Archive

Archive for April, 2011

Cairo: The Little Illinois Town That Couldn’t

April 30th, 2011 Sears Homes 1 comment

To read a more updated version of this story, click here.

Cairo, Illinois is in the news today, due to all the flooding around the Mississippi.

Politicians are debating a procedure that would blow the levees and allow the flooding of 132,000 acres of farmland in order to save Cairo (which is currently being flooded by the rising Mississippi). Illinois democrat Dick Durbin (one of my least favorite people) is quoted as saying, “most of us believe that this city is worth saving.”

If that is an honest statement (and that’s a big if considering the source), then where has Dick Durbin been for the last 40 years, as Cairo has been slip-sliding away? A casual visitor dropped into Cairo, Illinois would think he’s in a third-world country. The city is awash in burned-out hulls of buildings, abandoned churches and hospitals and schools. If Durbin cares so much about Cairo, he’s sure doing a good job of keeping it a secret.

Cairo is Illinois’ own mini-version of Detroit, Michigan.

In its heyday, Cairo was a bustling river town and was home to captains of industry, shipping magnates, wealthy business people and other “people of note.” It’s even mentioned in James A Michener’s epic miniseries, “Centennial, because in the late 1800s, Cairo was the gateway to the west.

In the mid-1960s, racial unrest and riots were a sad part of the American landscape, but in Cairo, things went especially badly. African-Americans, weary of Jim Crow laws and disparate treatment, threatened to boycott businesses that employed only whites. White business owners responded by closing their stores. Large numbers of families left the area and never returned. Industry left. Businesses closed. Wealthy people took their capital and moved away.

Today, downtown Cairo is a ghost town - an incredible time capsule - frozen in the 1960s. The city that once boasted of 14,000 citizens now has about 3000 people living within its borders.

Outside of downtown, things aren’t much better. The burnt out hull of old buildings remain, the architectural victims of bored miscreants. There’s no money in the state or local budget to raze the remnants of these destroyed homes. Folks often say California is on the cusp of bankruptcy. Illinois can’t be far behind, and Cairo is the poster-child for an American city that went from princely to pauper.

In the early 1900s, Cairo was the site of a 40-acre Sears Mill, where Sears kit homes were milled and shipped out to all 48 states. It was a vibrant business, in an important southern town. Cairo’s location at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers made it a natural for shipping and distribution. At the turn of the last century, Cairo (pronounced “Care-Roe”) could boast of having four major rail lines, enabling it to become a centralized shipping point for lumber harvested from the South and sent to the North.

In Spring 2010, I returned to Cairo and visited the town again. More burned out buildings, more desolation, more depressing sites. What’s happening to our once-great land that we now have cities that are in collapse, and states that are in bankruptcy?

I’ve nothing pithy to add to this sad story. Pictures tell the story far better than I could.

Entrance to Cairo
Entrance to Cairo. The old flood dates are no longer in working, but the old rivers still work really, really well.

*

Part of the charm of the downtown is it really is a step back in time. Notice the vintage cat in the foreground.

Spearmint “Pepsin Gum” surely got their money’s worth out of this old advertisement.

Hospital in Cairo

Is there a doctor in the house?

School

School's out for summer. And for the rest of time.

Throughout the city, there are many such houses, burned out and left to fall down. Note, this shot shows three houses in a row.

Throughout the city, there are many such houses, burned out and left to fall down. Note, this shot shows three burned out houses in a row.

What remain in Cairo, Illinois are many Sears Homes. Most are in marginal condition.

What remain in Cairo, Illinois are many Sears Homes. Many of these Sears Homes are no longer "pretty little homes."

Sears House - The Rodessa - in Cairo.

Sears House - The Rodessa - in Cairo.

An old Sears Homart (prefab house) sits on the edges of the city, not far from the Sears Mill in Cairo, IL

An old Sears Homart (prefab house) sits on the edges of the city, not far from the Sears Mill in Cairo, IL. Homart Homes were post-WW2 Sears Homes that were shipped out in sections, which were then bolted together at the building site. These were radically different from "Sears Modern Homes" which were pre-cut kit homes.

Sears

A glorious billboard at the city's entrance offers such promise.

To learn more about Cairo, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

* * *

The Quiet Heros Among Us

April 27th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

When Crystal (my eldest daughter) was 13, she was a handful, to say the least. Oh, how I prayed for that child!

Fourteen years later, when she was 27 years old, she became my hero.

She was 27 years old when she made the decision to donate her kidney to her best friend. My daughter was inspired to do this after watching her 24-year-old friend sit through grueling dialysis sessions, and she saw that her friend was fading. (About 2/3rds of dialysis patients die within five years of starting dialysis.)

