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Archive for December, 2013

New Information on Schoper, Illinois

December 31st, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

All ghost towns have a fascinating history, and Schoper, Illinois is no different.

Located about eight miles from Carlinville, the town of Schoper (also known as Standard City) was originally Thomas Schoper’s 500-acre family farm. In 1918, Standard Oil of Indiana bought the farm (literally) from Schoper, and sunk a 300-feet deep coal mine.

After a coal shortage in 1917, Standard Oil wanted a reliable supply of coal to call their own. The coal was used to fire the stills that refined crude oil and turned it into gasoline.

After the completion of several gelogocial surveys (commissioned by Standard Oil), it was discovered that there was a seven-foot tall seam of coal in the ground at Schoper. As an added bonus, Schoper was near The Chicago and Alton rail line, which was centrally located between the refineries in Wood River (near St. Louis) and Whiting, Indiana (near Chicago).

In 1918, Standard Oil placed a $1 million order (for 192 houses) with Sears Roebuck and Company for 192 Honor-Bilt homes. The houses were purchased for employees in CarlinvilleWood River and Schoper, Illinois. One hundred and fifty six of the houses were built in Carlinville, 12 were built in Schoper and 24 went to Wood River.

The 12 houses were built for the supervisors at the “Schoper Mine.” There were also boarding houses and dorms built at Schoper, for the miners.

By the mid-1920s, the boom at Schoper had gone bust. The price of coal dropped after The Great War (1918), and Standard Oil could now buy their coal cheaper from mines in Kentucky (which did not have unions) than they could mine it in Macoupin County.

In July 1925, a small column on the bottom page of the Macoupin County Enquirer sadly announced that the mine was closed for good.

Nine of the 12 little Sears Houses were painstakingly disassembled and left Schoper the same way they came in:  In pieces and loaded on a boxcar, headed off to destinations unknown.

Two of the Sears Homes were moved intact, to sites just outside of Standard City. The last Sears House at Schoper (The Sears Gladstone) was home to John McMillan and his wife, a supervisor with the mine. After the mine closed, he became a caretaker charged with myriad tasks, such as making sure the powerful fans down in the mine kept the methane down to acceptable levels.

McMillan’s little Gladstone eventually became rental property and burned down sometime in the mid-1990s.  The last remnant at the site was the Schoper Powerhouse and Mine Offices, a massive concrete Federalist structure which was torn down in Summer 2003.

And that was the whole story - until last month - when a reader sent me an email with new information. I’m not sure how he did it, but he found 1930s aerial maps of Schoper, which showed the footprints (and precise location) of the 12 little Sears Homes.

Scroll on down to enjoy the many photos, including the vintage aerial photo from 1937!

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Schoper

In the front pages of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog, this image was erroneously identified as a street view of the houses as "Schopper, Illinois." In fact, this was a picture of the 24 Sears Homes in Wood River. No pictures of Schoper appeared in the Sears Modern Homes catalogs.

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house house house

Picture of Schoper from the late 1910s. At the foot of the sidewalk is a 12-bay garage, shared by the occupants of the 12 Sears Homes. The Power House is shown in the background (near Schoper Lake). The Whitehall, Gladstone and Warrenton are shown in the foreground.

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house schoper house

Schoper was the site of a massive, modern colliery (1921 Stanolind Record). As a side note, I have no idea what this massive piece of equipment is. If a reader can identify this, please leave a comment below.

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Mine Road

And here's a bit of that vintage aerial map, showing the placement of those 12 Sears Homes in Schoper (outlined with a red square). The building circled in red is the Schoper Powerhouse.

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map map map 1937

Close-up of the aerial map (1937). The four white squares on each street represent the footprint where the 12 Schoper homes were located.

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house house house house house

And what Rachel Shoemaker discovered - which is nearly unbelievable - is that if you look at this modern aerial view, you can still see the outline of 12 squares, representing the placement of those 12 Schoper houses.

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Schoper rose

It was claimed that the ’s six dynamos in the Schoper Power House had the potential to create enough electricity to power the entire state of Illinois. The local papers said it was the most powerful steam-driven power plant in the world. The smokestack was 213 feet tall and was the second highest peak in Macoupin County, only a little shorter than the spire atop the Macoupin County Courthouse in Carlinville. The picture above was taken in 2002, about a year before it was torn down.

