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The Natural Beauty of Natural Bridge

May 21st, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

In September 2010, my husband and I visited Natural Bridge (the city with the bridge) and saw THE Natural Bridge. After paying our $18 per person admission fee (yikes!), we walked down the 137 steps to see one of the Seven Natural Wonders of The World. It was as beautiful as promised.

Gazing upon its magnificence, I thought about this Bible verse from Hebrews 11: “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (New International Version 1984).

The Indians were similarly inspired. According to a placard at the site, “Before white men came to our shores, the Monacan Indians considered this ancient wonder a sacred site and called it ‘The Bridge of God.’”

I love gazing upon magnificent architecture and I love thinking about how old houses were put together. But more than anything else, I love thinking about God as The Greatest Architect, and like the writer of the Hebrew verse, I look forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. :)

To read about the Sears Homes in nearby Buena Vista, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge is open to visitors seven days a week.

Natural Bridge

Wayne resting along the way to Natural Bridge

To read another article on Sears Homes, click here.

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So, What Did You Learn?

May 21st, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

It was about a year ago today that this website was redone and revamped. I’ve been trying to - systematically and patiently - post a few of the 35,000 photos I’ve taken in the last 10 years of researching kit homes.

Have you enjoyed the site? Have you learned something new from the 200+ posts (and 1000+ photos) that I’ve put here in the last year? Earlier this month, this site had its 100,000th visitor.

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read, I’d sure be grateful to hear from you. If you’ve learned something wonderful, please tell me, and leave a comment below.

Like Twain, I can live for a couple months on one good compliment.  :)

And in the meantime, I think I’ll take a few days off from blogging and dream about my future life in the mountains.  I love the mountains, and one day, I’ll live there.

Beauty

Valley view of Hightown, Virginia (very near the West Virginia border).

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Have You Seen This House? (Part 6)

May 20th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Here in Norfolk, we have 16 little bungalows that were originally built at another location, and then moved here by George P. Hudson on April 14, 1922.  (Thanks to Norfolk historian David Spriggs for finding that date, and also finding the name of the man who moved them!  To learn more about what David learned, click here.)

Back in April, we learned that 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 a vintage newspaper article that says the little houses were built in Fall 1909.

And then old-house lover and researcher Mark Hardin found another neighborhood of these “Ethel Bungalows” (our pet name for these little houses) in a little village just outside of Butte, Montana. (It was Mark who found the houses in Dupont, too.)

So, our Ethel Bunaglow in Norfolk (which came from somewhere else) is a spot-on match to the company houses in Dupont, Washington and Butte, Montana.

Recently, in the name of history, old-house lover Mark Mckillop took a trip to Dupont, Washington and photographed more than 100 of the houses in that tiny village , and then sent me the photos. His photographs prove (as we suspected) that the Ethel Bungalows in Dupont are indeed identical to the Ethel Bungalows here in Norfolk.

To read more about what we’ve learned thus far, read Part Five of this ongoing (and fascinating) story.

Despite all we’ve learned, may unanswered questions remain. Are these “Ethels” kit homes from Aladdin? Are they pattern book houses? If not, where did DuPont get this design? Why are these houses popping up in several of Dupont’s neighborhoods? And where did the houses in Norfolk come from?

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

Our Ethel Bungalow in Dupont, Washington. All photos are courtesy of Mark Mckillop and may not be reproduced without written permission.)

Our "Ethel Bungalow" in Dupont, Washington. (This photo is courtesy of Mark Mckillop and may not be reproduced without written permission.)

Ethel

This Dupont Ethel is in largely original condition. (This photo is courtesy of Mark Mckillop and may not be reproduced without written permission.)

Ethel

I wish Mark had taken his chain saw with him. Landscaping is always a problem when photographing old houses. (This photo is courtesy of Mark Mckillop and may not be reproduced without written permission.)

Ethel

This Ethel in Dupont has seen a little modification. Vinyl siding is not a friend of old houses. (This photo is courtesy of Mark Mckillop and may not be reproduced without written permission.)

Ethel

This is such a distinctive little house. Have you seen it in your neighborhood? (This photo is courtesy of Mark Mckillop and may not be reproduced without written permission.)

Next are the photos of our Ethels, which art in Norfolk. As you’ll see from the photos below, they really are a good match to the houses in Dupont, Washington.

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.

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Have you seen this house?

May 19th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

These fine-looking bungalows (see below) are in Dupont, Washington. In fact, there are several of these bungalows (built in the early 1910s) in Dupont, Washington.  Today, I’m trying to figure out where I’ve seen this house before, because if I can figure THAT out, it’ll help me solve some other mysteries I’m working on.

I know I’ve seen this house elsewhere (in places other than Dupont, Washington) and I’m 92% sure I saw it in Boise, IdahoUPDATE:  Having heard back from several people in Boise, I’m now thinking I must have seen it in California (probably near Anaheim).

Dupont, Washington was named for Dupont (which built a factory there before WW1). Dupont (the company) built several of these houses for their workers in Dupont (the city). And Dupont (the company) also built several houses (for workers) in Hopewell, Va.

When comparing this house to others, please notice that this is not just another bungalow. This house has very distinctive details around the eaves and the front porch has massive eave brackets.

These photos (below) are all of the same model but with some variations (such as different dormers), and these houses have had some changes through the years, but that massive oversized eave on the front is one feature that has not been altered in any of these photos.

