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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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Bs

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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bed

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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Sweet Home, Alabama (Sears Magnolia)

April 26th, 2014 Sears Homes 10 comments

Sometime in 2005, the new owner of the Sears Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama sent me several dozen photos of the house. Recently, I rediscovered the CDs. Those photos reminded me that I also had a 1984 newspaper article about that Magnolia.

Unfortunately, I do not have any record of whose photos these are, so they appear below without attribution. I’m hoping someone reading this might help me figure out who took those pictures!

Below are the photos, and the 1984 article from The Anniston Star.

Piedmont boasts a Sears Catalog Mansion (November 1, 1984)

by Viveca Novak

Piedmont - When the late doctor Fain Webb and his wife filled out the order form Magnolia, the catalog description likened the Magnolia to the “famous residence at Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the poet Longfellow composed his immortal works.”

The Magnolia rolled into Piedmont in 1921 on a box car one day. Accompanying instructions told the dentist and his school-teacher wife how to assemble everythnig into the configuration of a dwelling.

“Everyone in Piedmont thought it was the prettiest house in town,” remembers Piedmont native Louise Golden. “Little did my mother dream that we would ever own the house.”

It was one day in 1964 that Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Woolf, Mrs. Golden’s parents, got a call from the Webb’s daughter who offered to sell them the homestead for the unbelievably low sum of $12,500.

At the time, Mrs. Woolf was 60 and her husband was 80, retired from years in the Inn business that included running the Piedmont Hotel in the late 1920s. With the help of a $20,000 loan from the Small Business Administration, the Woolfs made the necessary adjustments to complete their dream.

On January 1965, the Colonial Inn opened its doors for supper.

Four bedrooms upstairs were rented to help repay the loan, “but they were very careful about who they rented to, ” says Mrs. Golden, who returned to Piedmont to help her parents run the new venture.

The $2 Sunday smorgasboards attracted upwards of 100 people each week.

“We had Miss Alabama and Miss Poultry Queen for our Christmas Parade one year,” recalls Theresa Kaisor, city historian and asst school board superintendent. “We carried them over there to eat dinner.”

The Inn’s reputation spread far and wide and travelers of all kinds made the necessary detours to stop a night in Piedmont.

Two years later, Piedmont was mourning the closing of the inn, following the death of Mrs. Woolf. Though Mrs. Golden was urged to keep the inn open, it was a task she declined.

In 1970, the house underwent another rebirth with its sale - for $19,000 - to Calvin and Patricia Wingo, two history professors at Jacksonville State University who have a penchant for restoring old houses to their original grandeur.

The Wingos tore up the carpeting and refinished the hardwood floors, replaced the roof and wiring, repaired the bases of some of the columns and painted the whole house. Their son was born soon after they moved in.

Two families occupied the house between 1974, when the Wingos sold it, and 1980. It’s more recent history causes residents to shake their heads sadly. Under the ownership of Charles Grissom, from 1980 to this year, the house burned twice, destroying most of the interior on the first floor and the basement.

It has gone unoccupied for many months.

But the new owner, Winford Kines, hopes it will be a dream house once again, despite the fire damage and theft of one of the mantle pieces and an old pedestal sink.

Kines has begun cleaning out the burned basement and the yard in the initial stages of his project. It may take me a few years, but I hope to live in it someday, Kines said. He has already won a community for lifting the house above the status of neighborhood eyesore.

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My #1 favorite Magnolia story here. It’s well worth the read!

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What is it about Magnolias and fire?

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The Sears Magnolia was quite a house (1922 catalog).

The Sears Magnolia was quite a house (1922 catalog).

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In 2008 I visited the Sears Magnolia in Piedmont. Unfortunately, no one was home.

In 2008 I visited the Sears Magnolia in Piedmont. Unfortunately, no one was home.

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I helped myself to a few good photos while I was in the neighborhood.

I helped myself to a few good photos while I was in the neighborhood.

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This Magnolia

And walked around a bit.

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And went up on the front porch.

And went up on the front porch.

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Youll notice the dormer on this house is quite different than the dormer on the other Magnolias.

