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Pottstown and Penniman and A Mystery School - SOLVED!

March 6th, 2016 Sears Homes 1 comment

We found Pottstown, and it isn’t the one in Pennsylvania.

About a month ago, I wrote a blog about a mystery school house mentioned in the Newport News Daily Press. The story, from December 1922 said that the school would soon be built for African-American children in Pottstown, using salvaged brick from the Penniman smokestack. Problem was, no one seemed to know anything about a community called “Pottstown” near Williamsburg.

Then not one, but two of my favorite researchers found a bibliographic reference in a book, mentioning Pottstown and citing a plat book at the James City County Courthouse.

I toddled down to the courthouse one day (about a 50-mile drive from my home) and went into the clerk’s office and asked to see page 31 of “Plat Book Number Three.” The mystery was quickly solved. In the early 1900s, Pottstown was an African-American community in the heart of Williamsburg, and the school in question was the James City County Training School, built (finished) in 1924, and sitting at the corner of Nicholson and Botetourt Streets.

The article in the Newport News Daily Press (December 20, 1922) said that Williamsburg School Board Chairman W. L. Jones had purchased the smokestack while it was still vertical, in hopes of using the slightly-used bricks to build a public school for black children in James City County. After discovering the location of the school in question, I was still left wondering, “Did he use those bricks from Penniman?”

After a lot of digging around, I don’t have a definitive answer, but I do have a strong suspicion. Based on the voluminous materials I’ve studied in the last three weeks, I’ve come to the conclusion that W. L. Jones probably did use those bricks from the Penniman smokestack for the James City County Training School.

In short - financial reasons.

The first bids received for the James City County Training School, came in at about $30,000. The school board’s budget for building the solid-brick, six-room schoolhouse (with a center auditorium) was $13,000. Even in 1924 dollars, that was a trifling amount for a schoolhouse (about $180,000 in today’s money). There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth as school board members struggled to figure out how to reduce costs. One of the suggestions was to lop two classrooms off the plans.

Ultimately, two African-American contractors (Sylvester L. Vaughan and J. Andrew Jones) stepped forward and managed to shave the bid down to $16,650. The plumbing, heating, electricity and insurance were not factored into these early bids, raising the final price to $20,280. Local black patrons raised an additional $3,700 and the Rosenwald Fund contributed $1,500. A Williamsburg contractor, R. W. Holmes, offered to supply the plumbing and heating system (and all materials) and wait one year before billing the school board.

In 1924, salvaged bricks cost about $15 per thousand (clean) or $10 per thousand (not clean). In other words, if  you’re willing to sit down and chisel mortar off a whole lot of bricks, you’ll save about 33% on your costs. Some ciphering shows that the school would have required about 44,000 bricks. And some extra-fancy ciphering shows that the 250-foot tall tapered Penniman smokestack contained more than 150,000 bricks (and probably closer to 300,000).

In December 1922, W. L. Jones told the newspaper he was buying those bricks to use in a school building for Pottstown. Given the enormous budget constraints, it seems likely that he did just that. Other sources revealed the following:

1) In July 1922, Reverend Thomas Potts had sold two lots to the school board for $1,300. When Jones bought those bricks, a lot had already been purchased for the new school (School Board Minutes, July 1922).

2) Years earlier, Jones had given the black community a personal promise that he would build them a new brick school house. The promise was re-stated in a letter to the editor that appeared in the Daily Press in May 1923.

And there’s this: In the early 1900s, Americans were very thrifty and smart when it came to recycling quality building materials, and the bricks used in a DuPont smokestack would have been of the very highest quality. As of 1902, W. L. Jones had owned a brickyard in Williamsburg and he probably knew quite a bit about bricks. Buying salvaged bricks was such a common practice in the early 1920s that their prices were advertised in building journals and magazines. And salvaged bricks were considered a fine alternative to the higher cost of new bricks, as long as they were being used in a one-story structure. More on that below.

Bids for the new school were solicited in May 1923, and the contract with Jones and Vaughan was closed in July 1923. On Monday, September 15, 1924, the James City County Training School welcomed almost 200 new students on its first day.

Unfortunately, the James City County Training School fell into terrible disrepair in the early 1930s. The biggest problem facing the school was moisture intrusion on the interior plaster walls and non-stop leaks throughout the predominantly flat roof. Was this a failure of building materials or workmanship? Given the age of the structure, I’d have to lean toward workmanship, but it’s impossible to know for sure.

