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Hopewell’s Historic Sears Homes! Well, sort of. (Part 5)

April 9th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last night, a friend called and asked about my recent travels. I told her I’d visited Danville, Lynchburg and Hopewell, Virginia.  .

She quickly replied, “Hopewell?! I thought you were banned from that city!”

She’s a funny girl, that one.

When I last visited Hopewell in 2003, many good things happened, and I was treated kindly and showered with Grade-A Southern Hospitality. The downside was, I discovered that most of the purported “Sears Homes” in their Crescent Hills neighborhood were not Sears Homes at all. There were some folks in Hopewell that were pretty unhappy about that.

It was eight years before I visited Hopewell again.

On this trip in March 2011, I focused on the amazing collection of Aladdin kit homes in that city. While Hopewell has only EIGHT Sears Homes in Crescent Hills, they have dozens and dozens of Aladdin kit homes near the downtown area. More on that here, here, and here.

However, I couldn’t resist driving through Crescent Hills and photographing these purported Sears Homes. I say “purported” because these are clearly not Sears homes, and yet they’re still being promoted as such.

For instance, the city’s brochure states that the house at 101 Crescent Avenue is Sears Branford.

Okie doakie. Let’s look at the photos.

Sears Branford, as seen in the 1940 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Branford, as seen in the 1939 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Branford

No, this is not a Sears Branford. The gabled entry is the first major clue. The Branford does not have a gabled entry. Secondly, as the city's brochure states, the "wing" on this yellow house was not original to the structure, but was added later. That's also a really important detail, because the defining features of the Sears Branford are the garage (to the left) and the KITCHEN to the right. Even if someone decided to forgo the garage, it's not likely they're going to take a pass on building the KITCHEN.

Floorplan

Close-up of the Branford's floorplan

Again, the Sears Branford as seen in the 1940 catalog.

Again, the Sears Branford as seen in the 1940 catalog. The casual observer may notice that this house LOOKS NOTHING LIKE the yellow Cape Cod above. The "wing" on the right juts forward. Not that it matters in comparing it to the pretty yellow house above, but that's an interesting architectural feature that makes identifying the Branford easier.

Okay, so what if you chopped off the two additions on the side?

Close-up of the Branford. Nope, still doesn't look like the house below!

Branford

Nice flag.

Sometimes, people are so eager to “see a Sears House” where there isn’t one that they make way, way too many allowances.

If you look at the house in Hopewell, it’s got a substantial gabled entry, and the fireplace is in the wrong place, and it doesn’t have the garage and it’s missing its kitchen (a pretty big deal) and this means the interior floorplan must be completely different (in the little yellow house above), and that is also a very big deal. The Branford was only offered in 1939 and 1940. That’s it.

According to the city tax records, the house above was built in 1941.

Considering all these important facts, I’d be willing to state - with confidence - that the little yellow house above is not a Sears Branford.

In the late 1930s, the Cape Cod was one of America’s favorite housing styles.  And the Sears Cape Cods are especially difficult to find, because these houses were offered in the 1930s Sears Modern Homes catalogs, and by the 1930s, sales of kit homes had plummeted. Sears sold about as many homes in 1929 (one year) as they sold from 1932-1940 (almost a full decade). The Great Depression really put a hurting on everything, including home sales.

But as to identifying Sears Homes,  once you start saying, “Well, maybe they added this to the house, and took this away, and added the light here, and put on a gabled porch, and moved the fireplace, and moved all the rooms around inside, and took the kitchen out…” well, you could call ANYTHING a kit home with all those changes!

Your subject house must be a GOOD match to the original catalog image.

So what does the Branford (Sears Home) have in common with the pretty Cape Cod on Crescent Avenue?

They both have a front door and some windows and a couple cute dormers.

That’s all folks.

To learn more about the Aladdin kit homes in Hopewell, click here.

To read part 6 (the next blog about Hopewell’s non-Sears Homes) click here.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Hopewell’s Historic Kit Homes: And They’re Not in Crescent Hills (Part IV)

March 29th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

As mentioned in prior posts, Hopewell, Virginia has eight Sears homes in their Crescent Hills neighborhood, but they have dozens of Aladdin kit homes throughout the city. It’s a puzzle why so much energy and ink is invested in these eight Sears Homes, while the Aladdin homes are ignored! If I were a little Aladdin Home in this small Richmond suburb, I might feel snubbed!

The Aladdin homes are mostly worker cottages and definitely more modest than their fancy cousins in Crescent Hills, but these small homes also have an important story to tell. They tell about Dupont coming to Hopewell in the early 1900s and building a factory and creating jobs and investing in modest homes for their workers.

And it’s a part of Hopewell’s history that’s disappearing. Judging by the empty lots,  countless numbers of these modest homes have already been leveled. Perhaps as people become aware that this is a piece of Hopewell’s history, the remaining houses might be spared.

Aladdin, like Sears, was a company that sold kit homes through their mail-order catalog. Kit homes sold by both Aladdin and Sears were made with top-quality lumber and builing materials. In fact, Aladdin offered their customers “$1.00 for every knot any customer can find…”

These were good houses, made with building materials the likes of we will never again see in this country. At the very least, the lumber in these homes should be salvaged when the homes are leveled. At the very least.

Down by the waterfront, on Ramsey Street, I found a perfect Wenonah (and that is the correct spelling). This is a fairly unusual house for Aladdin, and I’ve only seen two in my house hunting career.

Aladdin Wenonah from the 1915 catalog

Aladdin Wenonah from the 1915 catalog

Aladdin Wenonah - close up and flipped (mirror image)

Aladdin Wenonah - close up and flipped (mirror image)

The Wenonah on Ramsey Street in Hopewell.

The Wenonah on Ramsey Street in Hopewell. The windows have been replaced and the porch roof was extended, but it's still clearly an Aladdin Wenonah.

The next house is an Aladdin Brighton, and it’s the only “Brighton” I’ve ever seen. And while I’m not 100% sure it’s an Aladdin Brighton, the fact is, it’s smack dab in the heart of a significant collection of Aladdin kit homes in Hopewell. There are kit homes on all three sides of this house, and a river sits behind it.  As mentioned above, Ramsey Road seems to be the place where the supervisor’s homes were located.

The Brighton was a spacious and beautiful home, and it’s very believable that this house could have been built for upper management.

Aladdin Brighton

Aladdin Brighton from the 1914 Aladdin catalog.

Close-up of the house seen in the catalog

Close-up of the Aladdin Brighton, as seen in the catalog

Is this the Aladdin Brighton? I think it is.

Is this the Aladdin Brighton? I think it is.

Detail

Notice this interesting detail on the porch column.

Notice this detail on the front porch. Pretty distinctive feature.

And it's also present on the house in Hopewell. Pretty distinctive feature.

blah

Close-up of the dining room gabled bay, which is a good match to the catalog image above.

Details on the high quality of materials that came with the Aladdin Brighton.

Details on the high quality of materials that came with the Aladdin Brighton.

The Brightons floor plan shows an inset wall, which also matches the house on Ramsey Road.

The Brighton's floor plan shows an inset wall, which also matches the house on Ramsey Road.

Unfortunately, the landscaping around the house prevented me from getting better photos, but based on the high number of Aladdin kit homes in this neighborhood, and the striking similarities between The Brighton and the subject house, I’d say the little white bungalow on Ramsey Street is indeed an Aladdin Brighton!

To read Part V, click here.

Click here to read Part I, Part II and Part III of “Hopewell’s Historic Homes.”

Click here to buy Rose’s book.

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