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Archive for May, 2012

A Sears House Designed by “Uncle Sam”! (Part II)

May 31st, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

Thanks to Donna Bakke, we now have photos of a real live Sears Wabash. The house is in Wyoming, Ohio (near Cincinnati), and it’s had a few changes but not too many.

To read the previous article on the Sears Wabash, click here.

Sears Wabash, as seen in the 1920 catalog.

Sears Wabash, as seen in the 1920 catalog.

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And there are Wabashes in these towns, too.

And there are "Wabashes" in these towns, too.

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Study the window placement on this floor plan. Theres a pop quiz later on.  :)

Study the window placement on this floor plan. Note there are only two columns on the front porch, whereas typically Sears Homes have groupings of three.

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Wabash

The Wabash, close-up.

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Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and may not

This Wabash is in Wyoming, Ohio and it's a fine example. Those porch columns are pretty interesting. Looks like the traditional Sears column - but it's a double-decker. The Wabash shown here is the mirror image of the image in the catalog. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Porch detail

Close-up of the front porch. Notice, it has only two columns (where most Sears Homes with this configuration have three columns at each corner).

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Porch detail on house

What a match! (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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To read the previous blog on the Sears Wabash, click here.

To read the blog I  wrote one year ago, click here.

The Magnificent Milton - And There’s One In New York City!

May 30th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

In Spring 2010, my friend Rebecca sent me a note, asking if I knew about the Sears Milton in Stanley, Virginia. Four months later (August 2010), Hubby and I were standing in the front yard of the Sears Milton.

At the time, the 1,932-square foot house was being used as a Bed and Breakfast. The Milton House Inn website has now been taken down, so apparently, it’s a private residence again.

The house is located on the main drag, and it is an imposing structure in this beautiful (and tiny) town, nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. (Stanley is about seven miles south of Luray, Virginia and about five hours west of Norfolk.)

The Milton did not appear in the 1912 catalog (or prior years), but I found it in the 1916 catalog. It last appeared in 1919, so its reign was brief. If you’d purchased a Milton in 1916, the price was $1,619 and by 1919, the price had jumped to $2,491, a shocking 54% increase. And, it was not offered as a pre-cut house.

When I was putting together this blog, I was surprised to find (according to an old testimonial) a Milton had also been built in New York City. This is a massive and impressive house, not far behind the Sears Magnolia in terms of grandeur. Its many unique features would certainly make it hard to miss.

Is the Sears Milton still standing in New York City? Boy, I sure would love to know.

What about the Miltons that were built in Fayette, Ohio and Somerville, NJ?  Are they still standing?

In 2008, someone sent me a newspaper article that claimed that the Sears Milton had been built (and torn down) in Carlinville, Illinois. I shared the photo with Rebecca Hunter, and she and I concur: The house in Carlinville (on Route 4) did not appear to have been a Sears Milton.

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

To read about the Sears Homes in Carlinville’s Standard Addition, click here.

The Sears Milton is a distinctive and unusually large house. Identifying this gem is easier than shooting slow-moving fishies in a wee-tiny barrel.

The Sears Milton is a distinctive and unusually large house. Identifying this gem is easier than shooting slow-moving fishies in a wee-tiny barrel. (1916 catalog)

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Spacious and awesome

That bay window (dining room) is quite large and is one of many identifying characteristics of the Sears Milton. The small windows on the side (flanking the fireplace) are another unique feature, asis the second floor porch with its unusual window placement.

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And as of 1916, several had been built, including one in New York City!

And as of 1916, several had been built, including one in New York City! Pics please?? :)

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Close-up of the house (1916).

Close-up of the house (1916). As mentioned, this house has many unique features, such as the dentil molding, massive eave brackets, tiny attic window set in those deep gables, pergolas, and that massive two-story bay window. That second-story porch (with small windows on either side of the balcony door is also pretty distinctive.

