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Posts Tagged ‘alvah roebuck’

Sometimes, It Takes a Village of Historians to Document a Hillrose…

February 5th, 2016 Sears Homes No comments

Until just a few months ago, I’d never seen a 1920s Sears Hillrose in real life. And then in August 2015, I had the delightful opportunity to visit a stunning Hillrose in Brandy Station, Virginia. Shortly after I wrote that blog, Greg Decker and Carrie Milam (from our Sears Homes Facebook group) discovered a Hillrose in Griffith, Indiana, and took a plethora of first-class photos!

Next, Rachel Shoemaker had the presence of mind to check Rebecca Hunter’s wonderful book, “Putting Sears Homes on the Map,” and found two more of this very same model in Convoy, Ohio and nearby Antwerp, Ohio. Fuzzy online images of the Sears Hillrose in Convoy really piqued my interest: It appeared to be in mostly original condition.

Next, I contacted the County Economic Development Officer in nearby Van Wert, Ohio, who forwarded my email to Adam Ries, with Main Street Van Wert Inc., who contacted Larry Webb at the Van Wert County Historical Society. Mr Webb was kind enough to run out to the house in Convoy and photograph the house from several angles.

Now if I could just get some photos of that Hillrose in Antwerp!

When the Hillrose was first offered, it was known as a “prize winner.” Read more about that here.

Thanks again to Larry Webb for these wonderful photos.
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The Hillrose, as seen in the 1916 Modern Homes catalog.

The Hillrose, as seen in the 1916 Modern Homes catalog.

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As you can see from these floor plans, it was an unusually spacious house.

As you can see from these floor plans, it was an unusually spacious house.

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Its a house with several distinctive features, making it easy to spot.

It's a house with several distinctive features, such as that slender window in the upstairs closet, the large squared bay at the rear and the off-center front door. The spacious porch with the flared columns is also eye-catching, but sometimes, porches get dramatically altered through the years.

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Many thanks to

Now that's a fine-looking house. It's so rare to find these 100-year-old houses in original condition. Yes, the house needs a little sprucing up, but it's a rarity and a real gem in a world filled with HGVT-crazed homeowners. Many thanks to Larry Webb at the Van Wert County Historical Society for providing these photos.

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My goodness, what a house.

My goodness, what a house. Once you see a house "in the flesh," it becomes infinitely easier to identify other models out in the world. Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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From the homes side

These Sears Homes had cypress clapboards and window trim. Even without paint, this siding will endure for many years. However, it appears that the current owners are painting this classic old foursquare. Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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What a glorious find on a road that literally straddles Indiana and Ohio. And quite a testament to old-fashioned paint, that would hang on through the decades! Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Mr. Webb had the presence of mind to photograph this home from the rear!

Mr. Webb had the presence of mind to photograph this home from the rear! This angle shows (again) how delightfully original this Hillrose is, with an original wooden storm door on the back porch. Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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If you compare the floor plan to the Hillrose, you'll see how delightfully original this old kit house truly is. Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And if you look really close, youll see another relic of a bygone era: A cistern.

And if you look really close, you'll see another relic of a bygone era: A cistern. See how the rounded downspout disappears into the ground, and the concrete pad on top of that area? Odds are good that this was an underground cistern (typically lined with brick) and this water was used for washing clothes, as it was the softest water imaginable. The beautiful old hand pump in the foreground may have been piped into that cistern. Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Last but not least, there's another Hillrose about 20 miles due north of our Hillrose in Convoy, Ohio. If someone could just hop in their Sears Allstate sedan and run up to Antwerp and get that photo...

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Thanks to Rebecca Hunter, Rachel was able to locate those two Hillroses in Ohio! This is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.

Thanks to Rebecca Hunter's well-researched book, Rachel was able to locate those two Hillroses in Ohio! This is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.

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Here's the Hillrose that Carrie Milam and Greg Decker found in Griffith, Indiana. Sadly, the front porch is MIA. Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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When the Hillrose was first offered, it was known as a “prize winner.” Read more about that here.

Read about the Hillrose in Brandy Station here.

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And a Hillrose in Griffith, Indiana!

January 1st, 2016 Sears Homes No comments

A couple days ago, I did a “preview” blog on a stunning Hillrose in Brandy Station, Virginia (about three hours north of my home in Norfolk), and posted it in our Facebook group, Sears Homes, together with a blurb saying that there were other Hillroses in Griffith (Indiana), Alvada (Ohio), Stratford (Iowa), Waterman (Illinois), and Houghton (New York).

A long-time member of that group - Carrie Milam - spoke right up and offered to go find the Hillrose in Griffith, Indiana. I was tickled pink, as the Hillrose in Brandy Station was the only Sears “Hillrose” I’d ever seen.

