Archive

Posts Tagged ‘chicago’

The True Origins of the Sears Magnolia

February 10th, 2014 Sears Homes 5 comments

The Sears Magnolia, offered from 1918-1922, seems to be a source of a much misinformation and confusion.

Yesterday, someone sent me a link to another purported “Magnolia” in Watseka, IL (719 South Fourth Street). And then a member in our “Sears Homes” Facebook group showcased a quote from author Daniel Reiff (Houses from Books) stating that even though the house in Watseka is not a Sears Magnolia, it may have been an inspiration for the Sears architects.

Built models might have also been an influence [for the Sears Magnolia]. Only one hundred miles from Chicago, in Watseka, IL is an impressive Colonial Revival built in 1903 with many features in common with the Magnolia (Houses from Books, p. 194).

I’d say there are a few other houses that have “many features in common with the Magnolia” - as in thousands.

The Magnolia would be best described as a Colonial Revival, which was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Sears was not an innovator in anything, most of all, architectural design. They looked at what was popular and created their housing designs accordingly.

Judging from the photos in Houses from Books, much of Reiff’s research was centered in the Northeast, specifically the New York area. Mr. Reiff should have traveled down to the South, because we’re loaded with examples of what is commonly known as the Colonial Revival.

If I felt compelled to connect a specific house to the architect’s creation of the Sears Magnolia, I’d put my money on a 1910-built house in Blacksburg, SC (photos below).

The South Carolina “Magnolia” was built in 1910, and based on the home’s interior moldings, mantels, staircase and some other clues, I’d say that the 1910 build-date is pretty accurate. And although this is a wild guess, I suspect that it MAY BE a pattern book house.

This “SCFM” (”South Carolina Faux Maggy”) is four feet wider and four feet longer than the Sears Magnolia.

When Sears “borrowed” patterns from other sources, they’d change the dimensions a bit, and in the case of the SCFM, it was a bit too big for Sears purposes, so shrinking the footprint made sense.

One more interesting detail: The underside of the front porch (eaves) shows that there are ten brackets across the front of the Magnolia. The SCFM has eight brackets. The Magnolia’s dormer has four of these eave brackets. The SCFM has three. These are the kind of details that matter.

Mr. Reiff also identified a Sears Magnolia in Dunkirk, NY.


A second example of a brick Magnolia can be found in Dunkirk NY, Despite the lack of side wings because of the narrow lot, the similarities to the Sears model are still striking, but the house is much narrower than its model. In fact, although the 93 West Fourth Street is the same depth as the Magnolia (36′1 vs. 36), it is a full ten feet narrower (29.10 vs. 40.0)
.

All of which are deal killers. Dimensions matter - a lot. However, Mr. Reiff pulls it out of the fire at the end with this:

The plan of the Dunkirk house is considerably different. Instead of the formal central hallway with staircase and rooms on either side, here the plan is far more compact; One enters the living room which runs across the front of the house in the middle of its long side; the stairs are at one end…Here we almost certainly have an instance of a local builder who studied the illustration in the Sears catalog and created his own version of it, without ordering the plans or, in all likelihood, any of the materials from Sears (p. 196).


Besides, if you were going to name a house “The Magnolia,” would your inspiration come from the frozen North?

I think not.

Now, where is that 9th Magnolia?

To see pictures of all eight Sears Magnolias, click here.

To read more about the “fake” Magnolia in SC, click here.

*     *     *

If I was going to pick a house to have been a model for the Magnolia, Id pick this house in Blacksburg, SC!!

If I were going to pick a house to have been a "model" for the Magnolia, I'd pick this house in Blacksburg, South Carolina After all, this actually looks like a Magnolia!

*

The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 and is shown here on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 and is shown here on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog. Some may describe it as a Colonial Revival, but really, it's a foursquare with delusions of grandeur.

*

!92

The Magnolia (1920 Modern Homes catalog).

*

This house in Blacksburg, SC was built in 1910. You want to talk about a model for the Magnolia? This would be it. The house was wider and deeper than the Magnolia, but it would have been easy work to cut it down to size for a kit house catalog.

