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Staunton, Virginia: More Amazing Finds

May 3rd, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

A couple days ago (May 1st),  I returned to Staunton to do a little more research on the kit homes in the city (in preparation for my talk on May 2nd), and this time, I was driven around by Frank Strassler, head of the Historic Staunton Foundation. It’s a lot easier to focus on kit homes when someone else is doing all the driving, and especially when that someone else knows where they’re going!

We found many kit homes that I’d not seen during a prior visit, and the most intriguing find was the four Harris Brothers kit homes we discovered. Frankly, I suspect there are more than four HB houses in Staunton, but I’m not that familiar with this company and, I have very few of their catalogs.

Harris Brothers (formerly the Chicago House Wrecking Company) was based in Chicago, Illinois. How did four Harris Brothers houses end up in Staunton? And three of them were in the same neighborhood (Sears Hill).

Hopefully, some of Staunton’s history loving residents will poke around a bit more, because I’m sure there are many more hidden architectural treasures just waiting to be found.

And, a little aside:   My favorite memory of the lecture on Thursday evening? I asked the crowd (128 attendees!), “Before there was a World War Two, does anyone know what we called World War One?”

To my utter delight and astonishment, a cacophony of voices replied, “The Great War.”

It was sheer bliss to realize that I was surrounded by so many history lovers. In all my travels, there’s typically a lone voice (or less), that correctly answers that question. The people of Staunton really do love their history, and better yet, they know their history, and that’s such a joy to behold.

To read the first blog I wrote about Staunton’s kit homes, click here.

OOOH, an update! Read about my newest find in Staunton here!

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First, my favorite find in Staunton.

First, my favorite find in Staunton. Shown above is Modern Home #2028 from the 1923 Harris Brothers catalog (courtesy of Dale Wolicki).

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Now thats a big house!

It looks like a massive house, but in fact, it's 22 feet wide and 29 feet deep.

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Originally, I snapped this photo just because it seemed like a good idea. Sometimes, something will trigger a memory, and I didnt consciously remember having seen this house, and yet...

Originally, I snapped this photo just because it seemed like a good idea. Sometimes, something will trigger a memory, and I didn't consciously remember having seen this house, and yet, when I got back to my hotel and started going through the old catalogs, I realized it was a perfect match to the Harris Brothers #2028!

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Pretty

And, as a nice bonus, I even managed to snap my one photo from the perfect angle! Though not easily seen in the photo above, the house in Staunton has the two bay windows, just as it should!

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The other three Harris Brothers homes were in one neighborhood: Sears Hill. Shown above is Modern Home #1017 from the 1923 Harris Brothers catalog (courtesy of Dale Wolicki).

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The HB 1017, as seen in 1923.

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And here's the 1017 in Staunton! Look at the unique window arrangement on the home's front. And check out those unique columns, and the bracketing under the eaves. It was tough to get a good photo, but the little attic window is also a spot-on match to the catalog page. The house is 24 feet' wide and 36 feet deep. The dimensions of this house (shown above) seem to be a good match! The line drawings (from the original catalogs) are sometimes a little bit off in scale and proportion.

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If you look down the side, youll see its a good match there, too.

If you look down the side, you'll see it's a good match there, too. BTW, Staunton is very hilly, and I learned that it's tough to get good house photos in hilly neighborhoods! And, the angle skews the proportions. Short of carrying a 20-foot stepladder around on top of the Camry, I'm not sure how to solve this.

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HB # 1025 was another "favorite" find for me, and yet another kit home that I'd never seen before. From the 1923 Harris Brothers catalog (courtesy of Dale Wolicki).

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HB # 1025 was another favorite find for me, and yet another kit home that Id never seen before.

HBClose-up of HB #1025. From the 1923 Harris Brothers catalog (courtesy of Dale Wolicki).

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At the lower right of that catalog page (seen above), is an actual photo of a HB #1025. This photo shows off those beautiful six casement windows on the front.

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Be still my heart!!! Heres a real life example

What a fine house! Here's a real life example of HB #1025. And look at those pretty casement windows! Were it not for those original windows, I'm not sure I would have recognized this 90-year-old kit home.

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Another view of those wonderful old casements. By the way, apparently this house is for sale. Someone should contact the owner and let them know - this is a kit house!

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Close-up of the porch columns.

Close-up of the porch columns. And this house still has its original gutters.

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HB #1007 was one of their more popular designs, however... It's also a house that has several "twins." Given that Staunton's #1007 is within three houses of the other two HB homes, I'm going to assume that the model in Staunton is indeed from Harris Brothers.

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Nice house, isnt it?

Nice house, isn't it? Love the rocking chairs!

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Stauntons own HB #1017.

Staunton's own HB #1017.

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While we were out driving around, I also spotted a Sears Woodland. The Woodland is an eye-catcher because it has those two full-sized windows flanking the front door.

While we were out driving around, I also spotted a Sears Woodland. The Woodland is an eye-catcher because it has those two full-sized windows flanking the front door. And it has an unusual window arrangement down the right side (as shown here). This image is from the 1919 catalog.

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The small attic dormer is missing but other than that, this is a great match. Due to landscaping, I was not able to get a good photo of that right side, but it does match the catalog image.

The small attic dormer is missing but other than that, this is a great match. Due to landscaping, I was not able to get a good photo of that right side, but it does match the catalog image. Was the house built sans dormer, or was it removed during a roofing job? Hard to know, but I'd guess that it was built this way. And, this house is next door to the big Harris Brothers foursquare (#2028).