Perhaps one of the main problems was that, according to the July 1935 minutes of the school board, they’d hired “Mr. Leakey” to fix the problems in the roof. That doesn’t seem like a good choice.

By February 1935, Rockefeller’s restoration of Colonial Williamsburg had caught up to Nicholson Street and the school board decided to stop repairing the dilapidated building. The school board officially decided that ugly was good. “Money spent [on repairs] should be spent on the inside and not on the outside, in the hope that the Restoration might buy the property if its appearance were too unsightly” (February 1935).

Estimates to repair the building ranged from $8,000 to $10,000, and in early 1936, the 12-year-old school was condemned. The restoration committee stepped up to the plate and paid $10,000 for the old school building and donated a new lot for the new school (Bruton Heights). The new school would be built at a cost of $245,000 (and completed in 1940).

For a time, Penniman’s bricks lived on, a little bit more.

The school board minutes from June 1940 showed that gravel was being tracked into the shiny new Bruton Heights School. It was suggested that school board member, Mr. Byrd, contact the “Restoration People” and ask if the brick from the old building could be used for walkways around the new building. In August 1940, it was reported that the “bricks from the old building have been hauled over to the school grounds.” Children from the NYA (National Youth Administration) were sought to help remove all that mortar and lay the pavers in place. Additionally, bricks from the old school were used for the underpass walkway (a pedestrian tunnel under the train tracks, by the new school).

Last week, as I strolled the grounds of the old Bruton Heights school, I saw only concrete walkways at every point and turn. The underpass, classic 1930s Art Deco construction, is also 100% paved in concrete. Do our Penniman bricks rest quietly under all that concrete?

I can only hope.

Thanks so much to Mark Hardin, Milton Crum, Bill Inge, Pat Spriggs, Dale Wolicki and Anne Hallerman for providing research help.

And thanks to The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for providing the vintage images of the James City County Training School.

To read the prior blog on this school, click here.

And I’m eager to know - did the desks come from Sears and Roebuck?  :)

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This plat from James City County Courthouse

This plat from James City County Courthouse shows that "Pottstown" was a small community within Williamsburg, and James City County Training School was located at the corner of Nicholson and Botetourt Streets. Outlined in red (for emphasis) is the school in question. Harmon Athletic Field is in the upper right-hand corner of this plat.

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And right on the face of this plat is our answer: Pottstown.

And right on the face of this plat is our answer: Pottstown.

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Bill Inge

Norfolk historian Bill Inge found this 1933 Sanborn Map, which says that the JCCTS was built with hollow tile and brick. These were very common building materials in the early 1920s. Plaster could be applied to the interior face of the hollow tile, creating a fire-proof wall, and this was of utmost importance in early 20th Century America. In more expensive applications, the interior face of the hollow tile was glazed, creating a finished appearance that required no plaster.

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James City County Training School - on the hoof.

James City County Training School - on the hoof. This 250-foot-tall smokestack dominates most views of Penniman. According to the Daily Press, it took 35 sticks of dynamite to topple this behemoth.

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My smart friends and I are flummoxed by this view.

My smart friends and I are flummoxed by this view of the smokestack. Is that brick on the exterior? It looks very squarish. Is the brick turned "end out"? Based on contemporary building standards, we know that the smokestack walls were more than four feet thick on the first 20' section near the base, a little less than four feet thick at the second 20' section, and so on. That means that there's a whole lot of brick within this "tall chimney" (as they were then known). Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Heres what started the ball rolling. This article states that school superintendant W. L. Jones bought the bricks to use in the schoolhouse in Pottstown.

Here's what started the ball rolling. This article states that School Board Chairman W. L. Jones bought the bricks to use in the schoolhouse in Pottstown (Daily Press, December 20, 1922).

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And

And it was reaffirmed two days later (December 22, 1922).

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In May 1923, Jones wrote this letter to the editor of the Daily Press, re-stating his promise to build a brick school house for the African-American children of Williamsburg.

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Thanks

And he made good on that promise. The James City County Training School is shown here, in all of its solid-brick glory. Judging from the muddy mess, it seems likely that this picture was taken soon after the school was built (1924). Photo is courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

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Another view

Another view of the James City County Training School. The auditorium was in the center of the building, with clerestory windows (barely visible in this photo). These windows provided an abundance of natural lighting. Photo is courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

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HB

Bricks and mortar bind mechanically. That bond is compromised on salvaged brick. New mortar and old bricks don't have the same strong "bond" as new brick, because the old brick's pores can be clogged from prior use. For this reason, only one-story applications would have been recommended - even in the 1920s. Today, used brick is considered suitable only for pavers and short non-structural brick walls. The image above is from the 1927 Homebuilder's Catalog.