Have you seen this house? If so, please leave a comment below!

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

Thanks to Mark Mckillop for providing the photos!

housie

One of the distinctive features of this house in Dupont is the oversized eave on the front. Notice the four brackets, which are also massive. (Photos are courtesy of Mark Mckillop and can not be reproduced without written permission.)

housie

Those are some big brackets. (Photos are courtesy of Mark Mckillop and can not be reproduced without written permission.)

house

This house has a shed dormer (while the house above has a gabled dormer). This house retains its original porch railing. (Photos are courtesy of Mark Mckillop and can not be reproduced without written permission.)

house

Another house with original railings. (Photos are courtesy of Mark Mckillop and can not be reproduced without written permission.)

house

Different dormer (again), but those four brackets are consistent with the other houses. (Photos are courtesy of Mark Mckillop and can not be reproduced without written permission.)

house

Close-up on the front porch. (Photos are courtesy of Mark Mckillop and can not be reproduced without written permission.)

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

To read about the kit homes in Boise, click here.

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The Story of a Life, and a Sears Home

May 19th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

Some stories are so compelling and inspiring that they stay with you for a lifetime.

The story of Henry and Ethel Mohr is one such story.

In 1928, 12-year-old Muriel Mohr returned home from school to find the charred remnants of the Mohr family homestead. It must have been devastating. However, I suspect that Muriel - like most young people - was watching her parents to see how they responded to such an unthinkable tragedy. And I suspect that Henry and Ethel Mohr knew that this experience was a teachable moment. They were teaching their young daughter - by their own example - how to keep going forward when life deals you an unfair blow.

Despite the fact that they lost their house and most of its furnishings, Henry and Ethel did not throw in the towel and give up on their piece of the American dream. These second-generation Americans were not about to walk away from the plot of ground they’d spent years nurturing and cultivating and farming. They weren’t about to give up on the 160-acre Illinois homestead that Henry’s parents - Frederick and Wilhelmina Mohr - had homesteaded when they immigrated from Germany. By 1928, Henry and Ethel and Frederick and Wilhelmina had 74 years invested in this patch of fertile Midwestern farmland.

In 1928, the Henry Mohrs turned to Sears Roebuck to transform their burden into a blessing, and that blessing took the shape of a beautiful little red and white bungalow that’d endure for generations to come.

Building that house for his family, I’m confident that Henry and his brother-in-law Frank paid close attention to each and every detail in that 75-page instruction book, and the accompanying blueprints. I’d bet money that when the Mohrs built their Sears Obsorn, they knew it’d be a house that’d outlive them, and their children.

When Muriel Mohr married Dean Riggs in 1939, they took their vows in the Osborn’s living room. After the war, Muriel and Dean moved into a little house on the edge of the Mohr’s farmstead. Muriel and Dean’s two children (Dennis and Linda) grew up in that little house. Dennis and Linda had only to scurry through a grove of fruit trees to visit Grandma and Grandpa’s house. In 1975, Ethel passed on and exactly two months later, Henry followed her. Muriel inherited The Osborn, and in 1978, she and her husband moved into the house her father built.

The architectural historian in me thinks back to 1928, where I can imagine Muriel’s father putting the finishing touches on their fine, new modern home. I can picture Henry Mohr pausing from his work to explain the import of this house to his little girl. Maybe he took her 12-year-old hands in his wizened, calloused hands, looked into her eyes and said, “I built this house for you, and for your children, and for their children. Always remember, if you could see a father’s love, it’d look like just this house: Strong, true and enduring.”

Since 2002, I’ve been interviewed hundreds of times by hundreds of reporters in too many cities to count. After the story appears in print or on television, reporters consistently tell me that their piece on Sears homes generated more viewer/reader response than any story they’ve ever done. There’s a reason for that, and the Riggs’ story helped me better understand the reason.

There’s so much more to this story than kit homes sold out of a mail-order catalog. Each and every home is a piece of the tapestry that is the fabric of America and her people and her success. Homesteaders and city dwellers alike worked and struggled and strived to improve their lot in life and to create a better life for themselves and their children and their children’s children. They were willing to give up a year’s wages to secure a piece of land, and they were willing to place an order for 12,000 pieces of building material from a large mail-order company in Chicago, Illinois, and then - working nights and weekends - assemble those pieces into something that resembled a house.

The Riggs’ family story, multiplied thousands of times, gives a thumbnail sketch of the story of Illinois and the story of our country. In the first years of the 20th Century, magazines and newspapers of the day consistently promoted this message: It’s your patriotic duty to become a homeowner. The early Sears Modern Homes catalogues stated this basic philosophy in different ways, but there was an elementary core truth therein: Homeowners have a vested interest in their community and communities with a large percentage of homeowners will enjoy a greater proportion of  prosperity, stability and peace.

In one of my favorite movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey gets to see what his town, Bedford Falls, would have looked like if he’d never been born.  Without George’s positive influence and his struggling Building and Loan, the modern subdivision of Bailey Park would never have been developed and countless citizens would never have had the opportunity to become homeowners.

Without the Bailey Building and Loan, George finds that Bedford Falls is full of substandard rental properties. And because there are so many rental properties, there is less stability in the family structure and in a broader context, there is less stability in the whole community.  In this alternate sans-George world, Ernie the cab driver does not live with his family in their own “nice little home in Bailey Park,” but instead, his home is a decrepit shack in Pottersville and it’s implied that this hardship is partly to blame for the fact that Ernie’s wife “ran off three years ago and took the kid.”

