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And The Winner is… (Part II)

December 31st, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Earlier this week, I wrote about the “contest” offered by Sears Roebuck, where they invited 100 “up-to-date farmers” to submit their plans for a “modern farm house for the 20th Century.”

Mr. Selck of Evansville, Wisconsin won first prize with his design (Modern Home #189, “The Hillrose”), and second prize was awarded to W. L. Richardson of Cambridge, Iowa for Modern Home #184.

Despite a lot of traveling, I’ve never seen an original Hillrose. However, in 2005, I gave a talk at a $1,000,000 reproduction of the Sears Hillrose in Prophetstown, Indiana.

The house was re-created several years ago by architectural  historians who studied the old pictures and floorplans shown in a Sears mail-order catalog. The Hillrose in Prophetstown is now open to the public, and in addition to the reproduced Sears kit home, there’s also a large working farm on the site.

When there in 2005, I had a thorough tour of the inside and snapped a few photos. As I told the director, I really loved what they’d done with the place. I snapped a few photos (old 35mm slides), which you’ll see below.

In 1916, the Sears Hillrose was offered for less than $2,000. More than 90 years later, the reproduction Hillrose cost more than $1 million.

To read more about The Contest, click here.

Want to join our group on Facebook? Click here.

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The contest was featured in an undated brochure (about 1914).

The contest was featured in an undated brochure (about 1914).

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The first prize design was Modern Home #189, or The Hillrose.

The first prize design was Modern Home #189, or The Hillrose (1914 catalog).

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The cost to build the contemporary Hillrose was $1,000,000.

The cost to build the contemporary Hillrose was $1,000,000.

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Despite my best efforts, I was not able to match the Sears barn. Upon reflection, Im not sure this was a bonafide reproduction kit barn. Memory can be fickle at times, especially when youre relying on a conversation that you had 10 years ago.

Despite my best efforts, I was not able to match the Sears barn to any known Sears kit barn designs. Upon reflection, I'm not sure this was a bonafide reproduction kit barn. Memory can be fickle at times, especially when you're relying on a conversation that you had 10 years ago. That's my little red 2003 Camry to the right of the barn.

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Close-up of the barn.

Close-up of the barn.

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As mentioned in the prior blog, I ended up giving my talk in this barn.

As mentioned in the prior blog, I ended up giving my talk that night inside this barn. Back in the day, I toted around two slide projectors and would show the two slides on two screens, comparing extant houses with vintage catalog images. I was rather relieved when the world went to digital. Organizing all those slides for every talk was a massive undertaking. I finally gave away those slide projectors in 2011 when we moved into a new house.

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The interior of the Hillrose was a thing of beauty.

The interior of the Hillrose was a thing of beauty. It disappears in the shadows, but yes, that's a chamber pot under the bed. The wallpaper was gorgeous, and the rag doll was a nice touch too.

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Is that a Sears light fixture?

Is that a Sears light fixture? Not perfect, but close enough for government work. :)

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For someone whos spent their life trying to figure out how to get back to the 1920s, the kitchen was charming.

For someone who's spent their life trying to figure out how to get back to the 1920s, I'd say the kitchen was utterly enchanting. And who doesn't secretly dream of a turquoise and white cast-iron, wood-fired cookstove?

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Oh

What's not to love?

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And what proper Indiana homestead wouldnt have a Hoosier cabinet?

And what proper Indiana homestead wouldn't have a Hoosier cabinet?

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And properly stocked, too?

And properly stocked, too?

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Do you have an aunt living in one of these towns?

Even though I've never seen an original Hillrose, the 1916 catalog shows that there were Hillroses buit in these cities. Please call your cousin Bertha in Griffith, Indiana and ask her to find the Sears Hillrose there and then ask her to take a photo and send it to the lady in Norfolk. Or maybe your Aunt Beulah in Alvada, Ohio? Or Granny Kittle in Waterman, Illinois? Work with me here. I need a photo of a real life Hillrose. Really I do.

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To read more about The Contest, click here.

Want to join our group on Facebook? Click here.

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And The Winner Is…

December 29th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

It started out in 1913 as a contest.

Sears invited 100 “up to date farmers” to submit their plans for a “modern farm house for the 20th Century.”

Mr. Selck of Evansville, Wisconsin won first prize with his design, which came to be known as The Hillrose (Modern Home #189). In addition to having his creation featured in subsequent catalogs, he also won $50 - in gold.

Second prize ($35 in gold) went to W. L. Richardson of Cambridge, Iowa. His house (Modern Home #184) didn’t last long enough to be granted a name (1918), and in fact, was gone by 1916.

Despite 14 years of wandering and researching, I’ve seen only one Sears Hillrose and that was in Prophetstown, Indiana (near West Lafayette) and it was less than 20 years old.

The house was re-created several years ago by architectural  historians who studied the old pictures and floorplans shown in a Sears mail-order catalog. 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. The second floor is thoroughly modern, not open to the public, and is used as 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.

