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

February 5th, 2016 Sears Homes 1 comment

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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Orlando in Nebraska

April 4th, 2015 Sears Homes 2 comments

Last year, I was watching the movie “Nebraska” with my daughter Corey, when I asked her to hit pause for a moment. I jumped up, grabbed a camera and took a picture of the tv screen.

My daughter quietly asked, “Sears House?”

Montgomery Ward,” I replied.

We continued with our movie.

As mentioned in a prior blog, I can’t just watch movies or television like normal people. I’m forever looking at the architecture. Doesn’t matter if they’re Sears Homes or not, I like looking at houses. When I was single, I kept hoping to find a dating site that featured pictures of men’s homes, rather than their faces. Some things are so much more important than looks. And then I ended up marrying a guy who lived in a concrete filing cabinet for people.

And then we moved to a fine home after we got married.

Shown below is the house I spotted in the movie “Nebraska.”  As movies go, it was okay, but pretty slow.

However it did have a nice house. Looks like it might be a Montgomery Ward “Orlando.”

Maybe.

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

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Movie

This foursquare was featured in the movie "Nebraska" with Bruce Dern

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Dare I hope

Is it a Montgomery Ward Orlando? Might be.

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Montgomery Ward and Gordon Van Tine were one in the same. Montgomery Ward relied on GVT to handle all facets of sales, from catalog publication to order fulfillment. What's the difference between a Montgomery Ward house and a Gordon Van Tine house? Not much. Image above is from the 1918 catalog.

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I love reading this stuff.

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Classic foursquare, with one difference: No entry foyer. Instead, that extra space is used for a small den or first-floor bedroom. Notice also that it has "good-morning stairs" in the kitchen. Nice touch!

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This is the only Orlando I've ever seen, and it's in Beckley, West Virginia.

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My friend Ersela found this house in Beckley. For years, people had said it was a Sears House. They were close!

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To learn more about Gordon Van Tine, click here.

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To Think That It Happened on Mulberry Street!

September 8th, 2014 Sears Homes 6 comments

Yesterday, my husband and I spent 10+ hours coming back home via “The Vermonter,” an Amtrak train that runs between Washington, DC and Vermont. The train pulled into DC about 11:00 pm last night, and then we got in the car and drove 200 miles home back to Norfolk!

What a long day!

While Hubby and I were in Vermont, I couldn’t resist looking for kit homes in The Green Mountain State. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t find much.

One of the towns we visited was Claremont, New Hampshire (just across the Connecticut River from Vermont). While driving through the older parts of town, I saw a sign that said, “Mulberry Street.”

I told Hubby, “I just know there are some kit homes on Mulberry Street!”

And that’s where I found three kit homes! In fact, those were the only three kit homes I saw in Claremont, New Hampshire.

In this blog, I want to focus on my favorite find: The Sears Castleton. I sure hope the owners know what they have. And this Castleton is in beautiful shape. Despite the harsh New England winters, this house retains its original siding. Looks much like it did when built almost 100 years ago!

Enjoy the photos, and please share the link with other people who love Sears Homes and/or New England!

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

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The Castleton is an easy house to spot.

The Castleton is an easy house to spot. That unusual staircase bay on the side is very distinctive. Also notice the full-length rails on the front porch.

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Those three windows

And those potted plants on the "cheeks" are pretty distinctive too!

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This Castleton was featured in the 1924 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

This Castleton (built by F. W. Grisso) was featured in the 1924 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Fairly spacious house, too.

Little bit different from the classic four-square floor plan.

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Check out that Butlers Pantry! Pretty fancy!

Check out that Butler's Pantry! Pretty fancy!

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Those three windows

Looks like it has box gutters. This may be a not-fully-accurate line drawing, because I don't know of any other Sears House with box gutters.

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Oh yeah, baby! Isnt that a pretty thing!

What a pretty thing! And what a delight to see that it has its original siding!

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A view from the other side.

A view from the other side.

