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September 25th + Richmond + Sears Homes + Rose = A LOT OF FUN!

September 15th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Full house at our talk on September 25th!

And a good time was had by all!

If you’re new to this site, you may be wondering, what is a Sears Home?

Sears Homes were 12,000-piece kit houses, and each kit came with a a 75-page instruction book. Sears promised that “a man of average abilities” could have it assembled in 90 days.

The instruction book offered this somber warning: “Do not take anyone’s advice on how this house should be assembled.” The framing members were marked with a letter and a three-digit-number to facilitate construction. 

Today, these marks can help authenticate a house as a kit home.

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

And I’ve found a whole caboodle of kit homes in Richmond!

If you’ve always wanted to learn more about this fascinating topic, here’s your best chance! I give fewer than five lectures a year now, so this might be the last!

Below are just a few of the many unique (and even rare) kit homes I’ve found in Richmond.

Please share this link with your friends and/or on your Facebook page.

To learn more about the talk and obtain tickets, click here.

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One of the many ways to identify Sears Homes begins with slogging down to the basement (or crawlspace) and looking for marked lumber! This mark, together with a 75-page instruction book, helped homeowners figure out how to put together those 12,000 pieces of house.

One of the many ways to identify Sears Homes begins with slogging down to the basement (or crawlspace) and looking for marked lumber! This mark, together with a 75-page instruction book, helped homeowners figure out how to put together those 12,000 pieces of house.

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Sometimes, the markings found on lumber arent what you might expect!

Sometimes, the markings found on lumber aren't what you might expect! This was found in the basement of an Illinois Sears home, and was a remnant from the original wooden shipping crate. "Bongard, ILLS" was the name of the train depot where the house arrived. I've often found shipping crate lumber repurposed ror shelving or coal bins.

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The blueprints were specifically designed for the neophyte, and included great detail, such as how far apart to space nails! BTW, your Sears House came with 75 pounds of nails!

The blueprints were specifically designed for the neophyte, and included great detail, such as how far apart to space nails! The typical 1920s Sears House came with 750 pounds of nails!

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One of my favorite finds in Richmond is the Sears Strathmore.

One of my favorite finds in Richmond is the Sears Strathmore (1936 catalog).

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Oh my, whats not to love!

Oh my, what's not to love! Beautiful house with a Buckingham slate roof and original windows. Be still my heart!

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This was Sears Modern Home #190, offered in the early 1910s.

This was Sears Modern Home #190, offered in the early 1910 (1912 catalog).

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Perfect in every way!

Perfect in every way!

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The Sears Avalon is one of my favorite houses, and Richmond has several. I would love to know the back story on this. The Avalon wasnt that big a hit for Sears, and yet Ive found five in Richmond.

The Sears Avalon is one of my favorite houses, and Richmond has several. I would love to know the back story on this. The Avalon wasn't that big a hit for Sears, and yet I've found five in Richmond. I've seen ten of these in the United States, and five of those ten are in Richmond.

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Pic

And it's just a spot-on match to the catalog picture. Notice the small window in the front gable? And the three vents on the side gable? Picture is copyright 2014 Melissa Burgess and may not be used or reproduded without written permission. So there.

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Another Avalon in Richmond, also in beautiful shape.

Another Avalon in Richmond, also in beautiful shape. This one has the original railings. All of these Avalons have that distinctive arched pattern and faux belt course on the brick chimney.

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My favorite Avalon. Oh, what a beauty!

My favorite Avalon. Oh, what a beauty!

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Close-up

Close-up of that arched inset and belt on the Avalon in Richmond.

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In addition to Sears, there were other companies selling kit homes on a national basis, and Gordon Van Tine was one of the larger ones. Total sales were probably a bit more than 50,000, compared to Sears total sales of less than 75,000. The Sussex was one of the Gordon Van Tine models that I found in Richmond.

In addition to Sears, there were other companies selling kit homes on a national basis, and Gordon Van Tine was one of the larger ones. Total sales were probably a bit more than 50,000, compared to Sears total sales of 70,000. The Sussex was one of the Gordon Van Tine models that I found in Richmond.