The streets of this alternate-Bedford Falls (now named Pottersville) are lined with liquor stores, night clubs, pawnbrokers, striptease shows and pool halls. Gaudy neon signs flash “girls, girls, girls” and illumine the night-time corridors of Main Street. Citizens are neither calm nor law-abiding and brusque policemen struggle to keep peace and order.

George’s revelation that he really had a “wonderful life” stemmed in part from the realization that his meager efforts to give people the chance to become homeowners gave them a feeling of accomplishment, prosperity, security and pride. By extension, the whole community benefited in important, significant and enduring ways.

Perhaps Sears was to Illinois what George Bailey was to Bedford Falls. Sears empowered and enabled tens of thousands of working-class and immigrant families to build their own home. What would countless Midwestern towns have become without Sears homes?  How many towns in the Midwest were spared the fate of becoming a Pottersville? Probably many.

Sears Modern Homes made a significant difference in many communities throughout Illinois and the Midwest. I’m sure of that.  (The story above and photos are an excerpt from The Sears Homes of Illinois The History Press, 2010), and may not be reprinted or reproduced without written permission. To buy a copy of that book, click here.

And did you know that the best (and most wholesome) ice cream in America is located within minutes of this Osborn? Learn more about the Dairy Barn in Sidney, IL by clicking here. It really is the World’s Best Ice cream!

Catalog page

In 2002, Muriel Mohr Riggs (the 12-year-old girl mentioned above) came to a lecture I gave in Champaign, IL, and she brought this catalog with her. This was *THE* catalog from which her parents ordered their Osborn. She explained that "Mama tore out the price on this page" because she didn't want anyone knowing what they'd paid for their Osborn.

house page

You'll notice it was first smudged with dark ink, and THEN torn out!

The Osborn

The Osborn from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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.

This Sears Osborn - built by the Mohrs in 1928 - sits on a Centennial Farm (100 years in the same family). It's one of the finest Sears Homes I've ever had the pleasure to see. It's just a beauty in every way. The Osborn was built to replace an old family home that burned down.

farm

Something even more rare than a perfect Sears Osborn is a Centennial, family-owned farm.

Close-up

Close-up of the Illinois Centennial Farm sign.

A beautiful home in an equally beautiful setting

A beautiful home in an equally beautiful setting

More beauty

The side yard of the Mohr's Osborn.

Front yard views

Front yard views

photo from the family album

Muriel Mohr (Riggs) with her father, the home's original owner and builder. (Photo is courtesy of the Riggs' family and may not be reproduced without permission.)

family photo

A page from the family photo album, showing Muriel Mohr Riggs and her husband, seated outside their Sears Osborn. (Photo is courtesy of the Riggs' family and may not be reproduced without permission.)

family photo

Black and white photo of the Sears Osborn. (Photo is courtesy of the Riggs' family and may not be reproduced without permission.)

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.

guarantee

This certificate of deposit provided an promise that if the quality of the building materials was in any way inferior, the buyer would receive a full refund of his money, plus 6% annual interest. Pretty good deal.

close up

Close up of the dollar amount remitted for the Sears 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!

Choo-choos in Crewe, and Sears Homes Too!

May 18th, 2011 Sears Homes 1 comment

In the late 1800s, the repair shops for Norfolk and Western’s steam locomotives were based in Crewe, Virginia. In the mid 20th Century, railroads abandoned steam (and their repair shops) and turned to diesel-electric locomotives.  One of the legacies left behind from Crewe’s former glory as a railroad town is a delightful train museum and a few kit homes, from Sears (Chicago) and Aladdin (Bay City, MI).

In late Spring 2011, I traveled through Crewe on my way home from Lynchburg, and found these delightful kit homes.

Enjoy the photos, and as always - please share the link with your real friends and your virtual friends, too!  :)

To read another amazing blog about Crewe, click here.

edison

Aladdin was actually another kit home company that (like Sears) sold their houses through a mail-order catalog. Aladdin started selling their kit homes in 1906, two years before Sears (1908). In Virginia, I've found many more Aladdins than Sears homes, probably because Aladdin had a large mill in Wilmington, NC.

Edison

Aladdin Edison on Route 460 in Crewe.

Aladdin Plaza

Aladdin Plaza from the 1919 catalog.

Aladdin Plaza

Aladdin Plaza in brick.

The Lynnhaven is one of my favorite Sears Homes, because it’s both stylish and practical, and it was one of Sears best selling models.  This house was offered from the late 1920s to the end, when Sears offered their last catalog in 1940.

Railroad towns and kit homes go together naturally, just like carrots and peas. These kit homes would arrive in a boxcar, in 12,000 pieces. Each kit came with a 75-page instruction book and a promise that a man of average abilities could have the house assembled and ready for occupancy in a mere 90 days. In fact, most people needed a little more time than that.

Sears offered about 370 designs of their kit homes, and during their 32 years in the kit home business, Sears sold about 70,000 houses.

Aladdin was a larger company, selling more than 75,000 homes, and they were in business from 1906-1981.

Lynnhaven

Lynnhaven from the 1936 Sears catalog.

Lynnhaven

Lynnhaven in Crewe.

