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Help Me Find These Hidden Treasures in Chester, PA!

Say what you will about Facebook, but it is a great boon for those of us who love history.

Recently, the Delaware County (Pennsylvania) History page on Facebook picked up an old blog I did about these lost houses built by Sun Ship Building Company in Chester, PA and their interest in this topic has given me renewed hope that we might yet find these houses.

It’s one thing for me to sit around studying grainy images in 93-year-old catalogs, but it gets a lot more exciting when the local history lovers start hunting around for these treasures!

And this was quite a large collection of Sears Homes.

The neighborhood seems to extend on for several blocks. It’s certainly possible that 90 years later, these houses have been torn down, but I doubt that every last one of them is gone. And thanks to these wonderful old vintage images, I think our chances of finding these houses are very good!

Please pass this blog along to anyone and everyone who may have some knowledge of Sun Ship and/or Chester.

And please take a moment to read the loquacious captions. That’s where the fun stuff is!

If you can provide more info about these houses are, please leave a comment below.

Oh boy, my first UPDATE! Sun Shipbuilding was located at Route 291 and Harrah’s Blvd in Chester, PA. These houses would have been close by!

To learn more about Rose’s upcoming visit to Louisa, VA click here.

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Sunship

In the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog, this front page featured several communities where large numbers of Sears House had been sold. The red arrow shows the houses built by Sun Ship. So that's our first clue: The houses were 100% finished by late 1918.

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Zooming in a  bit, you can discern more detail.

Zooming in a bit, you can discern more detail. The neighborhood was three streets wide, but there's a large "green space" between the two rows on the left, and there appears to be another cluster of houses on the right, in the rear. So that's our second clue: The neighborhood was three streets wide, with one street some distance from the first.

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Zoom

If you zoom in on the center, you can count the houses in the middle row. I see 10 houses, two Rositas and two Arcadias (models of Sears Homes). More detail on these two models below. And that's our third clue. Look at the roofline for this row. Front-gabled with a shed dormer (#1), very small house with a hipped roof and a porch with a tiny shed room (houses #2 and #3), and approximately seven more front-gabled houses with a shed dormer pointing in the other direction (away from the camera).

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More detail

There were six homes on the left side, and I do believe that's an outhouse at the end of the row. And I don't *think* the outhouse is there today. However, here's another clue. Side-gabled bungalow (first) with dormer facing the street, followed by four front-gabled bungalows with dormer facing the outhouse. Hipped-roof house with small shed roof on porch is at the end. And look at the placement of the sidwalks here, too. That probably hasn't changed TOO much.

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house on the right

These houses on the right were really puzzling me, but I think I finally got them figured out. More on that in a moment.

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House

The first house on the left side of the picture is easily identifiable as a Sears Arcadia. I believe the house next to it (and the subsequent four houses) are also the Sears Arcadia, turned 90 degrees. At the end, there's a small house with a hipped roof. Keep on scrolling down and all will become clear.

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See what I mean?

The Sears "Arcadia." Except for the lady sitting on the front porch, it's a perfect match.

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And now look at the middle row.

And now look at the middle row. That's an Arcadia turned 90 degrees on the lot. The dormer was only present on one side, and for the rest of the Arcadias, the dormer is facing away from the camera. But look at those little houses with hipped roofs! What might they be?

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I suspect that these hipped roof houses are the Rosita.

I suspect that these hipped roof houses in Chester, PA are the "Rosita" (shown above). This was a very small house (and also bathroom-less, just like the Arcadia). The panoramic image first appeared in the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog, and both the Rosita and Arcadia were offered in the 1918 catalog, so that's a good fit.

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Look at the floorplan for the two houses.

Look at the floorplan for the two houses. The Rosita is on the left; the Arcadia is on the right. This is a minor detail, but look at the placement of the chimneys. The panoramic view shows that the chimneys are pretty closely aligned. On the Arcadia (right), the chimney is 9'4" from the home's rear. On the Rosita, it's 11'1" from the rear. That's *about* the representation shown in the old panoramic view. And it's a quirky feature, but look where the front door is on the Arcadia. It enters into the dining room! And, there is no bathroom in either house.