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Bricks for sale. Cheap.

This one is a puzzler. W. L. Jones apparently had quite a few bricks on his hands. This advertisement appeared in May 1923 (Daily Press). And why are the bricks pricier at Penniman? That's another mystery.

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Seems like he was anz

And he was offering extra-cheap bricks to people who bought his lots in College Heights. This appeared throughout March 1923 in the Daily Press.

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By February 1935, the school had fallen into disrepari.

By February 1935, school board minutes reflect that the JCCTS had fallen into disrepair, and the school board hoped that the "Restoration" might buy the property. Ultimately, they were successful, and the school and lot were purchased by Rockefeller for $10,000.

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School board minutes from August 1940 show that the bricks from the JCCTS had been carted off to the new school, to serve as pavers. Are those our Penniman bricks? I think it's likely. NYA (National Youth Association) was a "New Deal" program.

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Today, every place where our Penniman bricks should appear is covered in concrete.

Today, every place where our Penniman bricks should appear is covered in concrete, such as this pedestrian tunnel under the train tracks (near Bruton Heights school) and the walkways around Bruton Heights.

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J. Andrew Jones was a professional carpenter and brick layer, and he did a beautiful job on the brick work. What a pity that it was razed a mere 16 years later.

J. Andrew Jones was a professional carpenter and brick layer, and he did a beautiful job on the brick work. What a pity that it was razed a mere 16 years later. Photo is courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

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Sears Schoolhouse specialty catalog

Did you see that part about The Rosenwald Foundation providing $1,500 in funding for the JCCTS? How fun is that? Wraps it all up in a neat and tidy bow, doesn't it? I spent more than three weeks of my life chasing down every detail on this story and it all comes back in full circle - Sears was involved! In 1908, Richard Warren Sears retired from the company he'd spent 22 years building, and Julius Rosenwald became president of the mail-order business, and also became a very wealthy man and a philanthropist. Catalog shown above is from 1926.

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Thanks so much to Mark Hardin, Milton Crum, Bill Inge, Pat Spriggs, Dale Wolicki and Anne Hallerman for providing research help.

And thanks to The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for providing the vintage images of the James City County Training School.

To read the prior blog on this school, click here.

Did you know Sears sold school desks too?

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The Sherman Triplets

September 24th, 2015 Sears Homes No comments

Several years ago, dear friend and co-author Dale Wolicki gave me and Rebecca Hunter a first-class tour of Bay City, Michigan. One of the homes he pointed out to us was “The Sherman,” a kit home built on one of the many tree-lined streets of this historic city in Northern Michigan.

The Sherman was a kit house offered by Lewis Manufacturing, a kit-home company that was based in Bay City. Like Sears, Lewis Manufacturing also sold kit homes through their mail-order catalog in the early 1900s. These houses were shipped in 12,000-piece kits and arrived by box car. Each kit included detailed blueprints and a lengthy instruction manual that told you how all those pieces and parts went together.

It was estimated that “a man of average abilities” could have a house assembled in 3-4 months.

Not surprisingly, Bay City is home to a surfeit of kit homes from both Lewis Manufacturing and Aladdin Kit Homes (which was also based in Bay City).

Thanks to Dale Wolicki for being such a good friend and tour guide and also for sharing so many vintage catalogs with me, including a 1927 Homebuilder’s Catalog!

Lewis sold some big fancy homes, as well as the more modest Sherman. To read more about that, click here.

To visit Dale’s website, click here.

Rebecca’s website is here.

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Heres the Lewis Sherman that Dale pointed out to us in Bay City, Michigan.

Here's the Lewis "Sherman" that Dale pointed out to us in Bay City, Michigan. I do wish I'd made a note of the street, but I remember that I was located in Bay City!

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The Sherman in Bay City is a nice match to this 1920 catalog image.

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Floorplan

It's a simple but practical floorplan. The living room is quite spacious given the size of the house.

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The Sherman has a twin in the 1927 Homebuilders Catalog (a plan book catalog).

The Sherman has a "twin" in the 1927 Homebuilder's Catalog (a plan book catalog). Plan book houses were a little different from kit homes. Kit homes were complete kits (blueprints and building materials) whereas plan book houses were just blueprints and a LIST of the building materials you'd need to buy.

