Last night, a friend called and asked about my recent travels. I told her I’d visited Danville, Lynchburg and Hopewell, Virginia. .
She quickly replied, “Hopewell?! I thought you were banned from that city!”
She’s a funny girl, that one.
When I last visited Hopewell in 2003, many good things happened, and I was treated kindly and showered with Grade-A Southern Hospitality. The downside was, I discovered that most of the purported “Sears Homes” in their Crescent Hills neighborhood were not Sears Homes at all. There were some folks in Hopewell that were pretty unhappy about that.
It was eight years before I visited Hopewell again.
On this trip in March 2011, I focused on the amazing collection of Aladdin kit homes in that city. While Hopewell has only EIGHT Sears Homes in Crescent Hills, they have dozens and dozens of Aladdin kit homes near the downtown area. More on that here, here, and here.
However, I couldn’t resist driving through Crescent Hills and photographing these purported Sears Homes. I say “purported” because these are clearly not Sears homes, and yet they’re still being promoted as such.
For instance, the city’s brochure states that the house at 101 Crescent Avenue is Sears Branford.
Okie doakie. Let’s look at the photos.
Sears Branford, as seen in the 1939 Sears Modern Homes catalog.
No, this is not a Sears Branford. The gabled entry is the first major clue. The Branford does not have a gabled entry. Secondly, as the city's brochure states, the "wing" on this yellow house was not original to the structure, but was added later. That's also a really important detail, because the defining features of the Sears Branford are the garage (to the left) and the KITCHEN to the right. Even if someone decided to forgo the garage, it's not likely they're going to take a pass on building the KITCHEN.
Close-up of the Branford's floorplan
Again, the Sears Branford as seen in the 1940 catalog. The casual observer may notice that this house LOOKS NOTHING LIKE the yellow Cape Cod above. The "wing" on the right juts forward. Not that it matters in comparing it to the pretty yellow house above, but that's an interesting architectural feature that makes identifying the Branford easier.
Close-up of the Branford. Nope, still doesn't look like the house below!
Sometimes, people are so eager to “see a Sears House” where there isn’t one that they make way, way too many allowances.
If you look at the house in Hopewell, it’s got a substantial gabled entry, and the fireplace is in the wrong place, and it doesn’t have the garage and it’s missing its kitchen (a pretty big deal) and this means the interior floorplan must be completely different (in the little yellow house above), and that is also a very big deal. The Branford was only offered in 1939 and 1940. That’s it.
According to the city tax records, the house above was built in 1941.
Considering all these important facts, I’d be willing to state - with confidence - that the little yellow house above is not a Sears Branford.
In the late 1930s, the Cape Cod was one of America’s favorite housing styles. And the Sears Cape Cods are especially difficult to find, because these houses were offered in the 1930s Sears Modern Homes catalogs, and by the 1930s, sales of kit homes had plummeted. Sears sold about as many homes in 1929 (one year) as they sold from 1932-1940 (almost a full decade). The Great Depression really put a hurting on everything, including home sales.
But as to identifying Sears Homes, once you start saying, “Well, maybe they added this to the house, and took this away, and added the light here, and put on a gabled porch, and moved the fireplace, and moved all the rooms around inside, and took the kitchen out…” well, you could call ANYTHING a kit home with all those changes!
Your subject house must be a GOOD match to the original catalog image.
So what does the Branford (Sears Home) have in common with the pretty Cape Cod on Crescent Avenue?
They both have a front door and some windows and a couple cute dormers.
That’s all folks.
To learn more about the Aladdin kit homes in Hopewell, click here.
To read part 6 (the next blog about Hopewell’s non-Sears Homes) click here.
To read more about Sears Homes, click here.
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