This house in Blacksburg, SC was built in 1910. You want to talk about a "model" for the Magnolia? This would be it. The house was wider and deeper than the Magnolia, but it would have been easy work to "cut it down to size" for inclusion in a kit house catalog. There are 15 small lites over the large windows on the first floor - just like the Magnolia. And, it's in South Carolina, just where you'd expect to find a "Magnolia"!

*

The other big difference are the columns.

The other big difference is the columns. The real Magnolia has hollow wooden columns (made of poplar). The house in Blacksburg had columns made of concrete. Try shipping *that* from Chicago!

*

The details around the eaves are also a little bit off.

The details around the eaves are also a little bit "off." The eave brackets on the SC house are more ornate (photo on right). The underside of the front porch (eaves) shows that there are ten brackets on the Sears Magnolia. The Blacksburg house has eight brackets. The Magnolia's dormer has four of these eave brackets. The Blacksburg house has three. These are the kind of details that really do matter. (The house on the left is a Magnolia in Nebraska which has since been torn down. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

*

But boy oh boy, its a close one!!

But boy oh boy, it's a close one!!

*

Has those 15 lites over the window, too!

Has those 15 lites over the window, too!

*

Even the interior floorplan was a good match!

However, the interior floorplan was not quite right, and that's a big deal, too.

*

Heres the real deal in Northern West Virginia.

Here's the real deal in Northern West Virginia.

*

And here are

In June 2012, I traveled to Anderson, SC and found these two Colonial Revivals within a block of each other. In the South, this house style is very popular and can be found in almost every old neighborhood. In fact, these houses might just be real Colonials (as opposed to a post-Civil war "Revival").

*

The Colonial Revival was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To learn more about this style, I heartily recommend this book. Why, its just *FULL* of Sears Magnolias!!!  (Not)

The Colonial Revival was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To learn more about this style, I heartily recommend this book. Why, it's just *FULL* of Sears Magnolias!!! (Not)

*

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

Better yet, if you’d like to buy a copy or Rose’s book, click here.

To read about the now-deceased Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska, click here.

*     *     *

The Sears Bandon: Neat, Practical And Modern

January 5th, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

The Sears Bandon is a rare bird indeed. The only one I’ve ever found was in Pulaski, Illinois, not far from the Sears Lumber Mill in Cairo, Illinois. That mill was the site of a 40-acre mill where Sears created and produced up to 250 pre-cut kit homes per month. It was a tremendous operation with more than 100 employees at its peak, and 20 acres of outbuildings.

It was also the site of “The Experiment.” Click here to see the only remnant of the Sears Mill in Cairo.

In 2001, whilst doing research on  Sears Homes at the Cairo Public Library, I stumbled across a little item in their vertical file about a Sears Bandon built in nearby Pulaski. Later that day, I hopped into the car and drove out to Pulaski and found my Bandon on the main drag through town. It was perfect in every way.

In March 2010, when I traveled to Illinois to do research for my newest book (”The Sears Homes of Illinois“), I went back to Pulaski to get newer/better photos. While standing on this main drag in this tiny town, I had three people stop and ask me if I needed help.

Speaking as a former long-time resident of Illinois, I don’t miss those long, cold Illinois winters, but I surely do miss the kind, generous, hard-working folks of small-town Midwestern America. They’re truly the crème de la crème of our country.

Below is the information I found in the vertical files at the Cairo Public Library;

The house (identified specifically as the Sears Bandon) was built in 1921. According to this document, the lumber for this kit home was shipped from the Sears mill in Cairo. It gave the following costs:

Cost of The Bandon $2794.00
Plaster (extra)  $133.00
Material to finish attic rooms  $241.00
Complete hot water heating system  $403.66
Wire and light fixtures  $133.66
Labor for carpenter (including masonry work)  $1600.00

Total $5305.32

This document also stated that, in 1924, a Sears Cyclone Barn (shipped from Cairo, IL) was built on the property. The kit barn cost $943.00.

Is there a Sears Home in your neck of the woods? Please send photos to Magnolia2047@gmail.com.

Enjoy the photos!

The Sears Bandon was a beauty, but why wasnt it more popular? Ive only seen one - ever - and that was just outside of Cairo, Illinois.

The Sears Bandon was a beauty, but why wasn't it more popular? I've only seen one - ever - and that was just outside of Cairo, Illinois (image is from 1921 catalog).