Originally, it was planned that I’d give the talk in the front room of the Hillrose (with space for 30 attendees). Not good. These talks - even 10 years ago - often drew 100+ visitors.

The only option available at the last minute was the barn. And it was a real barn, with real critters and hay and implements.

That evening, at 7:00 pm, I addressed about 90 people, four goats, six cows and several chickens. In the barn.

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 contemporary cost exceeded $1 million, due to the expense of re-creating an early 20th Century farm house.

And now Prophetstown has a real treasure and a tourism attraction that will endure for decades to come.

Click here to see inside the Hillsboro in Prophetstown.

To read more about this Hillsboro in Indiana, click here.

Want to learn more about to identify a Sears House? Click here.

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Contest

I wonder what an "out of date" farmer looks like? This image came from a promotional brochure, dated about 1914. Take a moment and read it in its entirety. It's fun!

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First prize

Modern Home #189 was the prize winner, and garnered $50 in gold for Mr. Selck of Evansville, Indiana (1914 catalog). Fine house (with more than 2,000 square feet) for a mere $1,473.

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house hosue house

W. L. Richardson of Cambridge, Ohio won $35 in gold for this design (1914 catalog).

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First prize winner

Apparently, Sears asked for a letter from the first prize winner.

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Second

And the second-prize winner, too.

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house

Aladdin was actually the originator of the business of selling kit homes via mail-order catalogs, but what's a little promotional puffery between friends?.

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hillrose

A comparison of the two houses - side-by-side.

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house

I guess the woodshed was the thing that carried the day.

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A panoramic view of Modern Home #189, showing not only the house, but outbuildings and livestock.

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1916

A closer view of Modern Home #189 (The Hillrose).

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barn

A close-up of the Sears kit barn, as shown with The Hillrose (above).

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Round barn with

I love that dormer atop not just the round barn but the silo, too.

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cheapter

Chicken House #221 is shown next to the Hillrose.

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Long shot

Here's a long view of the 2nd prize winner. He has a chicken coop, but it's not the #221. He has a vehicle, but it's only one-horse power. He has an outbuilding, but it's a little milk house.

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house 1916

Second-prize winner got cheaped out on the chicken house.

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Nice little milk house, though.

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Even though Ive never seen a 1910s Hillrose, they are out there - apparently (1916 catalog).

Even though I've never seen a 1910s Hillrose, they are out there - apparently (1916 catalog). Alvado, Ohio can't be that big. It can't be too tough to find a big old Sears foursquare in little old Alvado. Perhaps a kind-hearted Avacadoan will find this Hillrose in their town and snap a photo for moi. Or maybe someone in Griffith will embark on this mission of mercy. One can hope. I need a picture of a Hillrose.

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However, I dont know if any of these homes were ever built.

However, I don't know if any of these homes were ever built. Good news is, this house is so distinctive, it'll be easy to spot! In addition to being an L-shaped foursquare (yeah, really), it has an offset porch, small vestibule, pedimented porch roof, big gabled dormer, oversized eaves and a dainty-looking horse in the front yard.

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The Modern Hillrose in West Lafayette is a real dandy.

The Modern Hillrose in West Lafayette is a real dandy, and it's the only Hillrose I've seen.

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From catalog side

A view of the Hillrose from the same angle as the catalog.

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My favorite view of all

My favorite shot of the Hillrose, showing the barn in the background.

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Just a little archival storage tip: If youre going to

Just a little archival storage tip: If you're going to collect rare Sears House ephemera and sell it on eBay, don't cut it up into tiny bits and then laminate the whole caboodle with thick plastic. This photo here is to help explain why images 1, 4, 5 and 6 look like they were scanned through wax paper. Because - actually - they were. Special thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for purchasing this rare brochure and sharing it!

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To read Rachel’s wonderful blog, click here.

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The Roycroft Twins in Jacksonville, Illinois

August 12th, 2014 Sears Homes 8 comments

Sears gets all the ink, but fact is, Gordon Van Tine was a very substantial (and impressive) kit home company, too. You can learn a lot about GVT by visiting Dale’s website here. Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes, and Gordon Van Tine - based in Davenport, Iowa - sold about 50,000.

Both Dale and Rachel (another dear friend) managed to get their hands on a wonderful old original GVT brochure, filled with testimonials from Gordon Van Tine’s happiest customers, and shared it with me.

One ad in particular caught my eye: It was a pair of Gordon Van Tine homes built next door to each other in Jacksonville, Illinois. Well shoot, Jacksonville was only 90 minutes from Alton, where I often visit family.

Last week when I was in Alton, I drove out to Jacksonville and got some pictures of The Roycroft Twins!

I would love to return to Jacksonville and give a talk on the many other kit homes I found! Contact Rose and let’s make a date!

Tomorrow (or later this week), I plan to write a blog on the REST of the kit homes in J-ville.

Special thanks to Rachel for finding the street address of these two homes. Rachel has her own wonderful blog, and it can be found here.

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The Roycroft, as seen in the 1929 GVT catalog.