I was not thrilled with my daughter’s decision to submit to such a surgery. My first thoughts were about my own child’s health.  I talked to her father and he made a valid point.

“Rose,” he told me, “the odds of those two girls being a match are one in a million. Don’t worry about this. Chances are good that once she’s tested, it’ll all end right there.”

I was relieved.

A few weeks later, Crystal and I talked again.

“Mom, please understand,” she pleaded. “Kaycee might die if she doesn’t get a kidney within the next year or two. She’s 24 years old and has already been on dialysis for 18 months. This is something I have to do. Please support me in this.”

I sighed a motherly sigh and promised her that I’d try to be a supportive parent.

A few weeks passed when the next phone call came. “Mom, we’re a match. The doctors are just  amazed!. They say that it’s like we’re siblings. I told Kaycee that there’s a reason that we always felt like sisters. I knew we’d be a perfect match. I just knew it.”

The surgery was scheduled for April 23, 2007.

Less than five weeks earlier, I’d re-married, and now I asked my new husband to fly with me. I couldn’t imagine doing this alone.

Crystal (on the far left) with her sister Anna, Grandma Betty and cousin Laurel (1985)

Crystal (on the far left) with her sister Anna, Grandma Betty and cousin Laurel (1985)


My new husband and I arrived in Peoria the day before the surgery and spent some time with both girls. This was the first time I’d met Kaycee. I came prepared not to like her, but before meeting her, I literally begged God to open my heart and change my mind.

Kaycee was a soft-spoken, gentle girl with freckles, fair skin and red hair. The moment I laid eyes on her, I couldn’t help but love her.

Crystal took me aside and said, “A few weeks ago, Kaycee told me she couldn’t go through with this. She said that it was better for her to pass on than to take a kidney from her best friend. I told her that I wanted to do this.”

Crystal also told me a little about Kaycee’s background. She received her first transplant when she was two years old. That kidney (from her mother), had lasted almost 20 years. Since then, she’d been on massive amounts of drugs and had already endured countless hospitalizations and surgeries. A few years earlier, Kaycee’s beloved father had died suddenly.

At one point during the five-hour surgery, Kaycee’s stalwart mother stepped into a corner of the waiting room and sobbed uncontrollably. I felt a wave of compassion for this woman. How blessed I’d been to have had three healthy girls. How short-sighted and small-minded I’d been to rail against this procedure.

Here was a mother, hoping and praying that her child would live to see her 30th birthday. Tears came to my eyes.


Kasee (left) and Crystal (right)

Kaycee (left) and Crystal (right)


Soon, the surgeons re-appeared and told us that everything went very well. Within 24 hours of Kaycee’s surgery, the new kidney had produced eight quarts of urine.

“Dialysis is poor substitute for a God-made kidney,” the surgeon told us the next morning. “Kaycee’s new kidney is already hard at work, searching her body for unneeded waste and finding lots of things dialysis left behind. It’s already doing a fine job. And have you seen her? She looks better already!”

Within two months, Kaycee looked and felt like a new person. For the first time in two years, she was free to drink more than one liter of fluid per day. And no more one-hour drives to the dialysis center and three-hour waits. And no more swollen ankles and highly restrictive diet.

In retrospect, I’d have to say that, of the two girls, Crystal may have gleaned an even bigger blessing. After this event, her eyes were opened wide and she saw that one person can make a huge difference in this world and she’d been that one person. While she was still in the hospital room recovering, my quiet husband leaned toward her and whispered, “You are my hero.”

Crystal and Kaycee’s story was featured in a four-part series on a local TV news show, and inspired thousands of viewers. The reporter told me that viewer response was wonderful and people were profoundly affected by her unselfishness and pure love and generous spirit.

And I learned that our Creator gives us a few spare parts and one of them is kidneys. Most people can live a good, long life with only one kidney. And if Crystal is ever in need of a donor kidney, her name will be moved to the top of the donor list.

While convalescing, Crystal lived with my husband and me for several months and then she decided it was time to make some long-term goals a reality. She returned to college, supporting herself by working full-time as a waitress. She graduated in Spring 2010 and was hired by CMA CGM within hours of graduation from Meredith College.

I’m so proud of her for so many reasons. Yes, I invested a lot of healthy food and good effort and persistent prayer into growing those two healthy kidneys. Little did I know that one of them would be needed 26 years later to save someone else’s little girl.

To read the original news article that appeared in the Illinois press, click here.

To read more about live organ donation, click here or here.

