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Posts Tagged ‘carlinville and sears homes’

“I Was The Petted Daughter of a Rich Man…”

November 21st, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

“Look at those prices!”

That’s probably the #1 comment I hear from people as they browse the pages of an old Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Why were Sears kit homes priced so incredibly low?

Well, they weren’t really. Like everything else in history, the prices of early 20th Century housing have to be looked at in context.

One context to consider is taxation. In 1918, only the very wealthy paid federal income tax. In fact, only 5% of Americans paid any income tax at all. If your employer paid you $15 a week, you took home $15 a week.

The other issue is inflation. Pervasive, savings-eroding inflation has not always been a way of life in America.

In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the first step that moved us off the gold standard. It was a desperate attempt to re-inflate the sagging dollar. In 1933, Roosevelt issued Executive Order #6102, requiring Americans to deliver their gold to the Federal Reserve.

At the time, law required that Federal Reserve notes (aka “dollars”) had to be backed by 40% gold reserves held in the vaults at the Federal Reserve. That was our first disconnect from a true gold standard. The second came in 1971 when President Nixon permanently disconnected us from the gold standard.

After that, the Federal Reserve was free to print as much money as they felt was needed. And it was (not coincidentally) in the 1970s when inflation hit double digits.

A stable (non-inflating) economy made it far easier for people to save up their dollars over a period of years and eventually purchase a home. (Inflation rewards those who borrow and penalizes those who save.) In the early 1900s, taking on debt of any kind was considered foolhardy, dangerous and even reckless.

There was no “rush to buy” because the price of housing (and the value of dollars) was fairly stable. Young couples took their time and often spent many, many years saving up to buy a home.

The third historical context that needs to be considered is simplicity. Take a look the Sears Kismet (shown below). This house has 520 square feet with two bedrooms that measure 8′ by 9′. I’m not sure, but I think a FEMA trailer is bigger than that.

The fourth issue is building codes (a subset of simplicity, really). It was estimated that a kit home cost 30-40% less than a comparable stick-built home. The average joe could order his dream home out of the Sears Roebuck catalog, and within 90 days, his 12,000-piece kit would be delivered to the train station. Many locales did require building permits, but it was nothing like the process is today.

The building permit was - above all - a way for the city/county to make sure that no opportunity for new taxes was overlooked.

Homeowners often installed their own plumbing, electrical, heating and mechanical systems.  And these systems were simple. Fuse boxes were 30-amp service, with one outlet in each room (if that!). Plumbing consisted of a sink in the kitchen and one bathroom. Maybe. Heating systems were often “pipleless” which was a nice way of saying it was a massive space heater in a center hallways.

Houses were much smaller and simpler, and building codes were quite lax.

Still want an $800 house?  :)

Dollar for dollar, the Katrina Cottages offered by Lowes were comparable. These were very basic, very small kit homes selling for $20,000 or so (depending on model). Interestingly, they’re no longer available.

The world has changed since Sears first offered these kit homes in 1908. Most folks today would not find The Kismet suitable. And how many people have the skills to build a 12,000-piece kit? And I don’t know of any city in America where you could build a small house without a whole lot of government intrusion and/or oversight.

But I digress.

The main point is, wages in the 1910s and 1920s were a fraction of today’s incomes. According to American Carpenter and Builder Magazine (December 1912), skilled carpenters in Chicago were earning 65 cents an hour and plumbers were making 75 cents an hour.

In the early days, Ladies’ Home Journal was a magazine devoted to helping women get into a home of their own. Each issue was filled with stories from people who had overcome financial adversities and bought or built their own house on tiny incomes.

Some stories had headings such as, “How a wife did it herself,” and “Bought her own home with nine children and $800 a year income.”  These stories paint a vivid word picture of how much toil and sacrifice pre-World War I families endured to have a home of their own.

The following story appeared in the October 1903 Ladies’ Home Journal and was the winning entry for the magazine’s series, “How some families have saved for their own homes.”