Sears Wexford from the 1936 catalog

Sears Wexford from the 1936 catalog. It was also known as the Bridgeport, but this little home's best chums call it "Wexxie."

Wexxie

This little house is not a spot on match to "Wexxie" but it's distinctive enough that I'd be willing to bet 50 cents it is indeed the real deal.

My favorite find in Crewe was the Sears Lucerne. This is the only Lucerne that I have seen in my many travels, and the one in Crewe is just a spot-on match to the original catalog image! And look at the price!  This darling little house could be yours for $867.

From the 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog

From the 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Lucerne in Crewe, Virginia

Lucerne in Crewe, Virginia

This view shows that little funny staircase window on the left side. See floorplan for details.

This view shows that little funny staircase window on the left side. See floorplan for details.

Comparison of the two houses

Comparison of the two houses

One of the trains on display at the train museum in Crewe.

One of the trains on display at the train museum in Crewe.

Another view of the choo choo at Crewe-Crewe.

Another view of the choo choo at Crewe-Crewe.

More train coolness at Crewe

More train coolness at Crewe

The little train museum in Crewe is a delight, and well worth your time. It’s staffed by devoted volunteers and it’s a lovely way to spend some time. As a hard-core train buff, I loved the hands-on displays and being able to soak in the happy ambiance of the old Norfolk and Western steam engine (pictured above).

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy one of Rose’s splendiferous books, click here.

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Remarkable Roanoke Rapids: Full of Aladdin Kit Homes

May 17th, 2011 Sears Homes 5 comments

In late 2006, my dear friend Dale Wolicki drove from Michigan to Norfolk, Virginia to watch me get married. After the ceremony, Dale mentioned that after the wedding, he was heading south to Roanoke Rapids, NC to check out a large collection of Aladdin kit homes in that small town. My newly married ears perked right up.

“Large collection?” I asked.

“No don’t go getting any ideas,” he said. “You have to promise me that you’re not going to make your new husband drive you around to look at kit homes on your honeymoon.”

I smiled.

“I mean it,” he continued. “Promise?”

I couldn’t make any such promise.

My husband knew what he’d signed up for when he married me. We went to Roanoke Rapids on the way home from our honeymoon. It was fabulous, and just as Dale had promised, the area was awash in Aladdin Kit Homes.

I returned to Roanoke Rapids several times in the next several years, and took many photos. Eventually, Our State magazine did a feature story on this dazzling array of Aladdins there in Roanoke Rapids.

Below are photos showing a few of the many Aladdins we’ve discovered in Roanoke Rapids.

Aladdin Brentwood

Aladdin Brentwood

Close up

Close up

Aladdin Brentwood (one of two in Roanoke Rapids)

Aladdin Brentwood (one of two in Roanoke Rapids)

Aladdin Villa from the 1919 catalog

Aladdin Villa from the 1919 catalog

Aladdin Villa

Aladdin Villa on the main drag in Roanoke Rapids. It's a perfect example of the Villa, which was Aladdin's biggest and best model.

Aladdin Colonial, from the 1919 catalog.

Aladdin Colonial, from the 1919 catalog.

One of the best features of Roanoke Rapids is they have three of Aladdins biggest and best models, such as the Villa, the Brentwood and this house, The Colonial.

One of the best features of Roanoke Rapids is they have three of Aladdin's biggest and best models, such as the Villa, the Brentwood and this house, The Colonial.

Aladdin Sunshine

Aladdin Sunshine

Perfect Cadillac.

Perfect Sunshine, slightly obscured by unfortunate placement of utility pole.

Aladdin Rochester

Aladdin Rochester

Aladdin Virginia

I suspect the house above is an Aladdin Rochester. The details seem right -down to the bumped-out vestibule on the front. The porch has been enlarged a bit, but that's not a major modification.

One of my favorite houses is the Aladdin Pomona

One of my favorite houses is the Aladdin Pomona

And this is one of my favorite Pomonas - right on the rail road tracks - and in PERFECT condition!

And this is one of my favorite Pomonas - right on the rail road tracks - and in PERFECT condition!

From the 1919 catalog.

From the 1919 catalog.

Aladdin Herford

Roanoke Rapids has several blocks of these modest "worker's cottages," alternating the Aladdin Herford (above) with the Aladdin Edison (a couple pictures below). The streets are filled with these two styles of homes. The house above is for sale, but I'm guessing it needs a new central air unit.

Another Herford.

Another Herford. In this image, it was the photographer that was slightly tilted. The house was fine.

Aladdin Edison

Aladdin Edison

The Edison was an incredibly modest house, as you can see from this close-up of the floorplan.

The Edison was an incredibly modest house, as you can see from this close-up of the floorplan.

Aladdin Edison in the flesh!

Aladdin Edison in the flesh! How 'bout those icicle lights!

Aladdin Edison - close-up

Aladdin Edison - close-up

Aladdin Edison

Aladdin Edison. As you can see, some of these houses need a little love.

And some have been blinded.

In better shape, but it's a pity that its dormer windows were obliterated.

Another Edison in Roanoke Rapids

Another Edison in Roanoke Rapids

Aladdin Marsden

Aladdin Marsden

Perfect Marsden in Roanoke Rapids.

Perfect Marsden in Roanoke Rapids.

