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Inside The Sears Elmhurst (St. Louis)

October 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 18 comments

Several weeks ago, a reader of this blog told me that he owned a Sears Elmhurst in St. Louis, and he was kind enough to send me a few photos. To my surprise and delight, he was right!  It really was an Elmhurst.

Last month, I visited the Elmhurst “in person” and my oh my, what a treat!

The home’s current owners have a deep abiding respect and appreciation for the unique origins of their historic home. In other words, they really love their old Sears House, and have been faithfully researching the history of this beautiful old house, and restoring it, inch by inch.

Thanks so much to the home’s owners who were gracious enough to let me take a tour of their home and share a few photos of its interior!

Elmhurst first appeared in the 1928

The Sears Elmhurst was a classic (and classy) Tudor Revival with a "half-timber effect" on the second story. Inside, it had three bedrooms and 1-1/2 baths. The house in St. Louis is in mostly original condition.

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house floorplan

The living room and dining room were spacious. The kitchen and lavatory were not.

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Cover of the 1932

The cover of the 1932 "Homes of Today" showed this fetching entryway, which is from the Elmhurst. It's kind of a "Twilight Zone" doorway, out of the hubbub of busy city living and into another dimension of peace and joy and "the satisfaction that comes from building your own home" (as Sears promised in their literature).

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house 1930 catalog

In the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog, the Elmhurst was given a two-page spread.

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house 1930

Even in the simplified line drawings (from the 1930 catalog) the Elmhurst looks quite elegant.

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house house house

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is a perfect match to the catalog image. Just perfect.

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house gerst

The St. Louis house is being faithfully restored by its current owners, and it's a real beauty.

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Elmhurst compare

Close-up of that entryway shown on the front cover of the 1932 catalog.

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Mike gerst elmhurst

And a fine side-by-side contrast of the St. Louis Elmhurst (left) and the entryway shown in the catalog.

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house ricin

The 1932 "Homes of Today" Sears Modern Homes catalog showed this view of the Elmhurst built in Ohio.

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house stairs

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is a good match to the black/white image above.

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house house stairs

The "Elmhurst built in Ohio" is shown here on the right, and the Elmhurst in St. Louis in on the left. The details are perfect with two lone exceptions: The front door is hinged different in the St. Louis house, and that decorative "S" is missing from the base of the wrought-iron staircase railing (which looks like it'd be a knee-buster anyway). The flip-flops are missing from the Elmhurst in Ohio.

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house la tosca

La Tosca door hardware was a very popular choice in Sears Homes.

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house house la tosca

The LaTosca door hardware, as seen in the Elmhurst and as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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phone niche

The moldings and trim in this Elmhurst are birch, according to the owner. Based on the research he's done, I'd say he's probably right. The owner is doing a remarkable job of restoring the inherent beauty of all the original wood trim throughout the house. The patina and beauty of the natural wood finish on this phone niche isn't accurately represented by this dark photo. While walking through the house, I couldn't help but to "reach out and touch" the beautiful wood trim. It really is that beautiful.

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house house door

The 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog showed this view of the front door (interior). Note that the stylistic "S" is missing from the wrought-iron railing in this picture.

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front door stuff

There was a wall that blocked my shooting the door and staircase from the same angle as shown above, but I got pretty close. This house was a one-hour trip from my brother's home in Elsah, IL (where I was staying), but once I saw the inside of this house, I was mighty glad I'd made the effort. In every way that an old house can be truly stunning, this house *was* stunning. It's a real gem in the heart of St. Louis.

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comparison

Comparison showing the 1930 catalog image and the real live house in St. Louis.

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Wall

From this view (near the landing), you get a better idea of the size of the hallway.

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kitchen 1932

The kitchen of the Elmhurst (as shown in the 1932 catalog). This appears to be a photo, and the picture was taken by someone standing with their backside leaning hard against the right rear corner of the house, looking toward the door that opens into the dining room. Notice the La Tosca hardware on the door.

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kitchen today

The Elmhurst's kitchen today, from that dining room door, looking toward the right rear corner. While I'm a big fan of all things old, even I'd agree that the kitchen needed a little bit of updating for the 21st Century.

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Most Sears kit homes had maple floors in the kitchen and bath (underneath tile and other floor coverings). The owners of the Elmhurst tried to restored the maple floor in their kitchen but it was too far gone.

Most Sears kit homes had maple floors in the kitchen and bath (underneath the floor coverings). The owners of the Elmhurst tried to restored the maple floor in their kitchen but these floors were really intended to be used as a subfloor, not a primary floor.

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house inside

The fireplace in the living room has the same square slate tiles as seen on the front porch.

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house hallway upstairs

This over-sized landing window was another lovely feature of the Elmhurst. As seen from the outside, this is the tall dormer window just to the right of the front porch (as seen from the street).

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window staircase

Downstairs looking up at the staircase window.

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house elmhurst

A distinctive feature found in two-story Sears kit homes are these plinth blocks. These square blocks were used to help the novice homebuilder cope with complex joints. The landing of the Elmhurst had three of these plinth blocks on one landing. I do believe that that's the most plinth blocks I've ever seen in one kit house.

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house plinth block

The plinth block at this juncture is actually two-steps tall.

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business card

While doing some work on the home, the owner found this business card inside a wall. I've seen a lot of very cool ephemera in my fun career, but this is one of the best. There were only 40 Sears Modern Homes "Sales Centers" in the country and there was one in St. Louis. Folks could stroll into these storefronts and get a first-hand look at the quality of framing members, millwork, heating equipment and plumbing fixtures. Apparently Miss Manning visited the Sears Modern Homes Sales Center and had some discussion with Marcelle Elton about her new Elmhurst.

