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Posts Tagged ‘history of sears homes’

“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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New Information on Schoper, Illinois

December 31st, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

All ghost towns have a fascinating history, and Schoper, Illinois is no different.

Located about eight miles from Carlinville, the town of Schoper (also known as Standard City) was originally Thomas Schoper’s 500-acre family farm. In 1918, Standard Oil of Indiana bought the farm (literally) from Schoper, and sunk a 300-feet deep coal mine.

After a coal shortage in 1917, Standard Oil wanted a reliable supply of coal to call their own. The coal was used to fire the stills that refined crude oil and turned it into gasoline.

After the completion of several gelogocial surveys (commissioned by Standard Oil), it was discovered that there was a seven-foot tall seam of coal in the ground at Schoper. As an added bonus, Schoper was near The Chicago and Alton rail line, which was centrally located between the refineries in Wood River (near St. Louis) and Whiting, Indiana (near Chicago).

In 1918, Standard Oil placed a $1 million order (for 192 houses) with Sears Roebuck and Company for 192 Honor-Bilt homes. The houses were purchased for employees in CarlinvilleWood River and Schoper, Illinois. One hundred and fifty six of the houses were built in Carlinville, 12 were built in Schoper and 24 went to Wood River.

The 12 houses were built for the supervisors at the “Schoper Mine.” There were also boarding houses and dorms built at Schoper, for the miners.

By the mid-1920s, the boom at Schoper had gone bust. The price of coal dropped after The Great War (1918), and Standard Oil could now buy their coal cheaper from mines in Kentucky (which did not have unions) than they could mine it in Macoupin County.

In July 1925, a small column on the bottom page of the Macoupin County Enquirer sadly announced that the mine was closed for good.

Nine of the 12 little Sears Houses were painstakingly disassembled and left Schoper the same way they came in:  In pieces and loaded on a boxcar, headed off to destinations unknown.

Two of the Sears Homes were moved intact, to sites just outside of Standard City. The last Sears House at Schoper (The Sears Gladstone) was home to John McMillan and his wife, a supervisor with the mine. After the mine closed, he became a caretaker charged with myriad tasks, such as making sure the powerful fans down in the mine kept the methane down to acceptable levels.

McMillan’s little Gladstone eventually became rental property and burned down sometime in the mid-1990s.  The last remnant at the site was the Schoper Powerhouse and Mine Offices, a massive concrete Federalist structure which was torn down in Summer 2003.

And that was the whole story - until last month - when a reader sent me an email with new information. I’m not sure how he did it, but he found 1930s aerial maps of Schoper, which showed the footprints (and precise location) of the 12 little Sears Homes.

Scroll on down to enjoy the many photos, including the vintage aerial photo from 1937!

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Schoper

In the front pages of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog, this image was erroneously identified as a street view of the houses as "Schopper, Illinois." In fact, this was a picture of the 24 Sears Homes in Wood River. No pictures of Schoper appeared in the Sears Modern Homes catalogs.

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Picture of Schoper from the late 1910s. At the foot of the sidewalk is a 12-bay garage, shared by the occupants of the 12 Sears Homes. The Power House is shown in the background (near Schoper Lake). The Whitehall, Gladstone and Warrenton are shown in the foreground.

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house schoper house

Schoper was the site of a massive, modern colliery (1921 Stanolind Record). As a side note, I have no idea what this massive piece of equipment is. If a reader can identify this, please leave a comment below.

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Mine Road

And here's a bit of that vintage aerial map, showing the placement of those 12 Sears Homes in Schoper (outlined with a red square). The building circled in red is the Schoper Powerhouse.

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map map map 1937

Close-up of the aerial map (1937). The four white squares on each street represent the footprint where the 12 Schoper homes were located.

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house house house house house

And what Rachel Shoemaker discovered - which is nearly unbelievable - is that if you look at this modern aerial view, you can still see the outline of 12 squares, representing the placement of those 12 Schoper houses.

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Schoper rose

It was claimed that the ’s six dynamos in the Schoper Power House had the potential to create enough electricity to power the entire state of Illinois. The local papers said it was the most powerful steam-driven power plant in the world. The smokestack was 213 feet tall and was the second highest peak in Macoupin County, only a little shorter than the spire atop the Macoupin County Courthouse in Carlinville. The picture above was taken in 2002, about a year before it was torn down.