Kasee and Rissle, several months after their surgery

Kasee and Rissle, several months after their surgery.

*   *   *

Have You Seen This House? (Part 4)

April 20th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

Gosh, what a mystery.

We have 16 darling, distinctive little bungalows here in Norfolk that were originally built for (and at) another location, and then moved here (by barge) sometime after The Great War ended in 1918. That’s pretty much all that’s known about them.

And 3,000 miles away in Dupont, Washington, there are  dozens of identical bungalows, built by Dupont for the dynamite factory there.

Thanks to Lee and Joh from the Dupont Historical Museum in Dupont, Washington, I now have some detailed photos of the little bungalows out there in Dupont. And - thanks also to Lee and Joh - I have a vintage newspaper article that says the little houses were built in 1909.

After studying and comparing the houses in Dupont with the houses in Norfolk, I’m fairly confident that these two houses - 3,000 miles apart - are the same model. These houses in Norfolk and Dupont have several very unique features, and now the #1 question is, Did these houses come from Aladdin? Or did they come from another kit home company? And if not, where did they come from?

We know that Dupont often turned to Aladdin kit homes to provide them with houses for their workers. We know that Dupont used Aladdin to provide housing at their sites in Carney’s Point, NJ, Old Hickory, TN, and Hopewell, VA. According to local lore, Dupont also used Aladdin to house workers at their guncotton factory in Penniman, Virginia.

Did these houses in Norfolk come from Penniman? There’s a local legend that Penniman had 600+ Aladdin kit homes, but I can find no written record of this legend. Today, I received a response to my query at the Clarke Library in Michigan (where many Aladdin sales records are housed), and they have no record of 600 houses going to Penniman.

The mystery continues. And so does the quest to solve it.

If you’ve any information to contribute, please post a note in the comment’s section below!

*

House

One of our mystery bungalows on 51st Street. Photo is courtesy of David Spriggs and may not be reused or reprinted without permission from David Spriggs.

*

Another

Good shot of the two bungalows on 51st Street. This photo is courtesy of David Spriggs and may not be reused or reprinted without permission from David Sprggs.

house

This is one of the houses in Riverview that's in mostly original condition. The little dormer on the side was added in later years.

Close-up of railing

Close-up of railing

Close-up of dormer

This dormer window is a pretty distinctive feature.

another Ethel

Another "Ethel Bungalow" in Riverview

Aladdin promoted itself to companies as a supplier of industrial housing. It was believed that providing housing for workers created a more stable workforce. And that was probably true.

Aladdin promoted itself to companies as a supplier of industrial housing. It was believed that if a company provided housing for its employees, this would create a more stable workforce. And that was probably true. Dupont turned to Aladdin to supply homes for Hopewell, Virginia and Carney Point, New Jersey and Old Hickory, TN. (1919 Aladdin catalog)

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

* * *

Have You Seen This House? (Part 3)

April 18th, 2011 Sears Homes 8 comments

We’ve got a mystery here in Colonial Place/Riverview section of Norfolk.

In 2007, I moved to Colonial Place/Riverview neighborhood and in that first week, I started walking around, admiring the old houses. The first time I saw these 14 identical bungalows in Riverview (see below), they waved at me, jumped up and down and said, “Don’t we look like kit homes from Aladdin?” And yet, I’ve not been able to match these houses with any of the images in my many vintage catalogs.

Their 14 little faces have haunted me ever since.  (Later, I learned that Highland Park [Norfolk] has two of these homes.)

According to local legend, all of these homes were moved here (by barge) from another location.

They’re fairly distinctive little houses, and the $64,000 question is, where did they come from?

More and more, it’s looking like they came  from Penniman, Virginia, where DuPont built 600+ homes for their workers (now Naval Weapons Station Yorktown and Cheatham annex). DuPont turned to Aladdin to supply houses for their workers in Penniman, and it’s likely that there were hundreds of “Ready-cut” houses, shipped from Aladdin’s mills in nearby Wilmington, NC.

Working with my history-loving friends David Spriggs and Mark Hardin, we’ve had several wonderful discoveries, but heretofore, we’ve found nothing conclusive.

For instance, Mark found an old article that said when “The Great War,“  ended (late 1918), the Aladdin Ready-cut Homes there in Penniman were “were knocked down and moved great distances on trucks and barges to many different localities, a number of them being most attractively re-erected in Williamsburg and the county.”

And Mark discovered a massive collection of these same “Norfolk Bungalows” in Dupont, Washington, another site where Dupont provided housing for their workers).  (To see these houses, enter this address into Google Maps: 214 Barksdale Street, Dupont, Washington, and then spin around 90 degrees.)