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pipe tag pipe tag

The home's current owners found this tag attached to a cast-iron pipe inside the kitchen wall. It shows that the home's purchaser was a "Miss Margaret Manning" of Clayton, Missouri. For those interested in genealogy, I would LOVE to know where Miss Manning lived before she purchased the house in St. Louis and what she did for a living. Lastly, I'd also be interested in knowing how long she lived in this house.

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house pipe tag pipe tag

Close-up of the tab shows a return address of 925 Homan Avenue, in Chicago, Illinois.

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houe exterior house

From all angles, the Elmhurst is quite stunning.

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On the inside, those dormers look like this.

On the inside, those dormers look like this.

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house solid brick

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is an enigma for several reasons. One, this is not a frame house with brick veneer (like every other "brick" Sears kit house I've ever seen). This house is solid brick, and when the owner remodeled the kitchen, he said the exterior walls had furring strips (typical of a solid brick house). And the flashing and original gutters were copper. When built, the house had a tile roof. These are all significant upgrades and probably cost the home's first owner quite a bit extra.

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gerst home

This photo was taken by the home's current owner. You can see a remnant of the tile roof on the ridge of the house. And if you look closely, you can see the copper flashing around the chimney.

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Elmhurst in Chitown

There's another Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb that Rebecca Hunter found. This Elmhurst has concrete sills (as you'd expect to see on a kit house, because it's simpler than laying brick), but the house in St. Louis had *brick* sills.

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house 1930

The Elmhurst was beautiful, but not very popular. It was offered from 1929 to 1932.

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And look what my buddy Rachel found in her 1929 Brick Veneer Honor Bilt Homes catalog! Its an Elmhurst that was built in Long Island, NY. And Rachel even found the house - as it stands today - in New York!

And look what my buddy Rachel found in her 1929 "Brick Veneer Honor Bilt Homes" catalog! It's an Elmhurst that was built in Long Island, NY. And Rachel even found the house - as it stands today - in New York! Who wants to get a photo of this house? :)

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Thanks again to the home’s current owners for sharing their Elmhurst with me (and the readers of this blog!). It’s a real treasure.

To read more about Rachel’s discovery in New York, click here.

To join our group of Facebook (”Sears Homes”), click here.

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Be Still My Heart: The Eighth Magnolia?

June 29th, 2013 Sears Homes 8 comments

Updated!! See detailed photos here!!

A few moments ago, my sleepy husband stuck his head into the room and said, “It’s 3:11  in the morning. Why are you still up?”

“Well, I think we’ve found our eighth Magnolia,” I replied.

“Oh,” he said quietly, as he toddled back to the bedroom.

No additional information was needed.

Every month, I get a handful of emails from people who are 100% certain that they’ve found the crème de la crème of all kit homes: The Sears Magnolia.

And 98% of the time, they’re wrong.

Sears sold kit homes from 1908-1940, and in that 32-year span, they offered 370 designs. Of those 370 designs, the Magnolia was the fairest of them all (and the biggest and the most expensive).

In 1918 (the year the Magnolia first appeared), 90 designs were offered, and only 13 of those homes cost more than $2,000. Not counting the Magnolia, the most expensive house in that catalog was the Preston, at $2,812.

The other 76 models offered in 1918 were under $2,000, and the overwhelming majority of those were less than $1,200.

The price tag for the Magnolia was $4,485.

Most of the Sears Homes in that 1918 catalog had less than 1,000 square feet, and the Magnolia had almost 3,000 square feet.

For years and years, it was widely believed that only six Magnolias had been built in the country, and yet their locations were not known. In time, those six Magnolias were discovered in Benson, North Carolina, South Bend, Indiana, Irwin, Pennsylvania, Canton, Ohio and a fifth in Piedmont, Alabama. A sixth had been destroyed by fire in Nebraska. (Of those six Magnolias, the house in Benson was the “newest” discovery, found in March 2010.)

And that was that.

Six Magnolias. All accounted for.

Five alive.

One dead (and cremated).

And then in May 2011 (thanks to this blog), someone  contacted me and said that there was a Sears Magnolia in Syracuse, NY.

I didn’t pay too much attention, because frankly, I’d heard it before, but fortunately, a friend and faithful reader (Heather Lukaszewski) did pay attention and she did a little research. She wrote me a nice note and said, “I think this may be the real deal.”

And that’s how we found the 7th Magnolia. The discovery made the local papers, and it was all pretty exciting. Click here to read the article from May 2011.

All of which brings me to this newest discovery of an 8th Magnolia!

Friday evening, someone contacted me and said that he lived in a house that was across the street from a Sears Magnolia. We exchanged several emails and I started to get pretty interested in this story. It had a lot more background and depth than the typical “There’s a Magnolia just down the street” stories.

Thanks to a lot of help from Rachel Shoemaker and Mark Hardin, we were able to see the house via Bing Maps, and I have to say, I think we’ve got a winner.

In fact, I’d be willing to say that I’m 90% certain that we’ve found our 8th Magnolia.

And the best part of all?

It’s in West Virginia.

I love West Virgina and I’m headed to Elkins in six weeks (with the aforementioned hubby) to visit family.

I’d sure love to stop by this sweet old kit house and check it out in person. Boy oh boy, would I love to see this fine house in the flesh.

Wow.

Just wow.

To read more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

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Magnolia 1918

The Magnolia was featured on the cover of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog, and yet, those leaves in the border are not Magnolia leaves. What a fraud!

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1918  1918

Close-up of the Magnolia (1918)

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house house

The Magnolia was first offered in the 1918 Modern Homes catalog (shown above). In 1919, the Magnolia hit its highest price: $10,000, more than double its price in 1918.