*

It had a very busy floor plan. Note

It had a very busy floor plan, and it's the only house I've ever seen with a "dining porch." This room - which jutted out from the rest of the house - had ventilation on three sides, and seven windows.

*

Close

Close-up of the floorplan shows how busy this house is! Look at the kitchen! The ice box was in the staircase landing. And the kitchen was oh-so tiny!

*

And it was a fine-looking house!

And it was a fine-looking house!

*

And here is the real-life beauty in Pulaski!

And here is the real-life beauty in Pulaski!

*

Nice, isnt it?  :)

Nice, isn't it? :)

*

house

The 1921 catalog image included this thumbnail from straight--on.

*

Pretty, pretty house!

Pretty, pretty house! While southern Illinois does have some of the nicest people, it also some of the worst, mean, loud and scary-looking dogs! These dogs never did stop barking!

*

The  Sears Bandon is perfect in every way!

The Sears Bandon is perfect in every way!

*

Its perfect! Down to the details!!

It's perfect! Down to the details!!

*

And its in a beautiful, bucolic setting!

And it's in a beautiful, bucolic setting!

*

From this angle, you can get a better view of the Dining Porch.

From this angle, you can get a better view of the Dining Porch.

*

As a nice bonus, the old barn (built 1924) is still standing, and in beautiful condition.

As a nice bonus, the old barn (built 1924) is still standing, and in beautiful condition.

*

The Cyclone Barn was a very popular item for Sears (shown here in the 1920 catalog).

The Cyclone Barn was a very popular item for Sears (shown here in the 1920 catalog).

*

Want to contact Rose? Please leave a comment below.

To learn more about how to identify these homes, click here.

*   *   *

How to Properly Identify a Sears Magnolia

November 27th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

Nary a week passes that someone doesn’t send me a note, happily reporting that they’ve spotted a Sears Magnolia in their neighborhood.

And 99.99% of the time, they’re wrong.

Priced at about $6,000, the Sears Magnolia (sold from 1918-1922) was Sears biggest and fanciest kit home. And despite lots of searching, only seven Sears Magnolias have been found.

Like most of the 370 designs of houses offered by Sears, the Magnolia was purposefully patterned after a popular housing style: The Southern Colonial. Here in Hampton Roads, there’s a Southern Colonial Revival in many of our early 20th Century neighborhoods.

However, the Sears Magnolia - the real deal - has several distinctive features that distinguish from “look-alikes.”

The photos shown below give some visual clues on how to identify the Sears Magnolia (the real deal).

The Sears Magnolia was their biggest, fanciest and most expensive home. It was offered from 1918-1922. The picture here is from the 1921 catalog.

The Sears Magnolia was their biggest, fanciest and most expensive home. It was offered from 1918-1922. The picture here is from the 1921 catalog. If you look closely at the badge that shows the price, you'll see that the Magnolia was also known as #2089.

*

After World War One (The Great War),

After World War One (The Great War), lumber prices went sky high. Sears catalogs had about a six-week lead time (from creation to publishing). Due to the volatility of building material costs, Sears couldn't keep up on the price info. As an alternate, they just stuck price sheets into the pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalog. See the Magnolia above? This shows the profound reduction in cost, in the Spring 1921 Sears catalog.

*

The Magnolia had more than 2,900 square feet (as built). The first floor was pretty busy.

The Magnolia had more than 2,900 square feet (as built). The first floor was pretty busy.

*

Heres a close-up of the kitchen

Here's a close-up of the kitchen area and butler's pantry. Notice that there''s a downstairs "lavatory." Pretty upscale for 1921.

*

My favorite Magnolia. This one is in Benson, NC.

A picture-perfect Magnolia in Benson, NC.

*

And this one is in Canton, Ohio.

And this one is in Canton, Ohio.

*

The lumber in Sears Homes was numbered, as is shown in this graphic from the rear cover of the 1921 catalog.

The lumber in Sears Homes was numbered, as is shown in this graphic from the rear cover of the 1921 catalog. The mark is on one end of the lumber, and also on the face of it (typically about 6-8" from the end). "B" was for 2x4s, "C" was 2x6s, "D" was 2x8s.

*

Heres a real life example of the marks.

Here's a real life example of the mark on the lumber.