You'll notice the dormer on this house is quite different than the dormer on the other Magnolias. I've no idea how that came to be. It appears that the house has its original siding, so we can't blame this on the siding salesmen.

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Some features of the house

Some features of the house remain intact, such as these oak columns in front of the living room fireplace. The inglenook window and built-in bench are missing.

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Did you read the whole article before scrolling down to look at the photos? If so, youd know that someone broke into the house and stole a fireplace mantle. Im guessing this is the mantle.

Did you read the whole article before scrolling down to look at the photos? If so, you'd know that someone broke into the house and stole a fireplace mantle. I'm guessing this is the scene of the crime. However, what they're missing in mantles, they make up for in vacuum cleaners.

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Bear

Incredibly, the windows and trim on the sunporch are all still original. Then again, all of these photos were snapped more than nine years ago. The antique oak filing cabinets are a nice touch, too, but they obstruct the windows a bit.

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Another view of the sunporch windows.

Another view of the sunporch windows.

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living room

This appears to be the dining room, in use as a parlor or den.

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living room also

From the dining room, looking into the living room.

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Looking

Remember reading about that fire? Apparently the staircase took a hit.

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A really bad hit.

A really bad hit.

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Definitely

The balustrade in the Magnolia was quite beautiful but sadly, in the Piedmont Magnolia, it's all gone. Here, it's been replaced them with 2x4s (gasp) and a planter stand (eek).

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nebraska up

As a contrast, here's a picture of a Magnolia in Nebraska that is no longer with us. You can see that it had a beautiful balustrade. This house was razed about the same time the newspaper article above was written - mid 1980s. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Second floor sunporch.

It's nice to see the original doors are in place, even if the hardware didn't survive. This is the second floor bedroom (master bedroom).

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Side

It's incredible that these original paneled newel posts survive (with balls on top), and yet the house has obviously been through some hard times. I know that the house sold recently. Perhaps now it will be restored.

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My #1 favorite Magnolia story here. It’s well worth the read!

What is it about Magnolias and restaurants? Read about another Magnolia restaurant here.

What is it about Magnolias and fire?

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Eight Pretty Maggies in a Row

August 29th, 2013 Sears Homes 19 comments

As of last month, we’ve found eight Sears Magnolias. There are probably more, but where are they?

The last three Magnolias that were discovered (in North Carolina, New York and West Virginia) were found thanks to the readers of this blog.

So where’s Number Nine?  :)

If you know, please leave a comment below!

Below are pictures of the eight Magnolias.

Enjoy!

The Sears Magnolia was featured on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog.

The Sears Magnolia was featured on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog.

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When first offered

When first offered in 1918, the Magnolia was also offered as a "plan" (blueprints only) for $10.

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The Magnolia in Benson, NC was discovered when a faithful reader of the blog sent me a note and reported that shed seen a Magnolia featured on the news. She even sent me a link to the news story, so I was able to conform it was a Magnolia before I traveld five hours south to Benson.

The Magnolia in Benson, NC was discovered when a faithful reader of the blog sent me a note and reported that she'd seen a Magnolia featured on the news. She even sent me a link to the news story, so I was able to conform it was a Magnolia before I traveled five hours south to Benson. This Magnolia has been in constant use as a funeral home since the early 1940s. The interior has been pretty well gutted and rebuilt, but at least it's still standing.

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Canton, Ohio

The Magnolia in Canton, Ohio was almost lost in the 1980s. The roof had collapsed into the second floor, but the house was purchased by someone who truly loved old houses, and they did a thorough restoration of the home. In 2002, I visited this house when filming a segment for PBS's "History Detectives." Photo is courtesy Janet LaMonica and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Located in the hills of West Virginia, this beautiful Magnolia also passed through its own shadow of death in the early 2000s. In 2003, it was purchased and lovingly restored.

Located in the hills of West Virginia, this beautiful Magnolia also passed through its own "shadow of death" in the early 2000s. In 2003, it was purchased and lovingly restored.