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schoper house

The Schoper Power House, as seen in the 1921 Stanolind Record. When completed in mid-1919, the Power House also brought electricity to those twelve Sears houses. They were the only "electrified" houses in Schoper. The rest of the community would not know the joys of electric lights until power lines from Carlinville made their way to Standard City in the 1930s.

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house schoper

For many years, that last remaining Sears house (John McMillan's Gladstone) stood alone on a plot that was rapidly reverting to its primitive status as farmland. After the mines closed, McMillan became the mine’s caretaker. It was his job to descend into the deserted coal mine several times a week, grease the water pumps and turn them on. Ground water, which seeped into the mine, had to be pumped out frequently. He was also responsible for turning on the powerful ventilating fans to remove any build-up of firedamp - highly explosive methane gas - which accumulates in coal mines. As of 2003 (when this photo was taken), all that was left of the 12 Schoper Houses was this slight indent in the field.

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Schoper Lake

When Schoper was created in the late 1910s, a creek alongside the powerhouse was damned up to create a seven-acre, 40-foot-deep lake. Underground pipes drafted water from the lake to the powerhouse for the steam engines.

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To see the original vintage map, click here.

To read more about Carlinville’s kit homes, click here.

The above was excerpted from The Houses That Sears BuiltTo buy the book, click here.

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A Sad Story That Needs a Good Ending: Carlinville’s “Standard Addition”

September 26th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

In the early years of the 1900s,

About 1918, Standard Oil purchased 192 kit homes from Sears & Roebuck. Carlinville ended up with 156 of these homes (offered in eight models). The 12-block area where these homes were built (in an old wheat field) came to be known as Standard Addition. Sears proudly touted this sale to Standard Oil as "the largest order ever placed," and pictures of Carlinville appeared in the front pages of the Modern Homes catalog for many years. This letter (shown above) appeared on the back page of the catalog until 1929.

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House

Standard Addition's homes - some of which were not wholly finished - appeared in the 1919 and 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Of the 192 houses sold to Standard Oil, 156 ended up in Carlinville, 24 were sent to Wood River (where Standard Oil had a large refinery) and 12 ended up in Schoper, IL (site of a large coal mine). Pictured above is the Warrenton model (left) and the Whitehall (right).

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In 1921, images of the completed neighborhood first appeared in the Searsm Modern Homes catalog.

In 1921, images of the completed neighborhood appeared in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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house house house 1921

Close-up of the "birdseye view" from the 1921 catalog. From left to right is the Gladstone, Roseberry, Warrenton, and Whitehall. And look at that darling little building behind the Whitehall. Is it still there?

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House

These homes were occasionally featured in "The Stanolind Record," an employee newsletter put out by Standard Oil. This image appeared with the caption, "Carlinville is coming out of the mud," which simply meant that streets would soon be laid, replacing the muddy roads.

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All of which brings me to the point of this blog. Standard Addition is at great risk of being lost.

And all the photos above bring me to the point of this blog. Standard Addition - this unique, historic and one-of-a-kind community - is at great risk. This "Roseberry" on Johnson Street caught fire in early 2013 and has not been razed yet. Derelict houses (such as this) contribute heavily to blight, and once blight takes root in a neighborhood, reversal can take decades. At best, this house poses a threat to public health and safety. At worst, it's an anchor that's dragging this historic neighborhood further into the muck. Would you want to live next door to this? How many months before this house gets torn down?

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Last month

Last month, a suspected meth lab was discovered in the 1000-block of Johnson Street, in the heart of Standard Addition. Once a house is used for "cooking" meth, making it suitable again for habitation can be expensive.

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Full story here: http://www.sj-r.com/breaking/x1367241203/Two-suspected-meth-labs-found-in-Carlinville

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And theres also the problem on insensitive remodeling.

And there's also the problem of insensitive remodeling. And it is quite a problem.

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Another

As built, these homes were very small (less than 1,100 square feet) but there are ways to increase square footage without diminishing the historicity of these unique homes.