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1921

In 1921, the price of the Sears Magnolia dropped to $6,489 and one year later, it would drop to $5,849. Following WW1, prices of building materials fluctated dramatically.

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Magnolia Benson

In March 2011, a reader told me that there was a Sears Magnolia in Benson, NC.

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Janets house

The Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio was almost lost due to neglect but was lovingly restored in the 1990s. Photo is copyright 2012 Janet's Hess LaMonica and may not be reproduced without written permission.

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Syracue

Our 7th Magnolia, in Syracuse! And what a fine-looking kit house it is! (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Magnolia columns

Close-up of the columns on the Sears Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama.

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To learn more about the Sears Magnolias among us, click here.

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

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Where Are the Rest of the Sears Homes in Charlotte?

June 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last year, I spent several hours driving around in Charlotte, NC searching for Sears Homes, and found only a handful.

And then a few days ago, Sears House Hunter Andrew Mutch sent me a link to a Sears Corona that was for sale in Charlotte. My oh my, that was a beautiful house. You can read all about it here.

In fact, I am geographically challenged and there’s a fair chance that I spent most of my time in one neighborhood (reflected by the photos below). I’d love to know where the rest of the Sears Homes are!

What did I miss?

Further, I found two “reproduction” Sears Homes, and that’s a puzzler as well. Someone in Charlotte loves Sears Homes enough to create MODERN versions of these old bungalows and foursquares!

Who are they? And why haven’t they contacted me?  :)

If you know who built these reproduction Sears Homes, please leave a comment below.

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There are two Sears Crescents in Charlotte.

There are two Sears Crescents in Charlotte.

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Heres one

A perfect Sears Crescent in Charlotte. I circled the block about 4,873 times waiting for the woman on the cell phone to hang up and go back in the house. Eventually, I gave up and just tried to get a photo of her not facing the camera. The things we do for love. Sigh.

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house house house

It's a lovely Sears Crescent in good condition, and it's not too far from its sister Crescent (above). The American flag is a lovely touch but not so much the upholstered furniture. At this point, I was just grateful there wasn't someone sitting in the upholstered furniture, talking on the cell phone.

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And the surprise was finding this Corona

The Sears Corona was a beautiful, classic bungalow, and I was so surprised to find that there is one in Charlotte! Notice how the dormer is centered on the roof, and the offset front porch (1918 catalog).

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Wow, wow, WOW! What a house!

Wow, wow, WOW! What a house!

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The Maywood was a beautiful, spacious kit home offered by Sears in the late 1920s.

The Maywood was a beautiful, spacious kit home offered by Sears in the late 1920s.

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Is this a Maywood in Charlotte?

Is this a Maywood in Charlotte? It might be, or it may be a plan book house. Plan book homes were similar to kit homes, in that potential buyers browsed the pages, picked out a house they liked and sent in their payment. With a plan book, they'd receive a list of building materials needed to build their dream home, and also the blueprints, but no building materials.

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Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker, I recently discovered this little plan book house, The Carmen. This house is ubiquitous in North Carolina. Ive found it in Rocky Mount, Elizabeth City, several in Raleigh and now Charlotte.

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker, I recently discovered this little plan book house, "The Carmen." This house is ubiquitous in North Carolina. I've found it in Rocky Mount, Elizabeth City, Durham, several in Raleigh and now Charlotte.

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And here is The Carmen in Charlotte.

And here is The Carmen in Charlotte.

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As mentioned above, another surprise was finding a Modern Sears Westly in Charlotte. Whos building these homes? Id love to know!

As mentioned above, another surprise was finding a "Modern" Sears Westly in Charlotte. Who's building these homes? I'd love to know!

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Wow

Sure is a nice house, but I'm quite certain that this is a new house. And it's in a neighborhood of new houses, that were all built to look like old bungalows.

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Just around the block from the Westly (shown above), I found a Sears Cornell.

Just around the block from the Westly (shown above), I found a Sears Cornell.

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The Cornell

The Cornell, but it's new! Note the attention to detail. Even the belt-course is exactly where it should be, and the upper portion is shingle and the lower is clapboard. So who's building new kit homes?

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If you know of any other Sears Homes in Charlotte, or you know who’s building these “new old houses,”  please leave a comment below.

I’d love to come back to Charlotte and do a proper survey! If you know how to make that happen, please contact me!

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To see interior photos of the Sears Corona in Charlotte, click here.

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About That Sears House in Greeley, Colorado (Part II)

December 20th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

A few days ago, I wrote a blog about the Sears Avondale in Greeley, Colorado. When that blog was posted, I had nothing more than vintage photos of this house, built by Winfred H. Senier.

Thanks to Betsy Kellums of the Greeley Preservation Historic Office, I now have contemporary photos of Mr. Senier’s fine old Avondale (shown below).

Take a look at the original vintage photo below from the 1912 Sears Modern Homes catalog. If you look closely, you’ll see Winfred’s wife (May) sitting on the front porch and old Winfred on the porch wall.

To read the prior blog, click here.

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

Noothing like old photos

This photo first appeared in the 1912 Sears Modern Homes catalog. It's a great photo and you can see that - when built in 1910 or 1911, Mr. Senier's house had stained glass windows. This was an upgrade, and it's likely that the home's interior had some fancy upgrades as well.

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obi

Sharon Dunn (reporter for the Greeley Tribune) forwarded me Winfred's obit, which showed that Mr. Senier raised Shire horses, Tamworth hogs, and Airedale and Shepherd dogs. Above is a photo of Winfred and May, and two of their dogs (about 1910 or 1911).

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Is this a Shire horse?