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In 1985, this Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska was in pitiful shape (when these photos were taken). In late 1985, the house suffered additional damage when it caught fire. It was razed sometime in 1985.

In 1985, this Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska was in pitiful shape (when these photos were taken). In late 1985, the house suffered additional damage when it caught fire. It was razed sometime in 1985. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Syracuse

The Seventh Magnolia (in Syracuse, NY) was also discovered thanks to a faithful reader of this blog. It was built by Edward Knapp for his two sisters sometime between 1918-1921. In the 1990s, it was purchased and restored by someone who loved the house and appreciated its unique history. Photo is courtesy Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house house house

The Magnolia in South Bend, Indiana is now going through its own trying time. If you look at the underside of the front porch ceiling, you'll see moisture damage. The aluminum trim around the eaves and soffit is also falling away. Hopefully, this wonderful old house will be spared the fate of the Maggy in Nebraska. These photos are more than a year old, so perhaps good things are now happening for this house. Photo is courtesy James Layne and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama is also needing a little love.

The Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama is also needing a little love. It's sold three times in the last six years and when I was there in September 2010, it was looking a little ragged around the edges. However, it sold very recently (less than six months ago) and hopefully the new owners will return it to its former glory.

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Last but not least is this Magnolia in Irwin, Pennsylvania. It was built as a brick house, and the floorplan was altered a bit when the house was built. Construction began in 1922 and was not completed until 1927.

Last but not least is this Magnolia in Irwin, Pennsylvania. The brick exterior is original to the house and the floorplan was altered a bit when the house was built. Construction began in 1922 and was not completed until 1927. Photo is courtesy Bob Keeling and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And in Blacksburg, SC

This "almost-a-Magnolia" was discovered in Blacksburg, SC. According to the homeowner (and tax records) the house was built in 1910, and based on millwork and other design elements, that seems like a good date. The classic "widow's walk" (flat top) on the hipped roof is not in place (as with a traditional Magnolia). And see those tall columns? They're solid concrete. No kit house would have concrete two-story columns due to the tremendous weight. These homes were designed with the expectation that a "man of average abilities" could build them in 90 days - or less! I suspect that this house in Blacksburg was purchased from a planbook or architectural magazine, and then Sears "borrowed" the design, shaved a few feet off the footprint and the Sears Magnolia was born.

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house house house

The Magnolia was also known as Sears Modern Home #2089. I found this marking in the basement of the Magnolia in Benson, NC. When these framing members were shipped out of Cairo, Illinois, one of the mill workers grabbed a blue grease pencil and marked the top beam in the pile of lumber that was about to be loaded onto a train for Benson. Today, this faint mark can be used to authenticate that this is indeed a Sears kit home.

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marked lumber

Years ago, I talked to an elder gent who remembered helping Mom and Dad build a Sears kit home. The father, standing on the building site, would yell out, "I need a G 503!" and the kids would scramble over the massive piles of framing members to find a beam marked G 503. The floor joist shown above was found in the Magnolia in WV.

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Now, about that 9th Magnolia…

Where is it?  :)

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

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The Eighth Magnolia - and - It’s In West Virginia!

August 24th, 2013 Sears Homes 17 comments

For years and years, it was believed that only six Magnolias had been sold by Sears and Roebuck, but their locations were unknown.

As the years passed, the six Magnolias were discovered in Benson, North Carolina, South Bend, Indiana, Irwin, Pennsylvania, Canton, Ohio and a fifth in Piedmont, Alabama. A sixth Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska was lost in 1985 when it burned down.

And that was that.

Six Magnolias. All accounted for.

Five alive.  One dead (and cremated).

And then two years ago, one of my faithful readers reported that there was a Sears Magnolia in Syracuse, NY.

Turned out, they were right. The discovery made the local papers, and it was all pretty exciting.  Click here to read the article from May 2011.

All of which brings me to this newest discovery of an 8th Magnolia.

In June 2013, someone left me a comment saying, that many years ago, he’d lived in a small town in West Virginia, and there was a Sears Magnolia just across the street from his home.