Friday, I went to Williamsburg and drove around the city and out towards the old Penniman site. I’m sorry to report that I found nothing of import or remarkable (other than one Sears kit home “The Oak Park” near the College).

So now we’re wondering if the houses landed someplace other than Williamsburg.

I hope so, because in Williamsburg, I found very little pre-WW2 housing of any kind. I suspect that these early 20th Century bungalows may have been obliterated by the massive and ongoing expansion of Colonial Williamsburg and The College of William and Mary.

The search continues. And I know that one day soon, we’ll have our answer.

If you’ve any information to contribute, please post a note in the comment’s section below!

House

One of our mystery bungalows on 51st Street. Photo is courtesy of David Spriggs and may not be reused or reprinted without permission from David Spriggs.

Another

Good shot of the two bungalows on 51st Street. This photo is courtesy of David Spriggs and may not be reused or reprinted without permission from David Sprggs.

house

This is one of the houses in Riverview that's in mostly original condition. The little dormer on the side was added in later years.

 

Close-up of railing

Close-up of railing

Close-up of dormer

This dormer window is a pretty distinctive feature.

another Ethel

Another "Ethel Bungalow" in Riverview

 

Aladdin promoted itself to companies as a supplier of industrial housing. It was believed that providing housing for workers created a more stable workforce. And that was probably true.

Aladdin promoted itself to companies as a supplier of industrial housing. It was believed that if a company provided housing for its employees, this would create a more stable workforce. And that was probably true. Dupont turned to Aladdin to supply homes for Hopewell and Penniman, Virginia and Carney Point, NJ. (1919 Aladdin catalog)

And the lone kit house I found in Williamsburg is this Sears Oak Park on Newport Avenue (very near the college).

Sears Oak Park from the 1933 catalog

Sears Oak Park from the 1933 catalog

Sears Oak Park

The lone kit home I found in Williamsburg: The Sears Oak Park.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

* * *

A Fine Sears Home on a Champaign (Illinois) Budget!

April 18th, 2011 Sears Homes 7 comments

In February 2010, I spent a month in Illinois, driving to and fro throughout the state, looking for Sears Homes. The search in Champaign was much easier, because my dear friend Rebecca Hunter supplied me with a LIST of the Sears Homes she’d found in Champaign. (It’s a lot easier to find hidden treasure when someone gives you a detailed map!)

Several of these homes in Champaign were so beautiful and such perfect examples that they ended up in my newest book, The Sears Homes of Illinois.

If you like the pictures, please leave a comment below! Most importantly, please share this link with others, and email it to all your Illinois friends! :)

The Sears Dover, as it appeared in the 1936 catalog

The Sears Dover, as it appeared in the 1936 catalog

Close-up of the Dover

Close-up of the Dover

A perfect example of the Sears Dover in Champaign!

A perfect example of the Sears Dover in Champaign!

Sears Crescent from the 1922 catalog

Sears Crescent from the 1922 catalog

Another perfect Sears House in Champaign - the Crescent!

Another perfect Sears House in Champaign - the Crescent!

Sears Attleboro as seen in the 1936 catalog

Sears Attleboro as seen in the 1936 catalog

Sears Attleboro, dressed in snow!

Sears Attleboro, dressed in snow!

The Sears Gladstone - 1916

The Sears Gladstone - 1916

Close-up of the Sears Gladstone

Close-up of the Sears Gladstone

This Gladstone in Champaign is almost in perfect condition. Note the original columns, and that itty bitty window in the big dormer window.

This Gladstone in Champaign is almost in perfect condition. Note the original columns, and that itty bitty window in the big dormer window. BTW, in Champaign, it's either in the middle of snowing, getting ready to snow, or just finished snowing. This photo is "B."

One of my favorites is the Sears Strathmore!

One of my favorites is the Sears Strathmore!

And heres a real beauty in Champaign!

And here's a real beauty in Champaign!

Sears Vallonia from the 1925 catalog. This was one of Sears most popular designs.

Sears Vallonia from the 1925 catalog. This was one of Sears most popular designs.

This Sears Vallonia is in mostly original condition.

This Sears Vallonia is in mostly original condition.

The Sears Walton was also a popular house, but John Boy never slept here.

The Sears Walton was also a popular house, but John Boy never slept here.

The Sears Walton

The Sears Walton in Champaign has had some changes (vinyl siding, replacement windows and a closed-in porch), but it's still a Walton.