Here’s the thing: Folks often promise to “go find that house” and I never hear back from them, but Carrie and her husband Greg jumped right in their car and started hunting for the house. Carrie said that it took about an hour to find our missing (and forgotten) Hillrose.

The house in Griffith has endured many changes in the last 95 years, but it’s still standing.

Thanks so much to Carrie Milam and Greg Decker for supplying the photos!

To read more about the Hillrose in Brandy Station, click here.

Why is the Hillrose such a prize? Read about it here.

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The Hillrose, as seen in the 1918 catalog.

The Hillrose, as seen in the 1918 catalog.

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And weve still got a few missing!

And we've still got a few missing!

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1916

It's a distinctive house with some remarkable features, such as that oversized bay with three windows and a wide attic dormer with a small squared window. The window arrangement on the 2nd floor is also unique. It's unusual for a foursquare of this vintage to have two sets of three windows (with the widest window in the center), and smaller windows on the first floor. In other words, this house should be easy to spot!

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Lots of nice features inside too, such as a wash room for the hired hands (1918).

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Upstairs

There are four bedrooms upstairs, but they're not too big.

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Sweet thing, isnt it?

Sweet thing, isn't it?

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And here it is in Griffith, Indiana, on North Harvey Street.

And here it is in Griffith, Indiana. It's been through many changes, but I'd bet my hat that it's a Hillrose. Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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A close-up on that bay shows that the details are right.

A close-up on that bay shows that the details are right. In place of the diminutive small window (between the two long windows), there's a full-size window, but it's altogether possible that the house was built this way. The smaller window (shown in the catalog image) probably got swallowed up by that large addition on the rear. Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Long

If you look down that left side and compare it to the floorplan, you can see that it's a good match. There's a tiny window in that closet (between the two large rooms on the left). Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Hillrose in Brandy Station (shown on the right) has a door at the end of that first floor hallway, and a small porch has been added to the side of the house.

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The 2nd floor is also a good match to the floorplan. That small window on the 2nd floor is a landing window. Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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So what happened to the porch?

So what happened to the porch?

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The Hillrose in Brandy Station still has its magnificent porch

The Hillrose in Brandy Station still has its magnificent porch but it's endured some significant repairs through the years. What a pity that the Hillrose in Indiana suffered a porchectomy. That's a grievous loss for a foursquare.

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The vinyl-siding installers also had their way with the attic window.

The vinyl-siding installers also had their way with the attic window. Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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With a little bit different angle provided by Google maps, you can see its definintely a Hillrose dormer.

With a little bit different angle provided by Google maps, you can see it's definitely a Hillrose dormer.

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Perhaps one day, the home's happy owners might consider restoring the front porch. That brick decking is a puzzle, as it looks newer than the home, and yet it appears to have the same footprint as the original porch. Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Just around the corner from the Hillrose, Carrie and Greg found this darling Sears Crescent.

Just around the corner from the Hillrose, Carrie and Greg found this darling Sears Crescent. Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Nice match, isnt it? (1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog)

Nice match, isn't it? (1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog)

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So where are those other Hillroses?  :D

So where are those other Hillroses? :D

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Thanks again to Carrie and Greg for finding this house and providing the wonderful photos.

To read more about the Hillrose in Brandy Station, click here.

Why is the Hillrose such a prize? Read about it here.

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Something For My “Wish List”

December 3rd, 2015 Sears Homes 2 comments

Updated! Jennifer found one!

Of the 370 models of kit homes offered by Sears & Roebuck, there are about 150 models that I’ve never seen. One of the most intriguing is the “Monterey.” It was very similar to the highly popular Sears Alhambra, but with a few minor differences, both inside and out.

The Monterey was offered only in the 1924 catalog, which is a fairly rare catalog. The Alhambra was offered for about a decade and proved to be highly popular and yet its “kissing cousin” seems to have never caught on. And of the two houses, I’d think the Monterey would be more popular.

One very commen complaint about the Alhambra is that roof leaks behind those dormers are very common (see image below), and “crickets” have to be added to deflect rain water away from the dormers. If you look at the photos below, you’ll see that the Monterey was designed with those crickets already in place. And the Monterey has a gabled roof over the staircase wing, rather than a flat roof (like the Alhambra).

I’m a big fan of the Alhambra but the Monterey’s dramatic parapet is snazzier and more appealing. And to think that I’ve never seen one in real life! The humanity!

Is there a Sears Monterey in your neighborhood?

If so, please let me know.

To read more about The Alhambra, click here.

Do you have a Sears Home? Learn more here.

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The Sears Monterey was offered only in the 1924 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Sears Monterey was offered only in the 1924 Sears Modern Homes catalog, which might be one reason why there aren't many of these (if any) in the world.