The Roycroft, as seen in the 1929 GVT catalog.

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Small house, but good floorplan.

Small house, but good floorplan.

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house

It's a fine-looking house! Other than the twins in Jacksonville, I've never seen one - that I know of. After the vinyl-siding salesmen have their way with a house like this, it has the potential to be transmogrified into a homogenized, faceless, pedestrian, monotonous, dull, featureless front-gabled bore, so I may have missed the others.

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Both Dale and Rachel managed to score this vintage 1920s brochure full of testimonials from happy GVT buyers.

Both Dale and Rachel managed to score this vintage 1920s brochure with testimonials from happy GVT buyers. It's a fun brochure and chocked full of photos.

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I must say, I dont think Id eat much pudding if it looked like this.

I must say, I don't think I'd eat much pudding if it looked like this.

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Inside the brochure, is this fun image.

Inside the brochure, is this fun image. Turns out that 440 North Clay was a business address for Mr. Fernandes, and not the site of the Roycroft Twins.

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But Rachel turned on the ignition to her Google Car and did some virtual driving and found the twinkies on Church Street.

But Rachel turned on the ignition to her Google Car and did some virtual driving and found the twinkies just off West College Street in Jacksonville. (The image above is from the 1929 'Proof in the Pudding' brochure.)

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And here they are today.

And here they are today. Fortunately, the porches and some other details have survived.

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Twinkie #1.

Twinkie #1.

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Twinkie #2.

Twinkie #2.

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Just across the street from the Roycroft Twins, I found this!

Just across the street from the Roycroft Twins, I found this! Did Mr. Fernandes build this too?

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And its in mostly original condition! What a fine-looking house!

And it's in good condition! What a fine-looking house!

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Sears Wilmore, as seen in the 1940 Sears catalog.

And I found several Sears Homes in Jacksonville, too.

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Perfection

Perfection. This was my favorite "Sears House" find, The Sears Wilmore, complete with white picket fence.

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To visit Dale’s website, click here.

To visit Rachel’s blog, just put Mr. Mousie right here.

If you know Mr. Fernandes, please leave a comment!

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Where Is This Little House?

July 28th, 2014 Sears Homes 7 comments

Come August 2014, this website will celebrate its fourth birthday, and one of my very first posts at this site was about this little mystery house in Ohio (shown below).

Unfortunately, I never did find this house, or learn anything about the couple in the photo.

I suspect the house is somewhere in Ohio (which is where this post card was sent from) and I’m sure the couple (and their child) have gone on to heaven. The house in this photo was last offered in the mid-1910s Sears catalogs.

The diminutive foursquare is Sears Modern Home #106, and I purchased the post card from eBay in 2002. It cost $3, and I suspect that there weren’t a lot of folks who recognized this little house as Sears House.

If you know where this house is, or if you know the people pictured herein, please drop me a line?

To read more about how to identify kit homes, click here.

And if you live in Ohio, please post this link on your Facebook page!  Maybe we can find this house!

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House

In 2003, I purchased this post card from eBay. I'd love to know where this house is. I suspect it's somewhere in Ohio, because this postcard was originally found in Ohio.

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house house house

Close-up of the little fam in front of the little house. Check out the detail on the porch railing.

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Close up

Extreme close-up of the fam. Dad doesn't look well.

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Number

You can see a house number hiding behind that column.

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house house

Modern Home 106, as seen in the 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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house house house

Oh dear - where's the potty?

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house house house

The house in the photo has an extra dormer on the side, which probably made this small attic room more livable. At least, a *little* more livable!

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Close up

Who are they?

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Have you seen this house? If so, please leave a comment below!

To learn more about the big and fancy Sears models, click here!

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Dogs and Cats - Living Together in West Virginia

June 22nd, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last year, I visited the Eighth Magnolia in northern West Virginia. The owners were kind enough to give me a full tour, from the basement to attic. What a happy day that was, to see that old house, faithfully restored to its former splendor!

My hubby and I spent two hours at the house, photographing it from every possible angle, and soaking in the happy ambiance of a gorgeous Sears Magnolia in beautiful condition. This 90-year-old Sears kit house sits majestically on several acres in the bucolic hinterlands of West Virginia.

I was floating on air when we drove away from The Beautiful Magnolia. When I came to the first intersection, I saw a very interesting house on the corner and snapped my head around to get a better view.

“Oh my gosh,” I said slowly, but happily.

“What is it?” my husband asked, hoping that it was not another kit house. It was already an hour past his lunch time and he was not happy about that.

“It’s another kit house,” I said absent-mindedly, as I stopped the car hastily and retrieved my digital camera.

You could hear a soft little “plop” as his heart sank in his chest.

“Oh,” he said apprehensively.

“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “I’m just getting a few pictures.”

Famous last words.

Fortunately, I was able to get several good shots in a hurry (I was hungry too), and we were back on our way in less than five minutes.

So what kind of house is living next door to The Beautiful Magnolia?