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House

In fact, there are two houses in the 1927 Homebuilder's 's catalog that bear a stunning resemblance to the Lewis "Sherman." The Cadott is mighty close, with a few minor differences (1927 catalog).

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Whats really fun is to compare these three floorplans side-by-side.

What's really fun is to compare these three floorplans side-by-side. Far left is the Cadott (Homebuilder's) and the Lewis Sherman (center image) and the Catalpa (Homebuilder's). The Cadott is 28' deep, the Sherman is 30' deep and the Catalpa is 29 feet deep. Through these very minor changes, the companies hoped to avoid the appearance of "stealing" one another's designs. Interestingly, the Sherman is the only one without a fireplace.

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Side-by-side comparison of the houses themselves is also interesting.

A side-by-side comparison of the houses themselves is also entertaining. The Cadott is on the far left, Lewis Sherman in the center and the Catalpa is on the far right. There are some minor differences on the exterior, such as window arrangement. Plus, the corbels on the front porch are different. And they all need landscaping!

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The corbels on the Lewis Sherman are unique (thank goodness).

The corbels on the Lewis Sherman are unique (thank goodness).

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All of which leads me back to this simple truth: Dale is right! This is a Lewis Sherman in Bay City!  :D

All of which leads me back to this simple truth: Dale is right! This is a Lewis "Sherman" in Bay City! :D

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To visit Dale’s website, click here.

Rebecca’s website is here.

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“Colonial House with a Bungalow Effect” - And Maid’s Quarters!

September 7th, 2015 Sears Homes 7 comments

It’s two, two, TWO houses in one! The catalog page featuring the Sears Arlington promoted it as a “Colonial House with a Bungalow Effect.”

Maybe we should just call it, “The Colongalow”! [Kah-lon-ga-low]

And what’s not to love about the melding of two housing styles?

Everyone who loves old houses has a soft spot for the Bungalow and the Colonial, and the Arlington features elements of both (or so the ad promises).

And our Colongalow has a maid’s room, which isn’t something you’d expect to find a kit home. There were a handful of Sears Homes that offered maid’s quarters, but the Arlington is one of the most modest (within that grouping).

Thanks again to Becky Gottschall for finding and photographing the Arlington in Pottstown shown below.

To learn more about The Bungalow Craze, click here.

You can read more on Pottstown here.

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Im not sure where the Colonial element comes in.

I'm not sure where the "Colonial" element comes in. Classic Colonial Revival architecture features symmetry inside and out, with a centered front door, central hallway and staircase, and symmetrical windows on the home's front. If someone can point out the Colonial influence on this classic Arts & Crafts bungalow, I'd love to see it! (1919 catalog)

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As you can see from the floorplan, it doesnt boast of a center hallway with a center staircase.

As you can see from the floorplan, it doesn't boast of a center hallway with a center staircase. And yet if you look at the room on the back left, you can see it boasts of a "maid's room."

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Howe

However, it is a spacious home with fair-sized bedrooms.

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That maids room is pretty tiny.

That maid's room is pretty tiny, but at least it has a closet.

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In the Baxters home, Hazels room was also right off the kitchen.

In the Baxter's home, Hazel's room was also right off the kitchen and yet look at the size! But Hazel wasn't your average maid, so maybe that's why she got such a suite deal. (Image is from "TV Sets: Fantasy Blueprints of Classic TV Homes," Mark Bennett, copyright 1996, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers.)

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FFF

In addition to the spacious bedroom, she also had a walk-thru closet and her own attached bath. Plus, Mr. Bee bought her a great big color television for that nice en suite. Hazel had a good arrangement in the Baxter's home, and both "Sport" and "Missy" loved her dearly. But I digress. There are only a handful of Sears Homes that featured "Maid's Quarters" and our "Colongalow" was one of them. (Image is from "TV Sets: Fantasy Blueprints of Classic TV Homes," Mark Bennett, copyright 1996, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers.)

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Becky Gotschall found this Arlington in Pottsdown, Pennsylvania.

Becky Gotschall found this Arlington in Pottsdown, Pennsylvania. The porch was enclosed, but it was tastefully done. And it's the only brick Arlington I've seen. Photo is copyright 2015 Becky Gottschall and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The large gabled dormer still retains its original siding. Photo is copyright 2015 Becky Gottschall and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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That appears to be a kitchen window that's been enclosed toward the home's rear. Photo is copyright 2015 Becky Gottschall and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Rachel Shoemaker found this Arlington in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Rachel Shoemaker found this Arlington in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo is copyright 2015 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Is this an Arlington on Deep Creek Blvd in Chesapeake? Im inclined to think that it probably is, even with the differences in the front porch.

