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Archive for February, 2013

The Fulton: A Thoroughbred

February 28th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

The Fulton appeared only in the 1939 and 1940 Sears Modern Homes catalog (which were identical). Sears Homes offered in the 1930s are hard to find, and Sears Homes offered only in the late 1930s are well-nigh impossible to find, and yet, one of the faithful readers of this blog found what appears to be a Sears Fulton in Massachusetts!

Now that’s remarkable!

And, 1940 was the last year of the Sears Modern Homes program. It was shut down once and for all (after a temporary closure in 1935), and all sales records were destroyed, as was the other ephemera (catalogs, blueprints, manuals, etc).

The Fulton was an elegant home, and yet it was a mere 1,250 square feet. The enclosed front porch looks almost like an afterthought, but in fact, it was original to the home. Have you seen a Fulton in your neck of the woods? If so, please send me a photo!

Sadly, amongst the 50,000 photos on my computer, I neglected to note the name of the wonderful and kind soul who sent this photo along, so if you’re the person who so graciously supplied this photo, please drop me a note and give me your name?

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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The Fulton was offered only in the 1939/1940 Sears Modern Homes catalogs, which were identical.

The Fulton was offered only in the 1939/1940 Sears Modern Homes catalogs.

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Interesting house

Fortunately, the Fulton has many distinctive features, such as this oversized center chimney, modest cornice returns on the house, and a shed roof on the foyer. The details around the foyer would be the first thing to catch my eye.

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Are they describing Secretariat or a house?

Are they describing Secretariat or a house?

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The first floor

The first floor shows a very simple floorplan.

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2nd

2nd floor has two teeny tiny bedrooms, one good size bedroom and one bath.

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house

The Fulton, as seen in the 1939/1940 catalog.

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My notes say that this house is in Massachusetts, but I neglected to retain the name of the kind soul who sent me this photo. Please contact me if that was YOU, as Id like to give proper attribution.

My notes say that this house is in Massachusetts, but I neglected to retain the name of the kind soul who sent me this photo. Please contact me if that was YOU, as I'd like to give proper attribution. BEAUTIFUL photo, by the way!!

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Details around the front porch

Details around the front foyer make this house easy to identify.

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

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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A Brief Social History of 20th Century America, As Told By Porches

February 27th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

When you cut a tree down, you can learn a lot about local history by examining its exposed trunk. How many rings does it have? How old is the tree? During which years did the area experience a drought?

By studying America’s early architecture, you can learn a lot about life in that time period. For instance, in the early 1900s, why did the Victorian Manse fall from favor so fast? Why did the diminutive bungalow gain ground so fast?

What ignited The Bungalow Craze?

The germ theory.

In the late 1800s, about one in five children died before their 18th birthday. Parents were desperate to do anything to protect their children’s health. When it was discovered that “germs” were the culprit and that sanitation was the cure, people couldn’t get out of those big houses fast enough. It’s a fascinating topic, and to learn more about this one slice of American architectural history, click here.

Porches also tell a story about the social fabric in early 20th Century America.

In the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, we loved our front porches, and by design, they were intended to “woo and welcome the weary wanderer.”

Men, women and children passed many happy hours on the oversized front porch, and it was an open invitation for folks to drop by a “set a spell” (as we say in the south).

In pre-air conditioning days, the front porch also provided a welcome respite from the summer heat.

Last but not least, there were the salutary effects of fresh air. Primitive heating systems (usually fired by coal) had no filtration, and were probably partly to blame for the fact that so many children suffered from pulmonary diseases.

And there was a body of belief that fresh air was a cure for so many diseases. Being “cooped up” in an unevenly heated, often drafty old house was a recipe for disease, according to the prevailing thought of the day. In the early 1900s, a daily dose of fresh air was akin to today’s fascination with vitamins and herbal remedies.  (In the 1920s, “sleeping porches” became the rage for this very reason.)

And we were a society of walkers. Most communities were full of walkers, on their daily rounds. Without modern refrigeration, excursions to the butcher, the grocer, the baker and the general store were daily events.

And if you passed by The Thornton Home on Thornrose Avenue and saw Rose sitting in her wicker swing on the front porch, it was de rigueur to walk up to (but not on) the front steps and say hello. If Rosemary was in a fittin’ mood, she’d invite you to “set down for a bit and rest a spell.”