It is a *perfect* example of a Gordon Van Tine #612, a classic bungalow, and one of their finer houses. Gordon Van Tine, based in Davenport Iowa, was a significant kit home company and probably sold more than 50,000 kit homes. They were also the company that supplied kit homes for Montgomery Ward.

To read my favorite blog about the Magnolia, click here.

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

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Gordon Van Tine

The Gordon Van Tine #612 as it appeared in the 1924 catalog.

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Spacious too

Look at the size of that living room! The dining room is also quite large.

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house 1924

It really is a beauty.

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Be still my heart

Be still my heart. Wow, wow, WOW! What a fine-looking home!

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And its on a pretty lot

And it sits on a beautiful lot in West Virginia. Notice the short window in the dining room? It's likely that they had a built-in buffet in that bay window, necessitating the smaller window.

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house on lot

A better view of the house from the side.

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See that detail on brick

See that detail on chimney?

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nice match isnt it

Nice match, isn't it?

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Beautiful house in Vinton, VA

And here's a beautiful brick #612 that Dale found when we were in Vinton, VA (near Roanoke).

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Heres a not-so-beautiful GVT 612 on Pocohontas Street in Hampton, VA

Here's a not-so-beautiful GVT # 612 on Pocohontas Street in Hampton, VA. It's just outside of the Old Wythe section of Hampton, which has many kit homes. Heaven only knows why that extra roof piece was added between the two gables. My oh my.

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Yeah, it really is one.

Due to the many trees on the side, I could not get a good picture down the right side, but a visual inspection satisfied me that this really is a Gordon Van Tine #612 (or its Montgomery Ward counterpart). If you look down this side (shown above) and compare it with the floorplan, you'll see it's the real deal.

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And its all just around the corner from our Maggie!

And that Gordon Van Tine is just around the corner from our Maggie!

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To read my favorite blog about the Magnolia, click here.

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

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A *Beautifully* Original Magnolia in South Bend - For Sale!

June 12th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

For many years, I’ve wondered what it would be like to see a Magnolia in original condition.

Now, I know.

The Sears Magnolia in South Bend was recently listed for sale, and the Realtor kindly sent me a few pictures.

It can be described in one word:  STUNNING.

Or maybe two:  Original!

These photos give us a rare opportunity to step back in time almost 100 years, and see what the Sears Magnolia looked like when built.

If I was queen of the world (and it shouldn’t be long now), I’d insist that the potential buyers of this rare, historically significant home be required to do a proper, thoughtful and historically sensitive restoration (which is radically different from a remodeling). I’d demand that they find a way to preserve the home’s original features.

As my buddy Bill Inge says, “The first commandment of preservation is, ‘Thou shalt not destroy good old work.’”

The 3,895-square foot home is listed at $320,000. Situated on 1/3 of an acre, it has four bedrooms, three full bathrooms and two half-baths. The listing says it was built in 1927, but we know that that’s not right. The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922.

This house is a rare treasure. I hope its next owners “catch” the vision and see what a remarkable property it really is.

Ready to see some photos? You should get ready to be dazzled!

To buy this fine old house, click here.

To learn more about the history of the Sears Magnolia kit home, click here.

Interested in reading more about how these homes were built? Click here.

All photos are copyright Steve Matz, 2014.

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The Sears Magnolia is now for sale in South Bend, IN.

The Sears Magnolia is now for sale in South Bend, IN.

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The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Mag

The Magnolia in South Bend is remarkable because it's in original condition.

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A view from the inside.

A view from the inside.

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house

This Magnolia still retains its original mouldings and trim but the inglenook and columns are not in place. It's possible that the house was built without these built-ins.

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house

I suspect that this is the fireplace in the den.

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house house

The den (right rear) was very small (only 8'9" deep). It's unusual to see the den in its original shape and size. It's also unusual to see a house from this vintage with a half-bath on the first floor (next to the den).

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house

The Realtor had the good sense to photograph the staircase from the same angle as the original catalog image!

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hfhfhf

Nice match, isn't it? Check out the French doors at the rear - both upper and lower level.

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Nice, huh? :D

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The best

There's something about these old nooks that just makes my heart skip a beat.

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house house house

This is the very best picture of all. And perhaps the home's finest feature: A built-in nook, completely untouched by time, with the original tile floor, white hexagonal tiles with a blue flower center. This pattern is a classic feature found in early 20th Century Sears Homes. You can see the three original wooden windows behind the nook.

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house

Fun comparison, isn't it? It's so rare to see these nooks still in place.

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Another incredible feature is that

Not only does this house have its original Butler's Pantry, but it has the original sink, wooden surround and fixture. This house is such a rare find, and to think that it's a Sears Magnolia!

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And it just gets better. Upstairs, just off the Master Bedroom, the dressing room, is the original sink, light fixtures and oak cabinetry - unpainted!

Upstairs, just off the Master Bedroom, is a surprisingly large dressing room. The fact that even the dressing room is original is a real testament to the home's prior owners, who had the wisdom to follow the #1 rule: "Thou shalt not destroy good old work." And this cabinetry was incredibly good work. In the corner, is the Magnolia's original sink, light fixtures and medicine chest - unpainted! If you look closely, you'll see the original cabinet pulls.