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In this image, you can see the cricket behind that dormer.

In this image, you can see the "cricket" behind that dormer, which deflects rain water and helps prevent leaks behind that dormer. Plus, that staircase wing has a gabled roof, instead of the flat roof present on the Alhambra.

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Its very close to the Sears Alhambra, and in the 1924 catalog, theyre on opposing sides of the same page.

The Monterey is very similar to the Sears Alhambra, and in the 1924 catalog, they're on opposing sides of the same two-page spread. The "interior photos" are apparently a fit for either the Monterey or Alhambra.

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A side-by-side comparison of the two floor plans show some minor differences of the two houses.

A side-by-side comparison of the two floor plans show some minor differences of the two houses. The Monterey is on the right. The most striking difference is that someone moved the baby grand piano.

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There are several differences on the second floor, too.

In this image, the Monterey is on the left side (oops), and the Alhambra is on the right. One curiosity is that bathroom. In the Monterey, the sink was placed in what seems to be a very awkward spot. Closets have also been shifted around a bit.

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That living room is just dazzling, and I love the chaise on the sunporch. That floor lamp with the fringe is pretty sweet too, and who doesn't love pink curtains? The 1924 catalog had several color images (such as shown on this blog) and yet it's a fairly rare catalog.

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I wonder how often people followed the color suggestions for these homes.

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Sears

Now that is a fine-looking house! I'd love to find one - somewhere.

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To read more about The Alhambra, click here.

Do you have a Sears Home? Learn more here.

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Peace Pipes and Fourplexes: The Calumet

October 24th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

The Calumet is a rare Sears kit house that was offered for a brief time in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Sears did offer a few apartment buildings (yes, as kits), and the Calumet was one of them. My favorite feature of the Sears Calumet is the wall-bed, and the Calumet had two wall beds per unit.

The bed frame was included in the kit (but not the mattress).

It’s also interesting to note that the word Calumet comes from the Latin word calamellus, meaning “little reed.”  According to my online dictionary, a calumet is a “ceremonial smoking pipe, traditionally smoked to seal a covenant or treaty, or to offer prayers in a religious ceremony.”

Next time you’re watching TV with your friends and an Indian starts smoking a peace pipe, you can exclaim, “Why, he’s smoking a calumet!”

They’ll be so impressed with your esoteric knowledge!

Want to learn more about Murphy Beds (Wall Beds)? Click here!

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The Calumet, as seen in the 1918 catalog.

I just love the math: 20 rooms in 12! How do they do it? :)

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The Calumet, as seen on Wikipedia.

The Calumet, as seen on Wikipedia.

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The Calumets had four porches, each with their own coal bin, whichwas nothing more than a small bin. Not nearly as luxurious as it sounds. Plus, it has "handy closets." I wonder which model had the "unhandy closets"?

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That would have been a heck of a kit house!

That would have been a heck of a kit house!

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Bloomintong

Notice that the wall beds have their own windows - in a closet!

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The Calumet - as seen in the 1918 catalog.

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The only Calumet Ive ever seen - and its in Bloomington, IL.

The only Calumet I've ever seen - and it's in Bloomington, IL. You can see those two "closet-bed windows" on the right side. Sadly, the second-story porches are long gone. That first step outside of those 2nd floor doors is a doozy!

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Do you think that the wallbed in the Calumet *ever* looked as good as it did in this accompanying image? I kinda doubt it!

Do you think that the wallbed in the Calumet *ever* looked as good as it did in this accompanying image? I kinda doubt it!

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In another catalog promotion, Sears promises that folding up that wall bed is so easy even a child can do it.

In another catalog promotion, Sears promises that folding up that wall bed is so easy even a child can do it.

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In the silent short film (1:00 a.m.), Charlie Chaplin does battle with a recalcitrant wall bed (also known as a murphy bed).

In the silent short film (title, "1:00 a.m."), Charlie Chaplin does battle with a recalcitrant wall bed (also known as a murphy bed). The full video (about 10 minutes) is at youtube. See link below.

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To see the Charlie Chaplin short, click here.

To read another fascinating blog, click here.

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Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Where Are You, My Little Springfield Pretty?

August 13th, 2014 Sears Homes 7 comments

Springfield Missouri is home to Sears Modern Home #177, which is very exciting to me, because this is a model that has never been seen “in the flesh,” by me, Rachel, Rebecca or Dale.

And it’s quite an unusual house, so it should be easy to spot.

Later this year, I’ll be traveling through central Missouri, and I’m going to make a special stop in Springfield, Missouri.

Just to see this house.