*

Mak

The Magnolia was also known as Modern Home #2089. If you look closely, you'll see the number 2089 scribbled on this 2x8. This is the basement of the Benson Magnolia. When the house was being prepared for shipment out of the mill in Cairo, Illinois, the model number was written on a few of the framing members. To the right is the name of the family that originally placed the order for this house.

*

The Magnolia was offered with both Corinthian (as shown here) and Ionic columns. I havent figured out if this was an option, or if it was dependent on what year the house was ordered.

The Magnolia was offered with both Corinthian (as shown here) and Ionic columns. I haven't figured out if this was an option, or if it was dependent on what year the house was ordered. In the Sears Magnolia, these columns are wooden and hollow. I've found that most "Southern Colonials" (with these two-story columns) have concrete columns. If you think you've found a Magnolia, go rap on the columns and if they're made of something more solid than wood, it is NOT a Magnolia.

*

The entry hall of a Sears Magnolia in Irwin, PA.

The entry hall of a Sears Magnolia in Irwin, PA. The details matter. Notice over the door, there's an arched fan light. Many "look-alikes" have a square transom over the door. Learn how to pay attention to these many details.

*

Noticee these very disctinctive windows on the Magnolia. Does the house youre looking at have these very samee windows? If not, its probably not a Sears Magnolia.

Notice these very distinctive windows on the Magnolia. Does the house you're looking at have these very same windows? If not, it's probably not a Sears Magnolia.

*

If it dooesnt look like this, its not a Magnolia!  :0

If it doesn't look like this, it's not a Magnolia! :)

*

house

Here's another example of a Magnolia (located in West Virginia).

*

And another

And another beautiful Magnolia in Syracuase, NY. (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

*

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read another really awesome story on Sears Homes, click here.

My favorite blog (an interview with a man who built a Magnolia) is here.

*   *   *

A Little Bit of Hollywood in Owaneco (Illinois)

November 25th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

In February 2010, I traversed 2,500+ miles, driving throughout the Illinois hinterlands, seeking and finding Sears Homes.

I’m firmly convinced that we all entertain angels unawares (although sometimes, I suspect that it’s the angels that find me pretty entertaining). Before I start out on these jaunts, I always say a little prayer, asking for a bit of divine guidance.

Perhaps that’s how I came to land in Owaneco (a really tiny town). Turning onto the main drag (the only drag), I discovered this wonderful old Sears Hollywood. Yes, the house is a little tired but - the good news is - it’s in wonderfully original condition.

It’s been more than two years since I first posted these photos. Since then, the owners contacted me and said that they’re working hard to do a faithful restoration.

That’s always music to my ears!

*   *  *

It was a gloomy day when I photographed this Sears Hollywood in Owaneco, but this is still one of my favorite photos from that trip.

It was a gloomy day when I photographed this Sears Hollywood in Owaneco, but this is still one of my favorite photos from that trip. This house is still solid and square and true.

*

The original catalog image from 1919.

The original catalog image from 1919.

*

This was a very spacious house.

This was a very spacious house. The living room alone was 406 square feet of living area. The house itself was almost 1,400 square feet. And it even had a sleeping porch on the back!

*

The Hollywood was offered in two different styles.

The Hollywood was offered in two different styles. The house in Owaneco is the style shown in the lower right of the catalog page. I've reversed the image (as is shown directly underneath the home's actual photo). Sears plans could be "reversed" to take advantage of optimal lighting on the lot.

*

Hol

According to the catalog, there are also Hollywoods in these cities!

*

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read another fascinating blog, click here.

*   *   *

Ardara: Contrast to the Commonplace

June 4th, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

After my talk in Raleigh (May 19th), a woman named Lydia introduced herself to me (and purchased several of my books!). She said that she had family members living in a fine Sears House in Chapel Hill.

That was puzzling, because I had driven through Chapel Hill the day before, and I had only seen Aladdin kit homes, no Sears.

However, while in Chapel Hill, I’d become flustered by the vast amounts of pedestrian traffic (and non-thinking students stepping off curbs right in front of vehicles) and the trees: Massive, leafy, bushy, house-obstructing trees.

Within 30 minutes of arriving into Chapel Hill, I abandoned my search and returned to my hotel in Raleigh.

Had I missed a Sears House in Chapel Hill? It was a distinct possibility.

Soon after I arrived back home to Norfolk, Lydia contacted me and emailed a photo of this fine Sears House in Chapel Hill.

