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New Information on Schoper, Illinois

December 31st, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

All ghost towns have a fascinating history, and Schoper, Illinois is no different.

Located about eight miles from Carlinville, the town of Schoper (also known as Standard City) was originally Thomas Schoper’s 500-acre family farm. In 1918, Standard Oil of Indiana bought the farm (literally) from Schoper, and sunk a 300-feet deep coal mine.

After a coal shortage in 1917, Standard Oil wanted a reliable supply of coal to call their own. The coal was used to fire the stills that refined crude oil and turned it into gasoline.

After the completion of several gelogocial surveys (commissioned by Standard Oil), it was discovered that there was a seven-foot tall seam of coal in the ground at Schoper. As an added bonus, Schoper was near The Chicago and Alton rail line, which was centrally located between the refineries in Wood River (near St. Louis) and Whiting, Indiana (near Chicago).

In 1918, Standard Oil placed a $1 million order (for 192 houses) with Sears Roebuck and Company for 192 Honor-Bilt homes. The houses were purchased for employees in CarlinvilleWood River and Schoper, Illinois. One hundred and fifty six of the houses were built in Carlinville, 12 were built in Schoper and 24 went to Wood River.

The 12 houses were built for the supervisors at the “Schoper Mine.” There were also boarding houses and dorms built at Schoper, for the miners.

By the mid-1920s, the boom at Schoper had gone bust. The price of coal dropped after The Great War (1918), and Standard Oil could now buy their coal cheaper from mines in Kentucky (which did not have unions) than they could mine it in Macoupin County.

In July 1925, a small column on the bottom page of the Macoupin County Enquirer sadly announced that the mine was closed for good.

Nine of the 12 little Sears Houses were painstakingly disassembled and left Schoper the same way they came in:  In pieces and loaded on a boxcar, headed off to destinations unknown.

Two of the Sears Homes were moved intact, to sites just outside of Standard City. The last Sears House at Schoper (The Sears Gladstone) was home to John McMillan and his wife, a supervisor with the mine. After the mine closed, he became a caretaker charged with myriad tasks, such as making sure the powerful fans down in the mine kept the methane down to acceptable levels.

McMillan’s little Gladstone eventually became rental property and burned down sometime in the mid-1990s.  The last remnant at the site was the Schoper Powerhouse and Mine Offices, a massive concrete Federalist structure which was torn down in Summer 2003.

And that was the whole story - until last month - when a reader sent me an email with new information. I’m not sure how he did it, but he found 1930s aerial maps of Schoper, which showed the footprints (and precise location) of the 12 little Sears Homes.

Scroll on down to enjoy the many photos, including the vintage aerial photo from 1937!

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Schoper

In the front pages of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog, this image was erroneously identified as a street view of the houses as "Schopper, Illinois." In fact, this was a picture of the 24 Sears Homes in Wood River. No pictures of Schoper appeared in the Sears Modern Homes catalogs.

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Picture of Schoper from the late 1910s. At the foot of the sidewalk is a 12-bay garage, shared by the occupants of the 12 Sears Homes. The Power House is shown in the background (near Schoper Lake). The Whitehall, Gladstone and Warrenton are shown in the foreground.

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house schoper house

Schoper was the site of a massive, modern colliery (1921 Stanolind Record). As a side note, I have no idea what this massive piece of equipment is. If a reader can identify this, please leave a comment below.

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Mine Road

And here's a bit of that vintage aerial map, showing the placement of those 12 Sears Homes in Schoper (outlined with a red square). The building circled in red is the Schoper Powerhouse.

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map map map 1937

Close-up of the aerial map (1937). The four white squares on each street represent the footprint where the 12 Schoper homes were located.

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house house house house house

And what Rachel Shoemaker discovered - which is nearly unbelievable - is that if you look at this modern aerial view, you can still see the outline of 12 squares, representing the placement of those 12 Schoper houses.

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Schoper rose

It was claimed that the ’s six dynamos in the Schoper Power House had the potential to create enough electricity to power the entire state of Illinois. The local papers said it was the most powerful steam-driven power plant in the world. The smokestack was 213 feet tall and was the second highest peak in Macoupin County, only a little shorter than the spire atop the Macoupin County Courthouse in Carlinville. The picture above was taken in 2002, about a year before it was torn down.