Front porches were a significant piece of our social construct in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

When houses got smaller, so did the front porch. By the 1910s, they were significantly downsized. And by 1920, a funny thing happened on the way to the wicker swing. The porch got moved to the side of the house. We still wanted to be part of the community, but we also wanted our privacy, and some alone time with our loved ones.

And in the 1950s, the porch moved again - to the back of the house. After making the commute back home from the foundry or the mill or the Skippy Peanut Butter Plant, we wanted to relax and put our feet up and enjoy our own little oasis in the back yard, away from the madding world. If someone wanted to drop by, they’d darn well better call first, and if they just showed up at the door, we could ignore them, and remain safely ensconced (and hidden) on the back of the house.

As I said, it’s a fascinating thumbnail sketch of American society.

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Aunties home

My great Aunt (Addie Hoyt) lived in this classic Victorian home, which was extensively remodeled (completely rebuilt) in 1895. Note the massive front porch, replete with three hammocks hanging from the porch posts. This photo as taken about 1899 or 1900.

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close up

Here's a close-up of those three hammocks. Very inviting!

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auntie poker

Front porches were very inviting - by design - and also became kind of an "outdoor den" and social center. Here is Addie (facing the camera) playing poker with an unidentified woman friend on the front porch of her home. She captioned this photo, "We have a real kitty for the kitty!"

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contemporary shows off porch

A contemporary view of Addie's home (2012). This photo really shows off those amazing porches. The second floor porches facing the street were sometimes known as "Parade Porches." This house has two second-floor porches. BTW, this house is now a famous Wisconsin landmark, and it's also a B&B. It's known as the Fargo Mansion Inn. Look below for a link to the site.

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1920sw

In 1957, my parents moved into this house at 515 Nansemond Street (Waterview) in Portsmouth, Virginia. It was built in 1924, and you can see the open porch is now on the side of the house. By the early 1920s, porches had migrated to the side, giving the homeowner a little privacy.

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side porch

My parents loved this house, and they captured a picture that really showcases the idea of the "private oasis" and the side porch. This house was in the suburbs (of the time), and not many people were likely to be walking down the street (compared to downtown districts), and yet we still wanted a bit of privacy from the world. Between the long awnings and the tall shrubs, it's hard to see much of anything on that porch, and that was probably by design.

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house house

Close-up of the side porch. In the late1950s, my mother stepped out to her beloved side porch one summer evening and saw a bat hanging upside down in the corner. The next week, a contractor was at the house, screening in Mother's porch. She dearly loved that screened-in porch and spent many happy hours there, looking out at the side yard.

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front porch shelter rain

By 1925, front porches were a place to stand for a moment, sheltered from the elements, while you dug out your house keys. Or in this case, pose for an Easter photo (1957). My brother Tommy stands on the left, with Rickey on the right.

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house house

By the 1950s, porches had migrated to the back of the house. After a hard day at the office, we wanted our privacy and we didn't want to share our quiet time with strollers meandering down the street. There were new social rules. Visitors were by invitation only, and if someone decided to drop by (without calling ahead), we could hide safely in the back of the house. This house (my house) was built in 1962. The porch on the back is invisible from neighbors on either side. When built, this was a screened-in porch with a cement floor. In 1979, the windows were installed, and the 12x14' room became a sunporch. We purchased the home in 2012, and did a few more improvements to the room (some repairs and the installation wall-to-wall carpet). This is now the place where we spend 95% of our time.

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house house

Even before proper porches, people tended to congregate in the front of the "old home place." This is a soddie ("the first house") in Dighton, Kansas. It was made of sod - literally.

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To learn more about Addie, click here.

To stay at Addie’s home, click here.

To read more about Rose’s much-loved mid-century brick ranch, click here.

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The Devonshire: Charming Home of Many Gables

February 21st, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

Thanks to Andrew Mutch and Melodie Nichols, I have many wonderful photos of kit homes in Michigan.

Recently, they sent me a several photos of Ann Arbor’s kit homes. It was my intention to write a blog showcasing these houses, but while preparing that blog, I got distracted by a single house in their collection: The Wardway Devonshire.

Now typically, I post the Wardway stories on the Wardway blog (click here to visit it), but this one time, I figured I’d post it here.

So many things about this house intrigued me. For one, the Devonshire was on the cover of the 1931 Wardway Homes catalog. Secondly, it was prominently featured in a testimonial, extolling the virtues of buying a Wardway Home. Third, the catalog page (1931) showed “interior shots” of the Devonshire.