But before embarking on this wild house chase, I’ve been perusing* google maps, striving to find at least a NEIGHBORHOOD where this house might sit. Heretofore, I’ve been largely unsuccessful. So if you live in or near Springfield and have any idea where I might find this house, please give me a hint?

Thanks!

Hopefully, a few weeks from now, I’ll be able to post a picture of Sears Modern Home #177!

To read about the cool houses I recently found in Jacksonville, IL, click here.


What do those marks on the lumber of a kit house really mean?

*Perusing is one of the MOST misused words in the English language. It means “to study intensely.”

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Sears Modern Home 177, as seen in the 1916 catalog.

Sears Modern Home 177, as seen in the 1916 catalog.

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Quite a house, and its one Ive never seen.

Quite a house, and it's one I've never seen.

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And theres one in Springfield, Missouri, but WHERE?

And there's one in Springfield, Missouri, but WHERE?

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Nice floorplan, too!

Nice floorplan, too!

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this

There's a Niota, too but it's not nearly as exciting as the #177!

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And thanks to Rachels ability to sniff out a Sears House from 200 miles away, weve already located the Niota!

And thanks to Rachel's ability to sniff out a Sears House from 200 miles away, we've already located the Niota! She found this on Webster Avenue, but no sign of Modern Home #177!

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So where is Sears Modern Home #177?

I’d love to know!

Contact Rose by leaving a commment below!

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What do those marks on the lumber of a kit house really mean?

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William & Mary College and Kit Homes

October 28th, 2013 Sears Homes 12 comments

Recently, I was on the William and Mary College campus doing research on Penniman, Virginia. (You can read more about that here.)

As part of the research, I was reading through the early 1920s college yearbooks and happened upon an interesting photo in the 1922 yearbook, “The Colonial Echo.” It was a picture of the Theta Delta Chi fraternity fellows, seated in front of their fraternity house, an Aladdin Colonial.

How apropos, I thought to myself! What else would you buy for a college campus in a famous colonial town, but THE Colonial?

For first-time visitors to this site, Aladdin was a kit home company that (like Sears), sold entire kit houses through mail order catalogs in the early 20th Century. Each kit came with 10,000-12,000 pieces of house, and included a detailed instruction book, designed for the novice homebuilder.

Update: Andrew Mutch has found the house, but it’s not happy news.

Our Aladdin Colonial, aka “The Clark House” (located on Jamestown Avenue) was demolished in 2004.

A press release put out by the college in 2004 said the house was built in 1911 and had been deemed “physically unsound” ten years prior (1994).

Ding, ding, ding, nice try and thanks for playing.

The Colonial first appeared in the 1915 “Aladdin Houses” catalog for a price of $1,980, but the Colonial on the W&M campus was built in 1920 or 1921 (based on info gleaned from the college yearbooks). This means the 1911 date is quite a boo boo.

As to the “physically unsound” part, I have serious reservations about that, too.

It’s a good thing they got rid of that early 20th Century kit home with all that first-growth southern yellow pine from virgin forests, and those oily old cypress clapboards.

Not.

This was an egregious waste of America’s irreplaceable and most-precious resources. Approximately 30% of all waste found in landfills is construction debris. Doesn’t make much sense to fill a campus with recycling receptacles for paper, plastic and aluminum if you’re going to send 350,000 pounds of architectural history to the landfill.

Images of the 1922 William and Mary “Echo” came from www.archive.org.  If you have several hours to kill, I highly recommend their site!

And - again - many thanks to Rachel for finding these high-resolution images at archive.org!

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Words

While looking through the 1922 "Colonial Echo," I found a most interesting picture!

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Words

The full page from the 1922 "Echo" shows the Theta Delta Chi gang, seated in front of their freshly built Aladdin Colonial! Wouldn't it be interesting to know if these fellows assembled that Aladdin kit house on their own!

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What a beautiful

What a beautiful house! The Colonial was first offered in 1915. The image above is from the 1922 "Colonial Echo," so it's possible that the house was newly built (which may be why it merited its own photograph). I wonder how long it was used as the house for Theta Delta Chi?

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The Aladdin Colonial, as seen in the 1919 Aladdin Homes catalog.

The Aladdin Colonial, as seen in the 1919 Aladdin Homes catalog.

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Heres an Aladdin Colonial in Roanoke Rapids, NC.

Here's an Aladdin Colonial in Roanoke Rapids, NC.

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Rachel

Rachel Shoemaker, researcher extraordinaire, found this picture (also at archive.org) of the Theta Delta Chi boys gathered around the front porch of their newly built Aladdin Colonial in 1921 (from "The Colonial Echo" 1921). In prior years, the frat boys were photographed in front of a different (older) house. I would love to know - did these guys BUILD this house? What a pity that W&M saw fit to destroy this house in 2004. An aside, with 15 minutes of searching the yearbooks, Rachel figured out that this house was built in 1920 or 1921.

