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“This is a Most Attractive Little Home…”

November 18th, 2012 Sears Homes 2 comments

Last month, I wrote about “The Experiment,” where Sears built two Sears Rodessas (small bungalows) side-by-side in Cairo, Illinois, to prove the superiority of the Ready-cut System. The two homes were built in the late 1910s, and now, almost 100 years later, those wonderful little houses are still standing.

Why did Sears choose the Rodessa for their experiment? I don’t know. It was a popular house for Sears, but it wasn’t that popular! If I were to venture a guess, I’d say it was in the Top 50 Most Popular Designs.

However, it was, as the Sears ad promised, “a most attractive little home.” It was cute, simple and practical, which probably made it easy to build in a hurry.

In my travels, I’ve come across several Rodessas. In fact, there’s one not far from me in Urbana, Virginia. You can read about that house by clicking here.

To read more about the Rodessa, scroll down!

pretty

Indeed, the Rodessa is a "pretty little home." And look at the price!!

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Little is right.

Look at those small bedrooms. In 2012, a room that measures 9-feet square is a walk-in closet!

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Busy kitchen

And what does that "B" stand for in the kitchen? BOILER!

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The boiler

The "boiler" (whose placement is indicated with the "B" in the floorplan) was a water heater with a water line that ran through the back of the cook stove. Pretty complicated affair.

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text

"This is a most attractive little home."

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In 1924,

In 1924, Mr. Kidwell built this Rodessa in Washington DC and sent this snapshot in to Sears and Roebuck. He was "fully satisfied" with his Ready-cut home.

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Happy 1926

In 1926, Sears put out a brochure that was titled, "Happy Homes." The Rodessa was featured within its pages. According to the accompanying text, it was built in Independence, MO.

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Happy

Not sure why Sears included a picture of corn with the testimonial.

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HeWood

It's endured some significant remodelings, but at least it's still standing. This transmogrified Rodessa is in Wood River, Illinois (just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, MO). That salt-treated porch railing just does not work on this old bungalow.

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House

This Rodessa may look a little blue, but it's actually a very happy house with lots of good self-esteem. It's in Northern Illinois. Photo is copyright 2010 Rebecca Hunter and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Heres the Rodessa in my home state (Virginia). Its located in a tiny fishing village known as Urbana.

Here's the Rodessa in my home state (Virginia). It's located in a tiny fishing village known as Urbana. The plaque over the door reads, "Sears Roebuck House, 1924." I was told that the folks in Urbana didn't realize that Sears had 369 other kit home designs. This is a fairly common misconception. This 88-year-old house is in beautiful condition.

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And here are the two Rodessas that were built side-by-side at the site of the old Sears Mill (in Cairo, IL).

And here are the two Rodessas that were built side-by-side at the site of the old Sears Mill (in Cairo, IL). They were built in the late 1910s as part of an experiment to prove that "The Ready-Cut Method" was far more efficient than traditional building practices of the time.

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Ready

The house that was built using traditional building practices took 583 hours and the poor saps aren't finished yet. The yard is still a mess with scraps of lumber scattered hither and yon. The workers have collapsed on the front porch in utter despair and humiliation.

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house

Ah, but the pre-cut Sears Kit Home is all buttoned up and beautiful! They even had time to finish up the landscaping! The kitchen windows are wide open. They had so much time to spare that they went inside and cooked dinner!

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By 1933, the Rodessa had undergone a radical transformation.

By 1933, the Rodessa had undergone a radical transformation. The clipped gables were gone, as were the dramatically oversized eaves. The unique shape of the front porch was replaced with a simpler gabled roof. In a word, its flair and panache had been replaced with pedestrian and dull.

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Learn more about the two Rodessas at the Sears Mill by clicking here.

How did Sears Homes become so popular so fast? Read about that here.

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift? It’s just one click away!

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Hazelton: House of Threes (Part II)

November 17th, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

As mentioned in a prior blog, the Hazelton is an easy house to spot, because of the unique window arrangement. I think of it as “The House of Threes.”

The Hazelton has three windows in that shed dormer. There are three windows on the wide of the house (in front of the bay window). And there are three windows flanking the front door (right and left). And there are six windows in that dining room bay (divisible by three).

To read the prior blog, click here.

The great majority of Sears Homes can be found in the Midwest, but Rachel Shoemaker found a bevy of these early 20th Century kit homes in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And she managed to get inside a Hazelton in wonderfully original condition!

Enjoy the photos below! And many thanks to Rachel for these wonderful photos.

To read Part I of this blog, click here.

Sears Hazelton as seen in the 1916 Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Hazelton as seen in the 1916 Modern Homes catalog.

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House

Floorplan of the Sears Hazelton.