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Another fun discovery on this most recent trip was the Sears Winona in Staunton.

Another fun discovery on this most recent trip was the Sears Winona in Staunton (1938 catalog).

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This house was offered in two floorplans (in 1938). The floorplan shown here is a match to the house in Staunton.

This house was offered in two floorplans (in 1938). The floorplan shown here is a match to the house in Staunton. It squeezes three bedrooms into 960 square feet.

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Close-up on the Winona.

A key feature in identifying this very simple house is the small space between those two windows in the gabled bay (dining room).

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What a nice match!

What a nice match!

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And the other side is a good match, too!

And the other side is a good match, too!

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Despite two days of driving around, we never did spot the Stanhope (Aladdin) purchased by Mr.

Despite two days of driving around, we never did spot the Stanhope (Aladdin) purchased by Mr. Linkenholer.

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As seen in the 1919 catalog, heres a picture of the Aladdin Stanhope.

As seen in the 1919 catalog, here's a picture of the Aladdin Stanhope. Where's Mr. Linkholer's Stanhope? I'd love to know!

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

To read more about the kit homes of Staunton, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

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Staunton, Virginia - Here I Come! (May 2nd)

April 17th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

Thanks the Historic Staunton Foundation, I’ll be returning to Staunton on May 2nd to give a talk on the kit homes of Staunton!

As mentioned in a prior blog, Staunton has an interesting array of kit homes of all sizes, shapes and from several companies. And at 7 pm (Thursday evening), I’ll give a powerpoint presentation, featuring the kit homes I’ve discovered in the city.

It’ll be a lot of fun, comparing and contrasting original vintage images from the old catalogs with contemporary photos. And I’ll also talk about how to identify kit homes. A “windshield survey” is a good start, but even with a thorough street-by-street visual inspection, it’s still possible to overlook a few kit homes.

There are ways to identify a kit house from inside, including marked lumber, hidden blueprints, grease-pencil marks and shipping labels often found in unsuspecting places. We’ll talk about that on May 2nd.

Staunton has kit homes from Sears (the best known of the mail-order kit house companies), and Aladdin (the largest of the companies), Gordon Van Tine and Montgomery Ward.

And how did Staunton end up with so many kit homes? We’ll talk about that on May 2nd!

For a sneak preview of the beauties we’ve found in Staunton, scroll on down!

To learn more, visit the website for the Historic Staunton Foundation.

To read the first blog I wrote about Staunton’s kit homes, click here. (BTW, that first blog has been viewed more than 2,500 times!)

Many thanks to Leslie Hayes and Linda Ramsey for not only providing the wonderful photos shown below, but in some cases, finding these Sears Homes!

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The Berwyn as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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Berwyne

And here's a perfect Berwyn (in stucco) on Noon Street. Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Maytown was -- as the ad promised - a big seller.

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The Maytown in Staunton overlooks Gypsy Hill Park.

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first, a mystery

The Wilmont was not a popular house (shown here in the 1920 catalog).

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And yet, is this a Wilmont in Staunton? I've puzzled over this house for close to an hour, and I'm still undecided. That dormer window on the side is pretty distinctive. I'd love to see the inside of this house. That would help me figure it out once and for all!

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The Wardway Cordova is another very distinctive house.

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And here's one in Staunton. Yes, it's a little rough around the edges, but it's still standing! Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Sussex 1929

The Sussex was offered by Gordon Van Tine (based in Davenport, Iowa). The image above is from the 1929 Gordon Van Tine catalog.

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Sussex GVT

And here it is, looking picture perfect! What a fine-looking Sussex it is, too! Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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My faavorite match!

My oh my, that's a sweet match!

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Gordon Van Tine

The Gordon Van Tine "Roberts" (shown above) was a hugely popular house.

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Roberts

And here's a perfect Roberts on North Augusta (Staunton). Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Plymouth

The Aladdin Plymouth was a classic Dutch Colonial.

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house Plymouth

And here's a beautiful example of the Aladdin Plymouth.

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Mayfield planbook

In addition to kit homes, Staunton has a few "Plan Book" houses. Plan book homes were different from ktt homes, because with a plan book house, you purchased the blueprints and a detailed inventory that showed you precisely how much lumber you'd need to order for your house. With kit homes, the lumber was included. Plan book houses were quite common in the 1920s and 1930s. This model was "The Mayfield," (offered in a plan book titled, "Harris, McHenry and Baker").

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planbook Leslie

It's hiding behind that tree, but you can still see this is a Mayfield. Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Plan book

Both of Staunton's Mayfields are painted the same color.

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Gennessee

The Genessee was another plan book house found in the Harris, McHenry and Baker planbook.

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Straith

And here's a picture perfect Genessee on Straith Street in Staunton. Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Dover is one of my favorite Sears Homes. Cute, practical and easy to identify!

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Dover in Weyers Cave

Sadly, I did not visit nearby communities in Staunton during my visit there in mid-February, but I found this house while I was driving via Google Maps. Only a tiny part of Weyer's Cave is mapped (with street views on Google), and this Dover is on the main drag. Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Gladstone was one of Sears "Top Ten" most popular homes (1916 catalog).

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It's been added onto, and yet I'm wholly confident that this is a Gladstone in Weyer's Cave. It's within 1/4 mile of the Dover shown above. Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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In all my travels, I've never seen a Sears Rosita (from the 1919 catalog).