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schoper house

The Schoper Power House, as seen in the 1921 Stanolind Record. When completed in mid-1919, the Power House also brought electricity to those twelve Sears houses. They were the only "electrified" houses in Schoper. The rest of the community would not know the joys of electric lights until power lines from Carlinville made their way to Standard City in the 1930s.

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house schoper

For many years, that last remaining Sears house (John McMillan's Gladstone) stood alone on a plot that was rapidly reverting to its primitive status as farmland. After the mines closed, McMillan became the mine’s caretaker. It was his job to descend into the deserted coal mine several times a week, grease the water pumps and turn them on. Ground water, which seeped into the mine, had to be pumped out frequently. He was also responsible for turning on the powerful ventilating fans to remove any build-up of firedamp - highly explosive methane gas - which accumulates in coal mines. As of 2003 (when this photo was taken), all that was left of the 12 Schoper Houses was this slight indent in the field.

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Schoper Lake

When Schoper was created in the late 1910s, a creek alongside the powerhouse was damned up to create a seven-acre, 40-foot-deep lake. Underground pipes drafted water from the lake to the powerhouse for the steam engines.

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To see the original vintage map, click here.

To read more about Carlinville’s kit homes, click here.

The above was excerpted from The Houses That Sears BuiltTo buy the book, click here.

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There Are Some Things Better Than Sears Homes…

December 27th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

This Christmas, my newlywed daughter came to Virginia for a visit, and as a lovely bonus, she brought along her new husband (Levi) and her four-year-old stepson, “Ollie.”

Ollie is a darling little boy and while they were here, our house saw more activity and busy-ness than I think it’s ever seen before.

And I loved every minute of it.

When they pulled into our driveway at 2:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, Levi opened the back door of the Family Truxter and there was little Ollie, sitting patiently in his car seat. He caught a glimpse of me standing in the driveway and in the sweetest little voice, he exclaimed, “There’s Gwandma Wose!”

It brought tears to my eyes.

Cleaning up the house today has been tough, and I’ve felt myself tear up a few times. Under the couch, I found a handful of sea shells that we gathered during our walk by the seashore, and on a desk in the living room, I found the little stuffed dog that Auntie Crystal gave him. I put away the books “Pop” read to him and I discovered a toy left behind in the bathtub.

I can’t face the spare bedroom yet, where I tucked him into bed Monday night and read him several books.

There in the semi-dark room, between stories, he reached out and held my hand and said, “I love you, Grandma Rose.” I told him, “I love you more,” and he replied, “I love you more, too.”

I was falling asleep by the fifth book when he said (in a very serious voice), “I think you should go get into your own bed.”

The little family packed up their little car and returned to St. Louis Thursday and the house is so quiet that it is unnerving.

As my wise friend Janet LaMonica told me last month when my daughter got married, “Rosemary, years ago I learned, there is no such thing as ’step-grandchildren.”

Janet was right.

It may take a few days before I’m ready to write about old houses again. Somehow, they just don’t seem as important right now.

And now it’s time to check out those airfares to St. Louis…

:)

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Christmas this year was an extra-important time, b

Christmas this year was extra special, because it was to be Ollie's first Christmas with us.

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And Ollie loved his little car!

And Ollie loved his little electric car!

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Ollie

The little car has a little horn which works well in these situations. Father is trying to protect Pop's big truck from an accident caused by a little driver. BTW, those little headlights light up.

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none

Corey and Auntie Crystal watch from a safe distance. The family Truxter sits in the driveway. When Ollie rode past us, we all paid special attention to our toes! That little car is heavy!

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There were also dogs involved. Ollie loves dogs even more than he loves cars! He ran up on the front porch trying to catch Roxey (our neighbors labradoodle). Roxey saw him coming and made a run for it.

There were also dogs involved. Ollie loves dogs even more than he loves cars! He ran up on the front porch trying to catch "Roxey" (our neighbor's labradoodle). Roxey saw him coming and made a run for it.

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The Family Truxter all packed up and headed back to the Alton area.

The Family Truxter all packed up and headed back to the Alton area.

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To read one of my favorite blogs, click here.

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Moving Houses in 1916: Slow, But Doable!

December 17th, 2013 Sears Homes 7 comments

Whilst researching Penniman, I’ve had the occasion to talk with many historians and museum curators and too many to count have told me, “One hundred years ago, houses just weren’t moved. People didn’t have the means to move an entire house like they might today.”

Typically, I try really hard not to roll my eyes.