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Here in the flesh

Landscaping prevented a shot that's more akin to the catalog image (as seen above), but there's no doubt about it: This is a Sears Milton. Note the dentil molding atop the columns.

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Straight on

My oh my, that's a fine-looking house! Note the two-story bays on the right!

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Another view

Another view of this wonderful old house.

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From the side

From this angle, you can see those two small windows flanking the chimney.

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Remnants of the rafter tails.

Underneath the flat porch roof are remnants of the old pergola. Note the unique cuts on the rafter tails.

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stanley wow

A view of the Magnificent Milton's front porch.

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Details around the second-story porch.

Details around the second-story porch.

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Comparison

Comparison of the catalog image and the house in Stanley, Virginia.

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To learn more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

Interested in seeing more photos of Sears Homes in the Blue Ridge Mountains? Click here.

The Miltons in New York, New Jersey and Ohio were built between 1913 -1916. Please leave a comment if you have any clue where these homes might be!

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The Beaumont: Extra Convenience

May 29th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

When Rebecca and I were reviewing and comparing our Life Lists, Rebecca identified the Sears Beaumont as one of the Sears Homes that she’d never seen.

“I’ve only seen one,” I told her, “and it was in Carlinville, Illinois.”

Rebecca laughed out loud and said, “I might have driven right past it and not noticed it!”

Me, too.

In 2004, I gave a talk in Carlinville on Sears Homes.

The event was organized by Beth Kaburick, Head Librarian at the Carlinville Public Library.  I was so impressed with her professionalism and her passion for Carlinville’s history. I had first met Beth in 1999, when I spent countless hours at her library, researching Sears Homes, first for an article, and then later for my books.

Beth went out of her way to help me with my research. In 2004, when I gave the talk in Carlinville, it was well publicized and well attended, thanks wholly to Beth. (Sadly, Beth died in June 2007 in a tragic car accident.)

It was after that talk that someone told me about a Sears Home outside of Standard Addition (where 150 Sears Homes are located). The gentleman gave me the street name but wasn’t sure of the specific address.

Immediately after the talk, I drove up and down that street - in the dark - trying to figure out which Sears House I’d missed! As the author of several books on kit homes, I’d driven on that street too many times to count, and had never seen any Sears Homes.

And there in the dark, I saw an interesting Colonial Revival/Bungalowish-type house with a familiar-looking attic window. I grabbed my dog-eared copy of Houses by Mail and hastily thumbed through it and found my match:  The house I’d found in the dark - thanks to a kind stranger at a lecture - was a Sears Beaumont.

That was eight years ago, and it was (and remains) the only Beaumont I’ve ever seen.

To see vintage pictures of Carlinville and Schoper, click here.

To read about the woman who supervised the construction of Standard Addition, click here.

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1919

In the 1919 catalog, the heading proclaimed that the Beaumont had "Extra convenience." Unfortunately, the text in the body offers no clue as to what they're talking about.

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1921

In 1921, the price on the Beaumont increased $500 or about 26%. Pretty steep increase for two year's time. And apparently what it gained in price it lost in "convenience." Now the heading had changed from the dramatic ("Extra convenience") to the pedestrian ("Six rooms and bath").

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floorplan 1921

The Beaumont's floorplan (1921 catalog).

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2004 or so

The Beaumont, as it looked in 2004.

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house

In February 2010, I traveled to Carlinville to do more research for my book, "The Sears Homes of Illinois." That's when this photograph was taken. Notice, a plague of vinyl siding salesmen had descended upon the house since the last photo in 2004.

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house also

Another view of the Beaumont.

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The attic window that caught my eye

That night, when I first saw the Beaumont, it was the attic window that caught my eye.

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Attic window again

Nice match to the catalog picture!

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To learn more about the 150 Sears Homes in Carlinville, click here or here.

To buy Rose’s newest book, click here.