The photo she emailed was a beautiful Sears Ardara.

I’ve not seen many Ardaras in my travels. In fact, I’ve only seen four: One in Zanesville, Ohio, two in Elgin, Illinois and one in Crystal Lake, Illinois. And soon, I hope to visit this Ardara in Chapel Hill!  :)

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read about Buster Keaton’s kit house, click here.

The Ardara first appeared in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Ardara first appeared in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

*

In both the 1921 and 1928 catalogs, it was offered with and without the attached garage.

In both the 1921 and 1928 catalogs, it was offered with and without the attached garage. This is from the 1928 catalog, and if you compare it with the image above, you'll see the price actually had dropped by 1928.

*

T

This is one of my favorite descriptions (taken from the 1928 catalog). The Ardara is "notable for its contrast to the commonplace...pleasingly combines Oriental and Occidental architecture." And the garage has "the same treatment as the house." Awesome!

*

Notice that it has a Music Room. In the late 1920s, this could have a couple meanings.

Notice that it has a "Music Room." In the 1921 version, this room was identified as a den. In 1928, this could have a couple meanings. The phonograph and the radio were all the rage in the late 1920s, and in some of these old floorplans, you'll see this identified as a "radio room," or "space for phonograph." Or it might have been a designated space for the family piano. In this time period, it was expected that most people would own a piano.

*

The Sears Ardara in Chapel Hill. What a beauty!  This photo is copyright 2012 Paige Warren and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

The Sears Ardara in Chapel Hill. What a beauty! Note the oversized cornice returns. This is one (of many) eye-catching features on this Colonial-style house. (This photo is copyright 2012 Paige Warren and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

*

And heres a picture of the same Ardara in the late 1920s, soon after it was built.

And here's a picture of the same Ardara in the 1920s, soon after it was built. The small gable (at the top of the roof) was original to the house, and the dormer was added in the 1950s. (This photo is courtesy of the Wade family and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

*

The Ardara, soon after it came into the Warren family (February 1944). he in 1944.

The Ardara, soon after it came into the Wade family (February 1944). The dormer (shown in the contemporary photo above) was added in the 1950s to create living space on the second floor. (This photo is courtesy of the Wade family and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

*

The Ardara

The Ardara, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

*

An Ardara in Crystal Lake, IL.

An Ardara in Crystal Lake, IL.

*

A very sad Ardara in Elgin, IL. (This photo was taken in 2003.)

A very sad Ardara in Elgin, IL. (This photo was taken in 2003.)

*

To learn more about what I found in Chapel Hill, click here.

Look at the abundance of Sears Homes I found in Raleigh, NC.

*   *   *

The Glen Falls: Picturesqueness, Dignity and Hospitality

May 5th, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

Of the 370 models that Sears offered, there was only one house that was fancier and bigger than the Glen Falls: The Sears Magnolia.

In 1922, the Magnolia had sold for $5,849. In the mid-20s, the Glen Falls sold for $4,560.  The Magnolia had 2,900 square feet. The Glen Falls had about 2,700 square feet. It was a very large house for its time.

And while I love this house, it harbors some bad memories for me.

I’ve received a verbal thrashing from TWO Glen Falls homeowners, both of whom were pretty upset when I told them that their beautiful house might be a Sears house. The house is so grandiose and so beautiful, people just don’t believe that this was one of those “crappy little kit homes.”

Alas!

To learn how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

Glenn

Glen Falls was one of their biggest and fanciest homes! (1928 catalog).

*

Wow

I wasn't even sure if "picturesqueness" was a real word.

*

In the 1926 catalog, the Glen Falls was featured, meaning that interior photos were shown.

In the 1926 catalog, the Glen Falls was "featured," meaning that interior photos were shown.

*

Snow

The early 20th Century iron fence is a lovely complement to the Glen Falls (Mattoon, IL).

*

Id love to meet the architect that thought this was a good idea.

I'd love to meet the architect that thought this was a good idea. Because it's not. When they put this addition on, they *lost* the "picturesqueness and dignity" vote.

*

As a kid, Id ride my bike past this house again and again and again. It was less than a half-mile from my childhood home (in nearby Waterview). Ive always loved this house, and was delighted to discover that it was a Sears Glen Falls!