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house

It's true that I am nutty as a fruitcake, but seeing this century-old Magnolia - wholly untouched by time - sends me. Original sink, original fixtures, original medicine chest, and an original light fixture (porcelain sconce). Just incredible. I'm a big fan of old plumbing but I've never seen a three-sided sink before.

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house house

Close-up of the upstairs floorplan, showing that small sink in the dressing room.

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And the sunporch has its original wooden casement windows.

And the sunporch has its original wooden casement windows.

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A view from the upstairs 2nd floor balcony.

A view from the upstairs 2nd floor balcony.

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To buy this fine old house, click here.

Interested in learning more about the Sears Magnolia? Click here.

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Sweet Home, Alabama (Sears Magnolia)

April 26th, 2014 Sears Homes 6 comments

Sometime in 2005, the new owner of the Sears Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama sent me several dozen photos of the house. Recently, I rediscovered the CDs. Those photos reminded me that I also had a 1984 newspaper article about that Magnolia.

Unfortunately, I do not have any record of whose photos these are, so they appear below without attribution. I’m hoping someone reading this might help me figure out who took those pictures!

Below are the photos, and the 1984 article from The Anniston Star.

Piedmont boasts a Sears Catalog Mansion (November 1, 1984)

by Viveca Novak

Piedmont - When the late doctor Fain Webb and his wife filled out the order form Magnolia, the catalog description likened the Magnolia to the “famous residence at Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the poet Longfellow composed his immortal works.”

The Magnolia rolled into Piedmont in 1921 on a box car one day. Accompanying instructions told the dentist and his school-teacher wife how to assemble everythnig into the configuration of a dwelling.

“Everyone in Piedmont thought it was the prettiest house in town,” remembers Piedmont native Louise Golden. “Little did my mother dream that we would ever own the house.”

It was one day in 1964 that Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Woolf, Mrs. Golden’s parents, got a call from the Webb’s daughter who offered to sell them the homestead for the unbelievably low sum of $12,500.

At the time, Mrs. Woolf was 60 and her husband was 80, retired from years in the Inn business that included running the Piedmont Hotel in the late 1920s. With the help of a $20,000 loan from the Small Business Administration, the Woolfs made the necessary adjustments to complete their dream.

On January 1965, the Colonial Inn opened its doors for supper.

Four bedrooms upstairs were rented to help repay the loan, “but they were very careful about who they rented to, ” says Mrs. Golden, who returned to Piedmont to help her parents run the new venture.

The $2 Sunday smorgasboards attracted upwards of 100 people each week.

“We had Miss Alabama and Miss Poultry Queen for our Christmas Parade one year,” recalls Theresa Kaisor, city historian and asst school board superintendent. “We carried them over there to eat dinner.”

The Inn’s reputation spread far and wide and travelers of all kinds made the necessary detours to stop a night in Piedmont.

Two years later, Piedmont was mourning the closing of the inn, following the death of Mrs. Woolf. Though Mrs. Golden was urged to keep the inn open, it was a task she declined.

In 1970, the house underwent another rebirth with its sale - for $19,000 - to Calvin and Patricia Wingo, two history professors at Jacksonville State University who have a penchant for restoring old houses to their original grandeur.

The Wingos tore up the carpeting and refinished the hardwood floors, replaced the roof and wiring, repaired the bases of some of the columns and painted the whole house. Their son was born soon after they moved in.

Two families occupied the house between 1974, when the Wingos sold it, and 1980. It’s more recent history causes residents to shake their heads sadly. Under the ownership of Charles Grissom, from 1980 to this year, the house burned twice, destroying most of the interior on the first floor and the basement.

It has gone unoccupied for many months.

But the new owner, Winford Kines, hopes it will be a dream house once again, despite the fire damage and theft of one of the mantle pieces and an old pedestal sink.

Kines has begun cleaning out the burned basement and the yard in the initial stages of his project. It may take me a few years, but I hope to live in it someday, Kines said. He has already won a community for lifting the house above the status of neighborhood eyesore.

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My #1 favorite Magnolia story here. It’s well worth the read!

Join us on Facebook!

What is it about Magnolias and fire?

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The Sears Magnolia was quite a house (1922 catalog).

The Sears Magnolia was quite a house (1922 catalog).

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In 2008 I visited the Sears Magnolia in Piedmont. Unfortunately, no one was home.

In 2008 I visited the Sears Magnolia in Piedmont. Unfortunately, no one was home.

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I helped myself to a few good photos while I was in the neighborhood.

I helped myself to a few good photos while I was in the neighborhood.

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This Magnolia

And walked around a bit.

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And went up on the front porch.

And went up on the front porch.

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Youll notice the dormer on this house is quite different than the dormer on the other Magnolias.

