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The Sears Homes in Somerville, New Jersey

July 9th, 2012 Sears Homes 6 comments

Prior to May 2012, I’d never heard of Somerville, New Jersey.

And then I wrote a blog on the Sears Milton, and on the catalog page that features the Sears Milton, there was a small snippet mentioning that the Milton had also been built in Somerville, New Jersey.

I contacted a few folks in Somerville, and Marge Sullivan was kind enough to respond. Better than just responding, Marge sent photos, too.

In fact, not only did Marge send photos of the Sears Milton, but she also sent photos of several other Sears Homes in Somerville.

For years, I’d suspected that New Jersey was awash in Sears kit homes.

Sears had three mills, and Port Newark (New Jersey) was home to Sears second largest mill. And there were also seven Sears Modern Homes Sales Centers in New Jersey. There were only 40 of these sales centers in the country.

Sears strategically placed sales centers in areas where sales were very strong. Not surprisingly, sales increased in areas that boasted of having a Sears Modern Homes Sales Center.

In New Jersey, their seven sales centers were in Camden, Elizabeth, Hackensack, Long Branch, Newark, Paterson and Plainfield.

To learn more about these unique retail stores, click here.

And perhaps most interesting is that there’s a Sears Altona missing in Somerville. According to the Sears Modern Homes catalog, it was built in Somerville, but folks there are having a tough time finding it.

It may have been demolished or it may have been remodeled beyond all recognition. But we do know that one was built in Somerville, and that  L. B. Thatcher was the original builder. If someone in Somerville has access to a city directory, that last name may help in locating the missing Altona.

Many thanks to Marge Sullivan and also to the Somerville Historic Advisory Committee for sharing these wonderful photos!

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

To read about the Sears Milton in Somerville, click here.

Somewhere in Somerville, theres a Sears Altona!

Somewhere in Somerville, there's a Sears Altona!

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And according to this, it was built by L.

And according to this, it was built by L.B. Thatcher sometime before 1916.

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And theres a Sears Milton in Somerville, too.

And there's a Sears Milton in Somerville, too.

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Thanks to Marge Sullivan and the

Thanks to Marge Sullivan and the Somerville Historic Advisory Committee, we know where the Sears Milton is in Somerville! Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Sears Arlington, from the 1919 catalog.

The Sears Arlington, from the 1919 catalog.

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And heres a real beauty in Somerville, NJ.

And here's a real beauty in Somerville, NJ. This house is such a good match to the catalog page that it makes me swoon! For 90+ years, the asbestos, aluminum and vinyl siding salesmen have been kept at bay! This Arlington retains its original siding, columns and windows. Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Sears Carlin (also known as the Windsor) was for better class workers. Ive often wondered what Sears offered for the lower class workers.

The Sears Carlin (also known as the Windsor) was for "better class workers." I've often wondered what Sears offered for the "lower class workers."

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Another beautiful example of a Sears kit home in Somerville, NJ.

Another beautiful example of a Sears kit home in Somerville, NJ. It's so delightful to see these homes in largely original condition. Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And what all-American town doesnt have an Americus?

And what all-American town doesn't have an Americus?

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Actually, there are many All American Towns that do not have an Americus within their borders, but Somerville is not one of them. This Americus is a stunner, and even has its original railings.

Actually, there are many "All American Towns" that do not have an Americus within their borders, but Somerville is not one of them. This Americus is a stunner, and even has its original railings. Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Cornell (also known as the Davenport) was a non-descript little foursquare, and it was also quite popular.

The Cornell (also known as the Davenport) was a non-descript little foursquare, and it was also quite popular. Shown here in the 1928 catalog, it endured to the bitter end, and was also featured in the 1940 catalog.

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This Cornell in Somerville is feeling very festive! Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Berwyn was another hugely popular house for Sears. Its also easy to find with that double-arched entry and long-tall vent in the front gable.