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Sears Hazelton in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photograph is copyright 2012 Rachel Jean Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

A Sears Hazelton in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This house - nearing the 100-year-old mark - is still in wonderfully original condition. Photograph is copyright 2012 Rachel Jean Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Commemmorative

Commemorative plaque puts the home's age at an impressive 98 years. I'd love to know more about how the owners got this house on the National Register. In my travels, being a "Sears kit house" is not enough for this unique distinctive (as defined by the Secretary of Interior). Photograph is copyright 2012 Rachel Jean Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Inside, the house is in mostly original condition!

Inside, the house is in mostly original condition! Notice all the wooden trim, unpainted and with a beautiful patina. Photograph is copyright 2012 Rachel Jean Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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nice

Close-up on the other side of those bookcase colonnades. Photograph is copyright 2012 Rachel Jean Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Throughout the house, its originality shines through. A few of the original light fixtures are still in place.

Throughout the house, its originality shines through. A few of the original light fixtures are still in place. Photograph is copyright 2012 Rachel Jean Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The bathroom has been renovated, but the original tub was saved.

The bathroom has been renovated, but the original tub was saved. The tile floor and walls are new, but were tastefully done, in a style that's in accord with the time period. Photograph is copyright 2012 Rachel Jean Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And old

And old ad from the Sears Roebuck building materials catalog shows a typical mantel available for $15. (Notice, gas logs were available for an extra $9.33.)

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Here

The brick work was re-done but the mantel looks much like it did in the 1915 catalog (above). Photograph is copyright 2012 Rachel Jean Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Close-up of mantel detail and beveled mirror.

Close-up of mantel detail and beveled mirror. Photograph is copyright 2012 Rachel Jean Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Inside

These three windows are fancifully adorned on the inside. Photograph is copyright 2012 Rachel Jean Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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An early building materials catalog shows an old door

An early building materials catalog shows an original oak "Craftsman" door.

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And a real live example!

And a real live example! Photograph is copyright 2012 Rachel Jean Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Dining

In the dining room, those four windows (in the bump out) also retain their original wood finish. Photograph is copyright 2012 Rachel Jean Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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More built-ins!

One of the best features of a Sears kit home were all the built-ins. Even small cubby holes were turned into storage space. Photograph is copyright 2012 Rachel Jean Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Sears Hazleton was first offered 100 years ago, and the Hazelton in Tulsa was built in 1914, about 98 years ago. These houses were built with first-glass building materials and a full century later, there are still a few that are in incredibly beautiful condition.

The Sears Hazleton was first offered 100 years ago, and the Hazelton in Tulsa was built in 1914, about 98 years ago. These houses were built with first-glass building materials and a full century later, there are still a few Sears Homes that are in incredibly beautiful condition.

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To read about the other kit homes in Tulsa, click here.

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift? Click here!

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Hazelton: House of Threes

November 17th, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

The Hazelton is an easy house to spot, because of the unique window arrangement. It was one of the first Sears kit home designs that I memorized, because it is “The House of Threes.”

Take a good look at the windows. The Hazelton has three windows in that shed dormer. There are three windows on the wide of the house (in front of the bay window). And there are three windows flanking the front door (right and left). And there are six windows in that dining room bay (divisible by three).

And “Hazelton” is a three-syllable word!  :)

Another very distinctive feature is the tiny side windows in that dining room bay. Lots of early 20th Century bungalows have a small bump-out in the dining room, but very few have that small side window.

And take a good look at where that shed dormer is positioned on the roof. It’s a bit shy of the ridge board at the tippy top.

Many folks send me photos of houses that resemble the Hazelton, but they’re not paying close attention to the details, such as the placement of that shed dormer and the positioning of the windows. Every Hazelton is a bungalow, but every bungalow is not a Hazelton!

To read Part II on The Hazelton (with many interior shots of a Sears Hazelton in Oklahoma) click here.

Sears Hazleton

Sears Hazleton

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Hazelton

Hazelton

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Hazleton

Hazletons abound in Illinois!

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Hazleton

Prior to 1918, Sears homes had numbers, not names. By the way, the Hazelton shown in the first picture is apparently in Bay Shore, NY. Wonder if it's still there?

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hazleton

Floor plan shows two bedrooms downstairs. What's the difference between a "chamber" and a bedroom? I wish I knew. Some say that a chamber is just a first-floor bedroom.

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hazleton

This Hazelton in Edwardsville, Illinois has been remodeled a bit.

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hazel

This photo was taken in 2003 when I visited Chilicothe, IL.

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haz

Illinois does love its Hazeltons. This house is in Tamms.

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Tulsa

A fine-looking Hazelton in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo is copyright 2012 Rachel Shoemaker and my not be used or reproduced without written permission. So there.

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hazleton

Another seriously remodeled Hazleton. This one is in Litchfield, IL.