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And just down the street from the Castleton, I found this early 1930s Sears house, The Lorain!

And just down the street from the Castleton, I found this early 1930s Sears house, The Lorain! More on that later!

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Nice match, isnt it?

Nice match, isn't it?

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White the Vermont/New Hampshire area didnt have many Sears Homes, it did have a lot of covered bridges. This one is the Windsor/Cornish Bridge, spanning the Connecticut River.

While the Vermont/New Hampshire area didn't have many Sears Homes, it did have a lot of covered bridges. This one is the Windsor/Cornish Bridge, spanning the Connecticut River.

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To join our Facebook group, “Sears Homes,” click here.

Click here to learn more about how to identify Sears Homes.

Do you know the owners of these houses? Please leave a comment below!

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Where Is This Little House?

July 28th, 2014 Sears Homes 7 comments

Come August 2014, this website will celebrate its fourth birthday, and one of my very first posts at this site was about this little mystery house in Ohio (shown below).

Unfortunately, I never did find this house, or learn anything about the couple in the photo.

I suspect the house is somewhere in Ohio (which is where this post card was sent from) and I’m sure the couple (and their child) have gone on to heaven. The house in this photo was last offered in the mid-1910s Sears catalogs.

The diminutive foursquare is Sears Modern Home #106, and I purchased the post card from eBay in 2002. It cost $3, and I suspect that there weren’t a lot of folks who recognized this little house as Sears House.

If you know where this house is, or if you know the people pictured herein, please drop me a line?

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

And if you live in Ohio, please post this link on your Facebook page!  Maybe we can find this house!

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In 2003, I purchased this post card from eBay. I'd love to know where this house is. I suspect it's somewhere in Ohio, because this postcard was originally found in Ohio.

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Close-up of the little fam in front of the little house. Check out the detail on the porch railing.

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Close up

Extreme close-up of the fam. Dad doesn't look well.

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Number

You can see a house number hiding behind that column.

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Modern Home 106, as seen in the 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Oh dear - where's the potty?

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The house in the photo has an extra dormer on the side, which probably made this small attic room more livable. At least, a *little* more livable!

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Close up

Who are they?

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Have you seen this house? If so, please leave a comment below!

To learn more about the big and fancy Sears models, click here!

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The Home Stretch

March 7th, 2014 Sears Homes 10 comments

Twelve years ago, my life changed in so many ways and it all happened so fast.

January 2002, my beloved mother died suddenly. Less than 60 days later, my husband of 24 years asked for a divorce. Thirty days later, a close friend severed all ties with me. In 90 days, three of the most important people in my life were gone.

And yet a fresh green sprout of hope sprung up in the midst of those charred ashes of my life: My book on Sears Homes.

That book was a lifeline in too many ways to count, and it was an answer to so many prayers.

After the book was published (March 2002), I did some “back of the envelope ciphering” and figured I had enough cash on hand to survive 90 days. If my book had not “taken off” by then, I’d have to do something that scared the heck out of me: Get a real job.

Desperate to stretch my grocery budget, I ate very little and lost a lot of weight.

Sixty days out, I got a call from The New York Times. They were doing a feature story on Sears Homes and they’d heard I’d just written a book. A couple weeks later, my book and I hit the front page of the Real Estate Section. Next, I got a call from a producer at History Detectives. I appeared on the 2nd episode of the first season.

I was off to the races.

Since then, I’ve been featured on CBS Sunday Morning News, A&E’s Biography, MSNBC, BBC Radio, NPR Radio and more. In Summer 2004, my book was featured on Jeopardy!

In the last 12 years, I’ve given more than 200 lectures in 26 states. I’ve traveled many miles spreading the good news of this important and unique chapter in America’s architectural history. And I’ve met so many first-class folks along the way.

It’s truly been a big adventure and a whole lot of fun.

But, as the sophists say, all good things must come to an end.

The last three years, this business venture has not been profitable. The cost of everything keeps going up, and the profit margins keep going down. Three months ago, the last printing of The Houses That Sears Built came off the presses. When those books are gone, that’ll be the end.

