In all my travels, I’ve seen only one Sears Hillrose (a spacious foursquare offered by Sears Roebuck). That Hillrose was in Prophetstown, Indiana (near West Lafayette) and it was less than 10 years old. The house was re-created several years ago by architects who carefully studied the old mail-order catalog in which it was offered. The Hillrose in Prophetstown is part of a museum exhibit that offers an interpretive display of a working farm.
The first floor of the house is true to the catalog image and to the time period. The interior is filled with period furnishings, appliances and even ephemera. An old Sears catalog sits on an end table in the front room of the Hillrose. Of all the museums I’ve seen, the Hillrose is my favorite. The second floor is not true to the period, and is used for administrative offices.
In 2005, I traveled to Prophetstown to see this recently built Hillrose “in the flesh” and to give a talk on Sears Homes.
The people organizing my talk had made arrangements for me to give the talk in the front room of the Hillrose. There was seating for 30 people. I suggested we move the talk to a larger place, as i suspected we’d have more than 30 attendees. We ended up having the talk in the barn, and this was a real barn, with chickens and goats and sheep and cows. It was the first time my talk on Sears Homes was accompanied by bleating and mooing and clucking! About 85 people showed up that night.
This newly built Hillrose was a pricey little affair. The 1916 Sears catalog showed the house offered for $1,649. More than 90 years later, the Hillrose’s cost exceeded $1 million. Even adjusting for inflation, that’s a bit of a jump.
In reality, there were many additional costs associated with re-creating a house based on nothing more than a catalog picture and a floor plan. And the workmanship required to make a true replica must have been very, very time consuming. And now Prophetstown has a real treasure and a tourism attraction that will endure for decades to come.
* * *