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Tomorrow, Ill post several interior photos of a Sears Hazelton in beautiful condition!! Same time, same channel!  :)

Tomorrow, I'll post several interior photos of a Sears Hazelton in beautiful condition!! Same time, same channel! :) (photo is copyright 2012 Rachel Shoemaker)

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy the perfect Christmas gift for your friends, family, cat and dog, click here.

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The Sears Maytown: Regular and Supersized!

May 12th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

Pre-WW1 Sears Homes are scarce as hen’s teeth.

Well, almost as scarce as hen’s teeth. I’ve never seen a hen’s tooth, but I have seen a few pre-1917 Sears Homes.

Of these pre-1917 Sears Homes, one of the most popular is the Sears Maytown. And the good news is, it’s also one of the easiest to identify. In addition to that large turret on the home’s front, it also has a bay window on the front and the side. And if that’s not enough (and it should be), the house has a pedimented accent on the hipped porch roof, and a small window beside the front door, and two attic windows.

These are all architectural nuances that make it easy to identify the Maytown.

Supersize Me!

In 1916, Sears offered the option of adding an “additional two feet of width” to the standard Maytown.  Cost: $45 more.

Now that’s a darn good deal.

In 1919, the “extra-chubby” Maytown was now 2-1/2 feet wider and those extra six inches came at a cost:  The supersized Maytown was $125 more than the regular size.

So, have you seen the Maytown in your neighborhood? If so, please send me a photo!

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

Want to see more pretty pictures? Click here.

The Maytown as seen in the 1916 catalog.

The Maytown as seen in the 1916 catalog.

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In 1916, you could supersize your Sears Maytown by getting two extra feet added to its width. By 1921, the

Supersize me! - In 1916, you could "supersize" your Sears Maytown by getting two extra feet added to its width. By 1921, the extra-chubby Maytown was given its own model number.

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Wow

In 1919, the Maytown was identified as "A Big Seller."

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More

And in 1919, the supersized Maytown cost $125 more than the slimmer version.

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By 1916, the Maytown was already a very popular house for Sears.

By 1916, the Maytown was already a very popular house for Sears.

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Maytown

Sometime before 1916, Mr. Chase built his Maytown in Grafton, Massachusetts.

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Mr. Chases Maytown in 1916.

Mr. Chase's Maytown in 1916.

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Mr. Chases Maytown in 2011.

Mr. Chase's Maytown in 2011. I wonder if he went with the supersized version? (Photo is courtesy of Kelly McCall Creeron and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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One of the worlds most perfect Maytowns is this one in Edwardsville, IL. For years, it was used as a Frat House (for nearby SIUE), so its a miracle that this old house lived through *that* experience.

One of the world's most perfect Maytowns is this one in Edwardsville, IL. For years, it was used as a Frat House (for nearby SIUE), so it's a miracle that this old house lived through *that* experience.

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Another perfect Maytown!  This is one of my favorite pictures, in one of my favorite places:  Shenandoah, Virginia.

Another perfect Maytown! This is one of my favorite pictures, in one of my favorite places: Shenandoah, Virginia.

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And youll notice that the beauty in Shenandoah still has its original attic windows, replete with marginal lites (as they were known).

And you'll notice that the beauty in Shenandoah still has its original attic windows, replete with "marginal lites" (as they were known).

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To read the next story on Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s newest book, click here.

To learn about Wardway Homes, click here.

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Sears Modern Home #147 - And It’s Only $885

May 7th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

In February 2003, I traveled to Flora, Illinois to give a talk on Sears Homes. It was one of my first “paid gigs,” and I was very excited about actually getting paid to do the thing I loved the most - talk about Sears Homes!

In celebration of this happy time, I treated myself to a fine automobile for the trip. The night before my talk, I went to Enterprise Rent-A-Car and rented a 2003 Cadillac DeVille.

My oh my, that was a sweet ride!

During the ride around Flora, I found several interesting houses, including the Sears Modern Home #147. The folks in Flora knew it was a kit house, but they didn’t know which model it was.

This was the first time I’d seen a #147, and it was - without any doubt - the nicest #147 that I ever did see. It was in remarkably original condition.

After I finished in Flora, I rode over to Olney (nearby town) to look for more kit  homes. While driving around in Olney, my shiny new Cadillac had mechanical problems and I had to take it to a nearby shop for emergency repairs. When I returned the car to the Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Wood River (near my home in Alton), the clerk was very apologetic. He offered to discount the price of the three-day rental. I told him, “That’s a good start.”

He then said, “How can I turn this into a good experience for you, Mrs. Thornton?”

I said, “How about a deeper discount? I just spent four hours standing outside a car dealership in Olney, Illinois, waiting for them to fix your car.”

He then offered to discount the price of the rental to nothing.

“That’ll work,” I told him.