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In addition to the

In addition to the Aladdin Colonial shown above, Williamsburg also has a Sears kit home, "The Oak Park" (shown above). (Vintage image is from the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.)

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And just down the street is this Wardway Mayflower. How appropos!

And just down the street is this Wardway "Mayflower." How apropos!

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To learn more about kit homes, click here.

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What Do George Bailey and Sears Roebuck Have in Common?

July 19th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

One of my favorite movies is the Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Many folks think it’s a movie about one man’s life making a difference in this world, but I saw it a different way. I saw it as a movie that explained why homeownership is so important.

In the first years of the 20th Century, magazines and newspapers of the day declared that Americans had a patriotic duty to be homeowners. It was well-understood that home ownership was a boon to individuals and their families, but the “patriotic” angle made the point that homeownership also benefited neighborhoods and communities, and by extension, it benefited cities and even the country, as a whole.

To put a contemporary spin on this, what better modern-day model do we have than Detroit? How much of Detroit is now rental (non-owner occupied)? Despite 30 minutes of searching, I wasn’t able to find an answer, but I’d guess it’s a lot. (Heck, how much of Detroit’s housing is just not occupied by anyone?)

The early Sears Modern Homes catalogs made this point in a variety of ways, but in short it said 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 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.

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

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

I’m of the opinion that Sears was, to small communities in the Midwest, what George Bailey was to Bedford Falls.

Sears empowered and enabled tens of thousands of working-class and immigrant families to build their own home. What would countless Midwestern towns have become without Sears homes?

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

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

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In the movie, Its a Wonderful Life, the real heroes are the people who kept this little Building and Loan afloat, enabling countless residents to become homeowners.

In the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life," the real heroes are the people who kept this little Building and Loan afloat, enabling countless residents to become homeowners.

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In the end, George realized he had a wonderful life because he had touched so many peoples lives, enabling them to become homeowners. He saw that his town would have collapsed into blight had it not been for Bailey Brothers Building and Loan.

George realized he had a wonderful life because he had touched so many people's lives, enabling them to become homeowners. The angel ("Clarence") showed George that Bedford Falls would have collapsed into blight had it not been for Bailey Brother's Building and Loan.

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The value of homeownenrship was also touted in

The value of homeownership was also touted in the front pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalog (1921).

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Father is throwing out rent receipts - because theyre worthless - whilst dreaming of his very own home.

Father is throwing out rent receipts - because they're worthless - whilst dreaming of his very own home.

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Meanwhile, Father and Mother are dreaming of owning their very own Sears Hathaway.

Meanwhile, Father and Mother are dreaming of owning their very own Sears Hathaway. Even the little girl is lost in bliss! Is there a Hathaway in Lima, Ohio? It'd be fun to know!

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A real live Hathaway in Hampton, Virginia (Old Wythe section).

A real live Hathaway in Hampton, Virginia (Old Wythe section).

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

Learn more about the biggest and best Sears Home by clicking here!

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Mini Mystery on the Majestic Maggy: SOLVED!

July 15th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

Subtitled: How Time Changes Old Houses

In a few weeks, I’m taking a road trip to visit a Sears Magnolia. In preparation for the trip, I’ve been studying the floor plan, and happened upon a little mystery that has had me (and many others in our Facebook group) stumped!

Take a look!

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Floor plan shows

This is the 2nd floor of the Magnolia. The image is reversed (flipped) for reasons that will become evident later on. The mystery is that oval within a square in the dressing room (center room on the front). The dressing room was off the Master Bedroom, and there's a spot for dresses and hats, but what does the oval/square represent?

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House

At first glance, it looks like a sink but why would there be a sink so far from the rest of the plumbing (kitchen and baths)? And on the front of the house? The bathrooms (second floor) were on top of the kitchen (first floor) to conserve plumbing runs, which is typical. Plus, I studied several exterior photos of different Magnolias and couldn't see a vent pipe in the front roof area. That, coupled with the odd placement (far from kitchens and baths) ruled out plumbing. This dressing room is directly over the entry foyer, which ruled out laundry chute. Chutes were usually found in common areas (hallways, bathrooms).

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Cinderella

And then I found the answer is an unlikely place: The Ascetic Cinderella. This was one of the simplest little houses that Sears offered in their "Honor Bilt" line. It had only one bedroom, but it recommended that fold-away beds be used in the living room and dining room, and included a dressing room for stowage of beds.

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Common

The 1921 catalog featured a two-page spread on this simple bungalow.