As a kid, I'd ride my bike past this house again and again and again. It was less than a half-mile from my childhood home (in nearby Waterview - Portsmouth, VA). I've always loved this house, and was delighted to discover that it was a Sears Glen Falls! The porch has been enclosed, but inside, those tall columns (shown in the catalog) are still in place.

*

Cape Charles, Virginia (Eastern Shore) is one of my favorite places. This Glen Falls (and a host of other Sears Homes) is located there.

Cape Charles, Virginia (Eastern Shore) is one of my favorite places. This Glen Falls (and a host of other Sears Homes) is located there.

*

To learn more about Sears kit homes, click here.

To learn more about Rose’s newest book, click here.

*   *   *

A Dazzling Collection of Sears Homes in Northern Illinois

August 23rd, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

Not surprisingly, there’s an abundance of Sears kit home in Northern Illinois.

In fact, Elgin, Illinois has the largest known collection of Sears Homes in the country! This southwestern Chicago suburb has more than 210 Sears Homes!

To learn more about the houses in Elgin, visit the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, and check out The Elgin Illinois Sears House Research Project (by Rebecca Hunter).

To learn how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

A bungalow from the Golden West the Osborn was another very popular house. This one is on a corner lot in Annapolis.

A "bungalow from the Golden West" the Osborn was another very popular house. This picture from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog also shows interior views of The Osborn.

Sears Osborn in St. Charles, Illinois

Sears Osborn in St. Charles, Illinois

The Sears Newcastle was a Colonial Revival and a popular design

The Sears Newcastle was a Colonial Revival and a popular design

Sears Newcastle in northern Illinois

Sears Newcastle in Geneva, Illinois

Sears Matoka, another popular Sears Homes

Sears Matoka, another popular Sears Homes

Sears Matoka in St. Charles

Sears Matoka in St. Charles

Sears Fullerton

Sears Fullerton

Sears Fullerton in Aurora, Illinois

Sears Fullerton in Aurora, Illinois

Sears Fullerton in Elgin, Illinois

Sears Fullerton in Elgin, Illinois

Sears Del Rey

Sears Del Rey

Sears Del Rey in Wheaton, Illinois

Sears Del Rey in Wheaton, Illinois

Sears Marina, Model #2024

Sears Marina, Model #2024

Sears Marina (2024) in West Chicago

Sears Marina (2024) in Geneva, Illinois

The Sears Hamilton was a modest, but a big seller for Sears.

The Sears Hamilton was a modest, but a big seller for Sears.

Sears Hamilton in Elgin, IL

Sears Hamilton in Elgin, IL

Perhaps one of their top ten most popular designs, the Sears Crescent was offered in two floor plans, with an expandable attic option in both plans.

Perhaps one of their top ten most popular designs, the Sears Crescent was offered in two floor plans, with an expandable attic option in both plans.

Crescent in Elmhurst, IL

Significantly remodeled Crescent in Elmhurst, IL

The most notable feature on the Americus (shown here from the 1925 catalog) was the oversized front porch roof, unique front columns and the second floor front wall that juts out a little from the first.

The most notable feature on the Americus (shown here from the 1925 catalog) was the oversized front porch roof, unique front columns and the second floor front wall that juts out a little from the first.

Sears Americus in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Sears Americus in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

To read the next blog, click here.

* * *

The Lone Sears Home in Owaneco, Illinois

August 18th, 2010 Sears Homes 3 comments

During my long drive through the Illinois countryside, I found this Sears Hollywood (kit home) sitting just off the main drag in the tiny town of Owaneco, Illinois. The house is a spot-on match to the original catalog image, but this poor Hollywood is in poor shape.

Some of its flesh is missing and the skeletal system is also showing some signs of decay.

Perhaps someone from Owaneco will find this post and let the owner know that his old bungalow is actually a historically significant Sears Home!

Updated! To read the most recent update on this house, click here!!!

*

Beautiful little Hollywood in Owaneco

Beautiful little Hollywood in Owaneco

*   *   *

Sears Modern Homes and The Mill in Cairo, Illinois

August 2nd, 2010 Sears Homes 2 comments

In May 1911, Sears opened up a mill in Cairo, Illinois. Cairo’s location at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers made it a natural for shipping and distribution. At the turn of the last century, Cairo (pronounced “Care-Roe”) could boast of having four major rail lines, enabling it to become a centralized shipping point for lumber harvested from the South and sent to the North.