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ramsey Deerfield

Linda Ramsey discovered this Sears Rosita in Deerfield, Virginia (near Staunton), and it's in original condition - a very rare find! Rositas were "Strong and Graceful" (sort of), but they were very simple and modest homes, which makes them difficult to identify and very prone to extensive and insensitive remodeling. To find this 94-year-old house in such pristine condition - and looking just like the old catalog page - is a real treat! Photo is copyright 2013 Linda Ramsey and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Sears Crescent was a very popular house for Sears (1928 catalog).

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Vertona Rammsey

Linda Ramsey also discovered this picture-perfect Crescent in Verona (also near Staunton). And what a perfect match it is! Photo is copyright 2013 Linda Ramsey and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Wherefor art thou, little Stanhope in Staunton?

And according to Aladdin literature, there's an Aladdin Stanhope in Staunton, but where?

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Heres a

Here's a perfect Aladdin Stanhope in Scotland Neck, NC (near Roanoke Rapids). Where is the Stanhope in Staunton? If you've seen it, please leave a comment below!

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Please do join us on May 2nd for  my talk on Sears Homes. Having given more than 250 talks in 27 states, the top three comments I hear are:

“Oh my gosh, I had no idea that a talk on history could be so much fun!”

“I didn’t want it to end. I could have listened to you all night!”

“Your passion for this topic really shines through!”

And - as a nice bonus - it’s very educational evening, and I promise, it’ll forever change the way you see the houses in your city!

:)

Click here to learn more about how to get tickets.

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Be there or be square!

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To learn more about identifying kit homes, click here.

To read the first blog I wrote about Staunton’s kit homes, click here.

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And Then I Found a House I’d Never Seen Before (in Staunton)!!

March 2nd, 2013 Sears Homes 15 comments

Several days ago, I wrote a blog about the abundance of kit homes I found in Staunton, VA.

A fine fellow named Frank left a comment at that blog about a possible kit home at 1102 North Augusta Avenue (in Staunton). Thanks to Google Maps and their sharp images, I “drove” to the address (via my laptop). As it turned out, the house he’d mentioned on North Augusta was not a kit home, but then I saw something next door that really piqued my interest!

Next door at 1106 North Augusta was a beautiful home, and I recognized it as a catalog house, but I couldn’t remember WHERE I’d seen it. Was it from a kit or a planbook? I knew I’d seen that house in one of my books, but where?

I closed my eyes and tried to pull up the image mentally, but to no avail. Next, I dug out the catalogs and pored over thousands of images, desperate to find this house.

Still nothing.

Through the days, I’d lie down, take a deep breath, close my eyes and “see the house” (in Staunton) and then try to match it up with the houses in memory. It was not a strong memory.  I could “see” the black and white image in my thought and tried to scroll up on the mental page to see what catalog I was looking at.

No success.

Honestly, it got somewhat frustrating.

Several days ago, I posted the image on Facebook, in our “Sears Homes” group.

And then this morning when I logged onto Facebook, I found a message from one of the most active members, Cindy Catanzaro. She’d found the house in a Gordon Van Tine catalog. I was over-the-moon happy, and my brain was happy, too. No more endless searching for a faint image. No more walking into walls while my tormented mind was on overdrive, desperate to match up the Staunton house with the thousands of images rattling around in my head.

And the best part is, the house in Staunton is a spot-on match to the Gordon Van Tine “Sussex.” It is a beauty!

Now how fun is that?

And how did I miss it? I have a home-made field guide to the kit homes offered by Gordon Van Tine. It’s got about 500 house designs in it, organized by style, but the Sussex was not in my field guide. Complicating matters even more was this: Gordon Van Tine fulfilled all the orders for the Montgomery Ward kit homes (Wardway Homes), but there were a handful of designs that were exclusive to Gordon Van Tine. The Sussex was one of them.

So the Sussex fell through the cracks of my copious collection of kit home catalogs!

Thanks again to Frank for the tidbit that led to me finding this house, and thanks to Cindy Catanzaro for solving the mystery, and thanks to the owners of this house in Staunton (Alan and Sharon) for allowing me to use their photo!

And, I recently discovered that this fine old house is a famous Bed and Breakfast! Click here to learn more!

And, as a side note, this house is currently for sale and if I lived in Staunton, I’d be all over that!  ;)

To learn more about this wonderful home, visit the B&B website, here.

If you know of any other kit homes in Staunton (or surrounding areas), please leave a comment below!

Want to learn more about kit homes? Click here to join our merry band on Facebook!

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Sears was the most well-known of the kit home companies, but Gordon Van Tine was a serious contender. They were based in Davenport, Iowa and had mills in Washington State and Mississippi too.

Sears was the most well-known of the kit home companies, but Gordon Van Tine was a serious contender. They were based in Davenport, Iowa and had mills in Washington State and Mississippi too. Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes during their 32 years in the business. Gordon Van Tine probably sold about 50,000 kit homes. (Thanks to Dale Wolicki for the numbers on GVT!)

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As see in the 1929 catalog, heres a copy

In the 1926 catalog, it was Model #628. In the 1929 catalog, it was named "The Sussex."

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Its a bit grainy, but you can see the floorplan here.

It's a bit grainy, but you can see the floorplan here.

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And heres the Sussex, in all its beauty and grandeur.

And here's the Sussex, in all its beauty and grandeur.