And lastly, it’s a lovely Tudor Revival, with several distinctive features, and that makes it easy to identify!

To learn more about Wardway Homes, click here.

To read about the impressive collection of Sears Homes in beautiful Staunton, click here.

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The Devonshire was featured on the cover of the 1931 catalog.

The Devonshire was featured on the cover of the 1931 catalog.

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Oh, and it was a charmer!

Oh, and it was a charmer!

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Price was

Price was under $2,400, or a mere $47.50 a month!

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In the 1931 catalog, the Devonshire got a two-page spread!

In the 1931 catalog, the Devonshire got a two-page spread!

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And I love the descriptive text!

And "it's bound to please, no matter how exacting you are!"

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But look at these interior views!

But look at these interior views! If you buy the Devonshire, you can invite the society ladies for tea and not be embarrassed!

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living

You can even invite the ladies into the living room!

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Kitchens not too shabby either!

Kitchen's not too shabby either!

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Check

Check out that subway tile in the bathroom.

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Floorplan

The first floor had a sunporch and an open porch.

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Floorplan

Upstairs, there were three small bedrooms and a single bath.

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favorite part

But here's the best part. Mrs. William M. Parker wrote that she was pleased with her new Devonshire, and then she sent in a photograph of the old dump, er, ah, "house" where she paid the landlord $75 a month. Her new mortgage payment was about half of her old rent payment!

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favorite

Close-up on Mrs. Parker's glowing testimonial.

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nasty old house

And here's the old house that Mrs. Parker inhabited before her shiny new Wardway came into her life. I wonder if this house is still standing in Ann Arbor? Pretty distinctive house!

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Mrs.

Mrs. William Parker's much-loved house in Ann Arbor. Now that is very cool! Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And now, 80 years later, Mrs. Parkers Devonshire is still the same color as the house on the cover!

And now, 80 years later, Mrs. Parker's Devonshire in Ann Arbor, Michigan is still the same color as the house on the cover! Hey, where's the red roof! :)

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To learn more about the other discoveries Melodie and Andrew have made in Michigan, click here.

To read about the kit homes I found in Staunton, VA, click here.

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So Many Kit Homes in Staunton, Virginia!

February 17th, 2013 Sears Homes 33 comments

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Rose is returning to Staunton May 2nd to give a talk on Sears Homes!

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Click here to learn more!

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In 2005, I stopped for a short visit in Staunton, Virginia and during that short visit, I spotted a beautiful Sears House overlooking Gypsy Hill Park. To my chagrin, I did not have my camera with me.

That was eight years ago. I’ve waited all these many years to get back to Staunton and take a photo of that wonderful old Sears House overlooking the park.

Thursday morning, I finally got my chance!

And I must say, it was worth the wait.

In addition to the house overlooking the park, I also drove around town a bit to see what else I could find. And I found quite a few interesting kit homes. Neither my husband nor myself know anything about Staunton, so we stumbled around a bit, trying to find the right neighborhoods (1920s/1930s housing within 1-2 miles of railroad tracks).

I’d love to return to Staunton when I can find a Staunton native who’d be willing to help a flatlander tourist do a proper architectural survey of all the best early 20th Century neighborhoods.

Because - I am confident that this historic mountain town has many more kit homes. Below I’ve featured just a few that we found driving through two small neighborhoods!

If you’re new to this site, you may be wondering, what is  Sears kit home? Well…

In the early 1900s, you could buy an entire house out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. These were not prefab houses, but real “kits” (with about 12,000 pieces of building materials!). The lumber came pre-cut and numbered to help facilitate construction. Those numbers, together  with a 75-page instruction book, and blueprints designed for a novice, enabled a  “man of average abilities” to build their own home.

In fact, Sears promised that you could have a house assembled and ready for occupancy in 90 days!  When Sears closed their “Modern Homes” department in 1940, all sales records were destroyed, so the only way to find these homes in one by one. In fact, based on my 12 years of experience, more than 90% of the people living in these homes didn’t realize what they had until I knocked on their door and told them.

This is a piece of American history that is at great risk of being lost, which is why I travel all over the country, take photos and maintain this blog.

And on a side note, I had a terrible time getting good photos. Almost without exception, these houses were facing west, so my early morning photos were snapped looking right into the rising sun, creating a really poor photo. Alas!

To learn more about the kit homes in Staunton, please scroll on down!

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

1919 Maytown

The Sears Maytown as seen in the 1919 catalog.