The Osborn

The Osborn

And the creme de la creme, my #1 favorite, is this Sears Osborn in Sidney, Illinois. This house sits on a Centennial Farm (100 years in the same family), and was built in 1926 by Harry Mohr and his wife, Ethel. Its one of the finest Sears Homes Ive ever had the pleasure to see.

And the creme de la creme, my #1 favorite, is this Sears Osborn in Sidney, Illinois. This house sits on a Centennial Farm (100 years in the same family), and was built in 1926 by Henry Mohr and his wife, Ethel. It's one of the finest Sears Homes I've ever had the pleasure to see. It's just a beauty in every way.

These houses were shipped in wooden crates, marked with the owners name and destination (train station). The shipping crates were often salvaged and the wood was reused to build coal bins or basement shelving. Heres one such remnant found in the basement of the Osborn.

These houses were shipped in wooden crates, marked with the owner's name and destination (train station). The shipping crates were often salvaged and the wood was reused to build coal bins or basement shelving. Here's one such remnant found in the basement of the Osborn.

Close-up of the unique columns on the Mohrs Osborn.

Close-up of the unique columns on the Mohr's Osborn.

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

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To read another article at this site, click here.

If you’ve enjoyed the photos, please forward this link to everyone on your email list! Or post it on your facebook page!

*   *   *

Have You Seen This House (part 2)

April 15th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

Norfolk is home to 16 of these little bungalows (see below), which were moved to their resting place in Riverview and Highland Park from another location.

They’re fairly distinctive little houses, and the $64,000 question is, where did they come from?

Did they come from Hopewell? That’s one popular story, and it’d be especially interesting because Hopewell had hundreds of Aladdin kit homes, ordered by Dupont for their workers. (The factory in Hopewell manufactured gun cotton.)

Maybe they came from Penniman, Virginia, where DuPont built 600+ homes for their workers (now Naval Weapons Station Yorktown and Cheatham annex). DuPont again turned to Aladdin to supply those houses, as well. (And this was one of the largest collections of Aladdin Homes in the country.)

Despite searching throughout my old Aladdin catalogs, I have not been able to identify these Norfolk bungalows as Aladdin kit homes, but it’s possible that Aladdin created some custom designs for these large orders for Dupont.

The indefatigable researcher and fellow kit-home aficionado Mark Hardin just discovered an old article that states, “Late in the fall of 1918 the nearby munition plant (The Penniman plant in DuPont) began gradually to decrease its activities, and by March 1, 1919, there was quite an exodus of population from Williamsburg and the county…”  (The Great War ended in November 1918.)

The article goes on to say that the “ready cut houses” in Penniman “were knocked down and moved great distances on trucks and barges to many different localities, a number of them being most attractively re-erected in Williamsburg and the county.”

Here in Norfolk, we’ve long heard that our 16 bungalows arrived by barge. That old legend, coupled with the story above, suggests even more strongly that these houses were part of the 600+ houses that Dupont ordered from Aladdin sometime in the early 1910s.

Now it’s time for me to go to Williamsburg and see if I can find the rest of the collection. If anyone has any idea where I might start find early 1900s bungalows in Williamsburg, I’d be grateful to hear!

If you’ve any information to contribute, please post a note in the comment’s section below!

House

One of our mystery bungalows on 51st Street. Photo is courtesy of David Spriggs and may not be reused or reprinted without permission from David Spriggs.

Another

Good shot of the two bungalows on 51st Street. This photo is courtesy of David Spriggs and may not be reused or reprinted without permission from David Sprggs.

house

This is one of the houses in Riverview that's in mostly original condition. The little dormer on the side was added in later years.

Close-up of dormer

This dormer window is a pretty distinctive feature.

another Ethel

Another "Ethel Bungalow" in Riverview

porch

Close-up of the original porch railing.

Aladdin promoted itself to companies as a supplier of industrial housing. It was believed that providing housing for workers created a more stable workforce. And that was probably true.

Aladdin promoted itself to companies as a supplier of industrial housing. It was believed that if a company provided housing for its employees, this would create a more stable workforce. And that was probably true. Dupont turned to Aladdin to supply homes for Hopewell and Penniman, Virginia. (1919 Aladdin catalog)

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

* * *

Have You Seen This House?

April 12th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

To read the most recent update, click here!

There are 16 of these little bungalows in Norfolk (see below) moved from another location. According to local lore, these houses were floated up the Lafayette River from an unknown city (where they were originally built). Fourteen of the houses were then placed on lots along Ethel. Lucerne, and Lavalette Avenue (in the Riverview section of Norfolk), and two of the bungalows landed in Highland Park (a few blocks away on 51st Street).