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The Sears Maywood: Bespeaks Simplicity and Worth

May 29th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

It must have been hard to write magniloquent, enchanting copy to accompany (and pitch) each of the 370 models that Sears offered in their Modern Homes catalog. And yet, some of these descriptions are pretty darn good - such as this one.

The Maywood two-story home bespeaks simplicity and worth. Designed after the finest in modern architecture, it makes an ideal home. Viewed from any angle its lovely proportion and balance is outstanding. Every line is expressive of quality, durability and good taste.

Now that’s good writing!

The Maywood was first offered in the late 1920s, and was a popular house for Sears. It had a good floorplan, and (unlike most Sears Homes) the rooms were all fairly spacious (by 1920s standards).

The Maywood was patterned after a popular housing style, so not every house that looks like a Maywood is a Maywood. Take a look at the pictures below to learn how to differentiate the real deal from the look-alikes.

The Maywood, as seen in the 1928 catalog.

The Maywood, as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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Unlike many Sears Homes, the Maywood had a good floor plan with spacious rooms.

Unlike many Sears Homes, the Maywood had a good floor plan with spacious rooms.

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Upstairs, it had three fairly spacious bedrooms.

Upstairs, it had three good-size bedrooms.

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Maywood in Glenshaw, Pennsylvania. Photo is copyright 2012 Dale Patrick Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

Maywood in Glenshaw, Pennsylvania. Photo is copyright 2012 Dale Patrick Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Maywood in Dayton, Ohio.

Maywood in Dayton, Ohio. Porch on left has been enclosed.

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Not surprisingly, Decatur, IL has several Sears Homes, including this Maywood.

Not surprisingly, Decatur, IL has several Sears Homes, including this Maywood.

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Ohio seems to be the mecca for Sears Homes. This one is in Dayton.

Ohio seems to be the mecca for Sears Homes. This one is in Dayton.

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This house is in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. At first glance, I thought it was the Mawywood, and now I dont think so. The Maywood is 32 wide. This house might be a little bigger than that. And yet, Im still not 100% sure if this is a Maywood or not.

This house is in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. At first glance, I thought it was the Maywood, and now I don't think so. The Maywood is 32' wide. This house might be a little bigger than that. Plus, this house has more space around the second-floor windows. It just looks like a BIGGER house that our Sears Maywood.

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The Maywood

A very nice match!

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To learn about Indiana’s $1 million Sears House, click here!

To learn more about Goodwall Sheet Plaster and its fireproof qualities, click here.

To make Rose’s day complete, leave a comment below!  :)

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A Sears House Designed by “Uncle Sam”!

May 28th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

The banner at the top of the catalog page identifies The Wabash as “Uncle Sam’s Idea.”

According to the accompanying text, this house was “planned and designed by United States Government architects.”

The house appeared in the Spring 1920 catalog, about two years after “The War to End All Wars” had finally ended (November 1917).

According to the original catalog page, The Wabash was built in Illinois (Hamlet, Ohio, Atlanta, Williamsfield, Farmer City, Cerro Gordo) and Indiana (Hoover and Indianapolis).

If any readers are near those towns, I’d love to get a photo!!  :)

To read about a Sears House at the other end of the price spectrum, click here.

To learn more, click here.

1920 catalog

The Wabash, as seen in the 1920 catalog. And only two columns!

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house up close

Take a look at the columns, Instead of the typical grouping of three columns at the corners, this house has only TWO. I guess that's how they made the house so darn affordable.

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text

Interesting text from the catalog page (1920).

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catalog

They must have thought a lot of the house because it was "featured" in the 1920 catalog, and had a two-page spread with interior shots.

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floorplan

This floorplan is a puzzle. No bathroom and yet there's an open space "cement floor" that appears to be a mud room of sorts. Seems like a waste of space in such a small house.

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dust trap

This "dust trap" is really intriguing. I suspect it was a place to dispose of ashes and such.