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In short, it’s time for the state legislature and/or city council to step in and figure out what legislation is needed to protect this one-of-a-kind historic collection of Sears Homes in Carlinville. I’ve remained “astonished* that there is no signage, no billboards, no announcements of any kind welcoming the flat-lander tourist to come visit “Standard Addition.”

At the very least, there should be billboards in St. Louis, Alton (by the casino), Edwardsville and other “hot spots” inviting people to come see this fun collection of kit homes. There should be a website, self-guided driving brochures, maps, etc, promoting the area.

But there is nothing,

In my 14 years of experience in this niche field of America’s architectural history, I’ve never come across another collection of Sears kit homes quite like Standard Addition.

One week ago today, I drove through Standard Addition, admiring the pretty houses and dismayed by the blighted ones, and I glimpsed, more now than ever, something must be done to preserve and protect this neighborhood.

Before it’s too late.

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To learn more about the eight models in Standard Addition, click here.

To learn more about the building of Standard Addition (and the female supervisor of the project), click here.

In 2003, CBS Sunday Morning News came to Standard Addition.

To read about Illinois’ own ghost town (Schoper, IL), click right here.

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Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Sears Bandon: Neat, Practical And Modern

January 5th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

The Sears Bandon is a rare bird indeed. The only one I’ve ever found was in Pulaski, Illinois, not far from the Sears Lumber Mill in Cairo, Illinois. That mill was the site of a 40-acre mill where Sears created and produced up to 250 pre-cut kit homes per month. It was a tremendous operation with more than 100 employees at its peak, and 20 acres of outbuildings.

It was also the site of “The Experiment.” Click here to see the only remnant of the Sears Mill in Cairo.

In 2001, whilst doing research on  Sears Homes at the Cairo Public Library, I stumbled across a little item in their vertical file about a Sears Bandon built in nearby Pulaski. Later that day, I hopped into the car and drove out to Pulaski and found my Bandon on the main drag through town. It was perfect in every way.

In March 2010, when I traveled to Illinois to do research for my newest book (”The Sears Homes of Illinois“), I went back to Pulaski to get newer/better photos. While standing on this main drag in this tiny town, I had three people stop and ask me if I needed help.

Speaking as a former long-time resident of Illinois, I don’t miss those long, cold Illinois winters, but I surely do miss the kind, generous, hard-working folks of small-town Midwestern America. They’re truly the crème de la crème of our country.

Below is the information I found in the vertical files at the Cairo Public Library;

The house (identified specifically as the Sears Bandon) was built in 1921. According to this document, the lumber for this kit home was shipped from the Sears mill in Cairo. It gave the following costs:

Cost of The Bandon $2794.00
Plaster (extra)  $133.00
Material to finish attic rooms  $241.00
Complete hot water heating system  $403.66
Wire and light fixtures  $133.66
Labor for carpenter (including masonry work)  $1600.00

Total $5305.32

This document also stated that, in 1924, a Sears Cyclone Barn (shipped from Cairo, IL) was built on the property. The kit barn cost $943.00.

Is there a Sears Home in your neck of the woods? Please send photos to Magnolia2047@gmail.com.

Enjoy the photos!

The Sears Bandon was a beauty, but why wasnt it more popular? Ive only seen one - ever - and that was just outside of Cairo, Illinois.

The Sears Bandon was a beauty, but why wasn't it more popular? I've only seen one - ever - and that was just outside of Cairo, Illinois (image is from 1921 catalog).

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It had a very busy floor plan. Note

It had a very busy floor plan, and it's the only house I've ever seen with a "dining porch." This room - which jutted out from the rest of the house - had ventilation on three sides, and seven windows.

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Close

Close-up of the floorplan shows how busy this house is! Look at the kitchen! The ice box was in the staircase landing. And the kitchen was oh-so tiny!

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And it was a fine-looking house!

And it was a fine-looking house!

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And here is the real-life beauty in Pulaski!

And here is the real-life beauty in Pulaski!

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Nice, isnt it?  :)

Nice, isn't it? :)

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house

The 1921 catalog image included this thumbnail from straight--on.