And sometimes, you can convince them that, yes, ours was a much more thrifty society in the early 20th Century and we were not likely to waste anything, certainly not anything as big (and labor intensive and expensive) as an entire house!

And then they’ll say, “Well, little tiny houses maybe, but not big houses.”

Alas!

Last week, I was reading through a book that Bill Inge found for me, “Manufacturer’s Record” (December 1916) when I discovered this small advertisement for a house-moving company. Check out the photos below, for it’s almost unbelievable.

Thanks again to Bill Inge from providing me with another cool vintage book on historic architecture!

To read another blog about house moving 100 years ago, click here.

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Word press

Before Bill Inge, I'd never heard of "Manufacturers Record." It's quite a large tome!

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barge Dec 1921

My interest in moving houses was piqued when I learned that more than 60 houses were moved from Penniman, Virginia to Norfolk. And better yet, these 60 houses were moved to Norfolk by barge! (Photo is from the Virginia Pilot, December 1921). Thanks to Robert Hitchings for finding this wonderful photo!

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house house house

While reading the Manufacturers Record, I found this advertisement at the bottom of a page. This fellow claims that he had been moving houses since 1875!

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house that is shown here

And see the description he has offered here? The house that was moved was an all brick house, and it measured 50' by 75 feet, and it was raised four feet, turned 90 degrees and moved 300 feet. I love this photo because it demonstrates that the house was moved on rails. YES, on rails. The rails (typically two) were laid in front of the house, and it was slid across those rails, which would then be moved from the rear, back to the front.

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househouse

Close-up of the house. Now that's a big house!

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hou house

And I love the description: "Largest movers of Buildings in the United States."

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Shiawassee

One of the finest examples of early 20th Century moving that I've ever come across is this picture from the Shiawassee History website. See link below. If you look at the image above, you'll see rails laid down in front of the house. At the website (below), there's a thorough explanation of how this move was accomplished, but in short, the horse walked in a circle around that capstan which was anchored to a tree or some solid object. The winding of the rope around the capstan acted like a winch, pulling the house forward on those rails, SLOWLY.

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Many thanks - again - to Bill Inge - for sharing his knowledge and his cool old books!

To visit the Shiawassee History website, click here.

To learn more about the mechanics of moving houses in the early 20th Century, click here.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

Looking for the story about Penniman soldiers? Click here.

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Was Great-Grandfather at Penniman? (A Genealogist’s Dream Come True)

December 16th, 2013 Sears Homes 10 comments

In my ongoing quest to learn more about Penniman, Virginia, I visited Ike Skelton Library (a military library in Norfolk) and they told me about “The Shell Inspector,” published by the U. S. Army in 1918. The 44-page book was written by the men of the Enlisted Detachment, Ordnance Corps, U. S. Army at Camp Penniman.

Unfortunately, the only copy in the entire world was at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia.

Fortunately, the VHS still possessed their one copy.

Unfortunately, the VHS does not scan entire documents for patrons.

Fortunately, they allowed me to visit their library (94 miles one way) and take pictures of this old book.

Unfortunately, I visited on the very same day that 4,387 noisy short people from the local elementary school were there.

Fortunately, “The Shell Inspector” was housed in a room with double doors, which the librarian quickly closed when the noisy short people approached the common hallway.

Within the pages of this book I discovered a genealogist’s dream. There were pictures of the 312 Army men stationed there, with a little tiny white number hand-drawn on each man, and a corresponding list of the men’s names and home cities.

And an interesting aside, the book was written days after the war ended (November 11, 1918), so this is one happy bunch of young men.

If you’d like a closer view of a particular man, leave a comment below and I will email you the image you want.

As I said - it’s a genealogist’s dream come true!

Please share the link on your Facebook page!  :D

To read more about the fascinating story of Penniman, click here.

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The whole dea

The original picture of the Ordnance Corps comprised several pages.

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44 one bee

For ease of viewing, I cut the image into several sections.

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44 1 c

These fellows are from the 2nd section.

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doggy

See anyone you know?

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dododo

Yes, that is a dog, and he's number 312. Sadly, he's not listed in the roster!

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Thirty five one A

They do look like a happy bunch of soldiers. No doubt they were happy. After all, they'd survived the war and the war was over and they were headed home.

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Thirty five one B

And in this photo, you can see the officers (in chairs).

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Cluster

These men were photographed independently of the others. I wonder if they missed the first picture day?