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Thanks to Leslie Hayes, I now have a bigger and better photo of the Sussex!

Thanks to Leslie Hayes, I now have a bigger and better photo of the Sussex! What a perfect match this house is to the catalog page! Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Sussex in Staunton from another angle. It's a good looking house from all sides! Photo is copyright 2012 Alan Kincheloe and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Ooh la la, what a match!!!

Ooh la la, what a match!!!

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To read more about the kit homes of Staunton, click here or here.

To learn more about what makes these kit homes so valuable (and such an important piece of America’s cultural history), click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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A Brief Social History of 20th Century America, As Told By Porches

February 27th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

When you cut a tree down, you can learn a lot about local history by examining its exposed trunk. How many rings does it have? How old is the tree? During which years did the area experience a drought?

By studying America’s early architecture, you can learn a lot about life in that time period. For instance, in the early 1900s, why did the Victorian Manse fall from favor so fast? Why did the diminutive bungalow gain ground so fast?

What ignited The Bungalow Craze?

The germ theory.

In the late 1800s, about one in five children died before their 18th birthday. Parents were desperate to do anything to protect their children’s health. When it was discovered that “germs” were the culprit and that sanitation was the cure, people couldn’t get out of those big houses fast enough. It’s a fascinating topic, and to learn more about this one slice of American architectural history, click here.

Porches also tell a story about the social fabric in early 20th Century America.

In the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, we loved our front porches, and by design, they were intended to “woo and welcome the weary wanderer.”

Men, women and children passed many happy hours on the oversized front porch, and it was an open invitation for folks to drop by a “set a spell” (as we say in the south).

In pre-air conditioning days, the front porch also provided a welcome respite from the summer heat.

Last but not least, there were the salutary effects of fresh air. Primitive heating systems (usually fired by coal) had no filtration, and were probably partly to blame for the fact that so many children suffered from pulmonary diseases.

And there was a body of belief that fresh air was a cure for so many diseases. Being “cooped up” in an unevenly heated, often drafty old house was a recipe for disease, according to the prevailing thought of the day. In the early 1900s, a daily dose of fresh air was akin to today’s fascination with vitamins and herbal remedies.  (In the 1920s, “sleeping porches” became the rage for this very reason.)

And we were a society of walkers. Most communities were full of walkers, on their daily rounds. Without modern refrigeration, excursions to the butcher, the grocer, the baker and the general store were daily events.

And if you passed by The Thornton Home on Thornrose Avenue and saw Rose sitting in her wicker swing on the front porch, it was de rigueur to walk up to (but not on) the front steps and say hello. If Rosemary was in a fittin’ mood, she’d invite you to “set down for a bit and rest a spell.”

Front porches were a significant piece of our social construct in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

When houses got smaller, so did the front porch. By the 1910s, they were significantly downsized. And by 1920, a funny thing happened on the way to the wicker swing. The porch got moved to the side of the house. We still wanted to be part of the community, but we also wanted our privacy, and some alone time with our loved ones.

And in the 1950s, the porch moved again - to the back of the house. After making the commute back home from the foundry or the mill or the Skippy Peanut Butter Plant, we wanted to relax and put our feet up and enjoy our own little oasis in the back yard, away from the madding world. If someone wanted to drop by, they’d darn well better call first, and if they just showed up at the door, we could ignore them, and remain safely ensconced (and hidden) on the back of the house.

As I said, it’s a fascinating thumbnail sketch of American society.

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Aunties home

My great Aunt (Addie Hoyt) lived in this classic Victorian home, which was extensively remodeled (completely rebuilt) in 1895. Note the massive front porch, replete with three hammocks hanging from the porch posts. This photo as taken about 1899 or 1900.

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close up

Here's a close-up of those three hammocks. Very inviting!

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auntie poker

Front porches were very inviting - by design - and also became kind of an "outdoor den" and social center. Here is Addie (facing the camera) playing poker with an unidentified woman friend on the front porch of her home. She captioned this photo, "We have a real kitty for the kitty!"

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contemporary shows off porch

A contemporary view of Addie's home (2012). This photo really shows off those amazing porches. The second floor porches facing the street were sometimes known as "Parade Porches." This house has two second-floor porches. BTW, this house is now a famous Wisconsin landmark, and it's also a B&B. It's known as the Fargo Mansion Inn. Look below for a link to the site.

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1920sw

In 1957, my parents moved into this house at 515 Nansemond Street (Waterview) in Portsmouth, Virginia. It was built in 1924, and you can see the open porch is now on the side of the house. By the early 1920s, porches had migrated to the side, giving the homeowner a little privacy.

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side porch

My parents loved this house, and they captured a picture that really showcases the idea of the "private oasis" and the side porch. This house was in the suburbs (of the time), and not many people were likely to be walking down the street (compared to downtown districts), and yet we still wanted a bit of privacy from the world. Between the long awnings and the tall shrubs, it's hard to see much of anything on that porch, and that was probably by design.

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Close-up of the side porch. In the late1950s, my mother stepped out to her beloved side porch one summer evening and saw a bat hanging upside down in the corner. The next week, a contractor was at the house, screening in Mother's porch. She dearly loved that screened-in porch and spent many happy hours there, looking out at the side yard.

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front porch shelter rain

By 1925, front porches were a place to stand for a moment, sheltered from the elements, while you dug out your house keys. Or in this case, pose for an Easter photo (1957). My brother Tommy stands on the left, with Rickey on the right.