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sinking feeling

And there in the corner of the dressing room (which housed the fold-away beds), was a tiny corner sink.

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plumbing runs be damned

The Cinderella was a very low-priced house, and yet, they ran plumbing lines from at least 25-feet away (the kitchen) to a lone fixture at the front of the house.

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simple

In fact, a close-up of one of the images in the 1921 catalog shows the dressing room with that corner sink. Presumably, Miss Cindy Lou (aka "The Little Lady") has rinsed out her unmentionables in the small sink, and is preparing to hang them up on the closet pole to her immediate left.

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All of which leads

All of which leads me to believe that the mystery oval within a square shown on the Magnolia's floor plan is indeed a sink. In fact, judging by the way it's drawn, I'm guessing it'd be a pedestal sink. After all, if they can stick a wee tiny sink on the front corner of the Cinderella's dressing room, then it seems likely they did the same (with a better sink) in the Magnolia's dressing room.

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And take a look at this thing.

And take a look at this thing. It's literally up against the door frame that leads to the front balcony. What a curious place for a pedestal sink. And the wall behind the sink is a little extra thick, which probably provides a chase for the plumbing to run over to the bathroom lines and join up there.

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lady

If we place Miss Cindy Lou in the Master Bedroom of the Magnolia (she likes the Magnolia a lot better than that CLH above), you'll see that she has quite a hike over to the family bathroom. And you'll see that these two front bedrooms are isolated from each other, so she can't even take the short cut through the other bedroom and into the bath. And maybe she has "unmentionables" that she needs to wash out each night that she doesn't wish to have seen in the family bathroom.

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Magnolia

Years ago, I had an opportunity to see a Magnolia with a second floor that had been "frozen in time" after World War II. Upstairs, they had created an apartment by taking out a wall and installing this prefab kitchen sink. The door on the right leads out to the 2nd floor balcony and the window to the left is the small window that originally was part of the bedroom closet. This photo was further affirmation that there was a sink in that dressing room. This kitchen sink is placed just where the old pedestal sink would have sat. If you had to add a kitchen to an old house, you'd pull out the pedestal sink and stick in your new (1940s) kitchen unit. Which is just what they did.

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The red line represents the placement of the wall that was removed in order to install this kitchen sink.

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What they did

If you turn that floor plan around, so it's facing in the same direction as the image above, you can get a better idea of what's going on above. The Master Bedroom is to the right, and if you walked into that dressing room, you'd have a hat shelf on the left side of the dressing room and your pedestal sink would be on the far right - right up against that balcony door (which is a really quirky design). The blue line represents the placement of the 1940s pre-fab kitchen sink and the pink X's show the wall that was removed, creating a walk-through between the two rooms. The red star shows where I was standing when I took the photo above. :)

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Comparing these two images, you can get an idea of how it all went together. The red line on the left shows the placement of the 1920s wall, and the blue square shows the placement of the modern sink.

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How

And if you look at the molding above that small window, you'll see that it's missing a corner. I suspect that it was built that way, to accommodate the extra-thick chase wall there (between the bedroom closet and the Master Bedroom dressing room).

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This is an original "Family Bathroom" Sears Magnolia pedestal sink. Most likely, this was the same sink that was present in that Master Bedroom dressing room. Note how the plumbing lines come up out of the floor, rather than through the rear wall.

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The Magnolia was only offered from 1918 - 1922.

The Magnolia was only offered from 1918 - 1922 (1918 catalog shown above). We know of only eight Magnolias that were built, and one of them (in Nebraska) was razed in 1985.

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Here's a real live Magnolia in Canton, Ohio, and it's in beautiful condition! Photo is copyright 2011 Janet Hess LaMonica and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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In conclusion, I’m now confident that the “oval within a square” shown on the floorplan is a sink. And apparently, placing a small sink in a dressing room was not uncommon in the 1920s.

If any readers know the reasons behind placing a small sink in a front bedroom, I’d love to know!

To read more about the Magnolia, click here.

Interested in learning about the Cinderella? Click here.

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Alhambra Abuse

May 14th, 2013 Sears Homes 6 comments

The Alhambra was a fine-looking Spanish-flavored bungalow, and a very popular model for Sears.

However…

In my travels, I’ve seen these little pretties subjected to all manner of abuse.

The most egregious abuse is typically inflicted by vinyl-siding peddlers, those plastic-pushing pernicious parasites who roam the country, seeking whom they may devour with their polyvinyl chloride products of pestilence.

Not that I have strong feelings about this, mind you.

Several years ago, a vinyl-siding salesman appeared at the door of my 1925 Colonial Revival home, asking me if I was getting tired of painting the old cypress clapboards. He said he had a product that would make my house “maintenance free,” and asked if I’d like an estimate.