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Group two

Second group of men that were photographed independently.

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And now the names.

And now the names.

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Second list of names.

Second list of names.

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Third

I don't see any Fullers or Hoyts on the list. Drat!

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Roseter

No Whitmores, either!

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And there was

And there was this woman, Mrs. Robert Oberholser. If someone could tell me why an adjutant is needed in a WW1 Army camp, and how a woman snagged this position, I'd be most grateful.

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This map from The Shell Inspector shows that the men came from all over the country.

This map from The Shell Inspector shows that the men came from all over the country, but the majority came from the Northeast. I wonder where #312 was from?

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house

"The Shell Inspector" was dedicated to the two officers of the camp.

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Captain dog

Lieutenant Carl Trometre, enlisted May 1898.

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Butler

Lieutenant Frank Butler, enlisted September 1894.

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Shell

The Shell Loader was published in 1918 by the U. S. Army. It was an incredible find.

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To read more about Penniman, click here.

Interested in reading about bungalows and germs? Click here!

Why were kit homes so popular in the early 20th Century?

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Permanent Furniture IV: Window Seats

December 9th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

This is my fourth series on “Permanent Furniture,” a term I’d not heard until Bill Inge lent me his 1927 “Builders’ Woodwork” catalog.

And what a wonderful term it is. It defines the “built-ins” that make early 20th Century American architecture so enchanting and beautiful and practical.

Unless otherwise indicated, all images below appeared in the 1927 Builders’ Woodwork catalog.

Many thanks to Bill Inge for sharing these fun old architecture books!!

To read Part I, click here.

Click here to read Part II and Part III.

As always, please leave a comment below!

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perm

"Window seats and bookcases are very often used in combination, adding comfort to convenience."

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window

"These niches are not intended to supplant bookcases..." In other words, we know that you're going to have a *lot* more books than this, because you're a typical intelligent American with an innate desire to learn and grow. Wow. If only they could have known that TV would soon arrive on the scene and turn us into a nation of marginally literate, non-reading, believe-anything-you-see-on-the-tv saps. (But I digress...)

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window seat

Check out the fountain in the backyard. Now *that's* a view! I also love the little writing desk.

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seat

See the item in front of the pen with a rounded bottom? Now, I'm sure most of my highly intelligent, history loving readers already know this, but it was a blotter, and on its underside, it had a piece of absorbent paper or cloth. After signing your documents with a quill pen, the blotter was used to soak up excess ink.

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perman

Since they don't have a fountain in the backyard, they put up some draperies. But they do have a fine-looking Dutch Colonial out back. This is my favorite nook. Can you imagine curling up on this soft cushion, literally surrounded by all your favorite books? That lamp is in the wrong place, though.

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window

Rather plain, but still a quaint idea.

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wsingod

If I still had a house with radiators, I'd install this design in a second. It's a radiator cover, plus window seat, plus book storage, plus drawer space. And it's not recessed (as many are).

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seats

Another pretty one, but still pretty. And good storage underneath that bench seat.

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seats seats

The simplest of designs, and yet there's a lot of storage space in those seats.

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sears

This "permanent furniture" window seat and bookcase appeared in the 1927 Homebuilders' Catalog.

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1571 HB 1923

This, unlike the above, is an actual photo which appeared in the 1923 Harris Brothers (kit homes) catalog. The house shown is Harris Brothers' Modern Home #1571. In addition to the window seat, it has the bookcase colonnades, built-in buffet and gorgeous beamed ceiling.

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house house house

This was the only real-life example of a window seat I could find, and it's a poor example because it's really an "Inglenook" more than a window seat. And yet, it's still mighty pretty. The house shown is a Sears Magnolia, in northern West Virginia.

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To read more about the Sears Magnolia in West Virginia, click here.

Read all about phone niches by clicking here.

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Sycamore Street and The Wonderful Life

December 8th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

It’s Christmas, and before long, the local channels will be airing my favorite Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Many folks think it’s a movie about one man making a difference in the world, but I saw it in a different way: “It’s a Wonderful Life” explains why homeownership is so important to our country’s prosperity and economic health.

After The Great War ended, the magazines and newspapers of the time boldly extolled the many virtues of homeownership. Post-war, contemporary literature made it clear that Americans had a patriotic duty to be homeowners. Homeownership benefited not only individual families, but also neighborhoods and communities, and by extension, the entire country.