Is this a Shire horse? Or is this just "Pumpkin" the friendly horse who helped build the house?

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Now this is one thing I have never ever seen before. In 1919, Mr. Senier supplied a subsequent photo of the Greeley home, and it was published in the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog. You can see tha

Now this is one thing I have never ever seen before. Years after the house was built, Mr. Senier supplied a subsequent photo of the Greeley home (with mature landscaping), and it was published in the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog. You can see that the vegetation has grown up a bit! And there's Winfred and May on the front porch (still).

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1910

The Sears Avondale was first offered in the 1909 Sears Modern Homes catalog. When was Mr. Senier's house built? Well, most likely it was between 1909 - 1911. I'd love to know for sure.

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Avondale was a heck of a house

The Avondale was one of Sears nicer homes. It was spacious and fancy. The house in Greeley is probably one of the first Avondales built in the country.

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Floorplan

Look at the dimensions of the living and dining rooms. It was a very spacious house.

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Showed up at the fair in 1911

In this colorized card, you can see the stained-glass windows on the house. There are four. Two flanking the fireplace and two on the home's front.

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Interior

Another postcard shows the interior of the Sears Avondale.

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Thanks to Betsy Kellam, we now have contemporary photos of Mr. Seniers Avondale.

Thanks to Betsy Kellums, we now have contemporary photos of Mr. Senier's Avondale. Still looks a little lonely out there in Greeley. (Photograph is copyright 2012 Betsy Kellums and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Its still standing but needs a smidge of paint.

It's still standing but needs a smidge of paint. Given the fact that's it's 100 years old, it's in remarkably good condition. (Photograph is copyright 2012 Betsy Kellums and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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house

If you look at the roof lines and thee porch, you can see that the house is still square and straight and true. Mr. Senier and Sears did a fine job with this house. (Photograph is copyright 2012 Betsy Kellums and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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house

Mr. Senier died 67 years ago, but the house that he built for his family lives on. What a remarkable testimony to the quality of Sears kit homes. (Photograph is copyright 2012 Betsy Kellums and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Sadly, those beautiful stained-glass windows are gone.

Sadly, those beautiful stained-glass windows are gone. (Photograph is copyright 2012 Betsy Kellums and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

Thanks to Sharon Dunn (Greeley Tribune) for sending me Mr. Senier’s obituary. If you have any interest in Colorado history, this obit is a fascinating read. Mr. Senier was the son of Mr. and Mrs. John Senier, two original Greeley pioneers. Winifred Senier (the Avondale builder) had only one child (a daughter), but apparently his one daughter had eight children, all of whom lived in Greeley.

W. H. Senier Dies Thursday (December 4, 1945).


Winfred Howell Senier, who for 35 years operated a stock farm east of Greeley, died early Tuesday morning at the Weld County hospital after an illness of a year and a half. He had been a patient at the hospital only a few days.

He was 73 years old. Mr. Senier was a breeder of Shire horses, Tamworth hogs, and Airedale and Shepherd dogs. He was the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. John Senier, Greeley pioneers, his mother being Eva Camp, daughter of a Union Colony member.

Mr. Senier was born in Covington, Ga., and came to Greeley with his parents when he was six years old.

He is survived by his wife, Mrs. May Porter Senier, and one son, Archie Camp Senier, eight grand-children and one great grandchild, Richard Glen Senier.

His grand-children are Pfc. Winfred E. Senier of Fort Lewis, Wash.; Pfc. Robert John Senier of Lamar; ARM 1/c Woodrow E. Senier of Bakersfield, Calif.; WT 1/c William A. Senior [sic] awaiting discharge from the army following overseas duty; Gloria May, June Alice, Buddy and Doral Senier, all of Greeley.

One sister, Mrs. Jeanette Noxon of Greeley, also survives.

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Thanks to Mark Hardin and Rachel Shoemaker for their indefatiguable efforts in researching this house in Greeley, and thanks to Betsy Kellums for the wonderful photos!

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To read more about the house in Greeley, click here.

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About That Sears House in Greeley, Colorado

December 7th, 2012 Sears Homes 7 comments

Updated! To see the newest blog with contemporary photos of this house, click here!!

More than a year ago, I posted a blog about a Sears Avondale/Hawthorne in Greeley, Colorado.

Since then, several folks have left comments, and thanks to their efforts, the house has been found.  :)

And that’s remarkable for two reasons.

One, Sears Homes aren’t that common in the “Far West” (as that area was known in the early 1900s), and two, Sears offered 370 models but the Avondale/Hawthorne was one of the fancier homes.

To read the original blog, click here.

Text continues below the pictures.

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Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for supplying this photo. It originally appeared in the 1912 Sears Modern Homes catalog. I erroneously identified a house in McHenry Illinois as the house in Greeley.

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for supplying this photo. It originally appeared in the 1912 Sears Modern Homes catalog. In an earlier blog, I erroneously identified the house in McHenry Illinois as the house in Greeley. This is the correct photo (as you can see in the caption). Best of all, it shows Mr. Senier's wife, horse and two dogs. Digging through old census records, Rachel also discovered that the husband's name is Winfred and the wife's name is May. Rachel was not able to discern the name of the horse and dogs. Let's call them "Teddy" and "Freddy" (dogs) and "Pumpkin" (horsie). Actually, I'm not sure if that's Winfred sitting on the rail. Whomever it is seems to be wearing a bowler hat.

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Is the house in Greeley an Avondale or a Hawthorne? Rachel Shoemaker pointed out that its a Hawthorne, and she is right.

Mr. Senier and family built the Avondale in Greeley. Not a bad house for $2,176.

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The Hawthorne, as seen in 1916.