Is this an Arlington at 212 George Washington Highway North in Chesapeake, Virginia? After studying it for a bit, I'd say probably not. It appears to have a broken porch roof, and that is NOT something a buyer would ever have customized! (The angle on the Arlington's front porch is the same as the primary roof.) Photo is copyright Teddy The Dog 2010 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. Admittedly, she did not take the photo, but she did find the house.

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One of the worlds most perfect Arlingtons in Gordonsville, VA.

One of the world's most perfect Arlingtons in Gordonsville, VA.

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The floorplan showing The Baxters Home came from this book, which is a mighty fun read. It features all our favorite TV homes from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Personally, I love looking at floorplans and this book answers a few questions about the Petries home, and the Taylors home and the Baxters home.

The floorplan showing The Baxter's Home came from this book, which is a mighty fun read. It features all our favorite TV homes from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Personally, I love looking at floorplans and this book answers a few questions about the Petrie's home, and the Taylor's home and the Baxter's home and more.

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To learn more about The Bungalow Craze, click here.

You can read more on Pottstown here.

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Pottstown - Where Have You Been All My Life?

September 2nd, 2015 Sears Homes 4 comments

Becky Gotschall initally contacted me through Facebook, and said that she’d found “a few kit homes” in her neck of the woods.

Inspired by her enthusiasm, I started “driving the streets” of Pottstown, Pennsylvania (via Google Maps™) and discovered this masculine-looking foursquare.

The house tickled a memory but I couldn’t quite remember where I’d seen it before. Next, I sent an email to Rachel and asked her to take a “quick peek” through her 23,939 catalogs and see if she could find this foursquare.

And amazingly, she did.

Rachel found it in her 1917 Sterling Homes catalog, and even emailed me the original scan.

As with the last blog, this house was also “discovered” through a collaborative effort involving myself, Rachel and Becky, who not only got this whole thing started, but went out and got some beautiful pictures of the grand old house.

Thanks so much to Rachel and Becky for discovering a Sterling “Imperial” which is one house I’ve never seen before!

To read about our other discoveries in Pottstown, click here.

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

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Sterling Something

The Sterling "Imperial" was one fine-looking foursquare (1917).

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1917

The pantry has a little access door for the ice box (1917). This was known as "the jealous husband's door," because it obviated the need for that dapper ice man to enter the home, and provided access through a small door on the porch. The Imperial was a traditional foursquare, with four rooms within its squarish shape. There's also a spacious polygon bay in the living room.

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house 12

Check out the "Maid's Room" on the second floor. As with the Vernon, it's directly over the kitchen, because that's the worst room on the second floor.

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House House

Close-up of that "interior view" shown above.

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My, but that's a handsome home. That three-window dormer must be pretty massive inside that attic. What makes it striking is that horizontal wood belt course just above the first floor, with clapboards below and shakes above.

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housei

Looks like it walked off the pages of the Sterling catalog! The columns and railing are original and in good condition. Photo is copyright 2015 Becky Gotschall and may not be used or reproduced with written permission.

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House house

Looks majestic from all angles! Photo is copyright 2015 Becky Gotschall and may not be used or reproduced with written permission.

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HOUSE HOUSE

From this angle, you can see that cute little house in the back. Photo is copyright 2015 Becky Gotschall and may not be used or reproduced with written permission.

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Hey wait a second. Did that cute little tree come with the kit?

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housie

The same tree shows up in the current image! Photo is copyright 2015 Becky Gotschall and may not be used or reproduced with written permission.

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If you’d like to visit another very fun kit home website, click here.

Want to read more about “The Jealous Husband’s Icebox Door”?

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The Vernon is a Home with Marked Personality!

August 29th, 2015 Sears Homes 10 comments

At first, I thought about titling this blog, “With a little help from my friends,” because - like so much of this research - I wouldn’t have much to write about if it wasn’t for fellow kit-house lovers who are always on the look-out for fresh discoveries.

Becky Gottschall has been finding all manner of wonderful houses in and around Pottstown, Pennsylvania. In my own opinion, the crème de la crème of these discoveries is the Sterling “Vernon” - right in the heart of Pottstown.

The other helper is Rachel Shoemaker, who provided the original catalog images shown below.