They’re fairly distinctive little houses, and the $64,000 question is, where did they come from?

One story alleges that the houses came from Hopewell. That’d be especially interesting because Hopewell had hundreds of Aladdin kit homes, built for the workers at the Dupont factory (where they manufactured gun cotton). Another story says that these houses came down the York River.  That could also be an interesting story, because DuPont built 600+ homes for their workers at Penniman, Virginia (now Naval Weapons Station Yorktown and Cheatham annex). (By the way, this was one of the largest collections of Aladdin Homes in the country, and all these houses are now GONE.)

Despite searching throughout my old Aladdin catalogs, I have not been able to identify these Norfolk bungalows as Aladdin kit homes, but it’s possible that Aladdin created some custom designs for these large orders for Dupont.

If we could find houses in other cities that match these Ethel Bungalows, that might help us figure out where they came from. So have you seen this house in your city? If so, tell me more!

If you’ve any information to contribute, please post a note in the comment’s section below!

Originally written April 12, 2011.

house

This is one of the houses in Riverview that's in mostly original condition. The little dormer on the side was added in later years.

Close-up of dormer

This dormer window is a pretty distinctive feature.

another Ethel

Another "Ethel Bungalow" in Riverview

porch

Close-up of the original porch railing.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

*   *   *

Hopewell’s Historic Sears Homes! Well, sort of. (Part 7)

April 10th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

The driving-tour brochure offered by the tourism office in Hopewell, VA is called, “The Sears Roebuck Houses by Mail Neighborhood.”

Not everyone would agree that eight Sears Homes within a six-block area represents a “neighborhood.” But then again, sometimes people get a little confused about what constitutes a Sears Home. As the author of several books on this topic, I feel confident in saying that a true Sears House must have both building materials and blueprints from Sears.

From 1908-1940, Sears offered a specialty catalog promoting and selling their “Sears Modern Homes.” Today these old catalogs fetch $50 - $200 at online auction sites.

catalog

In the 1920s, the "Modern Homes" catalogs had 100-140 pages, and offered 80-100 designs. This is the 1922 catalog, and the Sears Lexington is on its cover.

Prospective homeowners would choose from several designs and pick a house that fit their budget and their needs. Next, they’d send in a $1 good faith deposit to Sears Roebuck, and Sears would send them blueprints, and a complete list of everything they’d need to build their home. If the homeowner liked what he saw, he’d send in the balance of his money and Sears sent him (typically by rail), 12,000 pieces of house, together with a 75-page instruction book that told the homeowner how all those pieces and parts went together.

Hopewell’s Crescent Hills’ neighborhood has eight of these Sears Homes. Click here to see photos of those eight Sears Homes.

Unfortunately, this brochure also shows many houses - identified as Sears Homes - that clearly are not Sears Homes.

The first house listed on this brochure is at 211 Oakwood Avenue, and it’s identified as a Sears Lexington and that is an error.

Some people have an eye for detail, and some people don’t, but the Sears Lexington and the house at 211 Oakwood are radically different in every conceivable way.

Lex

This house (211 Oakwood) is listed in the city's well-promoted brochure as a Sears Lexington. Hmmm. Let's see. What does it have in common with the Sears Lexington? They both have windows and doors. That's about it. The home's "footprint" is something that must be considered. In this case, the two homes are not even close. The Lexington is 34' wide. The house above is several feet wider. That's one of about 3,197 reasons that this house (above) does not match the Sears Lexington (below).

Sears Lexington

Sears Lexington from the 1922 Modern Homes catalog.

If you’ve read my books, you’d know that interior floorplan is a key in determining if your subject house is (or is not) a Sears House.  Room measurements are important, too! If your purported Lexington has a bedroom that’s 10′3 by 14′5, your subject house should have a bedroom that is 10′3 by 14′5!  After you’ve seen (and measured) a few Sears Homes, you’ll find that this is an accurate way of authenticating Sears Homes.

In 2003, I was invited to inspect the interior of the house at 211 Oakwood and the floorplan is completely different from the Lexington. The floorplan, room arrangement, room size, ceiling height - every single architectural element is different.  The only common ground is that both houses have bedrooms and bathrooms and a living room, dining room and a kitchen.

That’s it.

Floorplan for the Sears Lexington. In 2003, the owners of the house at 211 Oakwood invited me to see the inside, and I can say from experience - the interior floorplan of the house on Oakwood has nothing in common with the interior of the Sears Lexington. The subject house on Oakwood has a grand, sweeping, curved staircase. Youre NOT going to find a grand, sweeping, curved staircase IN A KIT HOME. These were kits for novice homebuilders and everything was kept simple!