The Sears Roebuck Mill, also known as the Illinois Lumber Company, got its start when Sears Roebuck paid $12,500 for a 40-acre tract in North Cairo.

On May 21, 1911, The Chicago Tribune reported that Sears intended to build a $250,000 plant. A few weeks later, The Cairo Evening Citizen had doubled that figure and reported “Half a million to be cost of new Sears Roebuck Plant” (July 29, 1911).

In November 1911, Sears ran a two-page advertisement in American Carpenter and Builder Magazine headlined “Great News for Builders.” The advertisement (see below) said,

Shipments have begun from our second and newest great lumber plant in Illinois. We can deliver you bright, fresh, clean lumber at manufacturer’s prices almost as quickly as you can haul makeshift sizes and weatherworn stock from a high priced neighboring lumber yard. Our mill work is sheltered from rain, sun, soot and wind. Our new Illinois plant is located on two of the largest and fastest railroads in the North with direct connections to over 20 different railroads. (Weatherworn stock was a reference to the fact that, unlike Sears, many mills did not keep their lumber under roof.)

In March 1912, F. E. Van Alstine, Superintendent of the Sears mill was quoted in The Cairo Evening Citizen as saying that Sears had chosen Cairo because of “their low freight rates, superior shipping facilities and other natural and commercial advantages, (which) made the city more desirable than St. Louis, East St. Louis, Paducah (Kentucky) or Memphis” (Tennessee).

But later that month, the rains came and the floodwaters rose, nearly destroying the brand new mill in Northern Cairo. On April 5th, The Cairo Evening Citizen reported that the “main building of the new Sears Roebuck factory was hurled off its foundation and is leaning toward the east. Just what damage was done to these buildings could not be ascertained, as there was no way to reach them except by skiff.”

In mid-April, the paper said that all seven lumber sheds had been torn from their foundations and much of the lumber inside the sheds had simply floated away.

By August, The Cairo Evening Citizen happily reported that despite the hard times and high waters, Sears Roebuck had decided to remain in Cairo. It also reported that about half the lumber sheds had been rebuilt and some of that floating lumber had been recovered. The same article reported that the folks at Sears corporate headquarters in Chicago were so pleased with Van Alstine’s post-flood restoration work that they presented him with a brand new automobile.

The mill produced everything for the Ready-Cut (precut) Sears homes except for millwork. The Sears mill located in Norwood, Ohio, supplied millwork; windows, doors and interior trim and moldings.

By the early 1930s, sales of Ready-Cut homes had plummeted and the mill began looking for other ways to generate income. They began building crating material for tractors and other large equipment, including Frigidaire refrigerators and appliances sold by Sears. In the late 30s, the mill produced prefabricated buildings for the camps which housed workers in the Civilian Conservation Corps. Wheeler relates that a typical CCC camp (which included several different buildings) required 400,000 feet of lumber and about 35 of these camps were milled and shipped by the Cairo plant.

In 1940, Sears closed the plant and sold it to the employees. Shortly after the employees purchased the plant, they obtained a contract to build massive crates for shipping B-17 and B-29 bombers overseas for the war effort.

After World War II ended, the former Sears Mill - now called Illinois Lumber Company - drafted and published their own book of house plans and tried to sell Ready-Cut homes again, but without success. The Cairo Evening Citizen relates that the plant was liquidated and closed in November 1955. The article adds this interesting aside: “Like several other Cairo lumber industries, it slowly died because the wood articles it manufactured were supplanted by iron and steel.”

All that remains today at the site of the Cairo mill are two Sears kit homes - two Rodessas - which were built as part of an experiment in 1921, to prove the superiority of Ready-Cut homes over traditional stick built homes.

Not surprisingly, Cairo has a significant collection of Sears Homes, such as this “Hollywood” (see below).

From the 1919 catalog, a Sears Hollywood

From the 1919 catalog, a Sears Hollywood

Sears Hollywood in Cairo, Illinois

Sears Hollywood in Cairo, Illinois

Below is an advertisement from the 1911 American Carpenter and Builder Magazine.

To see pictures of Cairo today, click here.

*   *   *