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New Bern’s Numerous and Nobby Kit Homes (Or “How I Spent My Second Honeymoon Last Week”)

January 21st, 2016 Sears Homes 13 comments

How did New Bern come to have so many kit homes? Is it because of New Bern’s proximity to Aladdin’s largest mill in Wilmington, North Carolina? Perhaps, but how does that explain the grandiose Sears Homes I found on Spencer Street?

It’s a mystery, but I hope it’s one that this community will fully explore!

What is a kit home?

Sears is the best-known name in the kit home business, and they started selling houses through their mail-order catalogs in 1908. These “kits” came in a  boxcar in 12,000 pieces, and included a 75-page catalog that told you how all those pieces and parts went together. Sears promised that a “man of average abilities” could have the house complete and ready for occupancy in about 90 days.

Sears closed their “Modern Homes Department” in 1940, and during a corporate house cleaning, all sales records were destroyed. The only way to find these homes today is literally one by one.

I’m confident that New Bern has many more kit homes than shown below. I saw less than 30% of the town, and I went through that 30% very  quickly! I’d love to return to New Bern soon and do a proper, thorough street-by-street survey.

If you enjoy the information and pictures, please share this link with friends on Facebook and/or via email!

To contact Rose (who art in Norfolk) about returning to New Bern, please leave a comment below!

To read the prior blog on New Bern, click here.

Read about The Peach House in nearby Kinston here.

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New Bern has many Aladdin kit homes. Is that due to their proximity to a large Aladdin Mill in the southern part of the state?

New Bern has many Aladdin kit homes. Is that due to their proximity to a large Aladdin Mill in the southern part of the state? Most likely, yes. Image is from the 1923 Aladdin catalog.

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One of my favorite finds in New Bern was the Aladdin Hampshire located in the heart of the historic downtown. This house was offered in the early 1920s.

One of my favorite finds in New Bern was the Aladdin "Hampshire" located in the heart of the historic downtown. This house was offered in the early 1920s.

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This must surely be infill, because the houses around it all date to the mid-to-late 1800s.

This must surely be infill, because the houses around it all date to the mid-to-late 1800s. It's a beautiful little house in wonderful condition. And it retains its original casement windows!

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Due to heavy landscaping, I had trouble getting a good shot, but you can see that little bay window poking up from the bushes.

Due to heavy landscaping, I had trouble getting a good shot, but you can see that little bay window poking up from the bushes, and the small fixed sashes flanking the fireplace. It's a thrill to see a 90-year-old house in original condition.

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What a cutie!

What a cutie! The house in New Bern is "flipped" (the mirror image).

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The Aladdin Plaza was another very popular house for Aladdin (1919).

The Aladdin Plaza was another very popular house for Aladdin (1919).

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Is this an Aladdin Plaza? Given its proximity (near other Aladdins), Id say its very likely.

Is this an Aladdin Plaza? Given its proximity (near other Aladdins within Ghent), I'd say it's likely.

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The Pomona was one of Aladdins most popular homes.

The Pomona was one of Aladdin's most popular homes. I saw two of these in New Bern, and neglected to capture the address of the second one. The first one (in Ghent) is shown below.

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Its a terrible picture, but it shows a piece of the Aladdin Pomona in New Berns Historic Ghent neighborhood.

It's a terrible picture, but it shows a piece of the Aladdin Pomona in New Bern's Historic Ghent neighborhood, on Spencer Avenue. It's definitely a Pomona, but has endured a great deal of remodeling. The front porch is 100% enclosed.

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The Aladdin Cape Cod (1923) was another popular kit home.

The Aladdin "Cape Cod" (1923) was another popular kit home.

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Did someone order an Aladdin Cape Cod from the Wilmington Mill and say, Supersize Me?