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schoper house

The Schoper Power House, as seen in the 1921 Stanolind Record. When completed in mid-1919, the Power House also brought electricity to those twelve Sears houses. They were the only "electrified" houses in Schoper. The rest of the community would not know the joys of electric lights until power lines from Carlinville made their way to Standard City in the 1930s.

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house schoper

For many years, that last remaining Sears house (John McMillan's Gladstone) stood alone on a plot that was rapidly reverting to its primitive status as farmland. After the mines closed, McMillan became the mine’s caretaker. It was his job to descend into the deserted coal mine several times a week, grease the water pumps and turn them on. Ground water, which seeped into the mine, had to be pumped out frequently. He was also responsible for turning on the powerful ventilating fans to remove any build-up of firedamp - highly explosive methane gas - which accumulates in coal mines. As of 2003 (when this photo was taken), all that was left of the 12 Schoper Houses was this slight indent in the field.

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Schoper Lake

When Schoper was created in the late 1910s, a creek alongside the powerhouse was damned up to create a seven-acre, 40-foot-deep lake. Underground pipes drafted water from the lake to the powerhouse for the steam engines.

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To see the original vintage map, click here.

To read more about Carlinville’s kit homes, click here.

The above was excerpted from The Houses That Sears BuiltTo buy the book, click here.

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A Sad Story That Needs a Good Ending: Carlinville’s “Standard Addition”

September 26th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

In the early years of the 1900s,

About 1918, Standard Oil purchased 192 kit homes from Sears & Roebuck. Carlinville ended up with 156 of these homes (offered in eight models). The 12-block area where these homes were built (in an old wheat field) came to be known as Standard Addition. Sears proudly touted this sale to Standard Oil as "the largest order ever placed," and pictures of Carlinville appeared in the front pages of the Modern Homes catalog for many years. This letter (shown above) appeared on the back page of the catalog until 1929.

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House

Standard Addition's homes - some of which were not wholly finished - appeared in the 1919 and 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Of the 192 houses sold to Standard Oil, 156 ended up in Carlinville, 24 were sent to Wood River (where Standard Oil had a large refinery) and 12 ended up in Schoper, IL (site of a large coal mine). Pictured above is the Warrenton model (left) and the Whitehall (right).

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In 1921, images of the completed neighborhood first appeared in the Searsm Modern Homes catalog.

In 1921, images of the completed neighborhood appeared in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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house house house 1921

Close-up of the "birdseye view" from the 1921 catalog. From left to right is the Gladstone, Roseberry, Warrenton, and Whitehall. And look at that darling little building behind the Whitehall. Is it still there?

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House

These homes were occasionally featured in "The Stanolind Record," an employee newsletter put out by Standard Oil. This image appeared with the caption, "Carlinville is coming out of the mud," which simply meant that streets would soon be laid, replacing the muddy roads.

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All of which brings me to the point of this blog. Standard Addition is at great risk of being lost.

And all the photos above bring me to the point of this blog. Standard Addition - this unique, historic and one-of-a-kind community - is at great risk. This "Roseberry" on Johnson Street caught fire in early 2013 and has not been razed yet. Derelict houses (such as this) contribute heavily to blight, and once blight takes root in a neighborhood, reversal can take decades. At best, this house poses a threat to public health and safety. At worst, it's an anchor that's dragging this historic neighborhood further into the muck. Would you want to live next door to this? How many months before this house gets torn down?

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Last month

Last month, a suspected meth lab was discovered in the 1000-block of Johnson Street, in the heart of Standard Addition. Once a house is used for "cooking" meth, making it suitable again for habitation can be expensive.

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Full story here: http://www.sj-r.com/breaking/x1367241203/Two-suspected-meth-labs-found-in-Carlinville

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And theres also the problem on insensitive remodeling.

And there's also the problem of insensitive remodeling. And it is quite a problem.

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Another

As built, these homes were very small (less than 1,100 square feet) but there are ways to increase square footage without diminishing the historicity of these unique homes.

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In short, it’s time for the state legislature and/or city council to step in and figure out what legislation is needed to protect this one-of-a-kind historic collection of Sears Homes in Carlinville. I’ve remained “astonished* that there is no signage, no billboards, no announcements of any kind welcoming the flat-lander tourist to come visit “Standard Addition.”