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By the 1950s, porches had migrated to the back of the house. After a hard day at the office, we wanted our privacy and we didn't want to share our quiet time with strollers meandering down the street. There were new social rules. Visitors were by invitation only, and if someone decided to drop by (without calling ahead), we could hide safely in the back of the house, and they'd never know we were home. This house (my house) was built in1962. The porch on the back is invisible from neighbors on either side. When built, this was a screened-in porch with a cement floor. In 1979, the windows were installed, and the 12x14' room became a sunporch. We purchased the home in 2012, and did a few more improvements to the room (some repairs and the installation wall-to-wall carpet). This is now the place where we spend 95% of our time.

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Even before proper porches, people tended to congregate in the front of the "old home place." This is a soddie ("the first house") in Dighton, Kansas. It was made of sod - literally.

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To learn more about Addie, click here.

To stay at Addie’s home, click here.

To read more about Rose’s much-loved mid-century brick ranch, click here.

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“A Conveniently Arranged Home of Eight Rooms at Low Cost”

January 6th, 2013 Sears Homes 7 comments

The Chelsea (Modern Home #111) was first offered in the 1908 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

This spacious foursquare endured until the early 1920s, when the more modern Colonial Revivals and Tudor Revivals bumped it out of the catalogs.

As is seen by the photos below, Modern Home #111 changed a bit as the years rolled by. In my travels, I’ve found only two examples of this house. The first was in Mattoon, Illinois (Central Illinois) and Colonial Heights, Virginia (near Richmond).

And yet I see there’s also one in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Anyone in Wisconsin willing to get a photo? :)

To learn more about the Sears Homes in Wisconsin, click here.

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

The Sears Chelsea appeared in the first Modern Homes catalog (1908).

The Sears Chelsea appeared in the first Modern Homes catalog (1908). In the floorplan for the 1908 "Chelsea," the bathroom was an optional upgrade.

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By 1916,

By 1916, the price had dropped by almost half. It was not offered as a pre-cut home until late 1917. Notice that the house now has a slightly different appearance with that center closet window (front), broader windows and more substantial woodwork around the front porch.

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By 1919

By 1919, the price was back to 1908 levels. This was probably due to some post-war inflation. In 1919, the Chelsea was offered as a pre-cut kit home.

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This testimonial (and photo) appeared on the back cover of the 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

This testimonial (and photo) appeared on the back cover of the 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The porch columns and lack of a closet window suggest it was the earlier (1908) model Chelsea.

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Accompanying testimonial.

The accompanying testimonial explains that the house was built in Ossining, NY.

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Heres a picture-perfect Chelsea in Colonial Heights, VA.

Here's a picture-perfect Chelsea in Colonial Heights, VA. The owner has done a thorough, meticulous and painstakingly perfect job of restoring this 100+ year old house to its original grandeur.

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This later-model Chelsea is in Mattoon, IL.

This later-model Chelsea is in Mattoon, IL. Lots of sidings there.

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A comparison of the Chelsea in New York (1916) and the Chelsea in Virginia (2010).

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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500,000th Visitor To This Website!

December 16th, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

Yesterday, this website had its 500,000th visitor.

That’s pretty exciting news.

Since 1999, I’ve been writing and talking about Sears Homes. In August 2010, I started “blogging regularly” at this site. And then in June 2011, a new topic appeared: Addie Hoyt Fargo. She was my great Aunt, who died under very suspicious circumstances in Lake Mills, Wisconsin in 1901.

Apparently, folks share my interest in these topics, and for that, I’m very grateful.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read about my beautiful aunt Addie, click here.

Interesting in learning more about the rich and complex funeral customs of the late 19th Century? Click here.

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Addie Hoyt Fargo and Anna Hoyt Whitmore were sisters. Anna Hoyt was my great-great grandmother, and the Hoyt family moved to Lake Mills in the early 1840s.

Addie Hoyt Fargo and Anna Hoyt Whitmore were sisters. Anna Hoyt was my great grandmother. The Hoyt family moved to Lake Mills in the early 1840s. Anna was born in 1866 and Addie was born in 1872. In this photo (taken about 1889), Addie is on the left.

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This picture was taken on Addies wedding day in February 1896. Was this photo taken on the same day as the first photo shown above (with the cape)? I dont think so, but its hard to know for sure.

This picture was taken on Addie's wedding day in February 1896.

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This photo, taken in 1894, really showcases Addies elegance and sophistication. She came from a wealthy family.

This photo, taken in 1894, really showcases Addie's elegance and sophistication. She came from a wealthy family.

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I love it that theres a mink *in* her hat.

I love it that there's a mink *in* her hat.

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A photo of Addie in her bedroom at the Fargo Mansion (Lake Mills) in the late 1890s.

A photo of Addie in her bedroom at the Fargo Mansion (Lake Mills) in the late 1890s.

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This photo was taken in the early 1890s in Lake Mills. It was titled Addie and her pony. I found it at the Lake Mills Library.

This photo was taken in the early 1890s in Lake Mills. It was titled "Addie and her pony." I found it at the Lake Mills Library during a research trip in November 2011.

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A photo of Addie

As shown in this photo, Addie was a snappy dresser.