In three or four months, the inventory at Amazon.com will be gone, and probably a few months after that, the stock of books I keep here at the house (sold through this website) will be exhausted.

I imagine I’ll never stop looking for kit homes, and I’ll keep writing at this website. Heck, when I’m in my 80s, I’ll probably still be yelling, “STOP THE CAR” to whomever is driving me around.

But the days of printing these books - an important chapter in my life - has come to a close.

If you’d like to purchase my books, they’re available at this website.

While supplies last.

:)

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Its certainly been a fun run.

It's certainly been a fun run. The book on the right (first edition) has been out of print for 10 years, but the book on the left is now - as of January 2014 - out of print. Amazon has some inventory to sell off, and I have a few boxes here at the hoouse from the last printing. That's the last of the lot.

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And yes

When the last of the books are gone, it'll be nice to have this space free again.

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In 2005, I visited Lorain, Ohio and it was quite a thrill to see my name on the theater marquis!

In 2005, I visited Lorain, Ohio and it was quite a thrill to see my name on the theater marquis!

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If you took a stroll down the hallway of my home, youd see how much I enjoyed being The Author of this fun little niche topic.

If you took a stroll down the hallway of my home here in Norfolk, you'd see some of the mementos from my travels.

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In Raleigh, NC, they made this big movie poster for my talk.

In Raleigh, NC, they made this big movie poster for my talk. For my birthday, my husband had it framed.

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In November 2010, my last book (The Sears Homes of Illinois) was published, and I did a book tour throughout Illinois.

In November 2010, my last book ("The Sears Homes of Illinois") was published, and I did a book tour throughout Illinois. That was also a good time, but wearying.

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A personal favorite. In 2004, I was invited to give a talk at The Smithsonian Museum (Postal Museum). That was such a thrill for me. The day I gave that talk, I felt like I had finally proven myself to be a "legitimate" author!

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And this was also a special lecture for me. I was at this lecture when I

And this was also a special lecture for me. I was at this lecture in Jefferson City when Wayne Ringer called me the very first time. Ninety days later, we were engaged to be married.

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Sometimes, unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game (from the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun).

"Sometimes, unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game" (from the movie, "Under the Tuscan Sun").

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If you’d like to purchase my books, they’re available at this website.

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A Sears Magnolia in South Carolina?

February 15th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last week, I put 897 miles on the old Camry driving from Norfolk to Raleigh to South Carolina (and making a few stops along the way). I’d heard that there was a Sears Magnolia in western South Carolina, so I decided to check it out.

Here are some photos:

Maggy May

Purported Magnolia in South Carolina.

Sears Magnolia

Sears Magnolia as seen in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The Sears Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922.

Windows

The windows in the SC Maggy are right. These are replacement windows, but the original proportions and space are correct. The small lites at the top are original, and they're a spot-on match to the Sears Magnolia.

Details on Sears Magnolias front porch

Details on the Sears Magnolia's front porch. The two-story columns are an eye-catching feature. Also notice the distinctive roof lines and unique details around the front porch. At its core, the Sears Magnolia is a classic foursquare with delusions of grandeur.

Sears Magnolia in SC

Sears Magnolia in SC. While the Magnolia has a fan lite (semi-circle) over the front door, this one has a rectangle. Still, that's not a huge difference and not a deal breaker.

Maggy in Benson

The Maggy in Benson, NC is a spot-on match.

Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

A beautiful Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

Sears Magnolia

Sears Magnolia in Benson, NC.

Sears Magnolia in Irwin, PA.  (Photo courtesy of Bob Keeling)

Sears Magnolia in Irwin, PA. (Photo courtesy of Bob Keeling) Done in brick, this Sears Magnolia also is not a spot-on match to the catalog page.

Maggy May

The Maybe-Not-A-Magnolia in South Carolina.