You'll notice the dormer on this house is quite different than the dormer on the other Magnolias. I've no idea how that came to be. It appears that the house has its original siding, so we can't blame this on the siding salesmen.

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Some features of the house

Some features of the house remain intact, such as these oak columns in front of the living room fireplace. The inglenook window and built-in bench are missing.

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Did you read the whole article before scrolling down to look at the photos? If so, youd know that someone broke into the house and stole a fireplace mantle. Im guessing this is the mantle.

Did you read the whole article before scrolling down to look at the photos? If so, you'd know that someone broke into the house and stole a fireplace mantle. I'm guessing this is the scene of the crime. However, what they're missing in mantles, they make up for in vacuum cleaners.

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Bear

Incredibly, the windows and trim on the sunporch are all still original. Then again, all of these photos were snapped more than nine years ago. The antique oak filing cabinets are a nice touch, too, but they obstruct the windows a bit.

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Another view of the sunporch windows.

Another view of the sunporch windows.

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living room

This appears to be the dining room, in use as a parlor or den.

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living room also

From the dining room, looking into the living room.

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Looking

Remember reading about that fire? Apparently the staircase took a hit.

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A really bad hit.

A really bad hit.

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Definitely

The balustrade in the Magnolia was quite beautiful but sadly, in the Piedmont Magnolia, it's all gone. Here, it's been replaced them with 2x4s (gasp) and a planter stand (eek).

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nebraska up

As a contrast, here's a picture of a Magnolia in Nebraska that is no longer with us. You can see that it had a beautiful balustrade. This house was razed about the same time the newspaper article above was written - mid 1980s. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Second floor sunporch.

It's nice to see the original doors are in place, even if the hardware didn't survive. This is the second floor bedroom (master bedroom).

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Side

It's incredible that these original paneled newel posts survive (with balls on top), and yet the house has obviously been through some hard times. I know that the house sold recently. Perhaps now it will be restored.

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My #1 favorite Magnolia story here. It’s well worth the read!

What is it about Magnolias and restaurants? Read about another Magnolia restaurant here.

What is it about Magnolias and fire?

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Number Nine

March 20th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

In 2008, Ersela Jordan contacted me and told me that she’d discovered a surfeit of Sears Homes in Beckley, WV. Turned out, she was right!  About the same time, another Beckley resident named Sandi Daniels got in on the fun and said that she’d found a Sears Magnolia in a nearby town!

Within a few weeks of that first contact, I was in the car, headed west on I-64 toward Beckley, WV. Once I arrived, Ersela, Sandi and I became fast friends and we had a wonderful time together.

The three of us together, with Ersela driving, went out to the rural spot where Sandi had spotted a Magnolia.

Turns out, it was not a Magnolia.

In a big way.

Ersela and I chided Sandi a bit, but she took it all in good stride. Through the intervening years, Sandi has sent me photos of her subsequent discoveries and I’ve always had to tell her the same thing, “Sorry Sandi…”

Until yesterday.

She sent me photos of yet another purported “Sears Magnolia” in New Martinsville, WV. But this time, the picture gave me pause.

Sandi and I talked on the phone, and she sent a few more pictures. Within 30 minutes, I was becoming convinced. Plus, Sandi and the home’s owner answered my many questions about the home’s quirky floorplan, well-nigh settling in my mind that this was the real thing.

Sandi sent me about two dozen photos of the house, and the photos pretty well cinched the deal.

I’m hoping to visit this potential “Number Nine” sometime in late Spring, and get a closer look, but right now, I feel very confident that this could well be another Sears Magnolia.

Better yet, it’s the 2nd Magnolia found in West Virginia.

Now that’s impressive!

Thanks so much to Sandi Daniels for finding our 9th Magnolia!

To read about the other Magnolias, click here.

Click here to read my favorite Magnolia blog.

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The Magnolia was offered only from 1918-1922, and was featured on the cover of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia was offered only from 1918-1922, and was featured on the cover of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog. For many years, it was believed that only six Magnolias had been built in the country.

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The Magnolia, as seen in the 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia, as seen in the 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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The Magnolia was Sears biggest and best kit home, and had servants quarters on the 2nd floor.

The Magnolia was Sears biggest and best kit home, and had four bedrooms (two of which had dressing areas), a front and rear staircase, and "servants' quarters" on the 2nd floor (upper left bedroom).

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It was a fine house

It was a fine house, measuring 40 feet deep and 36 feet wide.

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The house Sandi found in New Martinsville, WV has been through a lot of changes. The windows were replaced and substitute siding was installed. Its also been converted from a residential home into a commercial restaurant and shop. All these changes have really altered the appearance of the house, and yet, based on what Ive seen, Im still willing to declare - with much certainty - that this does appear to be a Sears Magnolia.

The house Sandi found in New Martinsville, WV has been through a lot of changes. The windows were replaced aand the window openings were altered. Plus, substitute siding was installed. It's also been converted from a residential home into a commercial restaurant and shop. All these changes have really altered the appearance of the house, and yet, based on what I've seen, I'm still willing to declare - with much certainty - that this does appear to be a Sears Magnolia. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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After seeing the outside, I felt pretty certain this could be a Magnolia, but after I saw the interior, I became ever more convinced.