The Berwyn was another hugely popular house for Sears. It's also easy to find with that double-arched entry and tall vent in the front gable. (1929)

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Is this little house in Somerville a Berwyn? My first impression is yes, it is. Its missing the long tall vent in the front gable, but replacing that with a double-sash window would be easy to do. The rest of the house is a spot-on match.

Is this little house in Somerville a Berwyn? My first impression is yes, it is. It's missing the long tall vent in the front gable, but replacing that with a double-sash window would be easy to do. The rest of the house is a spot-on match. Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Sears Lewiston, as

Look, it has an "S" on the chimney, and that's how you can tell it is a Sears Home! WRONG. That silly legend has persisted for many years, but it is NOT true. The "S" is just a stylistic element and has nothing to do with identifying a Sears House. (1930 catalog)

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Is this a Sears Lewiston in Somerville? On this house, it might be good to see a little more info. That metal casement window on the edge

Is this a Sears Lewiston in Somerville? Very possibly, and yet... On this house, it might be good to get a little more info. Is that a metal casement window on the left side? If so, that's a little worrisome. This style of house was hugely popular after WW2, and in my research, the quasi-Lewistons I've found with that metal casement window are always post-WW2. On the other hand, it's also very possible that this window was added in later years. The original wooden casement window that would have been in this spot was notoriously drafty. Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Martha Washington is one of my favorite Sears Homes. (1921 catalog)

The Martha Washington is one of my favorite Sears Homes. (1921 catalog)

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Sears

The Martha Washington in Somerville is another beauty in original condition. Notice the darling benches (hopefully under repair in this photo), also appear in the original catalog picture above. Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Sears

Sears Modern Home #138. Pretty rare house.

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Of all the Sears Homes in Somerville, this is my favorite, Sears Modern Home #138.

Of all the Sears Homes in Somerville, this is my favorite, Sears Modern Home #138. And - as with the other Sears Homes in Somerville - this one is in beautiful condition! Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And my friend Rachel recently discovered a Sears Cedars in Somerville. Itd be great to get a photo of that one, too!

And my friend Rachel recently discovered a Sears Cedars in Somerville. It'd be great to get a photo of that one, too!

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Do you know where the Sears Altona is in Somerville? If so, please leave a comment below!

To read the next blog, click here.

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Healthy Bungalows

January 23rd, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Dr. Joseph Lister - a 19th Century British physician - is largely responsible for the bungalow craze, but that’s one tidbit that I’ve never seen in my books on architectural history. The fact is, Joseph Lister and his germ theory dramatically changed the way Americans thought about their homes.

For so many years, mothers could only watch in helpless horror as their young children died from any one of a myriad of “common” diseases. And then in the late 1800s, Dr. Joseph Lister discovered that germs were culprit. Mothers and fathers, weary of burying their infants, had a new arch enemy: household dirt. As is explained in the 1908 book, Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’ Cook-Book:

Not many years ago disease was most often deemed the act of Providence as a chastening or visitation for moral evil. Many diseases are now known to be merely human ignorance and uncleanliness. The sins for which humanity suffers are violations of the laws of sanitation and hygiene, or simply the one great law of absolute sanitary cleanliness… Every symptom of preventable disease and communicable disease…should suggest the question: “Is the cause of this illness an unsanitary condition within my control?”

Now that the enemy had been identified, modern women attacked it with every tool in their arsenal. Keeping a house clean was far more than a matter of mere pride: The well-being, nay, the very life of one’s child might depend upon a home’s cleanliness. What mother wanted to sit at the bedside of their sick child, tenderly wiping his fevered brow and pondering the awful question: “Was the cause of this illness an unsanitary condition within my control?”

Because of Dr. Lister and his germ theory, the ostentatious, dust-bunny-collecting Queen Anne, with its ornate woodwork, fretwork and gingerbread fell from favor with a resounding thud.