The Hawthorne, as seen in 1916. This was very similar to the Avondale, but the Hawthorne had a second floor and the side walls were higher (creating more space upstairs).

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The comments that followed the original blog have been hugely helpful, so I’m reprinting them here.

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Rachel

Rachel is an indefatigable researcher.

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more

And Rachel is right. I had the houses in Greeley, CO and Illinois mixed up.

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And then the intrepid researchers found info on that Greeley House.

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And then around the 5th, Mark (who also left a comment on December 5th) sent me this email:

I found a page that mentions the Senior name on a map from 1915. There is a plot of land on the map that is just outside of Greeley in the area around the Greeley / Weld county airport. I think the map calls it Camp Senier.

Maybe this is the area the house is in if it still exist. If it’s not there then maybe its somewhere between the camp and the rail line to the west.

Using Google Maps, Mark ultimately found Milford Howell Senier’s “Avondale” at about 120 East 4th Street Road in Greeley.

Thanks so much to Rachel and Mark for finding this old Avondale. What an impressive bunch of research!!!

Now I need some photos of this wonderful house in Greeley!  :)

If you’re in the area and can get a photo, please leave me a comment below!

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Richard Warren Sears: A Few Fun Facts!

November 28th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

As mentioned in my previous blog, Richard Warren Sears was my hero, and he really was a marketing genius.

Here’s my #1 favorite story that showcases his brilliance:

Knowing that many households would have both his catalog and the Montgomery Ward catalog, Sears purposefully designed his catalog a little shorter and narrower than the Ward catalog. He knew that when the housewife was tidying up the home, the Sears catalog, being smaller, would be stacked on top of the Wards catalog.

The book Sears Roebuck and Company: 100th Anniversary relates that a Sunday School pupil was asked,”Where did the Ten Commandments come from?” The child innocently replied, “From the Sears, Roebuck catalog.”

Local merchants and owners of general stores were up in arms at the low prices Sears offered in his catalog and the bold promises that buyers could save money by eliminating the middle man. Of course, the middle man that Sears wanted to eliminate was the owner of the general store! In more than a few towns, children were promised a free movie ticket for every Sears catalog they brought into the local store. The catalogs were then piled high and ceremoniously burned in a massive bonfire.

In 1896, the annual sales for the mail order firm of Sears and Roebuck were $1.2 million and by 1914 they hit $101 million. At its peak in 1915, the general merchandise catalog contained 100,000 items in 1200 pages and weighed four pounds.

During World War I, the Sears Roebuck catalog was the book most requested by American soldiers recovering in overseas hospitals. Julius Rosenwald sailed to France in the midst of the Great War (WWI) with four huge wooden crates, each filled with Sears catalogs, for distribution to the American boys lying in a hospital. (The Good Old Days; A History of American Morals and Manners as Seen Through the Sears Roebuck Catalogs.)

According to Sears, Roebuck, USA: The Great American Catalog Store and How It Grew a Sears customer wrote and asked to return several bottles of patent medicine shed purchased from Sears, explaining that the medicine had originally been intended for her husband and he’d since passed on. The clerk who received the inquiry responded by asking the woman if shed like to see a copy of Sears Tombstone Catalog.

The famous Chicago radio station, WLS, actually began as a promotional tool for Sears. In fact, WLS stands for Worlds Largest Store. The station signed on in 1924 with farm reports and weather information. Sears sold the radio station in the fall of 1928.

In the 1930s, Sears sold live baby chicks through their mail order catalogs. The chicks cost ten cents each and safe, live delivery was promised.

In November 1952, Sears announced it would sell the Allstate - a small car with a 100-inch wheelbase, capable of 35 mpg. It was an incredibly “basic” ride, and the first models lacked trunk lids and glove compartments. The little car with a four or six cylinder engine cost $1395 - $1796. Two years later, Sears stopped selling the cars, having sold about 1500. The reason: Sears was ill-prepared to handle the problem of trade-ins.

To see several beautiful photos of this 1950s Dream Machine, click here.

To see a video of the Henry J (the Sears Allstate), click here.

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For 76.99 pounds (British), you can have your own "Henry J" (Sears Allstate) auto. This is a miniature reproduction of the 1952 "Deluxe" Allstate, offered by minimodelshop.com.uk.

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To order your own Henry J, click here.

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WLS was originally started by Sears and Roebuck to use wholly as a promotional tool. WLS stands for Worlds Largest Store. Shown here is the first edition of the WLS (Sears) employee newsletter.

WLS was originally started by Sears and Roebuck to use wholly as a promotional tool. WLS stands for "World's Largest Store." Shown here is the first edition of the WLS (Sears) employee newsletter.

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Sears had a massive lumber mill just outside of Cairo, Illinois. The street was named Sears and Roebuck Road, but in later years, it was split into two dead-end streets by the highway. One side was named Sears Road.

Sears had a massive lumber mill just outside of Cairo, Illinois. The street was named "Sears and Roebuck Road," but in later years, it was split into two dead-end streets by the highway. One side was named "Sears Road."

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And the other side was named Roebuck Road.

And the other side was named "Roebuck Road."

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And Garmin never got the memo...

And Garmin never got the memo...

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To read more about the mill in Cairo, click here.

To read the prior blog about Richard Sears, click here.

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Richard Warren Sears: My Hero

November 26th, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

Richard Warren Sears is one of my favorite characters in American history. He truly was a marketing genius, a fascinating entrepreneur and a real family man. Throughout his life, he maintained a deep and profound devotion to his family.

Richard Warren Sears was about 16 years old when his father died. That’s when Richard went to work to support the family.