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To read about Addie’s exhumation, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Christmas at the Fargo Mansion

December 12th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

It’s been about a year since I last stayed at the Fargo Mansion Inn in Lake Mills, Wisconsin but the many fond memories of that visit still remain. Many folks in that small, picturesque village showed me so many kindnesses. And two of the kindest, most sincere people I met during that trip were Tom Boycks and Barry Luce, owners of the Fargo Mansion Inn.

Were it not for these two, the 7,500-square foot Queen Anne mansion would have been reduced to several tons of construction debris at the county landfill. It was slated for demolition when they stepped in and bought it, sans heat, plumbing and electricity.

It’s been 25 years since those two saved this house, and today, it’s hard to imagine what Lake Mills would look like without this most impressive manse.

Since purchasing the solid-brick, 112-year-old house, Barry and Tom have poured their heart and soul (and a lot of money) into a thoughtful and thorough restoration. Visiting this house should be high on your “bucket list.” To make a reservation, click here.

The Fargo Mansion first came into my life in Summer 2011, shortly after my father’s death. Amongst his things, I found two old photo albums. One of the albums had an inscription: “Merry Christmas, Wilbur.”

Wilbur was my great-grandfather, but who was Addie Hoyt Fargo? Well, that’s a long story. To learn more about Addie Hoyt, click here.

To see pictures of Addie’s House, all dressed up for Christmas, scroll down!  (Thanks to Jan Vanderheiden for the photos!)

To read about Addie’s special Christmas present to Wilbur in 1900, click here.

To reserve a room at the Fargo Mansion (and see more gorgeous photos), click here.

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Addies house as it appeared in 1896, soon after a major remodeling.

Addie's house as it appeared in 1896, soon after a major remodeling.

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This beautiful house underwent a major remodeling in 1895 and 1896. Today, its a nationally known B&B. Addie would be proud!

This beautiful house underwent a major remodeling in 1895 and 1896. Today, it's a nationally known B&B. Addie would be proud! (Photos are copyright 2011 Jan Vanderheiden and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Inside, Tom and Barry have done a beautiful job of decorating the house for the holidays.

Inside, Tom and Barry have done a beautiful job of decorating the house for the holidays. (Photos are copyright 2011 Jan Vanderheiden and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Addie also did a fine job of decorating, back in 1896.

Addie also did a fine job of decorating, back in 1896. This photo faces the same corner as the contemporary photo shown above. Sadly, that newel post light ("Our Lady of the Naked Light") disappeared in the intervening decades.

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Tom and Barry love this old house, and it really shows.

Tom and Barry love this old house, and it really shows. (Photos are copyright 2011 Jan Vanderheiden and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Addie loved her house, too.

Addie loved her house, too. In the background, you can see that massive staircase and reception hall. Look at the fretwork and heavy curtains over the doorways.

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house

I love the vintage toys at the base of the tree. This tree sits at the base of the staircase. (Photos are copyright 2011 Jan Vanderheiden and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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house house

Notice the magnolia leaves on the Electrolier!

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photo

When my father died in June 2011, I found this photo album buried in an old nightstand. Apparently Addie gave this to her brother-in-law Wilbur Whitmore for a Christmas gift.

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Heres a picture of Addie with her older sister, Anna. Anna (born 1866) married Wilbur and moved to Denver. Wilbur and Annas families were both from Lake Mills and theyre my great-grandparents.

Here's a picture of Addie with her older sister, Anna. Anna (born 1866) married Wilbur and moved to Denver. Wilbur and Anna's families were both from Lake Mills and they're my great-grandparents.

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Wilbur and Anna about the time of their engagement (late 1880s).

Wilbur and Anna about the time of their engagement (late 1880s).

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To learn more about the Hoyts, click here.

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Another Gordon Van Tine Kit Home in Lake Mills, Wisconsin!

June 25th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

In September and November 2011, I traveled to Lake Mills, Wisconsin to do more research on my Aunt Addie, who was allegedly murdered by her husband, Enoch Fargo. It’s a fascinating story and you can learn more about that here.

Whilst there, I discovered a handful of kit homes in Lake Mills. Click here to see photos of those houses.

More recently, my friend Rachel sent me a picture of a very unique house sold by Gordon Van Tine. Immediately, I recognized it as a house I’d seen in Lake Mills. I asked folks in Lake Mills if they could get me a photo of the house and they gladly obliged. Scroll down to see this very interesting house!

And as Rachel Shoemaker observed, the GVT #126 was also built in Mechanicsville, Ohio (according to the testimonial in the 1913 catalog) and she also found one in Fayette, Ohio!

From the 1913 Gordon Van Tine house

House Plan #126 from the 1913 Gordon Van Tine catalog.

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1913 catalog

Close-up of #126. Note the flare at the bottom of the dormer's columns.

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house

Close-up of the floorplan.

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Lake Mills

A small snapshot at the bottom of the catalog page shows an interior shot of the living room. Notice the heavy drapes over the entrance to the stairwell.

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Dawn Stewart

Here's what I *think* could be GVT #126 in Lake Mills (on Lake Street). (Photo is copyright 2012 Dawn Stewart and may not be used or reproduced without permission.)