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house house

And what a fine kitchen it was! Did it really have subway-tile wainscoting? You can see the "dust trap" beside the wood box (beside the sink).

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house text

A little more info on the "handy fuel box" and "dust trap."

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house house

Spacious living room/dining room area.

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house house house

Sure would be nice to have a photo of the Wabash. It was built in these cities.

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To read the blog written one year ago today, click here.

Those Crummy Little Kit Houses From Sears…

May 27th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

One of my #1 goals is to disabuse people of the notion that Sears Homes were extremely modest little houses.

Yes, Sears did have several designs that were very modest, but they also had a few designs that were quite grandiose. One of their most magnificent structures was the Modern Home #303. This model does not appear in Houses by Mail (a popular field guide to Sears Homes). In fact, Sears Modern Home #303 appeared only in the very rare 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

As my friend Dale points out, several of the designs that appeared in the pre-1915 Sears catalogs were lifted right off the pages of popular pattern books of the day, created by the popular architects, such as William A. Radford, Victor Vorhees, and Henry L. Wilson. (There is a plethora of information on this very topic here.)

So it’s very possible that Sears Modern Home #303 was a pattern-book house that was “borrowed” by Sears, appearing in their 1910 Modern Homes catalog.

And yet, I’ve never seen a good match to #303. And if we ever do find a match, it might take some work to figure out if this house is the real deal (Sears Modern Home #303) or if it came out of a pattern book!

Sears Modern Home #303 appeared only one year - in the 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Modern Home #303 appeared only one year - in the 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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As you can see from the catalog page, this was quite a house!

As you can see from the catalog page, this was quite a house! In the small print (just under the price), it's estimated that the house can be built for about $6,700 (which includes all construction costs).

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fine print

"A Mansion of Colonial style of architecture" and it has a Superba front door!

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First floor

This 2,500-square foot house has very spacious rooms on the first floor.

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All Sears Homes

This house has a front and rear staircase, five bedrooms and a trunk room.

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house house house

The exterior has many distinctive features.

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tower twoer

These small window sashes on the tower (third floor) are pretty distinctive.

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On the other side

And this tower has a railing on top!

Have you seen this house? Please send me a photo!

To learn more about how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

To read the next amazing blog, click here.

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The “Econo-Bilt” Vinemont

May 26th, 2012 Sears Homes 2 comments

There are more than 100 models of Sears Homes that I’ve never laid eyes on, but fortunately, I have friends in Ohio places.

And Ohio is loaded with kit homes.

One of the houses I have never seen (in person) is the Econo-Bilt Vinemont.

Econo-Bilt homes are scarce as hen’s teeth, in part because, they were not very sturdy houses and are not as likely to endure through the decades.  And the “Econo-Bilt” homes were only sold for a few years (about 1915 - 1925).

Despite all that, Donna Bakke found this Vinemont in Cincinnati.

The Vinemont was offered only as a pre-cut kit home, which is doubly weird because - as an Econo-Bilt house - it was the bottom rung of the construction ladder.

After you placed your $1 good-faith deposit with Sears, you’d wait patiently for your list of building materials and blueprints to arrive. If you liked what you saw, you’d send in the balance due ($804 on the Vinemont), and you’d soon receive about 12,000 pieces of house and a 75-page instruction book.

By anyone’s standards, that’s a swinging deal.

The Vinemont (1921 catalog).

The Vinemont (1921 catalog).

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houses houses

Yikes, it's only one bedroom!

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details on the house

But it's a good price.

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House close up

If you read the description, you'll see the exterior walls were "slate-surfaced siding."

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House in Cincinnati

Donna Bakke found this Vinemont in Cincinnati. I'm still dazzled that she recognized it. I think I would have driven right past it! (Photo is copyright 2010 Donna Bakke and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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details on the hosue

I have a theory about which I feel pretty strongly. If you're not able to get out and PAINT your porch columns every 15 years or so, don't BUY AN OLD HOUSE. I've seen a lot of bad things happen to old houses, but this is really painful to gaze upon. (Photo is copyright 2010 Donna Bakke and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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comparison

Donna did a good job getting a photo of the house from the *perfect* angle! No doubt about it - this is a Sears "Vinemont."