Did someone order an Aladdin Cape Cod from the Wilmington Mill and say, "Supersize Me"? It is a nice match to the Aladdin, but it's much too wide. It's likely that this is a pattern-book house, but I haven't been able to find a corresponding match in my collection of early 1900s pattern books. More than 30% of kit homes were customized, so it's possible this was ordered "extra large" from the Aladdin mill.

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Gordon Van Tine,  like Sears and Aladdin, also sold kit homes through a mail-order catalog. Shown here is the GVT Roberts

Gordon Van Tine, like Sears and Aladdin, also sold kit homes through a mail-order catalog. Shown here is the GVT "Roberts"(also known as the #560).

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And heres a near-perfect Roberts I found on Rhem Avenue.

And here's a near-perfect Roberts I found on Rhem Avenue.

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Within New Bern, I found two of these Gordon Van Tine homes, but neglected to make a note of the address. The porch on this

Within New Bern, I found two of these Gordon Van Tine homes, but neglected to make a note of the address. The porch on this house and those clipped gables are what first catch your eye. If you find this missing "Mt. Vernon," please give me an address (and a photo)!

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And now Sears. The Sears catalog identified the Osborn as a bungalow from the West. Its distinctive and easy to pick out in a crowd (1921 catalog).

And now Sears. The Sears catalog identified the "Osborn" as a bungalow "from the Golden West." It's distinctive and easy to pick out in a crowd (1921 catalog).

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Alson

It's had some remodeling, but it's very likely that this house on Spencer Avenue is the real deal: A Sears Osborn. Check out the tapered chimney, rafter tails and detailing on the porch railing.

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The Sears Roanoke is another distinctive Sears house (1921).

The Sears Roanoke is another distinctive Sears house (1921).

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That

That side entry (originally with a pergola) is a unique feature of the Roanoke, as is the wooden awning and symmetry on the home's front. It's so lovely to see that awning still in place. And look to the left. What's that next door?

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And whats that next door to the Roanoke?

Is that a Sears Chelsea? Hmmm...

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Boy oh boy, its hard to know for sure.

Boy oh boy, it's hard to know for sure. In that the "Chelsea" (also known as #111) in New Bern was built without a basement, that side with the staircase bay is not going to have a doorway under it (as shown here). I'd have to see this house up close and personal to make a positive ID. For now, I'd say it's a "definite maybe."

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Just down the street from the Roanoke and Chelsea is something that looks a lot like a Sears Chelsea.

Just down the street from the Roanoke and Chelsea is something that looks a lot like a Sears Saratoga.

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Is this a Sears Chelsea?

Is this a Sears Saratoga? The Saratoga is 30 feet across the front. This house in New Bern looks much wider than that. Again, was it supersized? It's another house that is a "definite possibility." I'd need to see the interior to make a proper judgement. It certainly is a good match in many other ways.

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The majestic Milton (1918 catalog).

The majestic Milton (1918 catalog).

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What a glorious house!

What a glorious house, and it's in such beautiful condition!

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And just across the street from the Milton is Modern Home #178. Its the ONLY #178 Ive seen in my many years of traveling (25 states and 200 cities).

And just across the street from the Milton is Modern Home #178. It's the ONLY #178 I've seen in my many years of traveling (25 states and 200 cities).

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What fun to scratch one more house off my never seen this model list! And right in New Bern, North Carolina.

What fun to scratch one more house off my "never seen this model" list! And right in New Bern, North Carolina.

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The Lynnhaven is a tricky model to identify authoritatively because it had so many kissing cousins that looked very similar.

The Lynnhaven is a tricky model to identify authoritatively because it had so many "kissing cousins" that looked very similar. The position of the shed dormer and the depth of that front-facing gable are good clues for this model.

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Is this the Real Deal? Might be. It looks like a good match.

Is this the Real Deal? Might be. It looks like a good match.

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Last but not least is the sweet little Starlight (1921).

Last but not least is the sweet little "Starlight" (1921).