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Joeylynn Mattson

Another shot of the GVT #126. Notice that the front door is not centered on the Lake Mills house and yet the catalog house has a centered door. However, the living room spans the entire width of the house, so this would be a simple change to make. (Photo is copyright 2012 Joeylynn Mattson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Angie Hallmark

A better view of that front door. (Photo is copyright 2012 Angie Hallmark and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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compare dawn

Is this the GVT #126? I'm still not sure, but it's mighty close. That flare at the bottom of the dormer is a very unusual feature, and the house in Lake Mills is a beautiful match to the catalog image. The rest of the features are so very close that it does seem likely that the house in Lake Mills is the GVT #126. (Photo on the left is copyright 2012 Angie Hallmark and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Addie

And here's the reason I became interested in Lake Mills in the first place. The above is a picture of my great Aunt Addie (on the left) and her sister, my great grandmother (Anna Hawley Hoyt Whitmore). Addie and Anna were the children of Julia Hawley Hoyt and her husband, Homer. Julia and Homer's families both had deep roots in the Lake Mills area, and their children were born and raised in Jefferson County. According to "A History of Lake Mills," Addie was shot and killed by her husband in 1901. Addie was 29 years old at the time.

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To learn more about Gordon Van Tine houses, click here.

To read what the funeral director told me about Addie’s burial, click here.

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The Hawleys: One of the First Families of Jefferson County (Wisconsin)

February 25th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

On Friday, I posted a detailed blog about Addie’s deep roots in the Lake Mills community.

Addie Hoyt (1872-1901) was the granddaughter of Kimball Hoyt and his wife, Sally Sanborn Hoyt. The Hoyts first came to Jefferson County in 1843. When Sally Sanborn Hoyt died in June 1894, her obituary described her and Kimball as “pioneers” of the area. Click here to read more about that side of Addie’s family.

After that blog appeared, one of Addie’s many friends in Lake Mills contacted me and said, “Rose, don’t forget about the Hawleys. They were also pioneers in this county.”

Captain Hezekiah Beach Hawley and his wife, Theresa Hawley were Addie’s maternal grandparents. They were originally from New York, and I’m not sure when they arrived in Jefferson County, but by August 1, 1844, the Captain and his wife were the proud owners of 40 acres of the prettiest piece of farmland you ever did see in Milford, Wisconsin, purchased directly from the United States Government.

John Tyler was the president at the time (as is noted on the deed).  In 1843, one year earlier, some folks from Vermont had purchased some land not too far from the Hawleys. Their name was Mr. and Mrs. Kimball Hoyt.

The Hoyts had a little boy named Homer (born 1844), and the Hawleys had a little girl named Julia (also born 1844).

On October 16, 1861, Homer Hoyt married the Captain’s daughter, Julia Hawley. Oh, how I would love to know a little more about that courtship.

Captain Hezekiah Beach Hawley was an old sea captain, and I’m sure any landlubber who came calling for young Julia endured quite a grilling. Captain Hawley was 40 years old when Julia was born. By the time of her marriage, Hezekiah was 57 (and the newlyweds were 17!). Judging by look on his face in this old photo (below), it’d be safe to guess that the old captain didn’t soften with age.

Homer and Julia had three children, Anna (born 1866), Addie (born 1872) and Eugene (born 1875).  In 1877, Captain Hawley died. At least he got to meet his three grandchildren. And maybe by then, he’d even forgiven Homer for marrying his beautiful daughter.

One can hope.

In the social mathematics of the era that defined a woman’s worth, young Addie Hoyt had great value. According to information gleaned from the Lake Mills Leader (newspaper), Addie’s life was full of promise and potential. She was intelligent, witty, articulate, talented, sophisticated and accomplished.

Addie Hoyt had deep roots in her community, which - in Small Town America - added greatly to her social standing. On both her father’s side (the Hoyts) and her mother’s side (the Hawleys), Addie came from a “good old Wisconsin family.”

And yet, thus far, despite some pretty strenuous searching, I’ve been unable to find a single piece of information about either the Hoyts or the Hawleys from local libraries or historical societies or museums.

Addie’s grandparents - the Hoyts and the Hawleys - both moved to the area in the early 1840s and purchased quite a bit of land (more than 100 acres) from the government, and in time, both families became prosperous and wealthy. I am baffled as to why no one in Jefferson County seems to have a letter or a journal or any correspondence or information about these two important families.

One of the main reasons I keep writing about Addie is in the hopes that someone somewhere will come forward with some information that tells us exactly happened to Addie.

How did Addie’s life story - which started off so rich with hope and promise - end so tragically?

The cemeteries of Jefferson County are well populated with Hoyts and Hawleys. These “pioneer families” worked hard to build something that the settlers and other followers would enjoy in the decades ahead.

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Captain Hezekiah Beach Hawley looks like quite a character. He was the father of Julia Hawley (Addies mother) and Captain Hawley and his wife Theresa were two of the pioneers of Jefferson County.

Captain Hezekiah Beach Hawley looks like quite a character. He was the father of Julia Hawley Hoyt (Addie's mother). Captain Hawley and his wife Theresa moved into Jefferson County in the early 1840s, and they were two of the pioneers of that area.

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He was born in 1804 and died in 1877. Addie was five years old when The Captain died.

He was born in 1804 and died in 1877, when Addie was five.

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And the Captains wife, Theresa Hathaway Hawley. She outlived the Captain by 21 years, dying in 1898 in Dayton, WI.

And the Captain's wife, Theresa Hathaway Hawley. She outlived the Captain by 21 years, dying in 1898 in Dayton, WI. In fact, she outlived her daughter (Julia), her son-in-law (Homer), her granddaughter (Addie) and even her great-grandson (Ernie).

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He purchased land

Captain Hawley purchased 40 acres from the US Government in 1844.