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And the Arcadia

And the Arcadia floorplan really did lend itself to being spun 90 degrees on the lot. Here, I've taken the floorplan and turned it 90 degrees, and I've also added a doorway into the front bedroom, and moved the front door from the dining room (which is darn quirky) into the living room.

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So heres what youre looking for: The

So here's what you're looking for: The Arcadia (left) and the Rosita (right). Note, a lot of things about a house can change through the years, but the chimney placement and roofline usually do not change. When you find these houses, they should all still be lined up, much like they appear in the vintage photos above. You should be able to look at them on Bing Aerial photos and count the rooflines - five side-gabled, two hipped, etc., and it should be a spot-on match to what is shown above in the street (panoramic) shots.

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house on the right

Last but not least, what model are these houses on the right? I puzzled over them for some time. The first house in this row is an Arcadia. Notice how the next house juts out a bit further than the Arcadia? I think to "mix it up a bit," that they stuck a small front porch on an Arcadia turned 90 degrees. The proportions are right and the placement on the windows (on the side) is right. In Carlinville's "Standard Addition" (where Standard Oil built 156 Sears Homes), those houses also had minor architectural changes, so that the houses didn't look just the same.

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Heres a Rosita in the flesh in Deerfield, VA.

Here's a Rosita "in the flesh" in Deerfield, VA. Somewhere in Chester, Pennsylvania, you have a whole neighborhood of these, and the Arcadias, built by Sun Ship Building Company about 1918, but where? Photo is copyright 2012 Linda Ramsey and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

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  1. September 11th, 2013 at 11:15 | #1

    ONE outhouse for all of those houses? Can you imagine the line to the bathroom in the morning? LOL

  2. September 11th, 2013 at 11:18 | #2

    The men probably used the trees…if there were any in the neighborhood!

    Industrial housing was a big deal back then. In theory, it created more “worker stability” and less turnover of employees, but you’d think that they’d at least give the poor saps some indoor plumbing!

  3. Milton Crum
    September 11th, 2013 at 12:32 | #3

    Rose,

    Those houses were probably built for company workers during WWI, and were probably replaced by multifamily dwellings during WWII in response to a larger influx of new workers.

    As company houses, they would not have been well maintained so destruction was the only viable alternative.

    They were probably built in the area bounded by modern day Ridley creek to the west, and what is now Route 322 and the Delaware Expressway, Rt. 95, since that would provide the closest proximity to the shipyards for the workers.

  4. September 12th, 2013 at 17:21 | #4

    Did anyone check Chester Township? Like 14th and Townsend area? I don’t believe these homes exist anymore or the pictures in the catalog were mislabeled but I’d still like to help.

    Also like someone was saying the other day on Facebook, some of these houses may have been built outside of what Chester city is today - like Garden City.

    It was considered a Chester mailing address years ago and some of the houses there look similar.

  5. Xan
    September 13th, 2013 at 15:37 | #5

    I will keep an eye out next time I’m in that area….not too often, but I will keep my eyes alert. Any thing I find will be swiftly reported back :)

    On a different topic (and sorry to post it here but I didn’t see any other way to ask a question), what do you do if your house doesn’t have any of specific details that identify a Sears Home (even if you’ve checked almost every nook and cranny) but matches a particular floor plan exactly..like EXACTLY?

    In my case, we believe we have a Walton, and to add to this, there are other homes on the block that are definitely Sears Catalog Homes.

    There are more than a few houses here that have the easily identifiable five-piece brackets and a couple houses look to be the Vallonia model with its very unique columns).

    Additionally, the train tracks for the former North Pennsylvania Railroad (later Reading Railroad) run across the street from our house. Am I to believe we just have a knock off?