At the very least, there should be billboards in St. Louis, Alton (by the casino), Edwardsville and other “hot spots” inviting people to come see this fun collection of kit homes. There should be a website, self-guided driving brochures, maps, etc, promoting the area.

But there is nothing,

In my 14 years of experience in this niche field of America’s architectural history, I’ve never come across another collection of Sears kit homes quite like Standard Addition.

One week ago today, I drove through Standard Addition, admiring the pretty houses and dismayed by the blighted ones, and I glimpsed, more now than ever, something must be done to preserve and protect this neighborhood.

Before it’s too late.

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To learn more about the eight models in Standard Addition, click here.

To learn more about the building of Standard Addition (and the female supervisor of the project), click here.

In 2003, CBS Sunday Morning News came to Standard Addition.

To read about Illinois’ own ghost town (Schoper, IL), click right here.

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“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 No 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.

Thanks to the gracious folks who own this house in Hettick, I got a tour of the inside and because of that, I’m able to say with 99% confidence that this is a Sears Silverdale.

This house in Hettick has several things distinguishing it as a Silverdale:

1)  Pre-remodeling, it was a perfect match to the Silverdale floorplan.

2) It’s in Hettick, IL, and on a line between Cairo Illinois (where the homes were milled) and Chicago (where Sears was located). In other words, it’s in the heart of Sears House-Land.

3) Inside, this house has Sears hardware. This is a biggie.

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

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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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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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The Beaumont: Extra Convenience

May 29th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

When Rebecca and I were reviewing and comparing our Life Lists, Rebecca identified the Sears Beaumont as one of the Sears Homes that she’d never seen.

“I’ve only seen one,” I told her, “and it was in Carlinville, Illinois.”

Rebecca laughed out loud and said, “I might have driven right past it and not noticed it!”

Me, too.

In 2004, I gave a talk in Carlinville on Sears Homes.

The event was organized by Beth Kaburick, Head Librarian at the Carlinville Public Library.  I was so impressed with her professionalism and her passion for Carlinville’s history. I had first met Beth in 1999, when I spent countless hours at her library, researching Sears Homes, first for an article, and then later for my books.

Beth went out of her way to help me with my research. In 2004, when I gave the talk in Carlinville, it was well publicized and well attended, thanks wholly to Beth. (Sadly, Beth died in June 2007 in a tragic car accident.)

It was after that talk that someone told me about a Sears Home outside of Standard Addition (where 150 Sears Homes are located). The gentleman gave me the street name but wasn’t sure of the specific address.

Immediately after the talk, I drove up and down that street - in the dark - trying to figure out which Sears House I’d missed! As the author of several books on kit homes, I’d driven on that street too many times to count, and had never seen any Sears Homes.

And there in the dark, I saw an interesting Colonial Revival/Bungalowish-type house with a familiar-looking attic window. I grabbed my dog-eared copy of Houses by Mail and hastily thumbed through it and found my match:  The house I’d found in the dark - thanks to a kind stranger at a lecture - was a Sears Beaumont.

That was eight years ago, and it was (and remains) the only Beaumont I’ve ever seen.

To see vintage pictures of Carlinville and Schoper, click here.

To read about the woman who supervised the construction of Standard Addition, click here.

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1919

In the 1919 catalog, the heading proclaimed that the Beaumont had "Extra convenience." Unfortunately, the text in the body offers no clue as to what they're talking about.

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1921

In 1921, the price on the Beaumont increased $500 or about 26%. Pretty steep increase for two year's time. And apparently what it gained in price it lost in "convenience." Now the heading had changed from the dramatic ("Extra convenience") to the pedestrian ("Six rooms and bath").

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floorplan 1921

The Beaumont's floorplan (1921 catalog).

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2004 or so

The Beaumont, as it looked in 2004.

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house

In February 2010, I traveled to Carlinville to do more research for my book, "The Sears Homes of Illinois." That's when this photograph was taken. Notice, a plague of vinyl siding salesmen had descended upon the house since the last photo in 2004.

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Another view of the Beaumont.

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The attic window that caught my eye

That night, when I first saw the Beaumont, it was the attic window that caught my eye.

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Attic window again

Nice match to the catalog picture!

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To learn more about the 150 Sears Homes in Carlinville, click here or here.

To buy Rose’s newest book, click here.