Aladdin Plaza

Aladdin Plaza

Another perfect Aladdin: The Plaza

Another perfect Aladdin: The Plaza

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

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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The Stockley Gardens Art Show and my 70th First Date

May 16th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

In May 2006, after 69 first dates (it’s true, I counted), I sat down at my favorite internet dating site (Match.com) and tried one more time.

This time, three new guys popped up. One in particular captured my attention. His profile said that he played the guitar and sang songs and enjoyed woodworking. Judging by his well-written profile, he was also a capable wordsmith. His profile photo showed a man with a bushy beard and silver hair and a green flannel shirt.

Mr. Green Flannel looked fuzzy and cuddly - a good combination.

And the singing? Be still my quivering heart.

“Singing silly little love songs” was on the very first draft of my four-page “What I Want In a Man” mission statement and that bullet point remained throughout that document’s countless revisions.

All three men looked promising, so I dashed off a quickie note, tweaked ever-so-slightly to make it seem like a personal note. Within 48 hours, there was an email reply from Mr. Green Flannel. The other two men never replied.

Mr. Green Flannel was intrigued and wanted to know more. I sent back another note and gave him my phone number. I didn’t hear from him again for several days and assumed he’d lost interest. And then the evening of May 10th,  my cell phone rang. It was Mr. Green Flannel.

Within moments of this first phone call, I was on the fast track to love. Stretched out on top of the fluffy comforter of my queen-size bed, I found myself grinning from ear to ear as he told me about his life. He was intelligent, articulate, interesting and well-spoken. Unlike 97.52% of the world’s population, Mr. Green Flannel spoke in full sentences, peppered with beautifully descriptive words, phrases and expressions. Every now and then, he used a word that I didn’t know. His ability to out-vocabulize the well-read, smarty-pants author swept me off my feet. He spoke slowly and purposefully and all of his words were laced with a delightful West Virginian accent.

As we talked, I learned we had much in common. His first story and my first story (involving our fathers) were much alike. We’d both lost our mothers on Christmas Day. Not too many people share that experience. We were both history nuts. And I made him laugh and vice versa. After a long, enjoyable telephone conversation, we agreed to ratchet up to a face-to-face meeting.

We made plans to meet on Saturday morning, May 20th at 9:00 a.m. at a downtown coffee shop. This suited me well. I was a morning person and I was a lot more charming and witty first thing in the morning. And if it turned out that this guy was nothing but bad news, I could spill my hot chocolate on the table and be out of there in a flash.

This time, I feared I may have over-reached. Date #70 was a highly intelligent, well-educated man with a prestigious job and he was handsome and witty and intriguing and had the most beautiful male voice I’d ever heard. I’d traveled down this well-worn path many times before. Same man, different body. And this story always had the same ending: Sadness and regret, self-recriminations and tears and a night or twelve of crying myself to sleep.

Like the proverbial moth to the flame, I was attracted to intelligent, well-educated, charming men and they were no good for me.

I said a little prayer and asked God to send some big chubby angels to help me through the next few hours.

Date #70 had told me that he was one of those people who was never ever late. That meant that he arrived 10-15 minutes early everywhere he went, which meant that I should arrive at least 30 minutes early; 10 minutes to beat him there and five minutes to calm down my frenzied, frizzy hair, with five minutes left over to mentally practice making an incredible first impression. The coffee shop had free wi-fi, so that gave me an excuse to take my laptop and surf the net and pretend to be one of the beautiful, happening people.

I arrived about 8:30 and ordered my hot chocolate. About 8:50 am, my last first date walked through the door.

He was shorter than I thought. Or maybe the doorway to the old building was unusually high. He was wearing a green plaid flannel shirt, clean blue jeans and a belt with a West Virginia buckle. West Virginia’s upper-most hinterlands were hidden underneath his muffin top. He was grinning. And he was cute as a button.

“You must be Rose,” he said with that enchanting West Virginian drawl.

“I am. And you must be Wayne.”

I managed to rise to my feet without falling over. A good start.

“Nice to meet you,” he replied through perfectly aligned teeth.

He was way too relaxed. He appeared to be someone who actually enjoyed dating. I wasn’t sure what to think of that. Did that indicate good self-esteem (a plus) or a smarmy familiarity with the ladies (a big negative)? His body language suggested he was comfortable and planning to have a splendid time. He looked both relaxed and alert. He seemed happy and eager to get to know this newest offering from the internet dating world.

We sat down together and engaged in the idle chatter that is the on-ramp to meaningful dialogue on a first date.

Less than 15 minutes into the date, my well-honed listening skills failed me. I gazed into his kind eyes and looked at his pretty red lips and wondered if he knew how to kiss a woman. His beard was also very distracting. He had a beautiful silver beard with a few remnants of the original red and brown. It was a really, really good beard. It was a very manly beard. And there were a few gray chest hairs sprouting from his open shirt. A manly man with a manly beard and manly chest hair.

He talked very slowly and yet, he spoke in whole paragraphs. No fragmented sentences and no umms or uhhs or rambling ideas. If someone were sitting in the corner writing down his words, there’d be no revision or correction needed prior to publishing.