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house house house

This is the Sears House that overlooks Gypsy Hill Park. It's a beautiful Maytown. Do the owners know that they have a Sears Home? More than 90% of the Sears Homeowners I've encountered do NOT realize they're living in a kit home from Sears.

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Sears Sears 1921

The Sears Westly, from the 1921 Modern Homes catalog.

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Westly Staunton

This Westly in Staunton has seen a few changes, but it's still easily identifiable as a Westly.

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house house

The Sears Lynnhaven was a popular house for Sears (1938).

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Staunton

And the Lynnhaven is all over Staunton. I found FIVE Lynnhavens in Staunton which was quite a surprise. This Lynnhaven is on N. Augusta Street, and a few hundred feet away - just across the street - is another Lynnhaven that's being used a business. The front door has been closed up, which doesn't look too attractive.

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house

The house above was at the corner of Belmont and Augusta. The Lynnhaven (a very popular house for Sears in general and Staunton in particular) was also known as "The Belmont."

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house

This Lynnhaven has a slightly altered dormer (more wide than most). Is it still a Lynnhaven? I'm just not sure on this one. It's hard to be 100% certain without seeing the home's interior. The Lynnhaven has a handful of unique features, and this house possesses most of those "unique features."

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house

Another Lynnhaven? Did one builder buy a kit Lynnhaven from Sears in 1930 and build several of these houses from one set of blueprints? Very possible, as this was often done with Sears Homes.

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house house

And yet another Lynnhaven in Staunton. Are these all the real deal? Again, no way to know without an interior inspection, but my first impression is YES.

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house

Is this a real Lynnhaven? The front gable looks a little wider than the other houses.

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Sears Vallonia

Sears Vallonia as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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house

This house has been through a lot of remodeling but despite that, my impression is that this is a Sears Vallonia. On the side of the house is a bay window with two windows, spaced a couple feet apart. That's another unique feature, seen in the Sears Vallonia. The dormer is too tall, but this is a very common modification to the Sears Vallonia. Based on my 12 years experience, I'd say it *is* a Vallonia. And I'm usually right. ;)

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house house 1927

In addition to Sears, there were other companies selling kit homes, such as Gordon Van Tine and Montgomery Ward. Montgomery Ward did not have a "Modern Homes Department" (as Sears did). Montgomery Ward turned all orders over to Gordon Van Tine for fulfillment. So a Wardway House is a Gordon Van Tine house. The Mount Vernon (shown above) was a popular house for Wards (1927).

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Staunton, VA

And here's a perfect example of the Mount Vernon in Staunton, Virginia.

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Wardway 1930

The Wardway Kenwood was another popular Wardway Home (1930).

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house house

And this appears to be a Kenwood!

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In addition to Sears, there was also a kit home company known as Lewis Manufacturing. Shown above is one of their most popular homes, The Montawk.

In addition to Sears, there was also a kit home company known as Lewis Manufacturing. Shown above is one of their most popular homes, The Montawk (1920 catalog).

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Lewis Montawk? Maybe.

Is this a Lewis Montawk? Probably. Maybe!

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Sears

As mentioned above, Montgomery Ward didn't sell their own homes. Orders placed with Montgomery Ward were fulfilled by Gordon Van Tine. Gordon Van Tine also created and published the Wardway Homes catalog. In 1931, Wardway Homes closed, but GVT continued on until the early 1940s. (Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for providing this scan!)

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Montgomery Ward didnt sell their own homes. Orders placed with Montgomery Ward were fulfilled by Gordon Van Tine.

"The Roberts" (shown here and on the cover of the 1916 catalog) was one of their most popular models. It was spacious, grand and priced at under $1,300.

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Its another really poor photo, but this shows a beautiful Roberts on Augusta Avenue in Staunton, VA.

It's another really poor photo, but this shows a beautiful "Roberts" on Augusta Avenue in Staunton, VA. The house is in stunningly beautiful (and original) condition.

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Best for last.

I saved the best for last. Aladdin was a bigger kit home company that Sears, but not as well known. Aladdin is more prevalent in Virginia, because there was a large mill in North Carolina. Shown above is the Aladdin Plymouth - a "perfect home."

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Staunton

And here's a perfect example of the perfect home - the Plymouth! (In Staunton, Virginia)

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And this is not a kit home but a plan-book house. These were also quite common in the 1920s and 1930s. This model was The Mayfield.