According to his reminiscence, the Magnolia was ordered from the Sears & Roebuck catalog in 1924, and the price was $7,000. The homeowner then paid a local builder another $7,000 to build the house. Rachel Shoemaker and I stayed up most of one night trying to figure out if this house was the real deal. About 4:00 am, we came to the conclusion that it was.

I contacted the homeowner (who was gracious enough to write back!) and asked if we could visit his wonderful Magnolia when we visited Elkins, later in the summer.

He said yes.

“Thrilled” doesn’t begin to describe my feelings about this elegant home in West Virginia.

For one, this Maggy has been painstakingly and thoroughly restored. In the world of architectural preservation, there’s a massive difference between “remodeling” and “restoring.”

This Magnolia has truly been restored.

I’m a tough cookie with an eye for detail and a penchant for perfection and a passion for historicity, and I’m happy to report that the work done on this old house was absolutely first-class. This West Virginia “Maggy” is truly a wonder to behold. As the pictures will show, the house is a gem and every room looks like something out of a fancy architectural magazine. It really is that beautiful.

Secondly, I was so pleased to see that the house is in good hands. The home’s current owners love this house with their whole heart, and they genuinely appreciate their home’s unique history. They’re “caretakers” in the truest sense of the word, and they really do “get it.”

An interesting aside, my husband toured the house with me, and he was also smitten (and he’s not even a big architecture guy). When we returned to our car, he said quietly, “That really is a beautiful place they’ve got there.”

Enough words. Just wait until you see these pictures. You’ll fall in love with this house, just like I did.

To read Part II of this blog, click here.

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The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922. It's shown here in the 1921 catalog

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The description shows it was fancy.

The description of the Magnolia gives some wonderful detail on the home's fine qualities (1921).

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price

A price list from the 1921 catalog shows detail on the optional extras for the Magnolia.

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house house house

What a fine-looking house!

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house house

This magnificent Magnolia is now 88 years old, and still retains all its original stateliness, beauty and grandeur. Beginning in 2003, the house underwent a major, three-year-long restoration that saved this historically significant home.

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beautiful

The house sits on several acres on a beautifully landscaped lot in a small West Virginia town about two hours from my husband's ancestral home in Elkins, WV. The previous owners (who did the major three-year restoration) planted the two Magnolia trees at the front of the house. The house is even more beautiful "in person" than it is in these photos. It's stunning. Just stunning.

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house

This house has no bad sides. It is beautiful from every angle.

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house

Just imagine bobbing about in the pool on an August afternoon, sipping on a cool soda and gazing upward at a majestic Magnolia. Bliss! On a more architectural note, the 40' wide addition across the back added quite a bit of square footage and also expanded the size of the small den and kitchen.

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house

The floorplan for the first floor (shown here) shows how the addition to the rear of the house increased the square footage, expanded the den and the kitchen and did not diminish the home's original beauty. Major kudos to the architect who came up with this plan! Brilliant!

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house house

And from the back of the house, you can get a good view of that distinctive Magnolia dormer.

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house

A view of the front yard from the second-floor balcony. West Virginia is a state filled with beautiful views, and this house is located in an unusually beautiful spot in West Virginia.

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When I first contacted the homes owner, he told me that this Magnolia was in unusually original condition. After spending two hours examining this lovely home, I can affirm - he was right!

When I first contacted the home's owner, he told me that this Magnolia was in unusually original condition. After spending two hours examining this lovely home, I can affirm - he was right!

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house house

Beautiful house. Just beautiful.

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And much praise is due to the folks who did the restoration on the Maggy. Every window in this old house was restored and preserved.

And much praise is due to the folks who restored the Maggy. Every window in this old house was restored and preserved. These windows - with a little love and care - will last for generations.

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On

It's claimed that the Sears Magnolia was the only kit that was required two boxcars (as opposed to one) for shipment. I suspect the six two-story columns were part of the reason for the second boxcar. When shipped, these columns were in pieces (length-wise) which were to be assembled on site. The bases on these columns were recently replaced.

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house house

The porch floor on the other Magnolias I've seen is poured concrete. On the West Virginia Magnolia, the terrace is tiled, with several floor drains. I've read that they get lots of snow in WV so maybe the floor drains help with that.