He was a darling man and I’m sure the women loved him. Why was this guy on the loose, I wondered. Why did the last 27 women send him packing? Drug addict? Alcoholic? Gasoline sniffer? Or maybe, just like Date #49, he liked looking at pictures of naked men. Or maybe he was one of those guys who threw off his clothes as soon as he came home from work and donned women’s silk underwear and stiletto heels and pranced around his bachelor pad, lip-synching Carly Simon songs? Or maybe he was on probation and just got out of the Big House and this whole lawyer thing was a ruse. I glanced at his ears, hoping to find a bright, yellow warning label that might give some insight. He’d been caught and released by several other women, but he’d never been tagged, darn it.

Somewhere, amidst all this mental meandering, he handed me his card. Both he and his card claimed that he was a city employee (and a high ranking one, at that). I glanced at the card, which bore an impressive title.

“Wow. That’s quite something,” I said out loud.

“If you’re going to fake an identity, you probably should go for something a little more plausible,” I thought to myself. Surreptitiously, I ran my thumb over the card’s face. The city logo wasn’t embossed and the card stock was an inferior grade.

“I finally snag a big fish and it’s nothing more than a cardboard cut-out of a trout,” I told myself.  And then, trying desperately to salvage something from this masquerade, I decided that Date #70 would be a great story for the book. As #70 talked some more, I listened closely to his words and watched his body language and looked deeply into his eyes and that’s when I started to think he might be legitimate. Maybe, just maybe, he really was a lawyer and maybe, he really did work for the city.

And I remembered a story he told me during our first phone call. At a party, a woman asked him what he did for a living. He replied that he was a lawyer. Over the noise and din, she thought he said he was a logger. He laughed about it. “I guess I do look more like a logger than a lawyer.”

After about 90 minutes, he invited me to attend a local art show with him. It sounded like fun and I hadn’t been to an art show since my mother was an exhibitor in 1978. As we strolled around the Stockley Gardens Art Show, I had a recurring urge to reach out and hold his hand but hesitated. A raging internal debate about handholding ensued.

Was it forward to reach out and grab someone’s hand? If I held his hand within 90 minutes of the first meet and greet, did that mean that we’d be kissing within the next hour, breathing heavy by noon and then back at his place for hot sex by 3 o’clock? Is that how men think? Was it wise for a woman to send that message so early on the first date? Or maybe I was thinking about this all wrong. Maybe, if I reached out for his chubby little mitt, he’d see my sweet and playful side. Maybe he’d think it was cute, like reaching behind him and snapping his suspenders. But snapping suspenders and holding hands are two different things. Did male/female hand-holding constitute foreplay in today’s dating world? I couldn’t decide. And then there was the whole matter of rejection. I’d die from sheer horror if Date #70 rejected a hand-holding.

It was too risky. I decided not to reach out for his hand.

Walking along the city sidewalks, he stopped me for a moment and said, “Hold on,” and then he took a step or two backwards and gracefully positioned himself on my other side.

“A gentleman always walks on the street side,” he said.

“Nice,” I replied, “but do you know why a gentleman always takes the street side?”

He did. Mr. Green Flannel knew the reason why. (Gentlemen, in days of yore, walked on that side to protect a lady from the mud and muck thrown by a passing carriage.)

Now I wanted to grab him by the lapels on his flannel shirt and tell him that he was the man I’d waited for and dreamt about and prayed for and I could show him my four-page mission statement and it was very clear on all these points and could we just forego all the societal silliness and get married that afternoon and wouldn’t it be great to tell our kids that we got married on the very day we met and plus, was anyone ever married in a green flannel shirt, with the bride wearing red sandals and sporting a black laptop case as an accessory? It’d all be grand.

To read the rest of the story, buy Rose’s book here.

But I’ll give you a sneak peek of the ending. They lived happily ever after. And once a year, they attended the Stockley Gardens Art Show and strolled through the many exhibits, talking about that fortuitous first date.  :)

The Eight-Cow Wife

Photographic proof of the happy ending. :)

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The Top 10 Most Important Things I Learned about Harvesting Rainwater

May 14th, 2011 Sears Homes 9 comments

About three years ago, I started a veggie garden in my back yard in dry, dusty Norfolk, Virginia. Incredibly, the city has an ordinance that forbids sinking a well within 50 feet of any property lines. Since our house is centered on our 110′ by 110′ lot, that means the only place we could have a well is in our basement.

My other option was rain water harvesting. Fortunately, the city doesn’t have any ordinances against collecting rain water. (In some states, it is illegal to collect rain water.)

After I set up my first rain barrel, it didn’t take me long to realize that one 60-gallon rain barrel didn’t go very far during one of Tidewater’s hot, dry summers.

(Btw, if you enjoy this blog, please share this link with your friends!)

One rain barrel

One solitary rain barrel

The next summer, I added more rain barrels, positioning them under a downspout that produced copious amounts of water.  The first year, my little rain barrels sat directly on the dirt, and I didn’t use them very much. They were too low, too muddy and the head pressure was abysmal.  Later that year, I built a nice wooden stand for my rain barrels.

Rain

The triplets.

The stand made it much easier to access my rain barrels, plus, the three feet of height gave them a little bit of head pressure, and improved water flow. And the 3-foot stand made it easy to fasten a hose to the spigot (a simple feat that was nearly impossible when the barrels sat on the ground).

Another 10 blogs could be written about the benefits of rain barrels, but in short - for gardening - rain water is better than chlorinated  city water. While chlorination keeps us humans from getting cholera and other nasty bugs, that chlorination will also kill off the microorganisms in the soil that helps plants thrive.