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The Sears Fullerton: “Meets The Needs of So Many People”

May 9th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

The foursquare is one of my favorite housing styles (but then again, I love them all). For 18 years, my name was Rosemary Fuller, so I have a special affinity for the Sears Fullerton for familial reasons, too!

The Fullerton was one of Sears most popular housing styles and it’s easy to identify because it has many distinctive features. Most notable are the flared columns on the front porch with the paneled columns on top.  The Fullerton also has three windows on the home’s front, and the small “landing window” on the side. The attic dormer is also distinctive. The Sears Fullerton has a broad, low dormer window with an undersized sash.

This foursquare also has something I have never seen on any other Sears House: A fireplace chimney that’s centered on the roof! The Fullerton has a pyramidal hip roof, and the chimney is very near the apex of that pyramidal hip. As the chimney rises up through the attic, the bricks are laid in a “twist,” so that the chimney pops out through the roof’s center.

It’s one of the most unusual features I’ve ever seen in a kit house, and it’s unique to the Fullerton.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

If you’re here to read about Addie’s exhumation, this is the place to click.

Sears Fullerton as seen in the 1925 catalog.

Sears Fullerton as seen in the 1925 catalog.

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So many reasons to love the Fullerton...

So many reasons to love the Fullerton...

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Good floorplan, too!

The Fullerton had "good morning" stairs, which was a small staircase that opened into the kitchen. The idea was you could toddle downstairs and enter the kitchen without disturbing the folks in the living room.

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The 1925 catalog featured some interior views!

The 1925 catalog featured some "interior" views. This shot of the staircase shows another unique feature: That closet door off the landing, and the small built-in table by the door.

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And the living room!

The fireplace in the living room dominates the Fullerton.

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And the kitchen

And the most modern kitchen!

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Sears

Notice the flared brick columns with the paneled tops (1925).

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Sears Fullerton in Aurora, IL

Sears Fullerton in Aurora, IL, replete with flared columns and paneled tops!

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Sears Fullerton in Hampton

Sears Fullerton in Hampton. Notice that tiny window in that massive dormer.

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Olstead

Classic Fullerton in Olmstead, IL.

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Fullerton in DC

Another classic Fullerton, but this one has endured some plasticine siding and icky replacement windows. This house is in DC, which is not known for being kind to their Sears Homes. In 2008, the municipality tore down a *beautiful* Sears Fullerton, despite a massive grass roots effort to save the house. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without specific permission.

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Fullerton in Roanoke

Sears Fullerton in Roanoke with a porte cochere.

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Wood River

Sears Fullerton in Wood River, Illinois. In the 1930s, a tornado went through this area and destroyed many of the front porches.

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Elgin

Elgin, IL has the largest known collection of kit homes in the country. This Fullerton is in Elgin. Dr. Hunter has done an amazing amount of research on Sears Homes, and she's the author of several books on the topic. She lives in Elgin, IL.

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The Fullerton was the one of two foursquares that endured into the early 1930s, and appeared in the 1933 Book of Modern Homes catalog. e into the 1930s,

The Fullerton was the one of two foursquares that endured into the early 1930s, and appeared in the 1933 "Low Cost Homes" catalog.

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To learn more about Dr. Hunter and her books, click here.

To visit Dr. Hunter’s website, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Is Your Neighbor’s House a Sears Kit House?

July 8th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Next time your neighbor invites you over for high tea, take that opportunity to go into their basement and inspect his/her framing members for marks.  More than 90% of the people living in these homes don’t realize what they have. Incredibly, most of these Sears Homeowners tell me - after learning about the unique history of their house - that they’d “never noticed all those numbers” on their floor joists! Or, they saw them and had no idea what they meant.

Below are pictures of marked lumber in Sears Homes!

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This mark - so bold and pretty - was invisible to the eye of the homeowner. She'd lived in this house for 20 years and was totally surprised to see this mark on *all* of her floor joists. This is a typical mark found in a Sears Home. It's a letter and a three-digit number. A is for 2x4, B is 2x6, C is 2x8 and D is 2x10. The numbers - together with detailed blueprints and a 75-page instruction book - told the novice home builder how all those pieces and parts went together.

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Another 2x10 in another Midwestern basement. The number is typically found 2-6" inches from the end of the joist, and can also be found on the butt end of the lumber.