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Close up of the

Close up of the paperwork. The date was August 1, 1844.

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A picture of young Homer Hoyt at the time of his marriage to Julia Hawley (in 1861). He was a dapper young fellow, wasnt he?

A picture of young Homer Hoyt at the time of his marriage to Julia Hawley (in 1861). He was a dapper young fellow, wasn't he?

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Homer Hoyt and Julia Hawley Hoyt had three children, Anna (1866), Addie (1872) and Eugene (1875).

Homer Hoyt and Julia Hawley Hoyt had three children, Anna (1866), Addie (1872) and Eugene (1875). Homer and Julia died within a year of each other (1894 and 1895). This picture was taken in 1888.

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What happened to Addie?

What happened to Homer and Julia's little girl, "Addie"? How did someone with such a bright future get tangled up with someone like Enoch?

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To learn more about Addie, click here.

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And Then Julia Contracted Scarlet Fever…

February 23rd, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

Thursday evening, after some diligent searching, I found the obituary for Julia Hawley Hoyt, Addie’s mother. The microfilm was so badly faded that the text was barely legible, but I did find it.

As I expected, Julia Hawley Hoyt never made it back to Lake Mills after November 30, 1894. She left her home in Lake Mills, Wisconsin after Thanksgiving to rush out to Denver, Colorado. Her eldest daughter (Anna Hoyt Whitmore) was sick with Scarlet Fever, as was Anna’s whole family (husband and three children, ages six, three and one).

The trek from Chicago to Denver took 26 hours. Julia would have arrived into Denver on December 1st. That was the day that little Ernie, Anna’s eldest child, died from the Scarlet Fever.

According to the obituary I found in the Lake Mills Leader Julia Hoyt contracted Scarlet Fever while she was there in Denver, and died in May, almost six months later.

Obituary

Died, at San Mateo, California, May 9th (1895), Mrs. Julia Hoyt of Lake Mills, Wisconsin at the age of 51 years. Mrs. Hoyt was born in Milford, Jefferson County in 1844 where she grew to womanhood. She was married to Mr. Homer Hoyt on October 16, 1862 at Milford.  She was the mother of three children, two daughters and one son,  Mrs. Wilbur Whitmore, Denver Colorado, Eugene B. Hoyt, and Miss Addie Hoyt of Lake Mills, all of whom survive to mourn the loss of a gentle and loving mother.


The funeral took place at San Mateo, California May 12th and the deceased was buried beside her father and sister. Mrs. Hoyt was called to Denver about last Thanksgiving time to assist her daughter in the care of her children who were sick with Scarlet Fever and during these tender ministrations contracted the disease, which at last resulted in dropsy causing her death.


As a devoted wife, a kind and loving mother, and a true neighbor, Mrs. Hoyt will long be remember, and her numerous friends will be moved with tenderest sympathy for the mourning children, who must sustain through grief and sorrow their irreparable loss.

“No more to hear her voice of love,

Nor feel her touch so kind,

waiting until the shadows move,

Revealing the beyond.”

From what I can glean, Addie was not able to attend her mothers funeral in San Mateo. That would also have been difficult. Addie last saw her mother around Thanksgiving 1895, when Julia Hoyt went to Denver to help Annas family deal with Scarlet Fever.

Addie last saw her mother around Thanksgiving 1894, when Julia Hoyt (shown here in 1888) went to Denver to help Anna's family deal with Scarlet Fever. Julia never returned to Lake Mills. While providing nursing duties to her family in Denver, she contracted Scarlet Fever which developed into "dropsy" or severe swelling, most likely occasioned by heart or kidney failure. This was a common cause of death from Scarlet Fever. Julia died May 1895, six months after her visit to Denver.

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How did beautiful young Addie end up with a troll like Enoch? Thats a good question. Losing her mother must have been tough, and in 1893, 94 and 95, there were a lot of losses for Addie. Perhaps she was so stricken with grief, she couldnt think clearly.

How did beautiful young Addie end up with a troll like Enoch? That's a good question. Losing her mother must have been tough, and in 1893, 94 and 95, there were a lot of losses for Addie. Perhaps she was so stricken with grief, she couldn't think clearly. Addie is shown here with her sister, Anna (right), who moved to Denver in 1887.

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Apap

This notice appeared in the Lake Mills Leader (newspaper) on December 6, 1894.

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Anna Hoyt Whitmore had three children, two of whom survived their bout with Scarlet Fever. Ernie did not, and he died on December 1, 1894.

Anna Hoyt Whitmore had three children, two of whom survived their bout with Scarlet Fever. "Ernie" did not, and he died on December 1, 1894.

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Ernie

Ernie's obit was published in both the "Denver Rock Mountain News" and the "Lake Mills Leader."

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Victor survived

Florence Whitmore and her baby brother "Victor" both survived Scarlet Fever in 1894. They're shown here in 1895, one year after Ernie's death.

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How did Addie

Between 1893 and 1895, Addie lost six of her closest family members to death, and her brother and sister moved out of the area. These eight losses left Addie isolated and alone and vulnerable. Nine months after the last death (her mother's passing in May 1895), Addie married Enoch. It was a mistake that would have fatal consequences. And Addie's "aloneness" in the world made it easier for Enoch to get away with murder - literally.

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“Every funeral tradition of the time was violated by this burial” (Yes, it’s really as interesting as it sounds).

To read more about little Ernie, click here.

To learn more about Addie, click here.

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