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house

Lighter Bilt was also known as Standard Bilt and Econo Bilt, but regardless of the name they affixed to this line of houses, they were still not suited for severe climates.

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To read the full list of Sears Houses that neither Rebecca nor I have ever seen, click here.

To learn more about the differences between Econo Bilt and Honor Bilt, click here.

To read the next fascinating blog, click here.

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The Frangible Fosgate or The Diminuitive Delevan?

May 26th, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

The Fosgate and Delevan were two very similar houses offered by Sears in the early 1920s. At first glance, I thought they were the same house, but after looking at the floorplan, I saw that the Fosgate was a little bigger than the Delevan.

And the Fosgate was “Standard Bilt,” while the Delevan was “Honor Bilt.”

Honor Bilt” was Sears’ best. “Standard Bilt” was pretty flimsy, and not suited for extreme weather or longevity.

The Delevan was 22′ by 22′ (pretty tiny), and the Fosgate was 24′ by 24′ (a little less tiny).

As a point of comparison, the Delevan was the size of my den. And the bedrooms in this house were the size of many walk-in closets.

To learn more about the difference between Standard Bilt and Honor Bilt, click here.

Want to learn how to identify Sears Homes? Click here.

title title

"Nice and cozy" is one way of describing a house with 480 square feet (1920).

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house

Holy moly, look at the size of the bedrooms. And the bathroom! Not enough room in there to change your mind! (The Delevan, 1921 catalog).

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test in 1920 catalog and the above was 1920

Now this is a real puzzle. If you look at the houses on Gamble Street in Shelby, there are no Delevans. This insert appeared on the page with the Delevan (see above, just beside the home's floorplan). And yet, there on Gamble Street you'll see a Sears Fullerton. What exactly did Mr. Thornill build?

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this is from the 1925 catalog

The Fosgate appeared in the 1925 catalog. As you can see, it looks a whole lot like the Delevan. The lone obvious difference (from the outside) is that the Fosgate does not have a window in that front bedroom, where the Delevan DOES. The Fosgate is also two feet longer and wider, and it is "Standard Bilt" compared to the Honor Bilt Delevan.

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1921 Fosgate

The Delevan was a pricey little affair in 1921. The year before, it was a mere $696.

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Lacon Illinois Sears Fosgate or delevan

Located in Laconic Lacon, Illinois, is this a Fosgate or a Delevan? My first impression is that it's a Fosgate (because of the width).

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Cindys photo

Located in Ohio, this little house appears to be the Fosgate, because it's missing that bedroom window on the side. The front porch has certainly been embellished. (Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and can not be used or reproduced without permission.)

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Cindys photo

Same house, different angle. You can see the kitchen window at the rear. (Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and can not be used or reproduced without permission.)

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Cincinnatti Donna Bakke

Is this the Fosgate or the Delevan? Judging by the width, I'd *guess* it's the Delevan, but it's mighty hard to know for sure. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakker and can not be used or reproduced without permission.)

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn about Addie Hoyt Fargo, click here.

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“Different People Like Different Things…”

May 25th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

Or so my husband tells me - frequently.

But I’d have to say that Sears Modern Home #190 was not one of their better designs - in terms of attractiveness.

Perhaps others thought so, as well, because I’ve only seen one of these kit homes and it was in a tiny town in Illinois. Sears Modern Home #190 was gone well before 1918 (when Sears Homes were given names). I’ve only seen it in the 1912 catalog. It’s not in the 1910 and it’s not in the 1916, so apparently, it didn’t last too long.

Ick

From the 1912 catalog.