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Gvt

Picture perfect, this Gordon Van Tine "Sussex" still retains many of its original features.

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This classic Craftsman Style bungalow was a popular model for Gordon Van Tine.

This classic "Craftsman Style" bungalow was a popular model for Gordon Van Tine.

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And heres a fine-looking example of Model #507. Photo is copyright 2012 Taber Andrew Bain and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

And here's a fine-looking example of Model #507. The photo was taken from a side that does not replicate the angle in the catalog , but it's clearly a GVT #507. Photo is copyright 2012 Taber Andrew Bain and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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One of my favorite finds was the Gordon Van Tine #124.

One of my favorite finds in Richmond was the Gordon Van Tine #124.

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Although next time Im in town, I need to bring my chain saw so I can get a better photo.

Next time I'm in town, I need to bring my chain saw so I can get a better photo. Nonetheless, I'm confident it's the real deal, as I found the original testimonial in a 1913 GVT catalog.

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Aladdin was another major contender in the kit home business. In fact, they were larger than Sears. Aladdin had a mill in WIlmington, NC which explains why - typically - Ive found more Aladdin homes in Virginia than Sears Homes.

Aladdin was another major contender in the kit home business. In fact, they were larger than Sears. Aladdin had a mill in WIlmington, NC which explains why - typically - in Virginia, I've found more Aladdin homes than Sears Homes. Shown above is The Ardmore from the 1922 Aladdin catalog.

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Ive never seen an Ardmore. I suspect its a fairly rare kit home. Is this house in Richmond an Aladdin Ardmore?

I've never seen an Ardmore. I suspect it's a fairly rare kit home. Is this house in Richmond an Aladdin Ardmore? The distinctive bracketing on that front porch roof sure suggests it might be, together with that unusual arched porch on the side. It's bigger than the Ardmore, but we know that 30-50% of kit homes were customized when built. So is it an Aladdin or not? Only her builder knows for sure.

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In addition to Sears, Gordon Van Tine and Aladdin, there was another national kit home company: Harris Brothers. They were based in Bay City (as was Aladdin), but Ive found a few Harris Brothers homes in Virginia.

In addition to Sears, Gordon Van Tine and Aladdin, there was another national kit home company: Harris Brothers. They were based in Chicago , but I've found a few Harris Brothers' homes in Virginia. When HB started business, they were known as The Chicago House-Wrecking Company. One hundred years ago, "wrecking" was another word for the careful disassembly of a house. "Wrecked houses" were typically moved and rebuilt at a new site.

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Heres a fine example of

Here's a fine example of HB-1017N. And it's for sale! The side windows flanking the front door are distinctive, as are the tops of those porch columns. The stucco is in good shape, too.

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Heres another example of a Harris Brothers house.

Here's another example of a Harris Brothers' house (Model 1513).

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Oh yeah, baby. Thats what Im talking about!

Oh yeah, baby. That's what I'm talking about! Another perfect match!

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Another Harris Brothers

Another Harris Brothers' #1513, from a different side. That's two of these sweet things in Richmond.

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1928

The Sears Osborn is another beautiful bungalow (1928).

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Osborne

And here's another beautiful example of The Osborn in Richmond. Wow.

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There are also pattern book houses in Richmond. Pattern book homes were different from kit homes, because these houses didnt come with building materials. Youd browse the pages of the catalog, select a home and then youd receive full blueprints and a list of all building materials necessary to build the house. Shown here is

There are also pattern book houses in Richmond. Pattern book homes were different from kit homes, because these houses didn't come with building materials. You'd browse the pages of the catalog, select a home and then you'd receive full blueprints and a list of all building materials necessary to build the house. The image above came from the Harris, McHenry and Baker Company catalog, but these plan book houses were offered by many regional lumber companies.

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fe

Love the stucco pattern! I've never seen this pattern before, but I suspect there's a name for it.

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Shown above is but a smattering of the kit homes we’ve discovered in Richmond. To learn more, come to the talk on Thursday night (the 25th), and meet Rose!

It’ll be a fun evening, and informative, too!

To learn more about the talk and obtain tickets, click here.