And there’s a financial incentive, too. Experts say that 40% of our summertime water use comes from the outside spigot.

In the process of using these rain barrels throughout the summer, I learned a lot of practical lessons. Below are the top 10 most important things I learned.

1)  Height is important. For every foot of height you add to your stand, you’ll gain .43 psi of head pressure. If you could manage a ten-foot stand (not advisable for safety reasons), that’d give you 4.3 psi. From a practical matter, the three-foot stand (pictured above) put the spigot at the perfect height for me. And if you’re working with a raised bed garden (like mine), you’ll need the extra height so that water can flow easily to your thirsty plants.

Raised beds

My raised bed is 24" tall, so the three-foot stand is perfect.

2)  Weight is also important. Water weighs about 8.3 pounds per gallon. Those rain barrels hold 60 gallons. That’s 498 pounds per barrel, and I’ve got three on one stand, so that’s almost 1,500 pounds of weight (when the barrels are full).  That’s a tremendous amount of weight and you should plan accordingly when building your stands. This summer, when my barrels run dry, I’ll have to pull them down and add cross-bracing to the stands. You’ll note in the picture that they’ve started to lean hard to the left. Cross bracing would have prevented that.

twisty

Let's not twist again, like we did last summer...

3)  Placement. My three rain barrels are located in my back yard, underneath a busy downspout. Water comes from the main roof (which is slate), flows down to the smaller roof and into my rain barrel.  With 10-15 minutes of a good downpour, all three rain barrels are filled up full.

rain

The downspout on this side of the house produces a lot of rainwater.

4)  Pre-screen your rainwater. These rain barrels have a four-inch floor drain in their top, with a piece of mosquito screen affixed. Too many times to count, I’ve rejoiced as a summer storm pours rain from above, only to find that the four-inch hole became hopelessly choked with the debris from the gutters, and very little of that delightful rainwater actually entered my rain barrels. My solution to this was simple. I took the aluminum-framed screen from an old storm window and stuck it on top of the rain barrel. That solved my problem. The large surface area of the aluminum screen allowed water to flow even after that first pile of gunk came washing down the spout.

Pre screen

And it's just an aluminum screen from an old storm window. The brick keeps it in place. My husband said this rig makes it look like Jed Clampett lives here, but it works.

5)  If you’re building/making your own rain barrel, put the spigot in the right place. When my neighbor saw my rain barrels, he ran out and bought some materials and made his own barrels. Every single one of his five rain barrels has a spigot at the half-way point on the barrel’s side. This means that he’ll only be able to use 50% of the water in the barrel. Not a good design. There are also entire blogs devoted to building your own rain barrel. The barrels shown here are food-grade olive barrels, used to ship olives here from overseas. Learn more here.

Rain

Spigot placement is important.

6)  Don’t get bugged. Mosquitoes are naturally drawn to stagnant water and rain barrels provide the ideal breeding ground. Screens will stop some of that, but not all. One year, I had mosquitoes crawling in through my overflow pipe.  Adding several drops of baby oil to each rain barrel will create an oily film in the water, and should stop mosquitoes from laying eggs in your rain barrel.

7)  One downside to this rainwater fun is that you’ll now have to keep your gutters cleaned out. If all that precious rainwater is cascading over the front edges of your gutters because the downspouts are blocked, your rain barrels won’t do much for you. And if your house is sheltered  by large trees (like mine), this can be a perennial problem.

Trees

Trees are pretty to look at, but hard on gutters.

8)  When the barrel runs dry, remember to turn the spigot off. Sounds simple enough, but somehow, it’s so easy to forget this little detail. Many times, I’ve gone outside to check my rain barrels after a hard rain, only to find that I left the spigot open and all that rainwater went in through the top and out through the spigot.

oopsie

It's easy to forget to close the spigot when rain barrels run dry.

9)  Maintenance. About once a year, I rinse out the rain barrels with city water. The bottom gets a layer of crud in it and the smell is horrific. I’m not sure about the microbiology of all that decaying matter, and maybe it’s just dandy for the garden, but the stench will knock your socks off.

10)  Keep water away from the foundation.  A surprising amount of water can be discharged through your overflow pipe. Make sure that water is directed away from the house.

Make sure that water flows away from house.

I keep meaning to put that downspout spillway *under* the overflow hose.

11)  Your downspout might not quite hit the sweet spot on the rain barrel.  A little extra piece of aluminum downspout is probably the simplest solution. I used a piece of Plexiglas, which also does the job nicely.

Buts

You might need to add a little extender to the downspout to reach your rain barrel.

12)  If a drought hits, and you don’t want to use chlorinated water on your lovingly maintained and chlorine-free tomato plants, you can fill one rain barrel with city water and let it sit for several days. The chlorination will dissipate in time and you’ll have chlorine-free water. This isn’t the ideal, but in a pinch, it’s one way to keep your garden chlorine free.

13)  Enjoy. I’ve had a lot of fun playing with my rain barrels. And look how my garden grows!

garden

Garden views.

garden

Tomatoes, strawberries and carrots share living space.

wow

And the world's most perfect strawberry, from my garden.

And flowers, too!

And flowers, too!

When we were kids, we’d sing this little ditty.

See, see my playmate,
Come out and play with me
And bring your dollies three
Climb up my apple tree
Holler down my rain barrel
Slide down my cellar door
And we’ll be jolly friends
Forever evermore.