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And in the basement, we found

And in the basement, we found marked lumber!

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My next blog

Return to this blog tomorrow, and come inside for a tour of this beautiful home. You're in for a treat!

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To read Part II of this blog (and see interior photos) click here.
Is there a Sears Magnolia in your neighborhood?

Of the eight Sears Magnolias that have been discovered, three of them were found thanks to the loyal readers of this blog. If you know of a Magnolia, please leave a comment below!

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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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house house

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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house house house

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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house house house

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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house house house

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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Inside the Sears Magnolia: In 1918 and 1985

July 12th, 2013 Sears Homes 10 comments

Last week, I did a blog on the lost Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska. One of only eight known Magnolias in the country, the Sears House in Lincoln was torn down in 1985.

Fortunately, the Magnolia in Lincoln was extensively photographed a few months before it was razed. The photos were then archived and saved by the Nebraska State Historical Society.

And nearly 30 years later, the folks at NSHS were kind enough to share these wonderful photos with me.

After studying their photos, I realized that those historically minded folks at Nebraska State Historical Society had photographed the Magnolia’s interiors from the same angle shown in a special fold-out offered in a 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

I’m in possession of two 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalogs, and yet this “special fold out” is not present in either catalog. I suspect that there were two or more revisions of the 1918 catalog, and the catalog that featured the “interior views” (shown below) was a very rare catalog.

For several years, friend and fellow researcher Rachel Shoemaker has been collecting these old catalogs, and she was kind enough to share her copy of this rare 1918 catalog.

A big thank you to Rachel and also to the kind souls at the Nebraska State Historical Society. Because of them, I’m able to put together these 30-year-old photos with the 90-year-old drawings featured in the old Sears Modern Homes catalog.

And a little hint for today’s blog: Take an extra moment and read the captions thoroughly. While I was going through these images, I learned some fascinating things about old houses in general and the Magnolia in particular.

Please share the link with your old-house loving friends!  :)

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Interior

This fold-out appeared in the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog. I've been playing with Sears Homes for 15 years, and yet I'd never seen this page - anytime anywhere. When the Nebraska State Historical Society sent me their files on the Sears Magnolia in Lincoln, they included a faded (and repeatedly xeroxed) copy of this very same page. And it was this page that they apparently used as a guide when they took *their* photos.

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Close-up of the text box in the fold-out (1918).

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If you look closely at the floor plan, you'll see a second set of stairs off the kitchen. In tiny print, it says, "To servants' room." Remember that detail. If you look at the back wall of the kitchen, you'll also see the words, "Ice box door." This feature enabled the ice man to place 25 or 50 pounds of ice directly into the ice box - from the back porch - without entering the house. It was also known as the "Jealous Husband's Door."

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house showing

Those kitchen stairs lead into a small hallway that opens up right into a small bedroom, which leads to a bathroom. The servants' area was purposefully isolated from the rest of the family. The servants' bathroom was also smaller and more modest. Remember that detail, too. The family bathroom has a sink that says, "MC" (medicine chest). The servants' bathroom does not say MC. The poor Irish servant girl didn't even have a place to store her toiletries.

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Close-up of the Magnolia's 20-foot long living room.

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banana house living room

And here it is in real life. Those folks at the Nebraska State Historical Society did a fine job, didn't they? The fireplace mantel is not a perfect match, which is a puzzler. Notice also that the home's original owners went for the Hercules Steam Heating Outfit (which was the most expensive heating option available). Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Magnolia had a grand entry hall. The French doors at the top of the landing lead to a small balcony outside.

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The Magnolia was an elegant home with classic lines and aristocratic airs, and despite the deterioration occasioned by decades of neglect, its timeless elegance was still apparent. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house upstairs

The photographer was standing in front of the dressing room looking toward the rear of the house on the 2nd floor. These are the same French doors shown in the prior photo, which lead out to that small balcony. If you look close, you can see the balcony's railing. I believe the door on the left leads to that servants' staircase. It's an interesting arrangement, because the balcony and that door are both on a lower level than the rest of the 2nd floor. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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kitchen

My favorite image: The kitchen. Look at that darling little breakfast nook sitting in the coolest spot in the house, with pretty casement windows on all three sides. The door on the right leads to the ice box (with the "Jealous Husband's Door"). And the door on the right leads to the back porch.