“Mister,” I said in a low growl, “You just need to back away very slowly, for BOTH of our sakes. Now just be on your way, and don’t ever EVER come back.”

I never did see him again. And that’s a good thing.

When applied to older homes, vinyl siding is very damaging to old houses, and can trap moisture between interior and exterior walls, causing mold, mildew, bug infestation and eventually wood rot.

In “The Vinyl Lie” (an article that can be found here),  Architectural Conservator Gary Kleier writes,

During the installation of vinyl siding a layer of styrene insulation board is applied over the wood siding, and the vinyl siding is applied to that. This insulation board forms an effective barrier to the passage of water vapor, thereby trapping it within the wall. During the winter months this water vapor will condense to liquid water and began rotting the wood materials. Over a period of years the structural integrity of the exterior walls can be completely destroyed. Further, the presence of deteriorating wood has been shown to attract termites and other wood attacking insects.

Gary specializes in restoration architecture and architectural forensic service. You can visit his website here.

To read some VERY well-done articles on the damage of substitute siding on older homes, click here.

Or read the full text of Gary’s article here.

To see a WONDERFUL documentary on the damage that vinyl causes, click here.

Click here to see some pretty Alhambras!

If you’d like to spend several days reading articles on how much damage vinyl siding does to an older home, google the words, “benefits of removing vinyl” plus “historic home.”

If you’d like to see what happens to the curb appeal of houses with vinyl siding, scroll on down.

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The Alhambra

The Alhambra, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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Its unique floorplan makes it easy to identify!

It's unique floorplan makes it easy to identify!

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Lets start by showing a VERY pretty Alhambra (in Gaffney, SC).

Let's start by showing a VERY pretty Alhambra (in Gaffney, SC). What a fine-looking house!

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Oh man.

Oh man. that's really, really bad. And this time, it wasn't the vinyl siding salesman that ruined the home's original beauty. No, this house was attacked by an older version of the VSS. This house was attacked by a real ASS! (Aluminum Siding Salesman). Location: Ohio.

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Eek.

Somewhere in Ohio, an Alhambra is missing its identify.

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Ouch. Again.

Ouch. Again. By enclosing the front porch, they made those distinctive front windows disappear. They're still visible inside the house. Can this house be restored to its original appearance? Yes, but it'd be a whole lot of work. Location: Wisconsin.

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Yikes.

Substitute sidings wreak havoc on historic homes. Location: Michigan.

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Somewhere in Washington, DC, an architect has lost his mind.

Somewhere in Washington, DC, an architect has lost his mind. Yes Virginia, this is a Sears Alhambra. Or was. Gosh, I'm sure this house is MUCH more valuable now!!! NOT.

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And lets close on a happy note. One of my Top Ten All-Time Favorite Alhambras. This beauty is in Lexington, VA.

And let's close on a happy note. One of my Top Ten All-Time Favorite Alhambras. This beauty is in Lexington, VA. Notice the fan light over the door! And it still has its original downspouts. Beautiful!

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To read more about Alhambras, click here.

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The Things We Do For Love (of Sears Homes)

May 9th, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

As a sensitive youngster, Fred Rogers (the “Mr. Rogers”) would sometimes become alarmed when he heard about bad things happening in the world. His mother comforted Fred by telling him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

It saddens me to think about how many Sears Homes have been razed or lost to horrific and insensitive remodeling.

In the world of historic architecture, where the losses are much bigger than the wins, it’s really important to “look for the helpers.”

One such helper is a man in Georgetown, Texas named Will Moore.

Will is a builder from that area, and in 2006, he learned that a Sears Avondale was in trouble. Some local folks owned the lot underneath the Avondale, and it was their intention to move the Avondale out “to the country,” so they could build their own home on the city lot.

Will had a sinking feeling that the little Avondale would not fare well, sitting out in a field, far from town, perhaps forlorn and forgotten. He negotiated a deal with the home’s owners and purchased the house, and had it moved six blocks over to a lot he owned on Elm Street.

That was 2006. Seven years later, he’s still working on the 1,600-square foot bungalow, pouring a whole lot of time, energy and money into the old Sears House.

“It’s been a lot of work,” he told me during a recent phone conversation, “And there have been a lot of issues. Some people might say call them ‘headaches,’ but I’m glad I did this. I saved the house. I’m a real history buff and a preservationist, and that’s the reason that I did this.”

And before the house could be moved, someone had to shave off those beautiful oversized eaves.

Will explains,

The city told me the house could only be thirty feet wide for the move, so I had to cut the eaves off both sides of the house to comply.And of course, the chimney, the front porch and the brick foundation were all knocked down to make the move. Those three items, plus the rebuilding of the roof, took a couple years to complete.