Many thanks to both Becky and Rachel for their help!

To read about a less-fortunate house in Pennsylvania, click here.

Did you know there’s a Sears Magnolia in Pennsylvania?

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Sterling Homes, based in Bay City, Michigan, sold kit homes through a mail-order catalog, just like Sears.

Sterling Homes, based in Bay City, Michigan, sold kit homes through a mail-order catalog, just like Sears. The "Vernon" was featured on the cover of the 1928 catalog.

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Nice looking houses, too (rear cover, 1928).

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The Vernon was Sterlings Magnolia: Their biggest and best house.

Personality! So saith the advertising copy in this 1917 catalog. The "Vernon" was Sterling's Magnolia: Their biggest and best house, and it had shutters "savoring of New England." Love the writing!

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And it was a fine and spacious home.

And it was a fine and spacious home. The kitchen stuck out in the rear for several reasons. Primarily, it provided ventilation on three sides of the room and helped separate this room from the rest of the house. The kitchen was not only hot (due to behemoth stoves and ranges), but it was also considered a hazard to happy living, due to bad smells (ice box, soot and grease), cooking odors, and the heat. Oh my, the heat!

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The maid

In older homes (pre-1920), you'll often find that the space over the kitchen was a "storage room" or "trunk room," because this space was considered unsuitable for living space. In later years, it was often the maid's room. Guess she was made of stouter stuff than to worry over bad smells, coal soot and high heat. The master bedroom (like the living room directly below) has a fireplace. Pretty sweet!

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Even if you opted for all the extras, the Vernon would only cost a smidge more than $4,000. Pretty sweet deal - even in 1917.

Even if you opted for all the extras, the Vernon would only cost a smidge more than $4,000. Pretty sweet deal - even in 1917. It really was a grand home (1917 catalog).

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All of which explains why it was featured on the cover of Sterlings catalogs (1928 catalog shown above).

All of which explains why it was featured on the cover of Sterling's catalogs (1928 catalog shown above).

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And the one in Pottsdown, Pennsylvania is unusually stunning!

And the one in Pottstown, Pennsylvania is unusually stunning! Photo is copyright 2015 Becky Gottschall and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. Thus saith the law. And the lions. Even if one is tilted just a bit. They are stoned, after all.

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Its a gorgeous house.

It's a gorgeous house, and in excellent condition. You can see the wonderful detail on the rafter tails in this photo. Photo is copyright 2015 Becky Gottschall and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another beautiful view from another beautiful angle.

Another beautiful view from another angle. I'm not sure, but that appears to be a slate roof (at least on the side of those dormers). Photo is copyright 2015 Becky Gottschall and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Wow

What a house. Do you have one in your neighborhood? (1928 catalog).

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Many thanks again to Becky Gotschall for providing an abundance of clear, beautiful photos.

Many thanks again to Becky Gotschall for providing an abundance of clear, beautiful photos.

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To read about a less-fortunate house in Pennsylvania, click here.

Did you know there’s a Sears Magnolia in Pennsylvania?

To read about another Sterling Vernon in New York, click here.

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A Kit House in Lebanon! (New Hampshire)

September 12th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last week, Hubby and I traveled to Vermont to see all the pretty things up there (including the Ben and Jerry’s Factory).

Sadly, I didn’t see much in the way of kit homes, but I did discover this gorgeous “San Fernando” offered by Lewis Homes (early 1920s).

The house is just across the Connecticut River in New Hampshire in a small town known as Lebanon. (We ended up staying at the Fireside Inn and Suites in West Lebanon.)

Lewis Homes was a kit home company (like Sears and Aladdin), and it was based in Bay City, Michigan. While Sears and Aladdin tend to get all the ink, the fact is that there were six companies selling kit homes on a nation-wide basis.

As you can see from the pictures below, it is a gorgeous house and has its original windows and siding. Might even be the original storm windows!

To read about the other pretty houses I found in this area, click here.

Read about my train adventure by clicking here!

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The Lewis San Fernando is a beautiful bungalow.

The Lewis San Fernando is a beautiful bungalow (1924 catalog).

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It merited a two-page spread in the 1924 catalog!

It merited a two-page spread in the 1924 catalog!

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And with two floorplans!

And with two floorplans!

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2

These floorplans appear to be the same (mostly), but this one is two feet longer (1924).

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It really is a beautiful bungalow!

It really is a beautiful bungalow!

