Sears Magnolia

January 18th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

Thanks to a FOSH (Friend of Sears Homes), I found the 5th known Sears Magnolia in the country. In March 2010, “Joy” sent me a link last week to a news story on a Sears Home in Benson, NC (just outside of Raleigh).  When I clicked on the link, I had no idea the show would be featuring a Sears Magnolia - the Creme de la creme of Sears Homes!

As soon as possible, I left my house in Norfolk, Virginia to make the drive to Benson. Soon, I was parked in front of the Sears Magnolia, staring at her with majestic glee.

The happy owners of the Magnolia allowed me to tour the inside of the house, where I found proof that it was indeed a Sears Magnolia (as if there were any doubt). Click on this link to read more about that.

This was the second Magnolia that I’ve been inside. The first was in Canton, Ohio. In 2002, PBS’s History Detectives did a segment on Sears Homes, and invited me to be part of the program.  After hours of filming, I took a nap inside the house, and that was one of the happiest naps of my life!

There are also Sears Magnolias in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Alabama.

Below is the Sears Magnolia in North Carolina.

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

maggy_benson_nc

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Right after WW1 (The Great War) ended, prices went sky high. Sears couldnt keep up with the volatility in the cost of building materials, so they started inserting price sheets into their catalog. This shows the profound reduction in cost, in the late 1920s.

Right after WW1 ended, (also known as "The Great War"), prices went sky high. Sears couldn't keep up with the volatility in the cost of building materials, so they started inserting price sheets into their catalog. This shows the profound reduction in cost, in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Post-war hyperinflation is not uncommon.

Shocking Wheat and Dirty Smut and Standard Addition

January 15th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

In 1918, Standard Oil of Indiana made mail-order history when they placed a $1 million order with Sears Roebuck & Company for 192 Honor-Bilt homes. It was purported to be the largest order in the history of the Sears Modern Homes department. Standard Oil purchased the houses for their refinery workers in Southwestern Illinois.

Of those 192 houses, 156 went to Carlinville, 12 were built in Schoper and 24 were sent to Wood River. Throughout the 1920s, pictures of these homes were prominently featured in the front pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs.

Construction of the 156 houses took nine months, not six as expected. The reason? A nationwide shortage of wheat. Charles Fitzgerald, spokesman for Standard Oil and Manager of Houses explained to The Chicago Daily Tribune (November 3, 1919) what happened.

“The company (Standard Oil) purchased a forty acre wheat field and the government would not permit the destruction of the crop,” he said. “On the first home, we were erecting the studding while the harvesters were shocking wheat twenty yards away.”

According to the papers of the day, “smut” was another reason for the wheat shortage. When I first read about smut and the wheat shortage, I imagined a large group of idle field workers, sitting cross-legged in the expansive fields, poring over magazines with pictures of scantily-clad women.

Smut is a particularly nasty fungus that creates black, odious spores and ruins wheat crops. In 1919, smut damaged a large proportion of America’s wheat fields.

And “shocking” was another interesting term. As a city girl, I’d never heard that phrase before. “Wheat shockers” are the field workers who bundle up the wheat.

While doing research for my book The Houses that Sears Built, I read hundreds of newspaper and articles from the early 1900s and learned that there is a wholly different vernacular for that time period. Words have different meaning in different times.

One of the Sears Homes in Wood River, Illinois - part of that $1 million order that Standard Oil    placed  in the late 1910s. There are 24 of these Sears Homes in a row on 9th Street in Wood River. The 12 Sears Homes built in Schoper, Illinois were torn down in the 1930s.

Pictured above is a Sears Madelia, one of the Sears Homes in Wood River, Illinois - part of that $1 million order that Standard Oil placed in the late 1910s. There were 24 of Sears Homes in a row on 9th Street in Wood River, and one was torn down to make way for a street widening. The 12 Sears Homes built in Schoper, Illinois were torn down in the 1930s, and the 152 in Carlinville still remain, but many are in poor condition.

Another Sears Madelia, and this one is in Carlinville

Another Sears Madelia, and this one is in Carlinville

Carlinville, IL

Carlinville, IL

Sears Madelia in Carlinville

Sears Madelia in Carlinville

Madelia in Carlinville

Madelia in Carlinville

Carlinville

Carlinville

Carlinville

Carlinville

House 2

Vintage photo from Standard Addition, about 1920.

To learn more about the Sears Homes of Illinois, click here.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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