Simplicity, harmony and durability are the keynotes of the modern tendency. The general intention seems to be to avoid everything that is superfluous; everything that has a tendency to catch and hold dust or dirt. Wooden bedsteads are being replaced by iron or brass; stuffed and upholstered furniture by articles of plain wood and leather. Bric-a-brac, flounces, valances and all other superfluous articles are much less fashionable (from Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’ Cook-Book).

Remember the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”? There’s a 1920s scene where George Baily and his girlfriend pause in front of the massive Second Empire house. It sits abandoned and empty, deteriorating day by day. This was not an uncommon fate for Victorian manses in post-germ theory America. Who knew what germs lay in wait within its hard-to-clean walls?

The February 1911 Ladies’ Home Journal was devoted to the new housing style: Bungalows. One headline said, “The Bungalow, because of its easy housekeeping possibilities is becoming more popular every year.

And all because of Dr. Lister.

(By the way, Dr. Lister did not invent the popular mouthwash but it was named after him and his discoveries.)

To learn more about the bungalows sold by Sears, click here.

Germ Theory

The Clorox man's claim to fame was superior germ-killing abilities. Note the adoring women praising him. Sadly, they're all wearing aprons. Well, maybe it's not so much sad as SCARY!

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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The Built-in Breakfast Nook: Practical, Useful, and Just Darn Cute

January 14th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Built-in breakfast nooks became wildly popular in the early 1920s and especially so in kit homes. After the grand Victorian home fell from favor, the bungalow craze took over and suddenly The Little House was the best house to have. (As Henry David Thoreau said, “Simplify, simplify, simplify,” and Ralph Waldo Emerson is purported to have responded, “I think one simplify would have been enough.”)

Bungalows were a fine idea whose time had come, but there was one problem: space! Creative builders and architects improvised by creating intimate spaces in small areas, such as a built-in table and matching benches for the morning meal. It was a wonderful idea, and also saved the housewife some work. It was far easier to set up and clean off a small table in the kitchen than frittering away the hours dealing with meal preparation at the formal dining room table.

Below are pictures from catalogs and magazines of the time, showing the breakfast nook of the early 1920s. At the bottom is a picture from a 1919 issue of Popular Mechanics, showing a “convertible” breakfast nook! Table by day, stiff-as-a-tabletop bed by night.

Hopefully, some history loving old-house homeowners will be able to use these vintage photos to restore the breakfast nooks in their own homes.

The first is from the February 1911 Ladies’ Home Journal. It appeared in an article titled, “If a Woman Must Work From Home.”

To read more about breakfast nooks (and see more photos), click here.

A little scant in terms of detail, but still cute.

A little scant in terms of detail, but still cute.

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This simple breakfast table was offered with the Sears kit home, The Verona.

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This fine looking table was offered in the Sears Preston, a spacious Colonial kit home. Note that the benches don't have backs! Nothing says comfort like a hard-plaster wall!

Nook

This page features the breakfast table offered in the Sears Magnolia. These seats have backs!

Breakfast

This "breakfast alcove" came with the Sears home, The Honor.

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The "Pullman Breakfast Alcove" came with your Sears Ashmore. More modest than the others, it has simple benches with no seat backs.

And its in color!  From a late 1920s Wardway/Gordon Van Tine catalog, this breakfast nook looks cozy and inviting.

And it's in color! From a late 1920s Wardway/Gordon Van Tine catalog, this breakfast nook looks cozy and inviting.

The image below appeared in the June 1919 issue of Popular Mechanics and provided the ultimate space saver. By day, it was a cute little trestle table with matching benches. By night, it was an extra sleeping space for your overnight guests.

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Easy to make and simple to use, this "convertible" breakfast table provided extra sleeping space for visitors.

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As seen in the 1919 Popular Mechanics, this breakfast nook could be folded out into a bed. Overnight Guests - it's what's for dinner!

And the real deal - in the flesh - a 1930s breakfast nook as seen in the Sears Lynnhaven in southern Illinois.

Sears caption

Awesome rooster towels not included.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn more about Wardway Homes, click here.

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

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