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house house kitchen

The NSHS photographers outdid themselves on this image. Nice match to the picture above! The door that's partially open leads to the servants' staircase. The nook is still intact, but the little dinette is gone. The sink has been moved from the right side to the left. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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kitchen floorplan

Here's a close-up of the Magnolia's kitchen and surrounding area. This is a very complicated space! And there's a Butler's Pantry (with a sink) between the dining room and kitchen.

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the den the den

Most post-1950s homes feature a "den," but this wasn't a common concept in the late 1910s (when the Magnolia was first offered). Another unusual concept was the two fireplaces (in the living room and den). By the 1910s, wood-burning fireplaces had fallen from favor because they were considered primitive and old-fashioned. Most houses had a single fireplace so that the family could burn an occasional fire on a cold-winter evening, just for ambiance, but two? Definitely not typical. Plus, it was getting harder and harder to find cheap firewood in the cities, due to the explosive growth of residential and commercial construction.

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Now this mantel is a good match to the image above (minus the cracked mirror)! The floor tile wasn't original, but was probably added in the 1940s or 50s. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house bathroom

This was not the maid's bathroom. This was the FAMILY'S bathroom. How do I know this? Let me count the ways. First, it has that niche created by the chimney (left corner). And it has a shower. Yes, a shower. And while we're in the bathroom, look at the subway tile on the walls and diagonal tiles on the floor. Nice, isn't it?

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shower

The shower was a pretty fancy deal for 1918. I don't know of any other pre-1930 Sears Homes that were offered *with* showers. And this isn't your typical shower. This one sits at the far end of the tub, away from the tub's drain and supply lines. Now that's curious. I wish I knew when showers came into vogue in typical American homes. If a reader could answer that, I'd be tickled pink.

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house in Benson

This is *not* the Magnolia in Lincoln, but it's another Magnolia with a "Family Bathroom" that's in original condition. When I first saw this bathroom, I was utterly mystified by the hose bibs on the lower right. There's a bedroom on the other side of that wall. Why would there be plumbing on the far side of the tub? And I have thought about this curious plumbing arrangement ever since. Thanks to Rachel's 1918 "interior views," I think the puzzle is solved. I suspect that these water lines supplied water to that funky shower at the far end of the tub. The house bibs may have been added for a washer hook-up later on, but look at the plumbing lines that snake around the back of the tub and (perhaps) to the side where that shower once was.

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house shower

It's a not-so-great photo, but you can see the two hose bibs with two lines coming off and snaking around the back and side of the tub. And if you look close, you'll see a piece of that old subway tile behind the tub.

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house tub

If you look at the front of the tub, you see the lines here (for the bathtub faucets) are original and in use. In fact, judging from the paint, they haven't been disturbed in a very long time.

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house bathroom

The contemporary photo of the bathtub (with those awesome swans on the side) was taken almost four years ago, and yet it's only in the last 24 hours, when I saw this vintage image, that I was able to surmise why there were pipes behind the tub. Who says history isn't fun? :)

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How many Magnolias are out there? Thus far, we know of eight that were built, and seven are still standing.

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house in Nebraska

The grand old Magnolia in Nebraska was torn down in 1985 due to decades of neglect. These photos are bittersweet, because this house should have been salvaged. Instead, it's now just another pile of construction debris in a local landfill. Nonetheless, I'm unspeakably grateful for these many wonderful images. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house in neb

This framing members used in the construction of this house were first-growth lumber, #1 Southern Yellow Pine, harvested from the virgin forests of Louisiana. The exterior (siding, trim and balustrades) is Cypress, once lauded as "The Wood Eternal," because of its natural resistance to moisture, decay and insect infestation. The two-story columns were Yellow Poplar. Inside, the entire house had oak trim and mill work, with tongue-and-groove oak floors. The kitchen floor was maple. This house was built with a quality of building materials we will never again see in this country. RIP, Magnolia. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Many thanks to the Nebraska State Historical Society for sharing these photos, and thanks also to Rachel Shoemaker for sharing the vintage images from that rare 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Read more  the “Jealous Husband’s Door” click here.