It’s a wonderful story that really demonstrates the sacrifice involved in purchasing a home at the turn of the last century. The wages mentioned in this piece lend some additional insight to the dollar values of the day, and help explain the low prices of homes offered in the Sears catalogs.

We planted a garden and my husband worked it himself. He [arose] every morning at about four and worked [in the garden] until time to go to the shop - about two hours.  We’d sell the vegetables at market, keeping only a minimum for ourselves.

We could not afford to buy a sewing machine, so I rented an old-fashioned hand machine at $3 a year and had to turn the wheel with one hand and guide the work with the other.  I would sew every night (taking in work for hire) never retiring earlier than one o’clock.  I got up at five every morning.

So much work came to me that [many] nights, I would sit up until daybreak, snatch an hour’s nap, then get up to cook breakfast  My husband would get up when I retired, work his garden, split the wood, build a fire in the kitchen stove, bring in enough water for the day (we had no well) and then set the coffee pot to boil. I did the washing and ironing and made my own soap.

Three years thus rolled away. My husband’s wages went up to $8 a week but we still practiced the most rigid economy and cut off some of our necessities. Our cow had a calf and when he was one year old, we killed him and sold the meat.

To clothe my little boy, I took my husband’s cast-off clothing, turned it wrong side out and cut out the best portions, making the boy’s clothes.

At the end of seven years, my husband’s wages had increased to $9 a week. After seven years of struggle and extreme economy, toil and labor, today finds us with a comfortable home, horses and cows.

As for myself, before my marriage I never knew the value of money as I was the petted daughter of a rich man.

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In the early 1900s, Ladies Home Journal was a housing magazine for women.

In the early 1900s, Ladies' Home Journal was a housing magazine for women.

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The magazines pages were filled with articles on how to buy a nice house.

The magazine's pages were filled with articles on how to build or buy a nice house.

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In the early 1900s, houses were cheap, but so were wages.

In the early 1900s, houses were cheap, but so were wages. In 1920, these women (sorting incoming orders for Montgomery Ward) probably didn't make $1,000 a year. In 1920, the average teacher's salary was $920 a year.

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Heating systems were very primitive compared to todays modern furnaces and boilers. The pipeless furnace was hugely popular. It would be set in the crawlspace or basement near the center point of the house. The living room would be tropical, while the folks upstairs could see their breath.

Heating systems were very primitive compared to today's modern furnaces and boilers. The "pipeless furnace" was hugely popular. It would be set in the crawlspace or basement near the center point of the house. The living room would be tropical, while the folks upstairs could see their breath.

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The Kismet, as shown in the 1919 catalog.

The Kismet, as shown in the 1919 catalog.

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Could

Pretty small house. Could you raise five kids in the house? Many folks did. There was the parent's bedroom and the kids' bedroom. If you were really fancy, you might get a three-bedroom house with a girls' bedroom and a boys' bedroom.

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This Kismet in Elmhurst, Illinois is a cutie, but its pretty small.

This Kismet in Elmhurst, Illinois is a cutie, but it's pretty small. And it's had a substantial addition added onto the back of the house.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy your loved one the PERFECT Christmas gift, click here!

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The Sears Silverdale in Headache, Illinois

August 27th, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

Well, that’s what my husband calls it. In fact, it’s Hettick, Illinois, a small town in central Illinois, about 60 miles north of St. Louis, Missouri.

When I told Hubby about the find, the West Virginia filters on his hearing translated Hettick into “Headache.”

The Silverdale is an interesting house, because it looks like every early 20th Century farmhouse on every rural route in the Midwest. In my travels, I’ve probably seen dozens of them, but discounted most of them, because it’s so hard to positively identify them.

Do you have a Silverdale in your town? Please send me a photo!

Edited to add: A reader noticed that this house in Hettick, IL is actually a better match to the GVT version (#167)! I hope to add more-better photos in a couple days!