And this is not a "kit home" but a plan-book house. These were quite common in the 1920s and 1930s. This model was "The Mayfield," (offered in a plan book titled, "Harris, McHenry and Baker").

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This Mayfield is in wonderful condition.

This "Mayfield" is in wonderful condition.

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Whilst driving through Staunton (via Google Maps), I found another kit home, The Cordova (Wardway/GVT).

Whilst "driving" through Staunton (via Google Maps), I found another kit home, The Cordova (Wardway/GVT) on Williams Street. It's had some rough remodeling, but its original features are still present. What a nice match!

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And

And on Straith Street, I saw a "Genessee" found in the "Harris, McHenry and Baker Planbook" (1920s). Look down the right side, and you'll see what a nice match it is!

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Thanks to Sarah (commenter), for telling me about this kit house on Route 11 in Weyers Cave, Virginia.

Thanks to Sarah Puckett (who left a comment last night below), for telling me about this kit house on Route 11 in Weyer's Cave, Virginia. It's a perfect Sears "Dover" and a very nice find! Please keep those cards and letters coming!! :) BTW, I'd love to have a better photo of this "Dover"! Anyone willing to get me a picture?

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Today, February 25, I found yet another perfect little Sears House (The Berwyn) on Noon Avenue!

Today (2/25), I found yet another perfect little Sears House ("The Berwyn"). It's on Noon Avenue! The image above is from the 1929 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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And look what fellow researcher Rachel Shoemaker found in the Aladdin records! Its an Aladdin Stanhope

And look what fellow researcher Rachel Shoemaker found in the Aladdin records! It's an Aladdin Stanhope, sold to William Alfred Linkenhoker of Staunton, VA. Does this mean there's a Stanhope in Staunton? Probably so. Now the question is, how do we find Mr. Linkenhoker's home in the mid-1920s? Rachel checked out the 1920 and 1930 census. In 1920, William Alfred Linkenhoker was a renter and by 1930, he was living in Summers, WV. (Photo is copyright 2013 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Wherefor art thou, little Stanhope in Staunton?

Wherefore art thou, little Stanhope in Staunton?

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Heres a

Here's a perfect Aladdin Stanhope in Scotland Neck, NC (near Roanoke Rapids). Where is the Stanhope in Staunton? Please leave a comment below!

I’d love to return to Staunton soon and do a proper survey and maybe even give a talk on this topic. Please leave a comment below if you’d like to contact me and/or learn more about these kit homes.

To learn more about Rose and her obsession with kit homes, click here.

To read about the kit homes in nearby Harrisonburg, VA, click here.

To see an incredible video about the importance of the Sears catalog in early America, click here (PBS Experience, 1991).

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The Van Dorn: A Fine Example of Modern Dutch Colonial Architecture

February 13th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

Thanks to friends Ersela Jordan and Rebecca Hunter, I have some photos of the Sears Van Dorn.

These Dutch Colonial kit homes can be hard to identify, because they’re so ubiquitous, rather simple, and sometimes, they all look alike!

Ersela managed to get inside the Van Dorn in Beckley, West Virginia and take some wonderful photos. That house is in beautifully original condition. Hopefully, the owners know what a treasure they have there. Too often, people get into such a rush to “modernize” their old house that they forget to save what’s really important.

To see a plethora of pretty, pretty pictures, scroll on down!

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The Van Dorn, as seen in the 1928 catalog.

The Van Dorn, as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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In the 1930 catalog, a testimonial extolled its virtues.

In the 1930 catalog, a testimonial extolled its virtues.

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Close-up of the text.

I wonder if Mr. and Mrs. Meiners still love their Van Dorn?

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Nice-looking house!

Nice-looking house, but not very distinctive as these things go!

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Heres a Van Dorn in Barrington. I wonder if theres a Barrington in Van Dorn?

Here's a Van Dorn in Barrington. I wonder if there's a Barrington in Van Dorn? Photo is copyright 2010 Rebecca Hunter and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. Please check out the link below to learn more about Rebecca's new book. It's a treasure!

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A Van Dorn that Ersela Jordan found and photographed in Beckley, WV.

A Van Dorn that Ersela Jordan found and photographed in Beckley, WV. Like the Van Dorn shown above, this one also has its original front door. Photo is copyright 2008 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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It is a cute house, isnt it?

The Van Dorn was one of a handful of Sears kit homes that had functional shutters (1928).

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house

Good floorplan, too.