To learn more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

Want to see more photos of the Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska? Click here.

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94-year-old Builder Explains How He Began Construction on the Sears Magnolia in Ohio

November 22nd, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

In September 2002, I was invited to appear on a brand new show called PBS History Detectives. It was my first appearance on national television and it was a very exciting time. One of the houses featured in that show was the Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio. I’d be appearing on their second episode (first season), to do a story on the alleged Sears Homes in Firestone Park. The filming started at the Sears Magnolia in Canton. Filming the 15-minute segment took eight days.

Sometime around 1990, Canton writer T. E. Prather wrote a short piece about the building of the Sears Magnolia there in Canton, Ohio. The title was “Magnolia: Neo Classic Revival Revived!”

What’s remarkable about this article is that it quotes the 94-year-old builder who helped build the Magnolia in 1923.

Clarence Swallow was the builder of nearly 300 homes in this area, and in 1923, he was a 27-year-old carpenter. He was hired by Canton Attorney Leroy Contie, Sr., to supervise the total construction of Contie’s Magnolia.

The catalog price of this pre-cut house was $5,140. With the price of the Ridgewood lot, plastering, electrical work, plumbing, plus other extras, te total cost of the home was approximately $18,000.

Swallow explains how the crates of numbered, top-quality, pre-cut lumber and supplies were brought to the building site by horse-drawn wagons. Swallow and his two-man crew sorted through the giant jig-saw puzzle of packages and began construction in the summer of 1923. The framing went up on the pre-formed concrete foundation through the summer and autumn. By the first snowfall, the Magnolia was under roof. Then Ennon Plumbing, Eclipse Electric, and several plasterers worked through the winter as Swallow and crew completed the interior trim work.

The six fluted yellow poplar Corinthian porch columns were precisely set in place to support the two-story front portico. The side lights [flanking] the front entrance and an elliptical fanlight under a second floor balcony were the center focus of the main entry.

The original elegance of this early 1920s Magnolia has yielded a small bit to being unoccupied over the past couple years. Yet it has been featured in the Smithsonian (November 1985) and was the featured home of Ohio Historical Society’s publication , Timeline in early 1989.

To learn more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

Sears Magnolia from the 1922 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Magnolia from the 1922 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

Close-up of the columns. In some models, the Magnolia had Corinthian columns, and in others, they were Ionic.

Close-up of the columns. In some models, the Magnolia had Corinthian columns, and in others, they were Ionic.

And in this Magnolia, theres a Magnolia room!

And in this Magnolia, there's a Magnolia room!

This Magnolia is in Benson, NC and the photo dates back to the late 1940s. This house has been in use as a funeral home for many decades.

This Magnolia is in Benson, NC and the photo dates back to the late 1940s. This house has been in use as a funeral home for many decades. I'm sorry I do not have the name of the original photographer, for I'd prefer to give proper photo credit here.

But you have to love the name of this funeral home (in the 40s).

But you have to love the name of this funeral home (in the 40s).

These unique windows are an important identifying feature for the Sears Magnolia. Theyre pretty unique!

These unique windows are an important identifying feature for the Sears Magnolia. They're pretty unique! Notice the 9/1 windows on the side, and the smaller lites above the larger windows. People send me a lot of photos of purported Magnolias. If they'd stop and examine the windows, that'd answer their questions right then and there!

Sears Magnolia - as seen in the 1922 catalog.

Sears Magnolia - as seen in the 1922 catalog.

Entry Hall of the grand house

Entry Hall of the grand house

The Living Room

The Living Room

Note the breakfast nook in the Magnolias kitchen

Note the breakfast nook in the Magnolia's kitchen

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn more about early 20th Century breakfast nooks, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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