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House

Located on Main Street in Lebanon, NH, this is a beautiful San Fernando!

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Perfect - DOWN to the details!

Perfect - DOWN to the details!

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windows

Hard to say for sure, but these are either original storms or fine-looking replacements.

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Heres a San Fernando that Dale and I found in Ohio.

Here's a San Fernando that Dale and I found in Ohio. That's Dale looking at the house.

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While in Vermont, we drove up to Graniteville to visit the Rock of Ages Quarry. That was great fun!

While in Vermont, we drove up to Graniteville to visit the Rock of Ages Quarry. The water is turqouise color due to some of the minerals leeching out from the rock.

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Warning: Not For the Faint of Heart!

August 14th, 2014 Sears Homes 9 comments

Dale and Rebecca found Sears Modern Home #174 while out tooling around in Iowa City a few weeks ago.

I have nothing more to add.

I’ll let the pictures tell the sad story.

But I warn you - do NOT scroll down unless you have a strong stomach! Graphic images to follow!

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Modern Home #124 looks a lot bigger than it is.

Modern Home #174 was a rare house. I've never seen one in real life.

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In fact, its a mere 18 feet wide.

Not very big, either. In fact, it's a mere 18 feet wide.

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Upstairs, you can see what a small house this is.

Upstairs, you can see what a small house this is.

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Looks promising, doesnt it?

Looks promising, doesn't it?

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Yeah.

Oh my. Oh me, oh my. If I knew how to embed music, I'd have the music from the shower scene in "Psycho" inserted here. This house has suffered a gruesome, wretched demise, far worse than any horror flick. Photo is copyright 2014 Dale Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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At least when Buster Keaton did something similiar to a kit house, it was funny.

At least when Buster Keaton did something similiar to a kit house, it was funny.

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To learn more about Buster Keaton’s short “One Week,” click here.

To see a blog on America’s 14 Ugliest Houses (which features a Sears Kit home originally featured on my site), click here.

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The Roycroft Twins in Jacksonville, Illinois

August 12th, 2014 Sears Homes 8 comments

Sears gets all the ink, but fact is, Gordon Van Tine was a very substantial (and impressive) kit home company, too. You can learn a lot about GVT by visiting Dale’s website here. Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes, and Gordon Van Tine - based in Davenport, Iowa - sold about 50,000.

Both Dale and Rachel (another dear friend) managed to get their hands on a wonderful old original GVT brochure, filled with testimonials from Gordon Van Tine’s happiest customers, and shared it with me.

One ad in particular caught my eye: It was a pair of Gordon Van Tine homes built next door to each other in Jacksonville, Illinois. Well shoot, Jacksonville was only 90 minutes from Alton, where I often visit family.

Last week when I was in Alton, I drove out to Jacksonville and got some pictures of The Roycroft Twins!

I would love to return to Jacksonville and give a talk on the many other kit homes I found! Contact Rose and let’s make a date!

Tomorrow (or later this week), I plan to write a blog on the REST of the kit homes in J-ville.

Special thanks to Rachel for finding the street address of these two homes. Rachel has her own wonderful blog, and it can be found here.

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The Roycroft, as seen in the 1929 GVT catalog.

The Roycroft, as seen in the 1929 GVT catalog.

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Small house, but good floorplan.

Small house, but good floorplan.

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house

It's a fine-looking house! Other than the twins in Jacksonville, I've never seen one - that I know of. After the vinyl-siding salesmen have their way with a house like this, it has the potential to be transmogrified into a homogenized, faceless, pedestrian, monotonous, dull, featureless front-gabled bore, so I may have missed the others.

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Both Dale and Rachel managed to score this vintage 1920s brochure full of testimonials from happy GVT buyers.

Both Dale and Rachel managed to score this vintage 1920s brochure with testimonials from happy GVT buyers. It's a fun brochure and chocked full of photos.

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I must say, I dont think Id eat much pudding if it looked like this.

I must say, I don't think I'd eat much pudding if it looked like this.

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Inside the brochure, is this fun image.

Inside the brochure, is this fun image. Turns out that 440 North Clay was a business address for Mr. Fernandes, and not the site of the Roycroft Twins.

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But Rachel turned on the ignition to her Google Car and did some virtual driving and found the twinkies on Church Street.

But Rachel turned on the ignition to her Google Car and did some virtual driving and found the twinkies just off West College Street in Jacksonville. (The image above is from the 1929 'Proof in the Pudding' brochure.)

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And here they are today.