After seeing the outside, I felt pretty certain that this was a Magnolia, but after I saw the interior, I became ever more convinced. This is what a Magnolia looks like on the 2nd floor.

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And the

In the living room, there have been many dramatic alterations to accomodate its conversion into commercial space, and yet I can still see the hints of a Magnolia lurking here.

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house house

Again, speaking as someone who's inspected the interior of three Sears Magnolias, these proportions look right to me. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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These interior views were featured in the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

These "interior views" were featured in a special fold-out of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog. From this "angle" you can see one o f the more curious features of the Sears Magnolia: There's one set of French Doors on the landing (which lead to a small balcony off the back of the house), and a second set of French Doors (beside the staircase on the first floor) leading to a rear hallway. (Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for sharing this RARE image from her own collection of original catalogs!)

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Check out this

In this picture, you can see the French Doors leading to the rear hallway, and you can see a piece of the French Doors on the upstairs landing. On the New Martinsville Magnolia, the French Doors on the landing now lead to another room (added to the back of the house). Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Is it or isnt it?

Another view of those French Doors on the 2nd floor landing. And just beyond those French Doors (on the first floor, to the left of the staircase) is another door which is *also* a quirky feature, unique to the Sears Magnolia. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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These interior views were featured in the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

If you mentally close those French Doors on the first floor in Sandi's picture (above this one) and compare it to THIS photo, you can really see the similarities. (1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.)

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If you mentally close those French doors,

If you mentally close those French doors to the left in Sandi's photo, you'll see that this is a near-perfect match, down to the unusual volute on the staircase. The spindles in the New Martinsville house are tapered, which I have seen in other high-end Sears Homes.The flair at the base of the stairs is an enhancement, buut for an experienced carpenter, this would be an easy alteration. .

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And from this angle, you can see another doorway tucked back in that small hallway (beyond the French Doors). This is also right (according to the floorplan) and lends even more support to my burgooning hope that this is the real thing.

Look closely, and you can see another doorway tucked back in that rear hallway (beyond the French Doors and to the left). This is also true to the Magnolia's floorplan and lends even more support to my burgooning hope that this is the real thing. And you can also get a better view of the volute. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And theres the outside.

And there's the outside. The house has been through a whole lot of changes, but I like the look of these proportions, too. It's unfortunate that when the front windows were replaced, the 15-marginal lites at the top were removed, and extra tall windows installed, but that's how it goes. At least it's still standing (unlike the Magnolia in Nebraska). Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Its still a fine old house.

It's still a fine old house. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And retains some of its original grandeur.

And retains some of its original grandeur. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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blah

More than 30% of Sears Homes were customized when built. Upstairs, on that 2nd floor balcony, someone opted for French Doors instead of a single door flanked by two small windows (as indicated in the original catalog images). Take a look at the floorplan in this area, and you'll agree, this is a good choice. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The original columns were preserved, but...

The original columns were preserved, but it looks like someone, desperate to deal with the rotting bases, wrapped them in concrete. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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This little detail - something the siding installers left behind - also gives an important clue.

This little detail - something the siding installers left behind - also gives an important clue. BTW, look at how the siding installers "wrapped" the trim around this post. <shudder> Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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That paneled post shown above - is just what Id expect to see on a Sears Magnolia.

That paneled post shown above - is just what I'd expect to see on a Sears Magnolia (minus the wooden ball on top). If this house is not a Magnolia, it's a darn good look-alike.

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This little detail - something the siding installers left behind - also gives an important clue.

This picture also shows the Magnoliaa's pilaster - yet another little detail - that is spot on. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Buut is

But is it our 9th Magnolia? I feel confident that it is. :) Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And while were talking about Sears Houses, I suspect that this is a Sears garage.

And while we're talking about Sears Houses, I suspect that this is a Sears garage. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Pretty nice

Pretty nice match, isn't it?

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To read about the other Magnolias, click here.

Click here to read my favorite Magnolia blog.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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It’s a Mystery

February 14th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Take a guess what this item is (shown below).

Plaster

Looks kind of hairy and gross, doesn't it?

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Does this help?

I'll give you a hint. It was found inside a 1920s home.

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This should help you figure it out.

This should help you figure it out.

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This pretty well gives it away.

This pretty well gives it away.

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In fact, its a chunk of plaster that was cut out of a wall.

In fact, it's a chunk of plaster that was cut out of a wall to add a new outlet.

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Up until sheetrock became widely accepted, a home’s interior walls were finished with plaster. Today, the word “plaster” is used loosely to describe any gypsum-based wall covering, but in fact, plaster is fairly unusual in post-WW2 homes and quite rare in post-1980s homes.