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The Silverdale as seen in the 1921 catalog.

The Silverdale as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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1916 catalog

The Silverdale also appeared in the 1916 catalog.

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The Headache House (well, Hettick, actually).

The Headache House (well, Hettick, actually).

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Another view

Another view of the Silverdale in Hettick.

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Floorplan 1921

Floorplan for the first floor.

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Second floor silverdale

Second floor of the Silverdale. Note, there's no livable space over the kitchen. Back in the day, the room over the kitchen was considered uninhabitable, due to heat and smells that wafted from the kitchen below.

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house hosue testimonial

There are more than a few Silverdales around.

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house house house

Mr. Egan and Wife seemed to be pretty happy with their Silverdale.

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Typical

Typical hinge found in Sears kit home. This was found in the Silverdale in Hettick.

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Silverdale

An old glass window (with diamond muntins) has survived the remodelings.

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To read about the Sears Homes in Carlinville, click here.

To learn more about why I was in Hettick, click here.

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Carlinville, Illinois and its Sears Homes

January 15th, 2011 Sears Homes 9 comments

If you’re a frequent visitor to my site, you’ll notice that I have not posted much about Carlinville, IL. This small city in central Illinois (population 5,400) has 152 Sears Homes in a 12-block area. It is NOT the largest collection of Sears Homes in this country (as is often reported). That honor falls to Elgin, Illinois which has more than 210 Sears Homes within the city borders. (Thanks to Rebecca Hunter for this information!)

However, Carlinville does have the largest contiguous collection of Sears Homes.  Those 152 Sears Homes are all in one neighborhood - Standard Addition.

Every time I visit the Midwest (which is once a year or more), I visit Carlinville and Standard Addition. After all, it was this community of Sears Homes that launched my career and inspired me to start writing books on this topic!

In 1999, I wrote an article for my editor (at Old House Web) about Sears Homes and that one article turned into a career, and what a blessing that career has been in my life.

When I visit Standard Addition, I’m saddened to see that so many of these homes are in poor condition.

And as of Spring 2013, I hear it’s just getting worse and worse. It’s time for the city of Carlinville to get serious about saving this unique collection of Sears Homes, because if they continue on the path they’ve been on thus far, there won’t be much left to save.

Want to learn more? Join us on Facebook! We’re listed under “Sears Homes.”

To read about a whole bunch of Sears Homes in other parts of Illinois, click. here.
To buy Rose’s book (and get it inscribed!), click here.

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Sears Roseberry, as it appeared in the 1916 catalog.

Sears Roseberry, as it appeared in the 1916 catalog.

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A Sears Roseberry thats looking a little rough

This little Roseberry has had many modifications. It's a'hurtin'.

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More permastone dons the front of this Roseberry

More permastone dons the front of this Roseberry

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One of the eight models offered in Carlinville was The Warrenton.

One of the eight models offered in Carlinville was "The Warrenton."

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Yuck

When originally built in 1919, this Sears Warrenton looked very different.

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Sears

Another Sears Warrenton with 1960s permastone, 1980s vinyl and 1990s aluminum columns.

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Wow

Sears Gladstone with a closed-in front porch and a new porch added on. To their credit, the garage addition has been done thoughtfully with a hip roof that matches the original structure.

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The Sears Carlin, from the 1919 catalog.

The Sears Carlin, from the 1919 catalog.

Sears Windsor.

The front porch on this Sears Carlin has been completely closed in.

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Carlinville under construction, about 1918.

Carlinville under construction, about 1918.

Vintage Carlinville

Vintage Carlinville. This photo was taken soon after the construction of the Sears Homes were complete and the sidewalks were paved! These houses were originally built by Standard Oil of Indiana for their coal miners in Carlinville, IL.

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See more photos of the St. Louis area Sears Homes by clicking here.

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To read another article on Sears Homes, click here.

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To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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To contact Rose, send an email to thorntonrose@hotmail.com.

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