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icky two

An unusual floor plan, for sure. Plus, it has a coat closet?? That's unusual. The polygon bay (first and second floor) is the most prominent feature on this little house and makes it easy to identify. On a house of this vintage, you may find a centered bay on the first floor, but it's unusual to see it extend to the second floor.

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ickey three

Kind of has a face only a mother could love.

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icky four

Is this Sears Modern Home #190? The porch roof is different (shed vs. hip), but porches get rebuilt , plus there was a tornado that went through this area in the 1930s and did a lot of damage to a lot of porches. My first impression (and second and third) is that this *is* the #190.

Sears Modern Home #190.

This actually looks *more* like Modern Home #190 because (unlike the house above), this home has in Richmond has the massive cornice returns.

To learn more about kit homes, click here.

Did you know that Buster Keaton did a short on Sears Homes?

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Oh No! It’s Not a Sears Kit House!

May 24th, 2012 Sears Homes 2 comments

Last weekend in Raleigh, I gave a talk on Sears Homes. More than 200 people attended the talk and about 50 folks came prepared with photos of their own “Sears Home.”

About 75% of the time, I am not able to identify the house in their photo as a Sears Home. However, I’m usually able to identify the houses as a kit home from another company (such as Aladdin or Gordon Van Tine or Wardway).

Also - as is typical - some people were puzzled as to why their house wasn’t a match to any of the 370 designs that Sears offered. These folks had grown up hearing that “Grandfather bought the house from the Sears catalog and patiently waited for it to arrive at the train station,” and then went to work building his “Sears House.”

So what’s going on?

Well…

You have to begin with a simple question.  What is a Sears house?

A Sears house is a kit home, wherein both blueprints and materials were purchased from the Sears Modern Homes catalog during their years of operation; 1908 - 1940.

Sears began selling building supplies in 1895, but they did not sell kit homes until 1908. Building supply catalogs from Sears offered almost everything you needed to build a house, but the first Sears Modern Homes catalog, offering the package deal, did not appear until 1908.

Sears did sell house designs - blueprints - in the early 1900s.

In fact, both Sears and Montgomery Wards promoted and sold an identical 4 x 6-inch booklet titled Practical Homebuilder with 115 different blueprints priced from $2.50 - $8.00, for houses that would cost $500 - $3500 to construct.  But these were not Sears Modern Homes or even a precursor to Sears Modern Homes.  Practical Homebuilder was created by Frederick Drake & Company and imprinted with the Sears or Wards name on the cover page and sold through their general merchandise catalogs.

I suspect that - in many cases - “Grandfather” purchased his blue prints from the Practical Homebuilder booklet (imprinted with the Sears Roebuck name and logo), and then ordered all his lumber from the Sears Building Materials Catalog, and then waited for his “Sears House” to arrive.

Again, to be a true “Sears House,” both blueprints and (at least some of the) building materials should have been purchased from the Sears Modern Homes catalog between 1908-1940. If any one of those three elements are missing: Blueprints, building materials or timing (1908-1940), it’s not a true Sears kit home.

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Rare

The 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog is very rare and one of the hardest to find today.

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This image appeared on the back page of the very rare 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

This image appeared on the back page of the 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog. I've put a blue star on the houses that are either extensively customized Sears designs, or are not identifiable as a Sears Model at all. Of the 15 images shown here, nine of these houses do not appear to be "Sears Homes."

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This house presents a beautiful example.

This house presents a beautiful example of a house that is *not* a true Sears kit home. It is not one of the 370 models that Sears offered during their 32 years in the kit house business. In fact, it looks a lot more like the Aladdin "Virginia" than any thing Sears ever offered. And yet, the building materials came from Sears, and it's possible even the blueprints were ordered out of the Sears catalog.

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People

Mr. Turk was pretty pleased was pretty pleased with the transaction.

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more

I'm not sure what to think of that front door.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s newest book, click here.

To learn about kit homes from Montgomery Ward, click here.

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