If you look at an old Sears catalog, you’ll find that while kit houses did not include plaster (due to shipping weight), your 12,000-piece kit house did come with good quality lath. In fact, the “Chelsea” (a 2,000-square-foot foursquare) came with 840 square yards of wooden lath. Sears estimated that a plasterer would charge you $200, which included nailing up all those thin strips of lath and applying three coats of plaster (1916).

Often, people talk about “old-fashioned horse-hair plaster,” but the binding agent in old plaster walls was more commonly cattle hair.

Plastering is fast becoming a lost art, and things have changed a bit in the last many decades. Today, a wire mesh is used in place of wooden lath. And I’m not sure what the contemporary binding agent is, but I seriously doubt it involves shaving dead cattle. However, you can still find good recipes online for making historically appropriate plaster to restore or repair the walls in your old house.

Old plaster walls ahve three coats: The scratch coat, the brown coat and the finish coat.

The scratch coat gets its name from the fact that it is scored so that the surface has a rough texture. This rough texture gives the brown coat (which contains a lot of sand) something to grip.

It’s the sand in the brown coat that helps the finish coat (which is about 1/8″) bond tightly to the walls.

According to the smart people, the scratch coat and brown coat are about 3/8″ thick, but the image shown above (from the 1920s house) tells a slightly different story. Making and applying plaster was a little bit like baking a cake: A lot depended on the cook, and his preferences and practices.

Plus, sometimes the “cook” was sober as a judge and sometimes the “cook” was so plastered (perhaps the source of the term?) that he couldn’t walk a straight line. Weather, humidity and quality of ingredients were other variables that affected the final product as well.

As always, if you have any thoughts to share, please leave a comment below!

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Back

This promotion, which appeared in a 1916 Sears Building Materials catalog, gives a pretty good explanation of how plaster was applied. I can't imagine how long it took to nail up all those lath boards (which were typically 1-inch wide). And the smudge pots were used to keep the temperature and humidity at a certain level while the plaster dried. Making and applying plaster was a slow, arduous process with many variables (1916 Sears Building Materials).

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By 1916,

By 1916, "Sheet Plaster" had already gained a toe-hold in the market, but it wasn't until after WW2 that it really became popular. And yet even in modern custom-built homes, plaster walls are considered an upgrade (and they're mighty expensive, too). My 1962-built ranch has sheetrock walls and plaster ceilings, which seems an odd combination (photo is from 1916 Sears Building Materials).

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Sheet

As shown in this 1916 Building Materials catalog, "Sheet Plaster" was much easier to install.

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To read a *fascinating* article about the benefits of old plaster walls (and how it was made), click here.

Bob Vila drives me to hard liquor, but his writers did put together a nice piece on plaster. You can read it here.

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Marguerite’s Beautiful and Beloved #124

February 5th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

Last year, Sears homeowner Marguerite Deppert saw my blogs (here and here) on Sears Modern Home #124 and sent me several wonderful photos of her own home, which she had recently purchased in Montvale, NJ.

It’s a real beauty and in gorgeous condition. I wouldn’t be surprised if Montvale has many Sears Homes, due in part to the fact that they’re less than 30 miles from Port Newark, where Sears had a large mill. (Sears had but two mills - one in Cairo, IL and one in Newark, NJ.)

Thanks so much to Marguerite Deppert for sharing these photos with me! I’ve been drooling over them all morning!

To see a wide variety of pictures of Sears Modern Home 124, click here.

Did you know there’s a #124 in Lincolnton, Georgia? Click here to see that.

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Number 124 was gone by 1918 (when Sears Homes were given names), but it seemed to be a fairly popular house. Its certainly distinctive!

Sears Modern Home #124 was gone from the catalogs by 1918 (when Sears Homes were given names), but it seemed to be a fairly popular house. It's certainly distinctive! (1916)

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Marguerites house was even mentioned in the 1916 catalog!

Marguerite's house was even mentioned in the 1916 catalog!

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Spaciosu floor plan.

Some of the older homes have rather "odd" floorplans, but #124 was quite sensible.

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SA

Years ago, Rebecca Hunter and I toured the inside of the #124 in Crystal Lake, IL and that little bathroom shown above was really tucked away under that sloping roof. Interesting, but almost claustrophobic.

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Nice house, and a darn good price!

Nice house, and a darn good price!

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Oh my, what a house!

Oh my, what a house! Even the detail around the chimneys is a match to the vintage image! (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Wow.

The rock border on the driveway is a nice complement to the stone columns. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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phoo

A view from the side highlights that beautiful stone work on the chimney. The two chimneys are covered with stone to the roofline, and then above the roofline, they're brick. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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close up

Close up of those unique details on the front porch. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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house

What a fine-looking house. What a treasure for Montvale. And I suspect Marguerite is one of the happiest homeowners in America! (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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details

Look at those wee tiny second-floor windows tucked up under that porch roof. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

What a beautiful house!

What a beautiful house! Just stunning. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Thanks again to Marguerite for sharing these wonderful photos!

To see a wide variety of pictures of Sears Modern Home 124, click here.

Did you know there’s a #124 in Lincolnton, Georgia? Click here to see that.

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