And here they are today. Fortunately, the porches and some other details have survived.

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Twinkie #1.

Twinkie #1.

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Twinkie #2.

Twinkie #2.

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Just across the street from the Roycroft Twins, I found this!

Just across the street from the Roycroft Twins, I found this! Did Mr. Fernandes build this too?

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And its in mostly original condition! What a fine-looking house!

And it's in good condition! What a fine-looking house!

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Sears Wilmore, as seen in the 1940 Sears catalog.

And I found several Sears Homes in Jacksonville, too.

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Perfection

Perfection. This was my favorite "Sears House" find, The Sears Wilmore, complete with white picket fence.

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To visit Dale’s website, click here.

To visit Rachel’s blog, just put Mr. Mousie right here.

If you know Mr. Fernandes, please leave a comment!

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Dogs and Cats - Living Together in West Virginia

June 22nd, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last year, I visited the Eighth Magnolia in northern West Virginia. The owners were kind enough to give me a full tour, from the basement to attic. What a happy day that was, to see that old house, faithfully restored to its former splendor!

My hubby and I spent two hours at the house, photographing it from every possible angle, and soaking in the happy ambiance of a gorgeous Sears Magnolia in beautiful condition. This 90-year-old Sears kit house sits majestically on several acres in the bucolic hinterlands of West Virginia.

I was floating on air when we drove away from The Beautiful Magnolia. When I came to the first intersection, I saw a very interesting house on the corner and snapped my head around to get a better view.

“Oh my gosh,” I said slowly, but happily.

“What is it?” my husband asked, hoping that it was not another kit house. It was already an hour past his lunch time and he was not happy about that.

“It’s another kit house,” I said absent-mindedly, as I stopped the car hastily and retrieved my digital camera.

You could hear a soft little “plop” as his heart sank in his chest.

“Oh,” he said apprehensively.

“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “I’m just getting a few pictures.”

Famous last words.

Fortunately, I was able to get several good shots in a hurry (I was hungry too), and we were back on our way in less than five minutes.

So what kind of house is living next door to The Beautiful Magnolia?

It is a *perfect* example of a Gordon Van Tine #612, a classic bungalow, and one of their finer houses. Gordon Van Tine, based in Davenport Iowa, was a significant kit home company and probably sold more than 50,000 kit homes. They were also the company that supplied kit homes for Montgomery Ward.

To read my favorite blog about the Magnolia, click here.

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

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Gordon Van Tine

The Gordon Van Tine #612 as it appeared in the 1924 catalog.

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Spacious too

Look at the size of that living room! The dining room is also quite large.

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house 1924

It really is a beauty.

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Be still my heart

Be still my heart. Wow, wow, WOW! What a fine-looking home!

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And its on a pretty lot

And it sits on a beautiful lot in West Virginia. Notice the short window in the dining room? It's likely that they had a built-in buffet in that bay window, necessitating the smaller window.

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house on lot

A better view of the house from the side.

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See that detail on brick

See that detail on chimney?

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nice match isnt it

Nice match, isn't it?

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Beautiful house in Vinton, VA

And here's a beautiful brick #612 that Dale found when we were in Vinton, VA (near Roanoke).

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Heres a not-so-beautiful GVT 612 on Pocohontas Street in Hampton, VA

Here's a not-so-beautiful GVT # 612 on Pocohontas Street in Hampton, VA. It's just outside of the Old Wythe section of Hampton, which has many kit homes. Heaven only knows why that extra roof piece was added between the two gables. My oh my.

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Yeah, it really is one.

Due to the many trees on the side, I could not get a good picture down the right side, but a visual inspection satisfied me that this really is a Gordon Van Tine #612 (or its Montgomery Ward counterpart). If you look down this side (shown above) and compare it with the floorplan, you'll see it's the real deal.

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And its all just around the corner from our Maggie!

And that Gordon Van Tine is just around the corner from our Maggie!

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To read my favorite blog about the Magnolia, click here.

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

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The True Origins of the Sears Magnolia

February 10th, 2014 Sears Homes 6 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)
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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.

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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!

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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.

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The Magnolia (1920 Modern Homes catalog).

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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"!

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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!

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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.)

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But boy oh boy, its a close one!!

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

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Has those 15 lites over the window, too!

Has those 15 lites over the window, too!

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Even the interior floorplan was a good match!

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

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Heres the real deal in Northern West Virginia.

Here's the real deal in Northern West Virginia.

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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").

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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)

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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.

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