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Pretty, pretty house!

Pretty, pretty house! While southern Illinois does have some of the nicest people, it also some of the worst, mean, loud and scary-looking dogs! These dogs never did stop barking!

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The  Sears Bandon is perfect in every way!

The Sears Bandon is perfect in every way!

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Its perfect! Down to the details!!

It's perfect! Down to the details!!

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And its in a beautiful, bucolic setting!

And it's in a beautiful, bucolic setting!

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From this angle, you can get a better view of the Dining Porch.

From this angle, you can get a better view of the Dining Porch.

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As a nice bonus, the old barn (built 1924) is still standing, and in beautiful condition.

As a nice bonus, the old barn (built 1924) is still standing, and in beautiful condition.

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The Cyclone Barn was a very popular item for Sears (shown here in the 1920 catalog).

The Cyclone Barn was a very popular item for Sears (shown here in the 1920 catalog).

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Want to contact Rose? Please leave a comment below.

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

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Carlinville and Schoper, Illinois

May 23rd, 2011 Sears Homes 6 comments

Update! This article was updated in 2013. To read the latest, click here!

I love ghost towns. All ghost towns have a fascinating history, and this one in Schoper, Illinois is no different. It’s the real deal - a boom town that went bust and literally disappeared off the map.

It started in 1918, when Standard Oil of Indiana placed a $1 million order with Sears Roebuck and Company for 192 Honor-Bilt homes. Standard Oil purchased the houses for their workers in Carlinville, Wood River and Schoper, Illinois. Of those 192 houses, 156 landed in Carlinville, 12 were built in Schoper and 24 went to Wood River.

Standard Oil was grateful for the dandy little houses, as is evidenced by this thank-you note that they wrote to Sears.

This thank you note graced the back pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs for many years.

This appeared on the back pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs for many years.

In Schoper, Illinois (about 8 miles from Carlinville), the 12 houses were built for the coal miners at a colliery that would become known as “Schoper Mine.”

Prior to the arrival of Standard Oil, this site had been a typical early 20th Century farm with one old house and a few outbuildings. By the late 1910s, more than 1000 people were living in “Schoper” and in 1920, the 500-acre farm was incorporated as a village and named Standard City.

Standard Oil needed a steady supply of coal to fuel the stills that refined the crude oil into gasoline. Carlinville and Schoper were ideal locations because of the seven-foot thick vein of coal, and also because of its location. The Chicago and Alton rail line ran between Standard Oil’s refineries in Wood River (near St. Louis) and Whiting, Indiana (near Chicago).

Providing homes to workers was a proven tact for creating a more stable workforce, and also attracted “family men,” who were more desirable employees for a plethora of reasons. And in these pre-OSHA days, it was a nice bonus. Mining was horribly dangerous, and an article in the Macoupin County Enquirer (dated September 19, 1923) said that 18 miners died that year in Macoupin County, which was in line with the national average of “one [miner] fatality per 279,354 tons of coal produced.”

Schoper was - at its peak - the largest coal mine in the state of Illinois, employing 650 men and hoisting up to 4,000 tones of coal each day. About 450 men worked at the Berry Mine (Carlinville), producing about 2,000 tons of coal per day.

Times were good. In the early 1920s, Schoper miners worked about 298 days per year, while nationwide, most coal miners were working about 200 days per year.

By the mid-1920s, the boom had gone bust. The price of coal dropped precipitously after The Great War (1918), and Standard Oil could now buy their coal from non-union Kentucky mines far cheaper than they could mine it in Macoupin County.

In July 1925, a small column on the bottom page of the Macoupin County Enquirer said the mine was closed for good.

Nine of the 12 little Sears Houses went out the way they came in:  In pieces and loaded on a boxcar. They were disassembled (which must have been a massive project, but probably provided work for a few idle coal miners), and shipped by train to destinations unknown. Two of the Sears Homes were moved intact, to sites just outside of Standard City. The last Sears House at Schoper (The Sears Gladstone) was home to John McMillan and his wife, a supervisor with the mine. After the mine closed, he became a caretaker making sure the powerful fans kept the methane down to acceptable levels.