What better modern-day model do we have than Detroit or East St. Louis? How many homeowners live in these two communities? Despite some searching, I wasn’t able to find an answer, but I’d guess it’s NOT MANY.

The message communicated by Sears Modern Homes catalogs and early 20th Century magazines was this: Homeowners have a vested interest in their community and communities with a large percentage of homeowners will enjoy a greater proportion of prosperity, stability and peace.

In the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey sees what Bedford Falls, would have looked like if he’d never been born. Without George’s positive influence and his ever-fledgling Building and Loan, the modern subdivision of Bailey Park would never have been developed and many residents would have remained renters, rather than homeowners.

Without the Bailey Building and Loan, George finds that Bedford Falls (now “Pottersville”) is full of substandard rental properties.

And because there are so many rental properties, there is less stability in the family, and in a broader context, there is less stability in the community as well.

Remember Bert (the cop) and Ernie (the cab driver)?

In this alternate “George-less” world, Ernie does not live with his family in their own “nice little home in Bailey Park,” but instead, he lives is a decrepit shack in Pottersville and it’s implied that this hardship is largely to blame for the fact that Ernie’s wife “ran off three years ago and took the kid.”

The streets of this alternate Bedford Falls are lined with liquor stores, night clubs, pawnbrokers, burlesque shows and billiard halls. Garish neon signs flash “girls, girls, girls.” Breviloquent policemen struggle to keep peace and order among the surly citizens.

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

Sears was, to small communities in the Midwest, what George Bailey was to Bedford Falls.

Sears empowered countless thousands of the poor and working class to become homeowners. What would countless Midwestern towns have become without Sears homes?

How many towns were spared the fate of becoming a Pottersville, thanks to these little kit homes? Probably many.

Sears Modern Homes made a significant and enduring difference in many communities throughout the Midwest.

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George

The Bailey Brothers' Building and Loan was the real hero of the story. It persisted, despite great trials and tribulations, and enabled the less-than-wealthy citizens of Bedford Falls to achieve the dream of homeownership.

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House house

George and Mary worked hard to achieve their dream of homeownership, and that's another reason that I love this movie. They purchased a real "fixer-upper" and did a thorough restoration that spanned many, many years. Today, how many banks would even lend money on a house with a leaky roof?

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It was a common theme 1921

As demonstrated by this 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog, homeownership was a far wiser investment for the young couple starting out in the world. After all, would you rather have "rent receipts" or a home of your own?

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house 1921

Father is tossing those rent receipts right into the trash.

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Its a wonderful lfie

Another reason to love "It's a Wonderful Life" is 320 Sycamore Street, a classic "Second Empire Victorian." Or, as the author of "Finding God in 'It's a Wonderful Life'" said, "It is a home of second chances."

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To read more about why 320 Sycamore was in such ghastly condition, click here.

To read about how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

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Bob Beckel’s Christmas Crescent

December 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

Friday night, Milton and I turned on the television and saw “The Five” (talk show on Fox News, with five commentators, including Bob Beckel).  Within 30 seconds, the program showed a picture of Bob Beckel’s house, and I exclaimed to Milton, “Oh my goodness. It’s a Sears Crescent!”

Sure enough, after I got a close look, I saw it was a Christmas Crescent.

What is a Sears house? Sears homes were 12,000-piece kit houses, and each kit came with a a 75-page instruction book. Sears promised that “a man of average abilities” could have it assembled in 90 days. The instruction book offered this somber warning: “Do not take anyone’s advice on how this house should be assembled.” The framing members were marked with a letter and a three-digit-number to facilitate construction. Today, these marks can help authenticate that a house is a kit home.

Searching for these homes is like hunting for hidden treasure. From 1908-1940, about 70,000 Sears Homes were sold, but in the 1940s, during a corporate housecleaning, Sears destroyed all sales records. The only way to find these homes is literally one-by-one.

Or one television show at a time.  :)

At some point, the classic Crescent windows in Mr. Beckel’s house were discarded and replaced (and that’s a real pity) but the house does have its original cypress clapboards. The small shed dormer was probably added later, but it *might* have been original to the house. There was some usable space on the 2nd floor, and dormers are a frequent addition to the Sears Crescent.

Mr. Beckel, did you know you have a Sears house? If you’re like 90% of Americans, you did NOT know - until now!

To read more about the Sears Crescent, click here.

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Bob Beckels house, all decked out for the holidays.