Magnolia in South Carolina

The Magnolia in Alabama is also not a spot-on match to the original catalog image. Most obvious is that attic dormer, which is much simpler than the Magnolia dormer. Yet this house in Piedmont Alabama is a Sears Magnolia.

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In conclusion, after spending about two hours inspecting the house in South Carolina, I’m of the opinion that it is NOT a Sears Magnolia. The lumber in the house just did not look like Sears lumber. I’ve seen many basements of many Sears Homes, and the lumber in this South Carolina house was much lighter and had a rougher cut.

I suspect that this beautiful old house was offered in a plan book somewhere in the early 1900s, and in later years, architects at Sears discovered the planbook and created the “Sears Magnolia” in the image and likeness of that plan book house. That’s a theory. I really don’t know.

What I do know is that the house in South Carolina was built in 1910*, and while the Magnolia’s footprint is 36 x 40, the footprint of the South Carolina house is 39 x 43, exactly three feet bigger in both directions. The interior rooms are adjusted accordingly. And if the Sears Magnolia began life as a pattern book house, or plan book house, this is exactly what Sears would have done to “modify” the design for their needs. At least a dozen times, I’ve found the identical twins of Sears designs in plan books and architectural magazines, a year or ten before it appeared in the pages of a Sears Modern Homes catalog. Typically, Sears would shave a couple feet off the floor plan and give it a nice name and voila! It’s Sears Modern Home #84736.

However, this is just a theory. I’m not sure. From the exterior, this house surely does look like a Sears Magnolia, but it’s not quite “perfect.” If anyone has any ideas, as Ross Perot once said, “I’m all ears.”

* The construction date of 1910 is not a confirmed fact, but came from tax records. Based on the interior design, I suspect that’s an accurate date. The house had coal-burning fireplaces in every room - no exceptions - and coal-burning fireplaces were very common in that time period (very early 1900s).

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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All Things Alhambra

February 14th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

The Sears Alhambra was one of Sears’ most popular houses. In fact, I’d say it was one of their top ten best sellers. And, it was a pretty house with a distinctive Spanish flair and with a splash of mission style. If you take away the fancy accoutrements, you’ll see it’s little more than a classic American foursquare.

Enjoy the photos!

To see more Sears Alhambras, visit All Things Alhambra, part 2.

Sears Alhambra as seen in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Alhambra as seen in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Sears Alhambra in Charleston, WV

Sears Alhambra in Charleston, WV.

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Sears Alhambra in Portsmouth, Virginia (my home town)

Sears Alhambra in Portsmouth, Virginia (my home town)

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Like its Virginia cousin, this Alhambra is also painted a light yellow. This pretty house is in Lexington, Virginia.

Like its Virginia cousin, this Alhambra is also painted a light yellow. This pretty house is in Lexington, Virginia.

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Another vote for the beige pant job!  This perfect Alhambra is in Raleigh.

Another vote for the beige pant job! This perfect Alhambra is in Raleigh.

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Sears Alhambra in darn good condition in Bedford, Pennsylvania.

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And this is a Sears Alhambra, sans Spanish-flavored extras!

This is an Alhambra, but it's a common alteration. All the Spanish-flavored accoutrements have been removed. There are FOUR of these Alhambras in Norfolk.

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Stripped of its Alhambra-defining elements, this house in St. Louis looks rather pedestrian.

This Alhambra lost its its Alhambra-defining elements during a remodel. Even the parapet over the porch was cut down. This house in St. Louis now looks rather pedestrian.

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Vintage photo of a Sears Alhambra in the St. Louis area. Later on in life, the dormer was amputated due to leak issues. The parapet around the front porch was also lost during surgery. Very sad.

Vintage photo of the same Sears Alhambra shown above. Hard to believe, isn't it?

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This Alhambra has also had some of its unique architectural elements stripped away, but you can still see its an Alhambra!

This Alhambra has also had some of its unique architectural elements stripped away, but you can still see it's an Alhambra!

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Sears Alhambra in Gaffney

Sears Alhambra in Gaffney, SC. My favorite color: Lavender!