Almost ten years later, when I look at these old photos, I remember that fine “Glacier White” Cadillac with its buttery soft “Cashmere Gray” leather seats. Despite our little mishap in Olney, that was one fine automobile.

And in the intervening 10 years, I’ve rented at least 20 cars from Enterprise. :)

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To see more pretty pictures of Sears Homes, click here.

147 house

The Sears Modern Home #147 as seen in the 1916 catalog.

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147

Pretty simple house, but a good value at $885.

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147

Look at the columns - clad in clapboard!

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SMH 147

And here's the world's most perfect $147 in Flora, Illinois (near Olney).

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147

The details around the window are perfect!

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Want to see more pretty pictures? Click here.

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“You Will Like the Josephine The Longer You Live In It…”

May 4th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

So promised the catalog advertisement for the “Honor Bilt” house, The Josephine.

This diminutive 840-square-foot house provides a nice example of the difference between “Honor Bilt, Already Cut” houses and the “Lighter Bilt, Not Cut or Fitted” houses.

The Honor-Bilt Josephine was offered for $1,470 while its cheaper cousin (Lighter Bilt) was $1,052. In today’s economic clime, that may not seem like a big difference but imagine a Realtor showing you two houses that appear to be the same, and both with 840 square feet. One is selling for $105,000 and the other is selling for $147,000. Which one would you choose?

And yet, the Honor Bilt really was the far better value.  These homes utilized traditional construction standards, such as double headers over the doors and windows, double floors (primary floors over subfloors), exterior sheathing under clapboard or cedar shingles and wall studs on 16-inch centers.

Lighter Bilt” was another kettle of fish. These homes were really not intended for cold-weather climates. Wall studs were on 24-inch centers, and there were single headers over doors and windows, no subfloor and no underlying exterior sheathing. Those things make a big difference.

And then there was the whole pre-cut vs. non-cut lumber. You’d have to be taking some heavy doses of laudanum to think that non-precut lumber was a good plan.

To appreciate the value of precut lumber, think back to the early 1900s. Electricity was in its infancy, and in many cities, electricity was turned off each night at 11 p.m. for six hours of repairs and maintenance! In 1910, only 10% of homes had electricity. By 1930, that number had jumped to 70%. (Source:  Electrifying America:  Social Meanings of  a New Technology, David E. Nye.)  As late as December 1917, American Carpenter and Builder Magazine was still describing electric lights as a luxury that a builder should incorporate into a modern city home.

To cut a piece of lumber with a handsaw required time, strength and a degree of expertise (for a good square cut). Electric saws and the heavy duty wiring to handle the amperage draw were a thing of the future. In fact, the electric handsaw (a portable circular saw) wasn’t widely available until 1925. A fascinating news item in the February 1925 American Carpenter and Builder heralded the “new invention” with this commentary:  “The portable circular saw does the sawing for 15 carpenters.”

In 1921, Sears conducted an “experiment’ building two Rodessas (small frame homes) side by side at the site of the Sears mill in Cairo, Illinois. One house was erected using Sears’ precut lumber. The second house was built using traditional construction techniques; no precut lumber. The precut house was fully assembled in 352 carpenter hours and the non-precut home was completed in 583 carpenter hours.

In short, the fellow building his own Sears kit home would probably be doing his sawing with an old-fashioned, man-powered saw. The 1927 Wardway Homes catalog estimated that the average two-bedroom stick-built home required about 4,000 cuts with a saw.

That’s a whole lot of sawing that could be spared by purchasing an “Already Cut” Sears Home.

To learn more about Honor Bilt and Lighter Bilt houses, click here.

To buy Rose’s newest book on Sears kit homes, click here.

The Josephine, as shown in the 1921 catalog.

The Josephine, as shown in the 1921 catalog.

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Look in the difference in price between Honor Bilt and Lighter Bilt.

Look in the difference in price between Honor Bilt and Lighter Bilt.

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This 840-square foot house was just the right size for many families in the early 1920s.

This 840-square foot house was just the right size for many families in the early 1920s. And the living room has space for a piano and a bench!

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Heres a Josephine in Mt. Healthy, Ohio. Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

Here's a Josephine in Mt. Healthy, Ohio. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Cincinnatti, Ohio.

This little cutie - discovered and photographed by Donna Bakke - is in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Effingham, Illinois

Yellow seems like an appropriate color for the happy little Josephine.

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Also in Mt. Healthy, OH

Donna found this Josephine in Mt. Healthy, OH. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Cincinnatti, OH

Another one in Cincinnati, OH. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Mt. Healthy

This is my favorite - and it's in stunningly original condition. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Mt. Healthy

Look at the details around the front porch! (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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My favorite one in Mt. Healthy

Close-up on the porch details.

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Awesome

And the house in Mt. Healthy is a perfect match! (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To see more pretty pictures of old houses, click here.

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