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Forlorn and forgotten, it sits next door to the RollerLand Skating Rink in the 3500-block of Neuse Blvd.

Forlorn and forgotten, it sits next door to the RollerLand Skating Rink in the 3500-block of Neuse Blvd. Stay strong, little Starlight. Perhaps help is coming. Either that, or you'll be eaten by Kudzu soon, and it'll all be over.

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If you enjoy the pretty pictures, please share this link with friends on Facebook and/or via email!

To contact Rose (who art in Norfolk) about returning to New Bern, please leave a comment below!

To read the prior blog I did on New Bern, click here.

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More Treasures Within Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia

September 29th, 2015 Sears Homes 2 comments

Yesterday (September 28th), Lori Jackson Black met me and Lara Widdifield Mortimer in Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia and then gave us a first-class tour of Mathews County and Gloucester County. We spent a solid four hours driving throughout the residential areas and didn’t find as much as we’d hoped, but we did find a couple interesting houses.

And Lori even found a handful of true-blue Sears and Roebuck tombstones in a local cemetery (ordered from the tombstone catalog). Contrary to internet rumors, these tombstones were *not* zinc, but rather “blue dark vein Vermont Marble” and the stones were shipped from Vermont.

Driving through the many long and winding roads, Lori provided historical background on the community and its people. She explained that many of these families have lived in this area for generations, and that the houses were often passed down from one generation to another.

As I listened to Lori talk about these multi-generational homes and farms, I felt a twinge of envy, wishing that I’d had the good fortune to have some distant kin from this area.

It’s a beautiful place, surrounded by marsh, wetlands and deep water, and there’s a stunning new vista around every twist and turn in the road. If only they had a few more kit homes.  :)

You can visit Lori’s website here.

Learn more about Sears and Roebuck tombstones here.

To read the first blog I wrote on Gloucester Courthouse, click here.

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This Wardway Warrenton was my favorite find of the day.

This Wardway Warrenton was my favorite find of the day. I've only see one of these homes (in Rainelle, WV) and have never seen another - until yesterday. It was a spacious home with six bedrooms (five up, one down).

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I swear, sometimes those foursquares all look alike, but the Wardway Warrenton has a number of unique architectural details, such as that gabled-within-a-hip porch roof, and the four dramatic gabled dormers, replete with cornice returns.

Sometimes those foursquares all look alike, but the Wardway "Warrenton" has a number of unique architectural details, such as that gable-within-a-hip porch roof, and the four gabled dormers, replete with oversized cornice returns. The porch columns are also somewhat distinctive.

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The trees prevented

Lots of landscaping prevented us from getting a picture from the right angle (shown above in the catalog picture), but it's clearly a "Warrenton." The windows on this side are a good match with the lone exception of the dining room window (which originally was a double-window). Upstairs, there were three bedroom windows on this side (also a good match here).

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The Mt. Vernon was a hugely popular house for Montgomery Ward.

The "Mt. Vernon" was a hugely popular house for Montgomery Ward (1931).

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This house

Almost across the street from the Wardway Warrenton (shown above) is this Wardway Mount Vernon. There's also a pattern-book version of this house, but its proximity to the Warrenton suggests it's the Wardway house. This dear little house has also been a victim of vinyl siding. The straight gables (compared to the Mount Vernon's clipped gables) adds a bit to the puzzle of it all!

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Not far from the other two Wardway homes, we found this cute little tudor-esque home.

Not far from the other two Wardway homes, I thought that I'd found this cute little tudor-esque home. Sadly, after a close comparison of the images, I realize it was not a good match (1931).

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House

You can see it's close to the Wardway Berkeley, but not quite right. Drat.

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house house house

And there's a Sears Modern Home #118 in Mathews.

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When Lori first turned her massive Ford Explorer onto this residential street, I was more than a little flummoxed. It was a quiet dead end filled with post-Vietnam era houses with brick veneer and vinyl sidings. Whats she doing? I wondered. When we hit the end of the street, she turned down a private driveway and said, Never in a million years did I think thered be a Sears House on this street, but this is Model #118. She was right. I was more than a little surprised.