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Ersela got inside the Van Dorn and took some wonderful photos.

I think I would have gone for the Rhythmics. After all, they're extremely modern and not faddish, plus, isn't that what sweet dreams are made of? ;)

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Er

Ersela got inside the Van Dorn and took some wonderful photos, such as this close-up of the La Tosca hardware. Photo is copyright 2008 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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But the best is this photo of an original Sears chandelier. Be still my heart! What a beauty!

This is a very busy chandelier, but I love it! Check out the medallion on the front (1930).

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h

How cool is that!? An original Sears chandelier. Be still my heart! What a beauty! Photo is copyright 2008 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To read more about the kit homes in West Virginia, click here.

To learn more about Rebecca Hunter’s wonderful new book, click here.

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The CLH, by Sears (Part II)

February 12th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

Yesterday, I talked about the CLH, which is an acronym. Sometimes, it meant, “”Cute Little House”!

Other times it was short for “Compact Little House.”

And other times it was our abbreviation for “Crummy Little House.”

Sears offered quite a few of these very modest, very plain and tiny bungalows but finding them today is quite difficult because they were so modest, so plain and so tiny.

Further complicating the issue was that all the major companies (SearsLewis ManufacturingWardwayGordon Van TineAladdinSterling andHarris Brothers), all offered several versions of the CLH.

Because these homes were so small (less than 600 square feet), homeowners would add additions to the sides, the front, and the top, making identification even more difficult!

Because of this, I don’t have any photos of CLHs, but thanks to Mark Hardin, I have now seen a photo of a Wayside (featured in yesterday’s blog). He found it in Stockton, Ohio.

Click here to read CLH, Part I.

Want to learn more about how to identify these homes? Click here.

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Price

"Four Rooms - Two Porches." What more do you need? Maybe an indoor potty? You'd think that a house named "The Rest" would have a Rest Room, wouldn't you?

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1921

The living room is 10 by 12. That chair must be about the size of a dinner plate. (1921 catalog)

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Oopsie, where have we seen this living room before? Why its the same photo as is seen in the 1919 catalog image for The Wayside.

Oopsie, where have we seen this living room before? Why it's the same photo as is seen in the 1919 catalog image for The Wayside.

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In fact, comparing these two side by side, youll see that just about the same house.

In fact, comparing these two side by side, you'll see that just about the same house. The Wayside is on the left and The Rest is on the right. That back porch (with cellar entry) is about the only difference.

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They sure do look alike!

Why, even the shrubbery is the same! The Rest is on the left.

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How many of these Rests have I driven right on past? Probably a few.

Several of these same cities were shown as having a "Sears Wayside" as well. Did Sears just decide that these two houses were close enough to consider them the "same model"?

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The Rest, like the Wayside was a very simple little house (1919).

The Rest, like the Wayside was a very simple little house (1921).

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Are you near the cities listed above? Would you be able to get me a photo of a Rest?

Please leave a comment below!

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The CLH, by Sears!

February 11th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

When Dale, Rebecca and I were gallivanting about the Midwest, seeking and finding kit homes, we developed a few “abbreviations” and one of them was, “The CLH.”

“No, don’t bother pulling out the books for this one,” one of us might say. “It’s just a CLH.”

The other two would sigh  and then we’d move on to the next house.

CLH could stand for many things:  “Cute Little House,” or “Compact Little House” or “Common Little House” or sometimes…

“Crummy Little House.”

In other words, the house was so modest, so plain and so tiny (and typically so remuddled) that there was no way to identify it. Further complicating the issue was that all the major companies (Sears, Lewis Manufacturing, Wardway, Gordon Van Tine, Aladdin, Sterling and Harris Brothers), all offered several versions of the CLH.

These houses were so tiny (under 600 square feet) that they were often the victims of significant remodeling and additions, making identification more problematical.

Because of this, I don’t have any photos of CLHs. But we do have testimonials, which might help us find a few CLHs.

One such example of a CLH is the Wayside, and this a fun one because the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog showed INTERIOR photos of the house! Those interior photos bear little resemblance to the true facts, but hey, why let facts get in the way of a good story?  :)

If you know where this house is, and/or are willing to get me a photo, I’d be very grateful!

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The Wayside, as seen in the 1919 catalog. Notice, it has no bathroom.

The Wayside, as seen in the 1919 catalog. It has only 520 square feet.

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Floorplan

Notice it does not have a bathroom! And the bedrooms are teeny!