McMillan’s little Gladstone eventually became rental property and burned down sometime in the mid-1990s.  The last remnant at the site was the Schoper Powerhouse and Mine Offices, a massive concrete structure which was torn down in Summer 2003.

There’s something about this former boom town that is compelling and even haunting. Driving into Standard City, you turn onto Mine Road to reach the site of the old mine, or hang a left for Cinder Road (made from old cinders). And then there’s Pershing Street, undoubtedly named for General John “Black Jack” Pershing, WW1 hero and commander of the American Expeditionary Force. Another street is Rice Street, probably named for Charles Rice, who handled real estate acquisitions for Standard Oil.

Standing on the plat land beside the abandoned, vandalized powerhouse, gazing out at Schoper Lake, you can close your eyes and almost hear the steam whistle signaling the end of a shift. Listen, really listen, and maybe you’ll hear the metal cables of the hoist groan and creak as a steel cage raises three dozen coal-blackened minders from 440 feet below grade.

Einstein said, “To those of us who are committed physicists, the  past, present and future are only illusion, however persistent.”

Nowhere in my experiences have I intuitively felt that this illusion of time is more fragile and ethereal than at the site of Schoper Mine. And you if you’re not a romantic/tangential/historical fanatic dream (as I am), but just someone who enjoys visiting towns that boomed and busted, it’s still worth the trip.

Just don’t speed and don’t litter and don’t tromp on the crops. Standard City is still home to about 100 folks, and they (rightfully so) love their community.

To read more about Carlinville’s kit homes, click here.

The above was excerpted from The Houses That Sears Built. To buy the book, click here.

To read about a fascinating ghost town in Virginia, click here.

Enjoy the photos below!

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One of the only known photos of the Sears Homes in Schoper, Illinois.

One of the only known photos of the Sears Homes in Schoper, Illinois. Note that the Sears Homes shown here have tar-paper roofs. After Schoper closed down, the houses were "wrecked" (deconstructed) and put back in railroad cars and shipped on down the line. Two of the houses were moved intact to other locations.

Picture of Mine 1 at Schoper, taken from the 1921 Stanolind Record

Picture of Mine 1 at Schoper, taken from the 1921 Stanolind Record

Vintage picture of the Schoper Powerhouse, also from the 1921 Stanolind Record

Vintage picture of the Schoper Powerhouse, also from the 1921 Stanolind Record. The Schoper powerhouse consumed more than 60 tons of coal per day. The smokestack was 213 feet tall and was the second highest point in all of Macoupin County. The highest point was the spire atop the Macoupin County courthouse.

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This picture appeared in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog, promoting their wonderful little kit homes. It was labeled "Schopper" (sic) but in fact, it's a street view of the 24 Sears Homes in Wood River. The houses in Schoper were laid out on three streets in groups of four houses per street. Further, Sears didn't seem to know how to spell "Schoper."

The Schoper Powerhouse, photographed in 2002, about a year before it was torn down. This building also houses offices for the Schoper Mine.

The Schoper Powerhouse, photographed in 2002, about a year before it was torn down. This building also houses offices for the Schoper Mine.

Another view of the Schoper Powerhouse

Another view of the Schoper Powerhouse. When completed in 1919, this powerhouse supplied electricity to the 12 Sears Homes (just across the street). In November 1919, the city of Carlinville authorized spending $2,056 to run underground electrical lines from the Schoper powerhouse to Berry Mine in Carlinville, electrifying that mine as well.

When Schoper was created in the late 1910s, a creek that ran through an area beside the powerhouse was damned to create a seven-acre, 40-foot-deep lake - which became known as Schoper Lake. Underground pipes drafted water from the lake to the powerhouse for the steam engines. It was claimed that the six dynamos in this powerhouse had the potential to create enough electricity for the entire state of Illinois.

When Schoper was created in the late 1910s, a creek that ran through an area beside the powerhouse was damned to create a seven-acre, 40-foot-deep lake - which became known as Schoper Lake. Underground pipes drafted water from the lake to the powerhouse for the steam engines. It was claimed that the six dynamos in this powerhouse had the potential to create enough electricity for the entire state of Illinois.