To see more pictures of Sears Alhambras, visit All Things Alhambra, part 2.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Shocking Wheat and Dirty Smut and Building Delays

August 13th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

In 1918, Standard Oil of Indiana made mail-order history when they placed a $1 million order with Sears Roebuck & Company for 192 Honor-Bilt homes. It was purported to be the largest order in the history of the Sears Modern Homes department. Standard Oil purchased the houses for their refinery workers in Southwestern Illinois.

Of those 192 houses, 156 went to Carlinville, 12 were built in Schoper and 24 were sent to Wood River. Throughout the 1920s, pictures of these homes were prominently featured in the front pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs.

Construction of the 156 houses took nine months, not six as expected. The reason? A nationwide shortage of wheat. Charles Fitzgerald, spokesman for Standard Oil and Manager of Houses explained to The Chicago Daily Tribune (November 3, 1919) what happened.

“The company (Standard Oil) purchased a forty acre wheat field and the government would not permit the destruction of the crop,” he said. “On the first home, we were erecting the studding while the harvesters were shocking wheat twenty yards away.”

According to the papers of the day, “smut” was another reason for the wheat shortage. When I first read about smut and the wheat shortage, I imagined a large group of idle field workers, sitting cross-legged in the expansive fields, poring over magazines with pictures of scantily-clad women.

Smut, I later learned, is a particularly nasty fungus that creates black, odious spores and ruins wheat crops. In 1919, smut damaged a large proportion of America’s wheat fields.

And “shocking” was another interesting term. As a city girl, I’d never heard that phrase before. “Wheat shockers” are the field workers who bundle up the wheat.

While doing research for my book The Houses that Sears Built, I read hundreds of newspaper and articles from the early 1900s and learned that there is a wholly different vernacular for that time period. Words have different meaning in different times.

One of the Sears Homes in Wood River, Illinois - part of that $1 million order that Standard Oil    placed  in the late 1910s. There are 24 of these Sears Homes in a row on 9th Street in Wood River. The 12 Sears Homes built in Schoper, Illinois were torn down in the 1930s.

Pictured above is a Sears Madelia, one of the Sears Homes in Wood River, Illinois - part of that $1 million order that Standard Oil placed in the late 1910s. There were 24 of Sears Homes in a row on 9th Street in Wood River, and one was torn down to make way for a street widening. The 12 Sears Homes built in Schoper, Illinois were torn down in the 1930s, and the 152 in Carlinville still remain, but many are in poor condition.

Another Sears Madelia, and this one is in Carlinville

Another Sears Madelia, and this one is in Carlinville

Carlinville, IL

Carlinville, IL

Sears Madelia in Carlinville

Sears Madelia in Carlinville

Madelia in Carlinville

Madelia in Carlinville

Carlinville

Carlinville

Carlinville

Carlinville

Kit Homes in Idaho

August 6th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

On a recent trip to Idaho, I took a day to search for kit homes. I found a handful of Pacific Ready Cut Homes (a regional company based in Los Angeles), but despite 200 miles of driving around Boise, Nampa, Caldwell and nearby areas, I only found this one little Sears Home in Nampa, Idaho.

However, it’s a real beauty, and a spot-on match to the original catalog image. It’s the Sears Argyle and it’s in a historic section of Nampa. I wonder if the owners know what they have?

In the coming days, I’ll post photos of the Pacific Ready Cut Homes that I found in the area.

I’ve also posted below one of the reasons I may not have found as many kit homes as I could have. The views here are spectacular!

Sears Argyle from the Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Argyle from the Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Argyle in Nampa, Idaho!

Sears Argyle in Nampa, Idaho!

Close-up of porch detail

Close-up of porch detail

Note how the details on this 1910s Argyle have been preserved!

Note how the details on this 1910s Argyle have been preserved!

When I took this photo (below) at about 6 pm, I didn’t have much hope it’d look good (as the shadows were so extreme) but it came out beautifully!  These views just take my breath away.