Bob Beckel's house, all decked out for the holidays. Although it's barely visible in this photo, at the top of the porch's arch, you can see a faint triangle there. This is one of the classic signs of a Sears Crescent.

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Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Judging by the placement of the fireplace, Mr. Beckels house is a

This photo shows that triangle on the porch's peak more clearly. And notice the three large columns on the corners of the porch. All classic Crescent features. And it has its original siding!

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Flippped

The Crescent was offered from 1918-1928. Image above is from the 1928 catalog. Note the unusual windows, the triangle in the porch's peak, and the three columns. That massive porch is its most distinctive feature.

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RaleighThe dormers were original to this Crescent in Raleigh, NC.

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A darling

A darling little Crescent in Wheeling, WV, sitting like a jewel atop the hill.

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One of my favorite Crescents in Bloomington, IL.

One of my favorite Crescents in Bloomington, IL. It still has the original lattice work, as shown in the catalog images. And like Mr. Beckel's house, it has the optional fireplace.

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In 1928

In 1928, the "super-sized Crescent" (as Mr. Beckel has) was a mere $2,195. The larger floorplan is shown in the upper right. The 2nd floor layout is on the lower right.

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This testimonial

Jerome Kelly from an unnamed city really loves his little Crescent.

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To learn more about the Sears Crescent (with interior views), click here.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.

Are there more kit homes in Beckel’s neighborhood of Brookmont? Without a doubt. There was a Sears Modern Homes Sales Center nearby, and these were only placed in communities where sales were already strong. Plus, sales went way up after one of these retail stores was opened in the area.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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Permanent Furniture III: Bookcase Colonnades

December 4th, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

In the early 1980s, my husband and I looked at an Aladdin Shadowlawn for sale in Chesapeake, Virginia. We both fell head-over-heels in love with the solid-oak bookcase colonnades between the living room and dining room.

It was just last week that I learned that, in the early 1900s, these enchanting built-ins were known as “Permanent Furniture.”

“Permanent furniture” (built-in cabinetry) was a brilliant concept. The more “permanent furniture” present in a house, the less “temporary furniture” the new homeowners would need to purchase. And all these built-ins really did make best-possible use of small spaces.

To read more about permanent furniture, click here or here.

As always, thanks to Norfolk historian and librarian Bill Inge for sharing his wonderful old architecture books with moi!

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House

More than 30 years ago, we looked in the windows of this Aladdin Shadowlawn in Chesapeake, Virginia (near Chesapeake Square Mall) and caught a glimpse of the solid oak built-in bookcase colonnades and fell hopelessly in love. There's something about "permanent furniture" in old houses that still makes me swoon.

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The Aladdin Shadowlawn had beautiful built-in bookcase colonnades.

The Aladdin Shadowlawn came with beautiful built-in bookcase colonnades (1919 catalog).

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These colonnades appeared in the Sears Roebuck Building Materials catalog (1921).

These colonnades appeared in the Sears Roebuck "Building Materials" catalog (1921). Pretty basic and very plain and no shelving or bookcases. And who's Carlton? My guess is that he's someone that wasn't well liked at Sears. Maybe it started out as a practical joke. "Let's name those really boring colonnades after that boring guy, Carlton who never does anything but stand around and look goofy," and before they knew it, the $34 colonnades were listed in the Sears catalog as "Carlton Colonnades."

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For $82.50, you could buy a colonnade that actually had a practical purpose (unlike Carlton).

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The Sears Osborn featured these bookcase colonnades with either wooden muntins or leaded glass doors (1919).

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No sooner had I returned Bill Inges 1927 Builders Woodworking catalog than he loaned me this little treasure. It was full of - colonnades!

No sooner had I returned Bill Inge's 1927 Builders' Woodworking catalog than he loaned me this little treasure, "Building With Assurance; Morgan Millwork." It was full of - colonnades! It was published in 1923.

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And the first page of the Colonnade Chapter offered some interesting insights as to why we love colonnades.

And the first page of the Colonnade Chapter offered some interesting insights as to why we love colonnades: "It's an imitation of nature itself." BTW, check out the lovebird logo.

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Nice way to dress up a doorway!

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These colonnades are simple, but quite attractive. That rug looks like a trip hazard, though. The dining room furniture looks like it came out of a dollhouse. The proportions are skewed.

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Apparently Morgan had their own line of Carlton Colonnades.