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Sometimes, the marks are easy to spot - if you know where to look.

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Sometimes, they're not so easy to see. This is a 2x4 on the underside of a staircase in a Sears Sunbeam in Beckley, WV. The mark is very faint. Look at the wide part of the 2x4 and you'll see "A 105" directly below the large nail.

Mark

See it now?

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Close-up of the mark (also enhanced).

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At this Sears Vallonia in Columbia, Illinois, the builder was so proud of his Sears House, he turned the treads and risers wrong-side out, so everyone could see those marks.

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The floor joist on this Sears Magnolia in Benson, NC says "2089" and has a family name written beside it. When the lumber was bundled up and prepared for shipment in Cairo, IL, the model number and buyer's name was scribbled in blue grease pencil. Finding a model number in blue grease pencil on a joist is also an effective means of authenticating a Sears Home.

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Those 12,000 pieces of house were shipped via boxcar, and the shipping crates were wooden, and were marked with the homeowner's name. Oftimes, the old crates were re-used to build coal bins or basement walls. This plank was salvaged from an old shipping crate and nailed to a basement wall in an Osborn in Sidney, IL.

Sears

This is a mark found on a newer (post-1934) Sears Home.

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Shipping labels can also provide proof that you have a Sears kit home. Often, the words "Sears and Roebuck" do not appear anywhere on the label, but contain only Sears address: 925 Homan Avenue, Chicago, IL. Shipping labels are often found on the back of millwork.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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When CBS Sunday Morning News Came to Carlinville, Illinois

June 19th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

The Houses That Sears Built came out at just about the same time that my long-term marriage had a surprise ending. Doing a little back of the envelope ciphering, I figured I had enough money to last for about 60 days, and then I’d be flat busted broke. And I’d only make it to 60 days if I stopped buying groceries and lived very simply. If my book wasn’t supporting me by then, I’d have to do something I’d never done before: Get a real job.

The very idea scared me half out of my wits.

I did a lot of praying and a lot of scrambling. And I ate a lot of meals at friends’ houses.

Six weeks after the book hit the streets, I had a call from a reporter at the New York Times. They were doing a feature story on Sears Homes and they wanted to interview me. The story ran on the front page of the Real Estate section. Next came a phone call from a producer who was putting together a new history show for PBS. He’d seen the piece in the New York Times and wanted to know if I could appear on one of their first episodes.

The show, he told me, was tentatively titled, “History Detectives.”

Next I heard from CBS. They wanted to do a piece on the Sears Homes in Carlinville. We arranged a date and met at the town square. Russ Mitchell was the reporter, and he’d been raised in nearby St. Louis, so this was a great assignment for him.

We tooled around the town and I talked about the Sears Homes of Carlinville, explaining that this was not the largest collection of Sears Homes (Elgin has that honor), but it was the largest contiguous collection, with 152 Sears Homes in a 12-block area. As we drove along, I rattled off the names of the eight models of Sears Homes featured in Carlinville.

It was a wonderful day, and as a result of that show, I was then invited to appear on A&E’s Biography.

It was nine years ago (almost to the day), that we filmed that show for CBS Sunday Morning News. I went on to write five more books, and turns out, I made it past those first 60 days, with a little money left over!

Best of all, I never had to get a “real job.”

:)

Filming

CBS film crew starts shooting the Sears Homes from the top of their specially modified Chevy Suburban.

filming

Wish I could remember this fellow's name. He was incredibly polite and a whole lot of fun.

They also shot footage in St. Louis (Kirkwood), where there are several Sears Homes.

They also shot footage in St. Louis (Kirkwood), where there are several Sears Homes.

Producer and Russ review some details for the next shot.

Producer and Russ review some details for the next shot.

To learn more about Sears Homes in Carlinville, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Carlinville, Illinois: Not The Largest Collection of Sears Homes

June 13th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Carlinville is a small city in central Illinois (population 5,400) with 152 Sears Homes in a 12-block area in a neighborhood known as Standard Addition. It is NOT the largest collection of Sears Homes in this country (as is often reported), but it does have the largest collection of contiguous Sears Homes.

Elgin, Illinois has the largest collection of Sears Homes, with more than 210 houses within its borders! (Thanks to Rebecca Hunter for this information!)

When I visit the Midwest every year or so, I stop in and say hello to 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.