By the mid-1880s, he’d found gainful employment as a railway station agent in Redwood Falls, Minnesota. Early in his career, Sears paid a mere $50 for a shipment of watches that arrived at the train station and had been refused by a local merchant. Selling them to other railway agents and passengers, Sears turned $50 worth of watches into $5000 in a few months.

His timing could not possibly have been any better.

With the advent of the steam locomotive, people could now travel easily throughout the country, but there was one problem with all this zipping to and fro:  In the early 1880s, our country had 300 time zones.

Many rural communities still relied on sun-time. Travelers headed west we’re expected to subtract one minute for every 12 miles of travel. Travelers headed east did the opposite.

Hope youre good at ciphering!

In November 1883, railway companies lobbied Congress to establish four time zones, to help standardize complicated train schedules. And what need did this new-fangled law breed? Watches.

Suddenly, they were a very hot commodity.

In 1886, 23-year-old Sears invested his $5000 cash profit into a new watch business and called it the R. W. Sears Watch Company. He advertised in regional newspapers and soon moved the business from Minneapolis to Chicago.

Occasionally the watches came back needing repairs, so in 1887, Sears decided it was time to hire a helper. A young watch repairman from Hammond, Indiana responded to Sears help wanted ad and was hired immediately.

And what was the watch repairman’s name?

Alvah Curtis Roebuck.

Richard and Alvah became good friends and eventually partners.

In 1891, Sears and Roebuck published their first mail order catalog (52 pages), offering jewelry and watches. By 1893, the little catalog had grown to 196 pages and offered a variety of items, including sewing machines, shoes, saddles and more. By the following year, the catalog hit 507 pages.

In 1895, Alvah Roebuck decided he wanted out. The 31-year old watch repairman’s health was collapsing under the strain of this new fast-growing business. The enormous burden of debt coupled with Sears wild ways of doing business were too much for mild-mannered, methodical Alvah.

He asked Sears to buy his one-third interest in the company for $25,000.

Of course, Sears didn’t have that kind of cash on hand, so he offered Chicago businessmen Aaron Nusbaum and Julius Rosenwald (Nusbaums brother-in-law) a one-half interest in the company. The price - $75,000, or $37,500 each. Six years later, in 1901, Rosenwald and Sears decided to buy out Nusbaum and offered him $1 million for his share of the business. Nusbaum refused and asked for $1.25 million, which he received.

(Pretty tidy profit for six years!)

Following a nationwide depression in 1907, Rosenwald and Sears were at loggerheads on the best course of action to weather the economic storm. This disagreement really did highlight their radically different concepts about everything.

On November 1, 1908, 44-year-old Richard W. Sears emerged from a terse, closed-door meeting with Rosenwald and announced that he would resign as President from his own company.

Sears reason for retiring: He didnt see the work as fun anymore. A short time later, Sears sold his stock for $10 million dollars. There was another reason for his departure. Sears wanted more time to take care of his ailing wife, who had suffered from ill health for years.

In September 1914, at the age of 50, Sears died from kidney disease, having turned $50 worth of pocket watches into a multimillion dollar mail-order empire. His estate was valued at more than $20 million.

Not too bad for a kid that got his start selling unwanted watches at a little train depot in Redwood Falls.

To read Part II of this blog, click here.

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Richard Warren Sears was one smart cookie. Hes shown here in his office in Sears World Headquarters (Chicago).

Richard Warren Sears was one smart cookie. He's shown here in his office the Sears' Headquarters (Chicago), at the corner of Homan Avenue and Arthington Street. It's claimed that Mr. Sears had one of the very first telephones in the state of Illinois. He had another telephone installed in his mother's home in Oak Park. Now *that's* a good son! :)

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Look at that telephone!

Look at that telephone! I bet that would fetch a pretty price on eBay! And you may notice that Mr. Sears is holding a Sears catalog in his right hand. He was quite the promoter.

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Sears retired from his own company in 1908, which was the same years that Sears issued its first Sears Modern Homes catalog (shown above).

Sears retired from his own company in 1908, which was the same years that Sears issued its first "Sears Modern Homes" catalog (shown above).

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Did you know that Sears sold cars in the 1950s? You’ll never guess the brand name they gave to their vehicles!  :)

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read another really fun blog, click here.

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Cooking - Off the Grid!

November 24th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

As has become our annual tradition, hubby cooked our 18-pound turkey on his Weber Charcoal Grill. It was one of the most delicious birds I’ve ever enjoyed. The best part was that it was cooked 100% “off the grid.”

The charcoal is a no-brainer. Lots of people know how to use charcoal to cook their meat.

But the secret of a well-cooked bird  is the rotisserie attachment which spins the meat at a slow speed. This year, the small but powerful rotisserie motor was powered  by our new “Solar System,” three 15-watt solar panels which we recently installed at The Ringer Ranch.

These three photovoltaic panels convert the sun’s rays into electricity, which is stored in a 12-volt deep-cycle marine battery. The inverter (shown below) converts the 12-volt system into 120 volts, suitable for household use.

To learn more about how we installed these solar panels, click here.

Hubby proudly points out his delicious turkey spinning on the grill.

Hubby proudly points out his delicious turkey spinning on the grill.

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Look

Our three 15-watt solar panels are on top of the shed roof.

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The electrical items (inverter, solar controller and battery) are inside the shed.

The electrical items (inverter, solar controller and battery) are inside the shed. Notice the orange extension cord coming out of the inverter? That is powering the rotisserie.

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The most amazing part is that the solar panels were charging the battery *faster* than the rotisserie motor was drawing off power.

The most amazing part is that the solar panels were charging the battery *faster* than the rotisserie motor was drawing off power. And this was at 8:00 am.

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Safety first. Hubby uses the five-gallon bucket to keep the cords out of the wet dew.