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Much more ornate, and bigger bookcases, too. The original caption reads, "This Morgan standardized design offers a fine opportunity for tasty decoration with jardinieres, statuary, bric-a-brac, etc." I had to look up "jardinieres," because I've read a lot of books in my life but I have never seen that word. Turns out, "jardinieres" is a female gardener, allegedly. I'm not sure that even the most progressive 1920s housewife would be too keen on the idea of using built-in bookcases to store female gardeners.

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This one's my favorite: Rugged, sturdy, spacious and a built-in desk, too.

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That desk is pretty cool, even if he does have a lot of bills hidden inside of it.

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Another beautiful colonnade, but in use as a china hutch!

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A real-life bookcase colonnade in a Sears Hazelton in Oklahoma. Photo is copyright 2010 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

A real-life bookcase colonnade in a Sears Hazelton in Oklahoma. (Photo is copyright 2010 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. No foolin'.)

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To read about the Sears Magnolia we found in West Virginia, click here.

To read more about built-ins, click here.

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Permanent Furniture II: Beautiful Staircases

December 3rd, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

In the early 1900s, we seemed to place more value on the idea that we should surround ourselves with beauty.

The staircases shown in the 1927 Builders’ Woodwork Catalog ranged from simple to fancy, and yet they’re all elegant and beautiful.

Too many modern staircases (post-1970) are not just utilitarian; they’re seriously ugly. Looking through several online listings of “new” houses for sale (under $500,000), I didn’t see any staircase pieces and parts that I haven’t seen for sale at Lowes. In other words, the focus of modern staircase building seems to be “fast, cheap and easy.”

What happened to the idea of making a beautiful entry?

As the 1920s text says below, “The staircase is the central feature of the hall or living room and must be judiciously selected to be in harmony with the architectural treatment of the dwelling.”

Perhaps that explains why contemporary staircases are so blasé and unappealing.

The pedestrian staircases in modern homes are “in harmony” with their pedestrian surroundings.

Many thanks to Bill Inge for sharing his historic architecture books with me!

Read about bookcase colonnades here!

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Even the front page for this chapter is a thing of beauty!

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"The designs...represent harmonious units." The text also adds, "The staircase...must be judiciously selected to be in harmony with the architectural treatment of the dwelling." How many builders today stop and think about how much "harmony" is expressed by their creations? (In the text above, K.D. stands for "knocked down.")

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"For the modern American small home, this design is very pleasing and practical."

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Another very simple design, and yet it's quite attractive. This type of staircase is often found in mail-order kit homes, because it's both simple and easy to construct.

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According to the accompanying caption, those doors lead out to an "elevated sunporch." I don't recall ever seeing an elevated sunporch off a landing like this - in real life.

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Another simple staircase, but with a 90-degree twist.

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"The unusual panel effect is a distinctive feature of this staircase..."

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This staircase is categorized in the original literature as a "Colonial design."

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Another favorite staircase. Years ago, I looked at a house for sale in South Norfolk (Chesapeake, VA) on Park Avenue and it had this very same design, all with original varnish/shellac. I thought it was the prettiest bit of "permanent furniture" that I'd ever seen. I shudder to think what's become of that house and it's gorgeous interiors. Note the phone niche next to the bench.

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"This panel buttress staircase is suitable for English or modern American homes. The complete absence of balusters and handrail make it easy to keep clean." While I do love the rope, I'm sure modern codes would not allow it.

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"The charm of this Colonial stairway is the continuous handrail ending in the graceful turning of a volute." Please raise your hand if you knew that this "round thing" at the end of the banister was known as a "volute." :D

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"Very suitable for the modest home without a reception hall." If a mother could have favorites, this would be one of mine. So pretty and so elegant, and yet, "suitable for a modest home."

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"The attractive arches give it real character."

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Another beautiful staircase. The window mirrors the pattern on the built-in bookcase.

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"The large central hall is an attribute of the Colonial home, the main feature of which is the stairway." This is the same stairway we had in our 1925 Colonial Revival on Gosnold Avenue (Norfolk), even down to the tapered spindles and center post. Lone difference is, we had three spindles per tread, where this has two. Nary a soul entered that reception hall without making a nice comment about the beauty of that staircase.

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"This is one of the simpler lines, very economical in construction."

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Not my favorite, but it must be a design of enduring appeal, because I've seen it in many post-WW2 houses. Original caption says the "sturdy lines of English architecture are faithfully retained in this beautiful stairway."