Floorplan for the Sears Lexington. In 2003, the owners of the house at 211 Oakwood invited me to see the inside, and I can say from experience - the interior floorplan of the house on Oakwood has nothing in common with the interior of the Sears Lexington. The subject house on Oakwood has a grand, sweeping, curved staircase. You're NOT going to find a grand, sweeping, curved staircase IN A KIT HOME. These were kits for novice homebuilders and everything was kept simple!

This is my 7th blog on this topic - of the not-even-close non-Sears-Homes in Hopewell, but of all the houses I’ve discussed here, this “Lexington” at 211 Oakwood is far and away the most glaring example. In other articles, I’ve delineated, point by point, why the subject house is not a match to the Sears House. But if I started that with this house at 211 Oakwood, it’d fill way too much bandwidth and the entire internet system might go down.

In short, I’m confident that the house on 211 Oakwood is neither a Lexington, nor is it a Sears Home of any kind.

Cmon, really?

C'mon, really?

And on a more serious note, it saddens me to see history misrepresented. It saddens me greatly.

By the way, this is what a Sears Lexington looks like “in the flesh.” You’ll notice, it looks a lot like the catalog picture.

Sears

Sears Lexington in Northern Illinois.

Lex

You might notice that the house (in Northern Illinois) looks a whole lot like this catalog picture.

To read about the other houses in Hopewell, click here.

To read about the collection of Aladdin kit homes in Hopewell, click here.

To read about happy, happy Sears homes, click here.

*   *   *

Hopewell’s Historic Sears Homes! Well, sort. (Part 6)

April 9th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

When I last visited Hopewell in 2003, many good things happened, and I was treated kindly.  Sadly, I discovered that many of Hopewell’s “Sears Homes” were not really Sears Homes at all. There were some folks in Hopewell that were pretty unhappy about that.

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

However, I couldn’t resist driving through Crescent Hills and photographing these almost-kinda-but-not-really Sears Homes. For instance, the city’s brochure states that the house at 201 Prince George Avenue is the Sears Van Jean.

Hmmm.  Let’s compare the house on Prince George with a catalog picture of the Sears Van Jean.

The alleged Van Jean in Hopewell

The alleged Van Jean in Hopewell, Virginia

The Sears Van Jean

The Sears Van Jean

It’s true that these are both Dutch Colonial homes, but that’s not enough. Sears patterned their houses after the popular housing styles of the day.  In fact, Sears offered several Dutch Colonial kit homes. So you can not say: “I see a Dutch Colonial. Sears offered a Dutch Colonial; ergo this Dutch Colonial must have come from Sears.”

And that’s apparently what’s happened with this pretty Dutch Colonial in Hopewell. Someone made a boo boo.

When you look a little closer at the details between these two homes, you see several differences in these two details. And it’s the details that make or break comparisons such as this.

First, look at the front porches.

Porch

Hopewell house.

porch also

The Van Jean

comparison

This detail may seem insignificant, but in fact, it's the very kind of detail that is so very important. The peak of the porch roof on the Van Jean goes up to the top of that first-floor roofline. The Hopewell house does not. Accordingly, the bottom of the porch roofline on the Van Jean is aligned with the bottom of the first-floor roofline, where the Hopewell house drops down several inches *below* that roofline. Also, the gabled porch on the Hopewell house is configured differently from the Sears House. The Sears House porch has a closed triangle, with a cross member at the bottom and then a fascia board below that. The Hopewell house terminates at the cross member. That detail carries around the side.

Another important detail are the cornice returns. Again - in my book (and I’ve written lots of ‘em), cornice returns are very important details that can not be overlooked or discounted, because details are the very thing that’ll distinguish a Sears Van Jean from your average (but lovely) Dutch Colonial.

Cornice

Notice the serious cornice returns on this Van Jean. They're an important detail!

Cornice

Strike TWO! The Hopewell house has no cornice returns!

The third big hard strike against this being a Sears Van Jean is the placement of the furnace chimney. Houses may undergo significant remodeling, but chimneys don’t get moved around! The only exception might be a missing chimney. Today, modern, high-efficiency boilers and furnaces use pvc “snorkels” for exhausting combustion gases, and that paves the way to discard and remove old crumbling chimneys. But a chimney in the wrong place - well that in and of itself can be a deal killer.  (The Van Jean shows the furnace chimney on the end of the house. The Hopewell house has its furnace chimney more toward the center.)