Safety first. Hubby uses the five-gallon bucket to keep the cords out of the wet dew.

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It was indeed a most splendiferous bird!

It was indeed a most splendiferous bird!

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Want a “solar system” of your own? We did it for $351 (total cost). To buy your own, click here.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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To read about a very happy Thanksgiving in 1918, click here.

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It’s Official: I’m Now a Ham (Part V)

November 20th, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

One of the most interesting features  of Ham Radio is that its operators are expected to have access to alternative energy sources during times of regional or national emergency.

After all, what good is it to have a Ham Radio if you can’t use it when the power goes out?

For as many years as I can remember, I have been utterly fascinated by alternative energy sources. Capturing a tiny drop of the sun’s massive nuclear-reactive power (386 billion billion megaWatts) is a  fascinating concept.

After several tours of Mike Neal’s very own “Radio Shack,” and after receiving several helpful tutorials on this topic from Mr. Neal (and lots of specific guidance), I was ready to take the plunge.

My “solar project” started in earnest about a month ago when Mike sent me an email to let me know that Harbor Freight was having a sale on solar panels. This was the very set that Mike had at his house and he said it was “a good solar set-up for the money.”

With a $30 coupon (gifted to me from a fellow Ham), I got the $229 solar panels for $159. (The original price for the panels was $229, with a sale price of $189. The $30 coupon got me to $159.)

Because I’m highly allergic to crowds and shopping areas and loud noises and small children and fluorescent lights, I paid the extra six bucks to have the unit shipped directly to my house. It was well worth it.

It took about 12 hours to install the whole rig, and my oh my, it was a fun project. And watching those photovoltaic cells turn the sunlight into electricity is every bit as fascinating as I’d thought it would be.

If I were queen of the world (and it shouldn’t be long now), I’d recommend that every homeowner in America have a set of these on their roof. It was a great learning experience. And I’ve shared all the nitty-gritty details below.

To read more about my experiences with Ham Radio, check out Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV of this series.

House shed

The little shed in our back yard is now electrified, thanks to these three solar panels on the roof. Each panel produces 15 watts, for a total of 45 watts.

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solar thunder

I'm not sure why a corporation would adopt the name "THUNDERBOLT" for their solar products. Nonetheless, it's a sound value and seems to be a well-made product.

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Solar panels

The solar panels were set on a 2x4 which was fastened with screws into the roof and painted flat black. The PVC frame was secured to the 2x4 with 3/4" metal pipe clamps. This will enables us to change the angle of the panels (for winter and summer) without any major disassembling.

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house house house

This shot shows the panels and 2x4 more closely. In a mere 12 hours, the solar panels have already been assaulted by both birds (far left) and pine straw (bottom).

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Thinking about how to get the leads into the little shed took some thinking.

Figuring out how to get the leads into the little shed took some thinking. In the end, I decided to drill a hole (3/4") through the 2x4 (and the roofing sheathing below). I reasoned that it'd be easier to patch a clean hole through a piece of lumber rather than trying to patch a hole in an irregular surface (such as an old roofing shingle).

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solar

Using stretchy weatherproofing tape (which probably has a much better name), I bound those three wires (from the three solar panels) together and fed them through the hole into the shed's interior. I purposefully used a lot of tape so it would fill the 3/4" hole. For the tiny gaps that remained, I used a compound putty substance (again, don't know the name but it looks a lot like Silly Putty). Back in the day, a contractor friend told me it was called "Dum Dum" because you use it to patch a dumb mistake. However, I'd like to point out that it should be called "Smart Smart" in this particular application.

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Inside,

Inside, the wires drop down from above and into the controller (right side on the shelf above the battery). From there, the wires go into the 12-volt deep cycle Marine battery. Another set of wires carries the power from the battery back to the inverter (left side on the shelf). The inverter turns the 12-volt current into 120 volts (for household use).

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The

The controller that came with the solar panels is quite impressive. The digital display is large and easy to read, and reports on the battery power (12.4 volts shown here). For $159, it's a pretty fancy set-up and a darn good deal.

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Another nice bonus that came with this set are these 12-volt LED lights. They do a good job of illuminating the dark corners of our little shed.

Another nice bonus that came with this set are two of these 12-volt LED lights. They do a good job of illuminating the dark corners of our little shed. They plug into the front of the controller (as shown in the picture of the controller above).

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The inverter (shown above) was not included in the kit. This 750-watt inverter also came from Harbor Freight. I also got it on sale. As I recall, it was $69 on sale for  $49, and I found a $10 coupon. Final price $39.

The inverter (shown above) was not included in the kit. This 750-watt inverter also came from Harbor Freight. I also got it on sale. As I recall, it was $69 on sale for $49, and I found a $10 coupon. Final price $39.

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Part of the problem I encountered was that, despite my reading and studying, I didnt understand a whole lot about how these things work.

Part of the problem I encountered whilst doing this project was, despite my reading and studying, I didn't understand a whole lot about how all these things work together. I asked Mike Neal, "What's the difference between a 200-watt inverter and a 750-watt inverter?" Fact is, a 200-watt inverter was whole lot cheaper. Mike explained, "Think of the battery as a bucket full of water. You can draw that water out with a swizzle stick or a milk-shake straw. The 200-watt inverter is a swizzle stick. The 750-watt inverter is a milk-shake straw."

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The

The other helper in this project was my wonderful neighbor, Mike Mancini. I told him that I needed a deep-cycle marine battery and he got me a good deal on one at a local marine parts supply company. Plus, he gave me a ride out to the place and then hefted it out of his truck and out to my shed. This battery weighs about 50 pounds. I set it up on cinder blocks to make it easier to access, and I put the OSB down because I'd heard that batteries might discharge if placed directly atop masonry.