If you’re in Hampton Roads, I highly recommend “Mike’s Rain Barrels.” Mike, the owner of this small business, is knowledgeable, customer-service oriented, friendly and thorough. Best of all, his prices are very affordable. You can contact Mike via email at mminor1959@verizon.net or call (757) 761-1553. The best part - he’ll deliver your rain barrels in his Toyota Priuss.

To read about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Holy Moly, There IS a 7th Magnolia (and It’s In Syracuse) - UPDATED

May 5th, 2011 Sears Homes 17 comments

We have confirmation on our seventh Magnolia.  Absolute, incontrovertible proof.

Earlier this month, I contacted the owner, and learned that she has documentation, showing that this house did indeed come from Sears and Roebuck. Between that, and the visual confirmation, we have a WINNER!  :)

Let’s back up a bit. What is a MagnoliaThe Magnolia was the creme de la creme of the Sears kit homes. It was bigger and grander and fancier than any of the other 370 models that Sears offered. You can learn a whole lot more about the Magnolia by clicking here and here.

In short, The Magnolia was Sears’ finest home. And it was also one of the rarest.

For years, we’d heard that there were six Magnolias built in the country. There was one in Nebraska (which burned down many years ago), and one in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Alabama, Indiana and Ohio. (Click on the links to read more about those particular houses).

And then in February, I got wind of a purported Sears Magnolia in Blacksburg, South Carolina. I put 897 miles on my car that weekend, driving down to Blacksburg to see that house in the flesh. It was close - real close - but it was not a Sears Magnolia. You can read more about that here.

So when I got another note Wednesday morning (May 4, 2011)  that there was a Sears Magnolia in Syracuse, I was skeptical. Actually, I was many miles past skeptical. It was 2:00 a.m., and I couldn’t sleep so I went to Google and “drove” via Google Maps. And then I saw it.

“Holy cow,” I muttered under my breath in the quiet stillness of my pre-dawn bedroom. “I think that’s a Magnolia!”

By 8:30 a.m., an old-house lover and architectural angel (Mariel Proulx) responded to a desperate note I’d posted online, and jumped in her car and drove to Syracuse to photograph a 90-year-old house for a perfect stranger. She snapped a dozen photos for me.

After seeing the photos, I was 99% convinced this was the real deal. And then last night, two more architectural angels (Scott Bailey and Jerry Ashley) offered to drive to Syracuse and get more photos for me!

When I heard from the homeowner, that cinched the deal! How delightful is that!?!

Enjoy the photos. And please leave a comment below. And thanks so much to both Ted Johnson and Heather Lukaszewski for contacting me and letting me know that there was a good reason to take a closer look at that quiet tree-lined street in Syracuse, New York. And thanks to Mariel Proulx for dropping everything and driving to the next city (in the rain) to get me a dozen good quality photos of my Sears Magnolia! :) And thanks to Scott and Jerry for driving out there today to get even more photos!

First, the original catalog image from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Magnolia

Sears Magnolia as seen in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The Sears Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922.

Magnolia

The glorious Magnolia in all its splendor. (Photo is courtesy of Scott Bailey and Jerry Ashley and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

Close up

Close up of the bracketing under the eaves. Note those awesome Corinthian columns! (Photo is courtesy of Scott Bailey and Jerry Ashley and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

View of the side

Isn't it spectacular! What a house! (Photo is courtesy of Scott Bailey and Jerry Ashley and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

Sears Magnolia in Syracuse, New York

Good gracious, that's a good looking house! (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

Be

Incredibly, this 90-year-old house looks much like it did when built! In all my travels, this is surely the MOST perfect Magnolia of them all! (Photo is courtesy of Scott Bailey and Jerry Ashley and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

House

And our Maggy is SO photogenic! Beautiful from every single angle! (Photo is courtesy of Scott Bailey and Jerry Ashley and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

Details on Sears Magnolias front porch

Details on the Sears Magnolia's front porch. Note how the pilasters (flat half-columns flanking the front door) are tapered, and broader at the bottom than they are at the top.

Those tapered columns are also evident here.

Those tapered columns are also evident here. The details around the entry way are very nice. (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. )

Close-up of the house itself (1921 catalog)

Close-up of the house itself (1921 catalog)

And the house in Syracuse

The second floor windows are not a perfect match to the catalog page, but that's a relatively unimportant detail. More than 30% of Sears Homes were customized when built, and moving windows to and fro was one of the more common alterations. (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. )

Long view down the side

Long view down the side. From this angle, you can see that the dormer is also a perfect match to the catalog image, even down to the short pilasters on the dormer's corners! (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. )

Wow.

Wow. Just WOW! (Photo is courtesy of Scott Bailey and Jerry Ashley and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

A beautiful Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

Sears Magnolia

Sears Magnolia in Benson, NC.

Sears Magnolia in Irwin, PA.  (Photo courtesy of Bob Keeling)

Sears Magnolia in Irwin, PA. (Photo courtesy of Bob Keeling) Done in brick, this Sears Magnolia also is not a spot-on match to the catalog page.

Magnolia in South Carolina

The Magnolia in Alabama is also not a spot-on match to the original catalog image. Most obvious is that attic dormer, which is much simpler than the Magnolia dormer. Yet this house in Piedmont Alabama is a Sears Magnolia.

To learn more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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