The fourth and final strike for the Hopeful Hopewell House is the fenestration. Gosh I love that word. Unless the Hopeful Hopewell House underwent some transmogrification (I love that word too), the fenestration (window arrangement) is wrong.

windows

The front door has no sidelights. And judging by the width of the porch roof, it never did have sidelights. That's not good! On the second floor, we have two windows (bedroom), one window (bath) and two windows (bedroom).

housie

On the Van Jean we have sidelights, and a porch that spans the width of the door plus sidelights. Plus, we have one bedroom window, paired bathroom windows and another single window. ****BUZZ***** Doesn't match the house above!

In conclusion, the Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a real beauty, and fine-looking home but it is not the Sears Van Jean.

To read more about Hopewell’s Aladdin homes, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

*   *   *

Hopewell’s Historic Sears Homes! Well, sort of. (Part 5)

April 9th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last night, a friend called and asked about my recent travels. I told her I’d visited Danville, Lynchburg and Hopewell, Virginia.  .

She quickly replied, “Hopewell?! I thought you were banned from that city!”

She’s a funny girl, that one.

When I last visited Hopewell in 2003, many good things happened, and I was treated kindly and showered with Grade-A Southern Hospitality. The downside was, I discovered that most of the purported “Sears Homes” in their Crescent Hills neighborhood were not Sears Homes at all. There were some folks in Hopewell that were pretty unhappy about that.

It was eight years before I visited Hopewell again.

On this trip in March 2011, I focused on the amazing collection of Aladdin kit homes in that city. While Hopewell has only EIGHT Sears Homes in Crescent Hills, they have dozens and dozens of Aladdin kit homes near the downtown area. More on that here, here, and here.

However, I couldn’t resist driving through Crescent Hills and photographing these purported Sears Homes. I say “purported” because these are clearly not Sears homes, and yet they’re still being promoted as such.

For instance, the city’s brochure states that the house at 101 Crescent Avenue is Sears Branford.

Okie doakie. Let’s look at the photos.

Sears Branford, as seen in the 1940 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Branford, as seen in the 1939 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Branford

No, this is not a Sears Branford. The gabled entry is the first major clue. The Branford does not have a gabled entry. Secondly, as the city's brochure states, the "wing" on this yellow house was not original to the structure, but was added later. That's also a really important detail, because the defining features of the Sears Branford are the garage (to the left) and the KITCHEN to the right. Even if someone decided to forgo the garage, it's not likely they're going to take a pass on building the KITCHEN.

Floorplan

Close-up of the Branford's floorplan

Again, the Sears Branford as seen in the 1940 catalog.

Again, the Sears Branford as seen in the 1940 catalog. The casual observer may notice that this house LOOKS NOTHING LIKE the yellow Cape Cod above. The "wing" on the right juts forward. Not that it matters in comparing it to the pretty yellow house above, but that's an interesting architectural feature that makes identifying the Branford easier.

Okay, so what if you chopped off the two additions on the side?

Close-up of the Branford. Nope, still doesn't look like the house below!

Branford

Nice flag.

Sometimes, people are so eager to “see a Sears House” where there isn’t one that they make way, way too many allowances.

If you look at the house in Hopewell, it’s got a substantial gabled entry, and the fireplace is in the wrong place, and it doesn’t have the garage and it’s missing its kitchen (a pretty big deal) and this means the interior floorplan must be completely different (in the little yellow house above), and that is also a very big deal. The Branford was only offered in 1939 and 1940. That’s it.

According to the city tax records, the house above was built in 1941.

Considering all these important facts, I’d be willing to state - with confidence - that the little yellow house above is not a Sears Branford.

In the late 1930s, the Cape Cod was one of America’s favorite housing styles.  And the Sears Cape Cods are especially difficult to find, because these houses were offered in the 1930s Sears Modern Homes catalogs, and by the 1930s, sales of kit homes had plummeted. Sears sold about as many homes in 1929 (one year) as they sold from 1932-1940 (almost a full decade). The Great Depression really put a hurting on everything, including home sales.

But as to identifying Sears Homes,  once you start saying, “Well, maybe they added this to the house, and took this away, and added the light here, and put on a gabled porch, and moved the fireplace, and moved all the rooms around inside, and took the kitchen out…” well, you could call ANYTHING a kit home with all those changes!

Your subject house must be a GOOD match to the original catalog image.

So what does the Branford (Sears Home) have in common with the pretty Cape Cod on Crescent Avenue?

They both have a front door and some windows and a couple cute dormers.

That’s all folks.

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

To read part 6 (the next blog about Hopewell’s non-Sears Homes) click here.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

*   *   *