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Fie dollahs

You may notice the fine-looking wires shown in the picture above (of the battery). I bought these booster cables at General Dollar Store and paid $5 for the whole affair. I then cut the wires off from the clips and used them for the controller-to-battery run and the battery-to-inverter run. It's 10-gauge stranded copper wire.

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The

The last part of the project required anchoring the panels to the roof. In that the panels sit so high above the roof, they'll become a dandy sail in strong winds. Our solution was to tether the pvc frame to the opposite side of the shed. For the tether, I used 10-gauge stranded copper grounding wire. May seem like a waste, but I recently bought a spool of it to ground a couple antennas and masts and such. Seems I had about 400 feet left over from those other projects.

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Solar

Close-up of the tether on the PVC frame. It's not super taut, but it doesn't need to be. It's anchored into the steep side of the shed roof with an eye-bolt.

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Hubby and I spent countless hours figuring out the correct angle for these panels. There were many factors such aas the many tall trees in our yard,

Hubby and I spent countless hours figuring out the correct angle for these panels. There were many factors such as the big old tall trees in our yard. After the "Solar System" was all set up, we were both AMAZED and pleased to see that it started charging immediately. What was so amazing? It was a dark, cold, gloomy overcast day. I can hardly wait to see how it does with a little sunlight!

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Total cost of the entire project:

Solar Panels - $159 plus $6 shipping (and tax)

Interstate battery - $114

750-watt inverter - $39

Battery terminals - $8

Wiring - $5  (thanks Dollar General!)

Incidentals - about $20 (zip ties, pipe clamps, tape)

Total investment:  $351

Entertainment value: Endless!  :)

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To learn more about why Ham Radio is so relevant and important TODAY, click here.

To read about Sears Homes, click here.

If you wish to contact Rosemary, please leave a comment below.

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“This is a Most Attractive Little Home…”

November 18th, 2012 Sears Homes 2 comments

Last month, I wrote about “The Experiment,” where Sears built two Sears Rodessas (small bungalows) side-by-side in Cairo, Illinois, to prove the superiority of the Ready-cut System. The two homes were built in the late 1910s, and now, almost 100 years later, those wonderful little houses are still standing.

Why did Sears choose the Rodessa for their experiment? I don’t know. It was a popular house for Sears, but it wasn’t that popular! If I were to venture a guess, I’d say it was in the Top 50 Most Popular Designs.

However, it was, as the Sears ad promised, “a most attractive little home.” It was cute, simple and practical, which probably made it easy to build in a hurry.

In my travels, I’ve come across several Rodessas. In fact, there’s one not far from me in Urbana, Virginia. You can read about that house by clicking here.

To read more about the Rodessa, scroll down!

pretty

Indeed, the Rodessa is a "pretty little home." And look at the price!!

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Little is right.

Look at those small bedrooms. In 2012, a room that measures 9-feet square is a walk-in closet!

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Busy kitchen

And what does that "B" stand for in the kitchen? BOILER!

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The boiler

The "boiler" (whose placement is indicated with the "B" in the floorplan) was a water heater with a water line that ran through the back of the cook stove. Pretty complicated affair.

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text

"This is a most attractive little home."

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In 1924,

In 1924, Mr. Kidwell built this Rodessa in Washington DC and sent this snapshot in to Sears and Roebuck. He was "fully satisfied" with his Ready-cut home.

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Happy 1926

In 1926, Sears put out a brochure that was titled, "Happy Homes." The Rodessa was featured within its pages. According to the accompanying text, it was built in Independence, MO.

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Happy

Not sure why Sears included a picture of corn with the testimonial.

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HeWood

It's endured some significant remodelings, but at least it's still standing. This transmogrified Rodessa is in Wood River, Illinois (just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, MO). That salt-treated porch railing just does not work on this old bungalow.

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House

This Rodessa may look a little blue, but it's actually a very happy house with lots of good self-esteem. It's in Northern Illinois. Photo is copyright 2010 Rebecca Hunter and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Heres the Rodessa in my home state (Virginia). Its located in a tiny fishing village known as Urbana.

Here's the Rodessa in my home state (Virginia). It's located in a tiny fishing village known as Urbana. The plaque over the door reads, "Sears Roebuck House, 1924." I was told that the folks in Urbana didn't realize that Sears had 369 other kit home designs. This is a fairly common misconception. This 88-year-old house is in beautiful condition.

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And here are the two Rodessas that were built side-by-side at the site of the old Sears Mill (in Cairo, IL).

And here are the two Rodessas that were built side-by-side at the site of the old Sears Mill (in Cairo, IL). They were built in the late 1910s as part of an experiment to prove that "The Ready-Cut Method" was far more efficient than traditional building practices of the time.

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Ready

The house that was built using traditional building practices took 583 hours and the poor saps aren't finished yet. The yard is still a mess with scraps of lumber scattered hither and yon. The workers have collapsed on the front porch in utter despair and humiliation.

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house

Ah, but the pre-cut Sears Kit Home is all buttoned up and beautiful! They even had time to finish up the landscaping! The kitchen windows are wide open. They had so much time to spare that they went inside and cooked dinner!

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By 1933, the Rodessa had undergone a radical transformation.

By 1933, the Rodessa had undergone a radical transformation. The clipped gables were gone, as were the dramatically oversized eaves. The unique shape of the front porch was replaced with a simpler gabled roof. In a word, its flair and panache had been replaced with pedestrian and dull.

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Learn more about the two Rodessas at the Sears Mill by clicking here.

How did Sears Homes become so popular so fast? Read about that here.

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift? It’s just one click away!

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