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"The unusual feature is the handrail is mitered into the newel cap." Makes sliding down a bannister much easier (and less painful). Although it's a mighty short run.

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"For real charm and beauty, a winding stairs can not be excelled."

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"This Colonial stairway is very impressive." I agree. Check out the phone niche.

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In the 1920s, we seemed to have more of an understanding that it was important to surround yourself with beauty. Modern staircases are not just utilitarian; theyre ugly as sin.

The image on the left is from a $500,000 house currently for sale in Hampton Roads. The image on the right was a very simple design offered in the 1927 "Builders' Woodwork" catalog. In the 1920s, we seemed understand that low-priced and simple didn't have to equate with cheap and ugly.

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To end on a happy note, I've always loved old houses, and that's due in large part to my mother, an artist, who always felt it was important to surround herself with beauty and light and color. She's shown here, sitting on the beautiful staircase of our Colonial Revival home in Waterview (Portsmouth, Virginia). It was about 1968, and she's holding "Bernard," a mutt she'd recently adopted from the local SPCA.

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To read Permanent Furniture, Part I, click here.

To read one of the most popular blogs at this site (featuring a beautiful staircase), click here.

Ready for a change of pace? Read about a really spooky basement here.

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Permanent Furniture: Fireplace Nooks

December 2nd, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

In this continuing series of “Images From The Awesome Old Architecture Books of Awesome Historian Bill Inge,” the next fun topic is “Permanent Furniture.”

While browsing through Bill’s “Builders’ Woodwork” catalog (1927), I was intrigued by this phrase, and found that it was a reference to built-in bookcases, nooks, and fireplace seats.

And my oh my, they are beautiful!

“Permanent Furniture” is also a jarring reminder that, despite our so-called progressive views on recycling, our not-so-distant ancestors did far better in preserving and respecting our country’s resources. I suspect they’d be scandalized if they saw a modern HGTV program, which seems to advocate disposing of anything in a house that’s more than 20 years old.

I shudder to think how much early 20th Century “Permanent Furniture” is sitting in a landfill somewhere, having been tossed into the waste stream for no other reason than the fact that it looked “dated,” or “old-fashioned.” And the modern home improvement shows fuel the fire, encouraging folks to rip out and replace anything that isn’t “up-to-date.” It takes “keeping up with the Joneses’” to a whole new level of insanity (and debt).

But don’t get me stated on HGTV. If I were queen of the world (and it shouldn’t be long now), I’d have that show and its ilk banned from the airwaves.

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Bill loaned me this book on one condition. "Don't drool on the pages," he said with a degree of gravitas, "because trust me, you're going to love these 1920s images."

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"The various items...have been designed for service and simple dignity." I not only loved the photos, I loved the accompanying descriptions, too. Beautifully said.

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Looks like a "Hospitality Seat" made it into the living room. I'm not sure how practical this one is, but it sure is lovely to look at. The woodwork is stunning.

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Simple, but dignified, as promised. This set-up was very common in so many early 20th Century houses and it creates such an inviting look. What could possibly be better than streaming sunlight, a warm fire and a good book?

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For those who don't own a lot of books, and like really big pillows...

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Apparently, Spanish homeowners prefer their guests to stand. Maybe it inspires them to leave faster.

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Room for lots and lots of books! I do love the look of this. The oak wainscoting would be dark, but dignified.

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Most of these fireplaces have the lights over the mantel, whereas this has sconces on the side walls. The original caption says that this fireplace "is very artistic with its Tudor Gothic arch."

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Despite the fact that this arrangement may be a little too toasty, I think it's my favorite. I love how the wainscoting blends right in with the seat backs. Looks like there's storage within those benches.

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A classic look for early 20th Century Colonial Revivals.

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Another Colonial-esque mantel with flanking bookcases. The original caption says that the “sliding curtain is very practical.” I guess it’s a good idea for when your illiterate friends visit and you don’t want them to know you’re a bibliophile. The mirror looks like it’s draped with black crepe, but I don’t think that’s what it really is.

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I love how they have a picture of a Spanish mission house over the mantel. Just in case you were wondering which style of mantel this house is designed for...

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This image is from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. It's the fireplace nook for the Sears Ashmore. Pretty fancy for a "simple little kit house."

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Last but not least, here's some "permanent furniture" in a Sears Osborne in Illinois.

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To read about built-in phone niches, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

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