Presently, the home is still under renovation. After rebuilding the roof, the chimney, the porch, and finding matching brick for the underpinning, I have concentrated on the exterior. At sometime during its past life, the home was covered with vinyl siding. When I removed that, I found the underlying siding to be in such a state that it all needed to be replaced.

That required all the old siding to be removed, along with the window, door and corner trim. Additionally, code requirements would not allow me to use the original windows, and I have replaced those with new, but using the original design.

The new siding will be Hardieplank, but with small exposure. Even with new siding and efficient windows, the facade of the home will be very much in keeping with the 1914 look. In order to allow for modern efficiency, I blew insulation into the walls while I had the exterior exposed.

Will has promised to provide more photos as the restoration continues. And I’ve also asked for a few interior photos.

I hope someday I can make it down to Georgetown and meet this fellow, who has done so much for this wonderful old kit house, and who has done so much to save a historic structure in his community.

The news of Will’s faithful restoration of this old house has brought me much joy.

Will Moore of Georgetown, Texas is definitely, one of the “Helpers.”

To read more about the Avondale, click here.

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The Sears Avondale was one of Sears most popular homes.

The Sears Avondale was one of Sears most popular homes. The Avondale was built as a model home for the Illinois State Fair (in Springfield) in 1909, and was wholly furnished with items from the 1,400-page Sears and Roebuck catalog. Pre-1918, Sears Homes had model numbers instead of names, so for this postcard, it was identified as merely a "bungalow."

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Another postcard shows the fancy interior of the Avondale.

Another postcard shows the fancy interior of the Avondale (with all those furnishings from Sears). The dining room was unusually large for a typical Sears House, measuring 23 x 14 feet.

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The 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog shows the dining room, which was massive.

The 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog shows the living room, which was 21 by 14 feet. The oak columns and screen (on the right) were an upgrade.

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The Avondale was one of Sears larger (and better) homes, with two spacious bedrooms and one teeny tiny bedroom.

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And it was praised by many thousands!

And it was "praised by many thousands"! Was that because it had a croquet set in the front yard?

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Avondale

Sears would ask their customers to send a snapshot of the house after it was completed. Was this the photo that Mr. Logan (the home's original builder) sent to Sears? It might have been. He sure got the angle just right! BTW, is that snow on the roof, in Georgetown, TEXAS?? Photo is courtesy Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Comparison of the Avondales, with the catalog (left) and Mr. Logan's dream home (right).

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But wheres Mr. Logans croquet set?

But why doesn't 's Mr. Logan's house have a croquet set on the front lawn?

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Another shot of Mr. Logans Avondale, shortly after it was built.

Another shot of Mr. Logan's Avondale, shortly after it was built (about 1914 or 1915). And there in the front yard is George Logan Junior's baby buggy. Photo is courtesy Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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George Logan Jr., with his mother on the front porch of the Sears Avondale. The Avondale's current owner, Will Moore, told me that he was present when Mr. Logan (now 92) saw this photo recently. "It was an emotional moment for him," said Will. "He had never seen the photo before." There's so much that's wonderful about this photo, but my favorite part is that Mom is showing Junior a family photo album. And Junior appears to be wholly captivated. Photo is courtesy Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Fast forward about 91 years, and heres a photo of George Logan, Jr., sitting in the kitchen of the Avondale. Shortly after Will Moore purchased the house, Mr. Logan visited Mr. Moore. It was a happy day for both. a visit.

Fast forward about 91 years, and here's a photo of George Logan, Jr., facing the camera. Shortly after Will Moore purchased the house, Mr. Logan visited Mr. Moore. It was a happy day for both. Photo is courtesy Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Avondale, pre-move. Unfortunately, those beautiful eaves had to be shaved off before it could be relocated to its new lot. Photo is copyright 2006 Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another shot of the Avondale, before the move. Photo is copyright 2006 Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Post move, the house is missing its eaves, but the new fireplace is finished, and looks beautiful. Will took out those four stained glass windows and put them in a safe spot. Photo is copyright 2006 Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Tyvek wrap goes up before the new Hardiplank siding goes up. Due to local building codes, Will had to replace the original windows, but he did a good job of matching them to the old windows. The brickwork is all new as well. Photo is copyright 2006 Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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My favorite part of this story was hearing about how much George Logan Jr. enjoyed this old photo of him and his mother, on the front porch of their Avondale. I can only imagine the emotional ties he must have to this old house - the house built by his own father (George Logan Sr.) almost 100 years ago. In fact, this was the very house where George Logan, Jr. was born. These houses are such an important piece of our history, for so many different reasons. Photo is courtesy Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

To read more about why Sears Homes matter, click here.

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