And yet, with each visit, I see this neighborhood slip-sliding downward. It’s very sad to see, and I wish something could be done to preserve and protect this unique collection of Sears Homes. It’s an amazing piece of our architectural history, and is worthy of preservation.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To read another article on Carlinville, click here.

A Sears Roseberry thats looking a little rough

This little Roseberry has had many modifications. It's kind of the Michael Jackson of architecture, with six too many nose jobs.

Yuck

When originally built in 1919, this Sears Warrenton looked very different. If walls could talk, this house would say "Ouch!"

Sears

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

More permastone dons the front of this Roseberry

The Permastone salesman had a lot of success peddling his wares in Carlinville.

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.

Sears Windsor.

The front porch on this Sears Windsor has been completely closed in. That one square window on the enclosed front porch is rather cyclopsian.

Vintage Carlinville

Vintage Carlinville. This photo was taken in the late 1910s when the houses in Carlinville were under construction. These houses were originally built by Standard Oil of Indiana for their coal miners in Carlinville.

To read another article on Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Carlinville and Schoper, Illinois

May 23rd, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

Update! This article was updated in 2013. To read the latest, click here!

I love ghost towns. All ghost towns have a fascinating history, and this one in Schoper, Illinois is no different. It’s the real deal - a boom town that went bust and literally disappeared off the map.

It started in 1918, when Standard Oil of Indiana placed a $1 million order with Sears Roebuck and Company for 192 Honor-Bilt homes. Standard Oil purchased the houses for their workers in Carlinville, Wood River and Schoper, Illinois. Of those 192 houses, 156 landed in Carlinville, 12 were built in Schoper and 24 went to Wood River.

Standard Oil was grateful for the dandy little houses, as is evidenced by this thank-you note that they wrote to Sears.

This thank you note graced the back pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs for many years.

This appeared on the back pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs for many years.

In Schoper, Illinois (about 8 miles from Carlinville), the 12 houses were built for the coal miners at a colliery that would become known as “Schoper Mine.”

Prior to the arrival of Standard Oil, this site had been a typical early 20th Century farm with one old house and a few outbuildings. By the late 1910s, more than 1000 people were living in “Schoper” and in 1920, the 500-acre farm was incorporated as a village and named Standard City.

Standard Oil needed a steady supply of coal to fuel the stills that refined the crude oil into gasoline. Carlinville and Schoper were ideal locations because of the seven-foot thick vein of coal, and also because of its location. The Chicago and Alton rail line ran between Standard Oil’s refineries in Wood River (near St. Louis) and Whiting, Indiana (near Chicago).

Providing homes to workers was a proven tact for creating a more stable workforce, and also attracted “family men,” who were more desirable employees for a plethora of reasons. And in these pre-OSHA days, it was a nice bonus. Mining was horribly dangerous, and an article in the Macoupin County Enquirer (dated September 19, 1923) said that 18 miners died that year in Macoupin County, which was in line with the national average of “one [miner] fatality per 279,354 tons of coal produced.”

Schoper was - at its peak - the largest coal mine in the state of Illinois, employing 650 men and hoisting up to 4,000 tones of coal each day. About 450 men worked at the Berry Mine (Carlinville), producing about 2,000 tons of coal per day.

Times were good. In the early 1920s, Schoper miners worked about 298 days per year, while nationwide, most coal miners were working about 200 days per year.

By the mid-1920s, the boom had gone bust. The price of coal dropped precipitously after The Great War (1918), and Standard Oil could now buy their coal from non-union Kentucky mines far cheaper than they could mine it in Macoupin County.

In July 1925, a small column on the bottom page of the Macoupin County Enquirer said the mine was closed for good.

Nine of the 12 little Sears Houses went out the way they came in:  In pieces and loaded on a boxcar. They were disassembled (which must have been a massive project, but probably provided work for a few idle coal miners), and shipped by train to destinations unknown. Two of the Sears Homes were moved intact, to sites just outside of Standard City. The last Sears House at Schoper (The Sears Gladstone) was home to John McMillan and his wife, a supervisor with the mine. After the mine closed, he became a caretaker making sure the powerful fans kept the methane down to acceptable levels.

McMillan’s little Gladstone eventually became rental property and burned down sometime in the mid-1990s.  The last remnant at the site was the Schoper Powerhouse and Mine Offices, a massive concrete structure which was torn down in Summer 2003.