Thanks to Rachel for sharing her images from the 1913 Gordon Van Tine catalog.

Thanks to Melissa for the wonderful picture of the Sears Avalon!

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Richmond, Virginia Continues to Amaze

April 5th, 2014 Sears Homes 7 comments

UPDATE! Rose will be giving a talk in Richmond on September 25th at the Virginia Center of Architecture! Click here for more details!

April 4th of this year, I had a delightful time riding around Richmond in a Lexus SUV filled with several knowledgeable, intelligent and interesting women, who also happened to be history buffs and old house lovers.

It was purely enjoyable.

We began our adventure with a single-minded purpose: Looking for kit homes.

On my previous two trips to Richmond, I’d driven myself around town, finding a few treasures here and there, but searching for kit houses is tough when you’re the driver and the watcher.

There were several fun discoveries yesterday, but my #1 favorite was a rare pre-WW1 kit house that I had never seen before. It was a Gordon Van Tine Model #124, and it was on a main drag through town.

And better yet, once I pulled out my books at home and did a little research, I learned that this house in Richmond was featured in a 1913 Gordon Van Tine catalog! Scroll on down to learn more!

Thanks so much to Barb, Melissa, Anne and Jessica for making Friday such a fun day, and thanks especially to Molly for her deft navigation of Richmond’s old neighborhoods!

To read about our other finds in Richmond, click here.

And thanks to Rachel for sending me a copy of her very rare 1913 Gordon Van Tine catalog! You can find Rachel’s blog here!

To learn more about Gordon Van Tine, click here.

1913 Gordon

Many folks have heard of Sears kit homes, but not too many have heard of Gordon Van Tine. This was another national kit home company that - like Sears - sold entire kit homes through mail order. The company was based in Iowa, but we've found several GVT homes in Richmond. Shown above is a 1913 Gordon Van Tine catalog.

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house 1913 124

GVT Model 124 was called "A Beautiful Stucco Home" (1913 catalog).

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let me not be put to shame

Stucco "gives an air of distinction and an artistic effect..." (1913 catalog).

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flp

Number 124 had spacious rooms, lots of windows and a built-in window seats in the living room!

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houdr house

Not sure about the lavendar paint and green roof, but it is a fine-looking house.

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Its well hidden by the verdant landscape, butthe greenery,

It's well hidden by the lush greenery, but there's little doubt that this house is a Gordon Van Tine #124. Of all the fun things we discovered on Friday, this was my #1 favorite discovery. But it gets better...

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house hvirginia

Seems that a fellow named Mr. Farley built a #124 in Virginia.

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house

Mr. Farley says his house was "modified," but the only difference I can readily see is this half-timber effect on the porch gable. I didn't see that on the other images in this catalog.

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And yet, here it is in the house in Richmond.

And yet, if you can peek around the flying flag, you can see this half-timber effect within that porch gable. Could it be? Is this Mr. Farley's house that was featured in the 1913 catalog?

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Apparently

According to the Richmond City Directory, Ernest W. Farley, Jr. and his wife Lucille were living at this address in 1944. Ernest Watson Farley Sr. married Maude Starke on April 12, 1911, and their son (Junior) was born in Feburary 1912. Given that this testimonial appeared in the 1913 catalog, it's likely that E. W. Farley built this house for Maude soon after their wedding, and then deeded the house to his son in later years.

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What an unexpected delight!

What an unexpected delight to find *the* house featured in a 100-year-old testimonial! And there's a brass plaque on the front of Mr. Farley's home. If anyone knows what's inscribed on it, please let me know.

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To learn more about kit houses in Richmond, click here.

To join us on Facebook, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

Update! Thanks to Anne, I have a little more information on the Farley Family. The first name of both father and son was Ernst (not Ernest, as it appears in the city directory), and Ernst Watson Farley, Jr. was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1968-1971. Delegate E. W. Farley was born in February 1912, and it seems likely that he was born in the GVT #124.

Father (Ernst Watson Farley Sr.) was born in 1879, and was the founder of RECO Industrial Pressure Vessels (in 1914), which was originally located on Brook Street. I wonder if Father started the new business in his new home?

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