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From House-wrecker to Home Maker: The Harris Brothers

Harris Brothers was a small Chicago-based kit home company that started out life as a house-wrecking company. Today, we use another name to describe this line of work; something a little more delicate and environmentally friendly, like “Architectural Salvage.”

Of the six national companies, selling kit homes through mail-order catalogs, Harris Brothers was probably the least-well known.

According to fellow researcher Rebecca Hunter, Harris Brothers got their start when they were awarded contracts to demolish exhibitions at the 1893 World’s Fair (also known as The Chicago World’s Fair). That same year, they were first incorporated as The Chicago House Wrecking Company. In 1913, they changed their name and their image: Harris Brothers.

Rebecca’s research shows that their last mail-order pre-cut house catalog was issued in 1931. From then until 1958, the company remained in business, selling millwork and building materials through mail order catalogs.

Identifying Harris Brothers’ homes is especially difficult because so many of these designs were also offered in popular building magazines and also in planbooks. Outside of the Midwest, one has to be especially careful because it’s virtually impossible to tell - from the exterior - if a house is a Harris Brothers’ kit home, or a house ordered from another source.

Harris Brothers catalog from 1915

Harris Brothers' catalog from 1915

Harris Brothers

It's 1917 and the happy couple on the cover are still reviewing the paperwork, trying to decide on their new home.

A letter explains

This letter (reprinted here in original colors) accompanied the Harris Brothers' catalog and extolled the many salutary benefits of owning a Harris Brothers' home. Those tilting houses in the left margin make me a little nervous. Kind of a "wizard of oz spinning house" thing.

The catalog was also filled with happy testimonials from happy buyers.

The catalog was also filled with happy testimonials from happy buyers.

Nice

"Cheap" is such a harsh sounding word.

Boxcar being loaded

Where's OSHA when you need them? This picture is from 1915.

Line drawing

Line drawing from their 1915 catalog, showing the 40-acre mill in Chicago

Harris Brothers

Harris Brothers J-161, as seen in the 1917 catalog.

And here it is, in living color. Nice match, too.

And here it is, in living color. Nice match, too. This house is in Richmond, VA.

Harris Brothers

Harris Brothers

Sears Modern Home #190.

Sears Modern Home #190 or Harris Brothers J-84? It's impossible to know without inspecting the interior and comparing the precise room measurements of the two floorplans. From the exterior, these two homes are identical.This house is also in Richmond.

This is from the Harris Brothers catalog. Its the Ardmore, and its not hard to spot with that odd second floor sticking up out of the bungalows roofline!

This is the Harris Brothers Ardmore, and it's not hard to spot with that odd second floor sticking up out of the bungalow's roofline!

Harris Brothers Ardmore in Suffolk, VA

Is it an Harris Brother's Ardmore ? Physically, it's a good match from the outside. This house is in Suffolk, VA. Darn tree wouldn't get out of the way, despite repeated warnings from a certain author. Even making chain-saw noises didn't help. The tree remained perfectly still, unfazed and unimpressed.

HB

This Ardmore is in Vinton, Virginia, a small town just outside of Roanoke.

Here it is: THe Harris Brothers kit home, the Ardmore. Id bet money that the owners have no idea that they have a kit home from a small, Chicago-based company.

Harris Brothers' Ardmore in Raleigh, NC.

And they sold pre-cut kit barns, too.

And they sold pre-cut kit barns, too.

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

To learn more about Rose, click here.

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