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Which means youll

Which means you'll need to spend an extra $41 for a two-seater.

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But the price was right!

But the price was right!

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Yikes, it was so cheap you didnt even get wooden railings, but chains!

Holy Toledo, it was so cheap you didn't even get wooden railings, but chains!

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Yup, chains!

Yup, chains!

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The interior shots were not quite honest.

The interior shots were not quite honest.

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I mean cmon, does this look like

I mean c'mon, does this look like a room that's 10 by 12? But I do love the Arts & Crafts decor, complete with little hearts carved into the coffee table. A&C furniture is notoriously bulky and massive, but these four pieces fit with ease into a 10x12 room!

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The kitchen - another fantasy.

The kitchen - another fantasy. It's 10-feet by 9-feet in reality. The object hanging over the sink (the thing that looks like a soap dispenser) is a light fixture. This was the ONLY light fixture in the kitchen, and it was also the only electricity in the kitchen. In the 1919, electrical outlets in the kitchen were considered unsafe and unnecessary (by male architects). At least the larder is full! That cook stove on the left would have been a behemoth, and would have taken up a lot of real estate, especially in a room that was nine-feet wide!

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Ah, the good news!

Ah, the good news! We know where they are! Do you have a wayside in your town?

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Have you seen this house?

Have you seen this house?

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To read the next really fun blog, click here.

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

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The Day I Saw My First Fairy!

February 8th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

About 14 years ago, I excitedly dashed into the living room of our old house in Alton, Illinois and exclaimed to the husband, “I just saw my first Fairy!”

Unfazed, he didn’t even look up from his desk, but merely asked, “And what kind of fairy was it?”

“It was a Sears House,” I replied. “A very small kit home, the Sears ‘Fairy’”!

As I recall, he shook his head slightly and offered no further commentary.

Nonetheless, it was an exciting day for me.

The Sears Fairy was one of their smaller homes (only 616 square feet), and it was cute and well-designed and low-priced. As of 1929, it was a mere $993 which (even then) was a solid value.

According to Houses by Mail, the Fairy was first offered in 1925, but I’ve since found it in a catalog from Fall 1923.

In 1933, the Fairy was renamed “The Culver” and given a little face lift. The front door and living room window were transposed, and the front porch was changed from a pergola to a gabled roof. The floorplan was precisely the same in the two houses.

By 1934, it was gone and never reappeared in any of the subsequent catalogs.

Interestingly, “culver” comes from the old English word “culfre” which means dove. I wonder if the wordsmiths at Sears knew the correlation between the two words, fairy and culver.

I’m betting they did.

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In 1929, the Fairy was priced at just under $1,000.

In 1929, the Fairy was priced at just under $1,000.

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Tiny house

The Fairy had about 600 square feet of living space.

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But housewives love it...

But housewives love it...

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And for the

Not a bad-looking house for under $1,000.

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Heres one in Elgin, IL

Here's one in Elgin, IL.

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And heres one

And here's one in Evanston, Illinois. Photo is courtesy Jaimie Brunet, copyright 2013 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another

Jaimie loves her "Fairy" and in a recent email she said, "It's been the perfect house for us!" Photo is courtesy Jaimie Brunet, copyright 2013 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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remnant

If you take a good look at this edge of the porch, you can see the remnant of the original pergola frame and porch columns. The gabled porch is a nice addition, and in keeping with The Culver (shown below). Photo is courtesy Jaimie Brunet, copyright 2013 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Culver

In 1933, the Fairy was given a little facelift and renamed "The Culver."

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identical

Prices are no longer given, but the payments were $25 a month (15 year mortgage, 6%).

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identical

Compare the two floorplans and you'll see that the Fairy (left) and Culver (right) are identical. Well, except that the Culver has more bushes around it.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read another fascinating blog, click here.

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How Many Pieces Are There in a Condo Kit?

February 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

In 2002, I visited my friend Rebecca Hunter in Elgin, Illinois (southwest of Chicago) and she drove me out to Palantine to visit what she described as, “A very unusual Sears Westly.”

Of course, I was captivated and could hardly wait to see the thing.

She told me to close my eyes as we got close, so I did as she asked. When I felt the car come to a stop, she said, “Okay, you can open them.”

Sitting squarely in front of this old Westly, I remarked that it looked like a fine Westly. Yes, it had had some “improvements’ that weren’t historically sensitive, but it wasn’t too onerous.