There’s something about this former boom town that is compelling and even haunting. Driving into Standard City, you turn onto Mine Road to reach the site of the old mine, or hang a left for Cinder Road (made from old cinders). And then there’s Pershing Street, undoubtedly named for General John “Black Jack” Pershing, WW1 hero and commander of the American Expeditionary Force. Another street is Rice Street, probably named for Charles Rice, who handled real estate acquisitions for Standard Oil.

Standing on the plat land beside the abandoned, vandalized powerhouse, gazing out at Schoper Lake, you can close your eyes and almost hear the steam whistle signaling the end of a shift. Listen, really listen, and maybe you’ll hear the metal cables of the hoist groan and creak as a steel cage raises three dozen coal-blackened minders from 440 feet below grade.

Einstein said, “To those of us who are committed physicists, the  past, present and future are only illusion, however persistent.”

Nowhere in my experiences have I intuitively felt that this illusion of time is more fragile and ethereal than at the site of Schoper Mine. And you if you’re not a romantic/tangential/historical fanatic dream (as I am), but just someone who enjoys visiting towns that boomed and busted, it’s still worth the trip.

Just don’t speed and don’t litter and don’t tromp on the crops. Standard City is still home to about 100 folks, and they (rightfully so) love their community.

To read more about Carlinville’s kit homes, click here.

The above was excerpted from The Houses That Sears Built. To buy the book, click here.

To read about a fascinating ghost town in Virginia, click here.

Enjoy the photos below!

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One of the only known photos of the Sears Homes in Schoper, Illinois.

One of the only known photos of the Sears Homes in Schoper, Illinois. Note that the Sears Homes shown here have tar-paper roofs. After Schoper closed down, the houses were "wrecked" (deconstructed) and put back in railroad cars and shipped on down the line. Two of the houses were moved intact to other locations.

Picture of Mine 1 at Schoper, taken from the 1921 Stanolind Record

Picture of Mine 1 at Schoper, taken from the 1921 Stanolind Record

Vintage picture of the Schoper Powerhouse, also from the 1921 Stanolind Record

Vintage picture of the Schoper Powerhouse, also from the 1921 Stanolind Record. The Schoper powerhouse consumed more than 60 tons of coal per day. The smokestack was 213 feet tall and was the second highest point in all of Macoupin County. The highest point was the spire atop the Macoupin County courthouse.

words

This picture appeared in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog, promoting their wonderful little kit homes. It was labeled "Schopper" (sic) but in fact, it's a street view of the 24 Sears Homes in Wood River. The houses in Schoper were laid out on three streets in groups of four houses per street. Further, Sears didn't seem to know how to spell "Schoper."

The Schoper Powerhouse, photographed in 2002, about a year before it was torn down. This building also houses offices for the Schoper Mine.

The Schoper Powerhouse, photographed in 2002, about a year before it was torn down. This building also houses offices for the Schoper Mine.

Another view of the Schoper Powerhouse

Another view of the Schoper Powerhouse. When completed in 1919, this powerhouse supplied electricity to the 12 Sears Homes (just across the street). In November 1919, the city of Carlinville authorized spending $2,056 to run underground electrical lines from the Schoper powerhouse to Berry Mine in Carlinville, electrifying that mine as well.

When Schoper was created in the late 1910s, a creek that ran through an area beside the powerhouse was damned to create a seven-acre, 40-foot-deep lake - which became known as Schoper Lake. Underground pipes drafted water from the lake to the powerhouse for the steam engines. It was claimed that the six dynamos in this powerhouse had the potential to create enough electricity for the entire state of Illinois.

When Schoper was created in the late 1910s, a creek that ran through an area beside the powerhouse was damned to create a seven-acre, 40-foot-deep lake - which became known as Schoper Lake. Underground pipes drafted water from the lake to the powerhouse for the steam engines. It was claimed that the six dynamos in this powerhouse had the potential to create enough electricity for the entire state of Illinois.

This photo was taken in 2002, and it shows that all the remains of John McMillans Gladstone is a little dip in the soil and a short piece of driveway.

This photo was taken in 2002, and it shows that all the remains of John McMillan's Gladstone is a little dip in the soil and a short piece of driveway.

To read more about the largest order in the history of Sears homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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