This photo was taken in 2002, and it shows that all the remains of John McMillans Gladstone is a little dip in the soil and a short piece of driveway.

This photo was taken in 2002, and it shows that all the remains of John McMillan's Gladstone is a little dip in the soil and a short piece of driveway.

To read more about the largest order in the history of Sears homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Cairo, Illinois: When Bad Things Happen to Little Cities…

February 25th, 2011 Sears Homes 12 comments

In its heyday, Cairo was a bustling river town and was home to captains of industry, shipping magnates, wealthy business people and other “people of note.” It’s even mentioned in James A Michener’s epic miniseries, “Centennial.” IT earned a spot in Michener’s book because in the late 1800s, Cairo was the gateway to the west.

The first time I saw downtown Cairo, I stopped my car in the middle of the deserted street and stared in disbelief. The entire business district, which comprised several blocks of brick streets in beautiful condition, was empty - silent, still and devoid of all movement. Had it not been for a piece of trash blowing down the middle of the street, the scene before me would have been wholly motionless.

The stillness, the quiet, the absence of any sign of life was fascinating, yet also left me wondering if the next sound I heard would be the theme from The Twilight Zone with a voice-over by Rod Serling.

In the mid-1960s, racial unrest and riots were a sad part of the American landscape, but in Cairo, things went especially badly. African-Americans, weary of Jim Crow laws and disparate treatment, threatened to boycott businesses that employed only whites. White business owners responded by closing their stores. Large numbers of families left the area and never returned. Industry left. Businesses closed. Wealthy people took their capital and moved away.

Today, downtown Cairo is a ghost town - an incredible time capsule - frozen in the 1960s. The city that once boasted of 14,000 citizens now has about 3000 people living within its borders.

Outside of downtown, things aren’t much better. The burnt out hull of old buildings remain, the architectural victims of bored miscreants.  There’s no money in the state or local budget to raze the remnants of these destroyed homes. Folks often say California is on the cusp of bankruptcy. Illinois can’t be far behind, and Cairo is the poster-child for an American city that went from princely to pauper.

In the early 1900s, Cairo was the site of a 40-acre Sears Mill, where Sears kit homes were milled and shipped out to all 48 states. It was a vibrant business, in an important southern town. Cairo’s location at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers made it a natural for shipping and distribution. At the turn of the last century, Cairo (pronounced “Care-Roe”) could boast of having four major rail lines, enabling it to become a centralized shipping point for lumber harvested from the South and sent to the North.

In Spring 2010, I returned to Cairo and visited the town again. More burned out buildings, more desolation, more depressing sites.  What’s happening to our once-great land that we now have cities that are in collapse, and states that are in bankruptcy?

I’ve nothing pithy to add to this sad story. Pictures tell the story far better than I could.

Entrance to Cairo
Entrance to Cairo. The old flood dates are no longer in working, but the old rivers still work really, really well.

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Part of the charm of the downtown is it really is a step back in time. Notice the vintage cat in the foreground.

Spearmint “Pepsin Gum” surely got their money’s worth out of this old advertisement.

Hospital in Cairo

Is there a doctor in the house?

School

School's out for summer. And for the rest of time.

Throughout the city, there are many such houses, burned out and left to fall down. Note, this shot shows three houses in a row.

Throughout the city, there are many such houses, burned out and left to fall down. Note, this shot shows three burned out houses in a row.

What remain in Cairo, Illinois are many Sears Homes. Most are in marginal condition.

What remain in Cairo, Illinois are many Sears Homes. Many of these Sears Homes are no longer "pretty little homes."

Sears House - The Rodessa - in Cairo.

Sears House - The Rodessa - in Cairo.

An old Sears Homart (prefab house) sits on the edges of the city, not far from the Sears Mill in Cairo, IL

An old Sears Homart (prefab house) sits on the edges of the city, not far from the Sears Mill in Cairo, IL. Homart Homes were post-WW2 Sears Homes that were shipped out in sections, which were then bolted together at the building site. These were radically different from "Sears Modern Homes" which were pre-cut kit homes.

Sears

A glorious billboard at the city's entrance offers such promise.

To learn more about Cairo, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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