Then Rebecca giggled a bit and moved the car forward a few feet, so I could get “the rest of the story.”

I gasped. I may have even hyperventilated just a wee bit.

Someone had built an entire neighborhood behind this once-beautiful Westly.

Why anyone would do this? Why would anyone WANT to do this? And how in the world did they get zoning approval?

And as an added note, for those who may be visiting this site for the first time, Sears did not sell “condo kits.”  :)

To learn more about Rebecca’s newest book (which I highly recommend), click here.

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house house

Sears Westly, as it appeared in the 1919 catalog.

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Palatine

And here's the Sears Westly in Palatine, IL. They built an entire neighborhood behind it!

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another view

Palate cleanse after that last picture.

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West Virginia Westly

Westly in West Virginia. In fact, it's in Oakhill.

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Suffolk

And here's a fine-looking Westly in Suffolk, VA.

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Porstmou

This Westly is in my hometown, Porstmouth, Virginia.

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Perfect Westly in Bellfonte, PA Rebecca

A perfect Westly in Bellfonte, Pennsylvania. Photo is copyright 2010 Rebecca Hunter and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Westly Metropolis

A colorful Westly in Metropolis, Illinois (home of Superman).

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Nice

Red Bud, Illinois has several Sears Homes, including this one.

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ick

Ruh Roh. What happened here? Nothing good.

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ickagin

Eek. A Westly in Norfolk, Virginia. Eek (again).

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I see you every day but you never write!  :)  Please leave a comment below.

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The Chesterfield Home: Of English Ancestry

February 4th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

“The Chesterfield home has an English ancestry which has stood the test of public favor for many centuries…”

The Sears Chesterfield was indeed a nobby tudoresque design, but apparently it didn’t catch on. And it was offered only in the 1926 Sears Modern Homes catalog. I’ve never seen one “in the flesh.”

However, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of Andrew Mutch, Wendy Mutch and Melodie Nichols, we now have pictures of a beautiful Chesterfield in Clawson, Michigan.

For those visiting this page for the first time, you might be wondering, what is a Sears Home? These were 12,000-piece kits that were ordered right out of the pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog.  The homes were offered from 1908 - 1940, and during their 32-years in the kit home business, 370 models were offered.

Sears promised that a “man of average abilities” could have the house built and ready for occupancy in 90 days. That could have been a little ambitious. Typically, it took novice homebuilders six months or more to finish these homes.

To learn more about this fascinating topic, click here.

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Text from the catalog page (1925)

In a pinch, you could offer this page to someone as an eye test, and see if they notice that the font gets smaller and smaller near the bottom. On a side note, I have no idea what an "informal massing of the walls" means (near the center of the text). Then again, I have never seen a "formal massing" of walls. Is it like an informal gathering? Are the walls just hanging out together, having one big quiet party? If you were a quiet wall and you didn't participate in these informal gatherings, would you be a wall flower? Or would you just be a wall wall? One has to wonder. (From 1926 catalog.)

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Pricey little dog, given the fact that this was 1926.

Pricey little dog, given the fact that this was 1926.

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I dont see any informal massing here.

I don't see any informal massing of the walls here. However, I bet that breakfast room was a chilly place on a balmy Michigan winter morning.

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Where are the informal masses?

I wonder if the "informal masses" are hiding in the spacious closets?

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Chesterfield, as seen in the 1926 catalog.

Chesterfield, as seen in the 1926 catalog.

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What a beauty!

What a beauty! It's been altered a bit but the original lines are still there. And the third floor of this house must be quite spacious. This house is in Clawson, Michigan which (thanks to Andrew, Wendy and Melodie) has been found to be a real hotbed of kit homes! Photo is copyright 2012 Melodie Nichols and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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From the side

A side view of the Chesterfield. Look at that enormous chimney. Photo is copyright 2012 Melodie Nichols and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Oh my stars, now we KNOW its a Sears Home! It has an S on the chimney!!

Oh my stars, now we KNOW it's a Sears Home! It has an "S" on the chimney!! Ah, not really. This is one CRAZY myth that is still bouncing around on the internet. That "S" on the chimney is a stylistic feature that has nothing to do with whether or not it's a Sears House. In this case, that "S" is part of the brace that helps keep that oversized chimney stable. Photo is copyright 2012 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house

Nice shooting, Melodie! She did a perfect job of photographing the house from the same angle as the original catalog picture.

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To read the next blog (also about kit homes in Michigan), click here.

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