    Or that someone bought the plans and built it independently?

    The other detail that is peculiar about our house is the porch.

    I’d be happy to offer more info if requested. It just seems so strange that I can’t find one piece of identifying information. The only cool detail found hiding thus far, were some newspapers from 1925, shoved up into where the porch meets the floor joists. I suspect the newspaper is for ‘insulation’ (though hardly, LOL).

  6. Xan
    September 13th, 2013 at 16:26 | #6

    Just a thought: Have you contacted http://www.delcohistory.com/?page_id=94
    If anyone would know, they might.

    :)

  7. Andrew Mutch
    September 13th, 2013 at 16:57 | #7

    @Xan - Are you on Facebook? You can post photos to the Sears Group once you’re allowed in (just ask!).

    That way, you can get a lot of eyes on them to help decide whether it’s a possibility or not. Finding marked lumber can be challenging. You may need to resort to getting into the attic, looking under stairs or removing trim. My best stampings were found when we renovated our bathroom and got to expose the wall studs.

  8. Mark Hardin
    September 14th, 2013 at 02:17 | #8

    On March 1, 1918 Congress authorized the expenditure of $50,000,000 by the United States Shipping Board for the production of housing in connection with shipyards.

    In a document titled “Housing The Shipbuilders” published in 1920 by the Emergency Fleet Corporation there is a map called a block plan of Sun Village and Sun Hill communities.

    This plan matches the area perfectly except for one street that was lost to the construction of I-95.

    There was a very large demand for housing there as WWI war production increased. The companies operating in the Chester Pa. area were having problems retaining workers due to the over crowded conditions. There were reports from health officials that in one boarding house the same bed was being rented by three different shifts of workers.

    It would appear from this document that the Sears houses that were once there were most likely razed to provide a more efficient use of the available building lots. It would be possible that some houses were moved but due to cheap cost of these small houses it may not have been cost effective.

    But I would love to be wrong and find one hiding there. :)

  9. Dale Wolicki
    September 15th, 2013 at 00:21 | #9

    The United States Shipping Board authorized the construction of several small villages at various shipyards throughout the country, and the mail-order housing companies campaigned to get the projects.

    Sears got the project in Chester PA and Sterling Homes got a similar project near the shipyard in Wyandotte, MI.

    These project had built only a few homes when the war came to end but construction continued until completion. In the early 1920s, the government sold off the shipyard villages.

    In some locations, such as Wyandotte, the house were sold with their lots, thus they still stand today.

    In other locations the houses were sold with the condition they be moved, and in a few locations the houses were sold to wrecking companies the dismantled the houses for their lumber.

  10. Shawn Edward
    September 18th, 2013 at 03:11 | #10

    My grandparents lived in a town called Prospect Park which is only a couple of miles from Chester Pennsylvania. The street they lived on was called Mackenzie Ave. The houses still remain and look very similar to the Sears homes listed in the Sun Ship advertisement . I could be wrong but check it out.

  11. Mark Hardin
    September 24th, 2013 at 20:57 | #11

    Dale Wolicki, Thanks for the information. I don’t know if you knew the location of the Sterling homes but Rachel Shoemaker found a testimonial and photograph of the houses in one of her Sterling homes catalogs.

    It shows the houses there in Myandotte MI.

    She was kind enough to email me a copy of the picture and using it we found the houses. They are situated along the railroad tracks between Ford Avenue and Cedar Street and east to 4th Street.

    The houses in the Wyandotte testimonial don’t match any of their homes offered for sale in the catalog and would have been very difficult to find without the picture.

  12. John Roberts
    May 5th, 2014 at 01:23 | #12

    Sun also purchased a large tract of land that would later become Ridley Park.

    While I can’t find those homes exactly, a large swath of Ridley Park looks like they very well could be kit homes.

    It could well be that they built somewhere just outside Chester, and simply used Chester as the name of the town where the houses were sited as it was the largest community in the area.

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