When Lori first turned her massive Ford Explorer onto this residential street, I was more than a little flummoxed. It was a quiet dead end filled with post-1960s houses with brick and vinyl sidings. "What's she doing?" I wondered. When we hit the end of the street, she turned down a private driveway and told us, "Never in a million years did I think there'd be a Sears House on this street, but this is Model #118." She was right. Given the "private property" signs, we didn't have the nerve to get any closer.

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Fortunately, Rachel Shoemaker had found a much better photo on Realtor.com. The house was recently for sale (and has since sold).

Fortunately, Rachel Shoemaker had found a much better photo on Realtor.com. The house was recently for sale (and has since sold). It is a beautiful Sears House in a beautiful place. It's quite amazing to see it's in original condition and even the porch railings are still in place. They're probably not original, but they're an accurate replacement. Situated right on the deep water, this house must have endured a lot of bad weather (and more than few hurricanes) through the decades.

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Modern Home #118 was first offered in the 1908 Sears Modern Homes catalog, which was the VERY first year that Sears sold kit homes.

Modern Home #118 was first offered in the 1908 Sears Modern Homes catalog, which was the VERY first year that Sears sold kit homes (1908 shown).

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I was driving down Main Street when this little pretty raised its hand and softly called my name.

In addition to the Wardway Homes and the lone Sears House, I also found this Aladdin Kentucky on the city's main drag. Like the #118 above, it's also in wonderfully original condition.

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But its definitely a Kentucky!

The Kentucky was one of the finest homes offered in Aladdin's early catalogs.

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And I also spotted a Gordon Van Tine #594. Like Sears and Aladdin, Gordon Van Tine was another national kit-home company that sold houses through a mail-order catalog.

During my prior visit to Gloucester Point, I'd also spotted a Gordon Van Tine #594 on Belroi Road. This house was also offered by Wardway, so - if you want to talk details - it's impossible to know if it's a Gordon Van Tine #594 or the Montgomery Ward version. For now, we'll call it a GVT.

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I love the GVT 594 because its so easy to spot. Lots of distinctive features (1924 catalog).

I love the GVT 594 because it's so easy to spot. Lots of distinctive features (1924 catalog).

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Those windows down the side always catch my eye, as does the smaller front porch roof

The Gordon Van Time #594 has a slew of unique features, such as the window arranagement, the smaller front porch roof (at a slightly different pitch) and three porch columns.

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A massive old tree obscured the views, but peeking through the branches, you could

A massive old tree obscured the views, but peeking through the branches, you could see that distinctive bumpout, with the unusual window arrangement.

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Were it not for the tree, I could have done better on the angles here, but you can see theyre a nice match!

Were it not for the tree, I could have done better on the angles here, but you can see they're a nice match! Check out the detail on the front porch! Very pretty!

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Lori drove us past this house (on a main drag), but I didnt note the address or get the photo. If anyone from the area knows where this house is, Id love to get a second look!

Lori drove us past this house (on a main drag), but I didn't note the address or get the photo. If anyone from the area knows where this house is, I'd love to get a second look! One of the distinguishing features is the three windows on the front of the second floor.

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It was Lori that discovered this authentic Sears tombstone in a local cemetery.

It was Lori that discovered this authentic Sears tombstone in a local cemetery. Unfortunately it's in terrible condition and the lambie on top has deteriorated.

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Heres a picture from the 1898 Sears Tombstone catalog.

Here's a picture from the 1898 Sears Tombstone catalog.

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Thanks again to Lori for meeting us and working so hard to discover her town’s own history. It was a delightful day!

You can visit Lori’s website here.

Learn more about Sears and Roebuck tombstones here.

To read the first blog I wrote on Gloucester Courthouse, click here.

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