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Posts Tagged ‘kit houses’

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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My Favorite Magnolia Story - As Told By A Builder Who Built A Maggy

February 3rd, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

This blog originally appeared at this site November 2011. That was more than two years ago, and I thought it’d be worthwhile to print this again.  Enjoy!

In September 2002, I flew to Akron, Ohio to work with a producer for a new show that was tentatively called, History Detectives. They were very excited about launching the new program with a story on Sears Homes. I would appear on the second episode, in a story centered around some purported Sears Homes in Firestone Park in Akron.

The filming started at a beautiful Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio. What a thrill that was, to see my first Sears Magnolia up close and personal!

The filming took place in March and it was very cold in Ohio. Seemed like it was either snowing, getting ready to snow, or just finishing up with snow. I never saw a blue sky during my time in Ohio.

Despite the cold weather, it was a happy, happy event for me - all the way around. Throughout the eight days of filming, I was treated like a queen and I had my own “gaffer,” who fetched me donuts and hot cocoa and gloves and any little thing my heart desired. What fun!

Years after that big event, someone sent me an article about the building of that Magnolia in Canton, Ohio. It was written sometime in the early 1990s by a Canton history buff, T. E. Prather. The title was “Magnolia: Neo Classic Revival Revived!”

What’s remarkable about this article is that it quotes the 94-year-old builder who helped build the Magnolia in 1923. (Unfortunately, it was a short newspaper clipping, and there was no newspaper name attached! I’d love to know where this originally appeared.)

Clarence Swallow was the builder of nearly 300 homes in this area, and in 1923, he was a 27-year-old carpenter. He was hired by Canton Attorney Leroy Contie, Sr., to supervise the total construction of Contie’s Magnolia.

The catalog price of this pre-cut house was $5,140. With the price of the Ridgewood lot, plastering, electrical work, plumbing, plus other extras, te total cost of the home was approximately $18,000.

Swallow explains how the crates of numbered, top-quality, pre-cut lumber and supplies were brought to the building site by horse-drawn wagons. Swallow and his two-man crew sorted through the giant jig-saw puzzle of packages and began construction in the summer of 1923.

The framing went up on the pre-formed concrete foundation through the summer and autumn. By the first snowfall, the Magnolia was under roof. Then Ennon Plumbing, Eclipse Electric, and several plasterers worked through the winter as Swallow and crew completed the interior trim work.

The six fluted yellow poplar Corinthian porch columns were precisely set in place to support the two-story front portico. The side lights [flanking] the front entrance and an elliptical fanlight under a second floor balcony were the center focus of the main entry.

The original elegance of this early 1920s Magnolia has yielded a small bit to being unoccupied over the past couple years. Yet it has been featured in the Smithsonian (November 1985) and was the featured home of Ohio Historical Society’s publication , Timeline in early 1989.


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

And we found an eighth Magnolia in West Virginia! Read about that here!

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The Magnolia was the finest house that Sears offered (cover 1918).

The Magnolia was the finest house that Sears offered (cover 1918).

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Although I never did see one with a red roof.

Although I never did see one with a red roof.

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It was offered from 1918 - 1922, and sold for about $5,000 (depending on year). In 1920, the price hit $9,990 due to post-war hyperinflation of building materials.

It was offered from 1918 - 1922, and sold for about $5,000 (depending on year). In 1920, the price hit $9,990 due to post-war hyperinflation of building materials.

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One of my favorite Magnolias in Benson, SC.

One of my favorite Magnolias in Benson, SC.

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Another gorgeous Magnolia in West Virginia.

Another gorgeous Magnolia in West Virginia.

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The Magnolia in South Bend (which is currently for sale). Photo is copyright 2012 James Layne and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

The Magnolia in South Bend (which is currently for sale). Photo is copyright 2012 James Layne and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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This Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama is looking a little rough, but its recently been sold and maybe itll get a new chance at life.

This Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama is looking a little rough, but it's recently been sold and maybe it'll get a new chance at life. It does need some lovin'.

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A brick Sears Magnolia in Pennsylvania.

A brick Sears Magnolia in Pennsylvania.

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And a STUNNING Magnolia in Syracuse, NY. Its also a real beauty.

And a STUNNING Magnolia in Syracuse, NY. It's also a real beauty. (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Rest in peace, old Maggy. This was torn down in 1986. Sigh.

Rest in peace, old Maggy. This was torn down in 1986. Sigh. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To read about the Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska, click here.

To see the inside of a Magnolia, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Belfast, Bucksport, and Bad Information

January 6th, 2014 Sears Homes 12 comments

Generally speaking, I’m a lukewarm fan of Wikipedia but when it comes to kit houses, I really have grown weary of this online “encyclopedia.” So much of the information is just not accurate, and yet it’s trusted by too many people as a rock-solid resource.

Frustrating!

One ongoing disappointment Wikipedia is the information on the “neighborhood of Sears Homes” in Bucksport, Maine.  According to this page, “The entire town site of Bucksport consists of Sears Homes in the Belfast Model.”

Oh dear.

I actually feel sorry for the poor soul who penned that. And I wish there was a way to correct such egregious information, but I’ve washed my hands of Wikipedia. Everytime I log in to make corrections to the wiki site, it’s edited away within hours by some “expert” who thinks he/she knows better.

So, scroll on down and take a look for yourself at one of these so-called “Belfast Models” in Bucksport.

Oh, and by the way, the build date for the “Belfasts” in that neighborhood is 1930. Ding, ding, ding: The Belfast was not offered for sale until 1934.

That single fact right there is pretty compelling evidence.

Secondly, the houses in Bucksport look nothing like the Belfast model. But hey - why let facts get in the way of a good story?  :)

How is it that this is such a common mistake? Click here to see the answer.

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

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The Belfast was not offered until 1934. The houses in Bucksport were built in 1930.

The Belfast was not offered until 1934. The houses in Bucksport were built in 1930.

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Darling little house

Darling little house with a good floor plan, too.

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Upstairs, it had three

Upstairs, it had three bedrooms and one teeny tiny bath.

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I love

Maybe this is where that nutty rumor started? A bit of The Belfast was patterend after The Perkins House, built in Costine, Maine in 1769 (second parargraph in text above).

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When comparing houses, the details are vital. I cant stress this enough. Sears was not an innovated in anything, most of all, housing design. They looked at what was popular and copied those housing styles.

When comparing houses, the details are vital. I can't stress this enough. Sears was not an innovated in anything, most of all, housing design. They looked at what was popular and copied those housing styles.

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Heres a real life Belfast in Elkins, West Virginia.

Here's a real life Belfast in Elkins, West Virginia. It's been through some major renovations including new windows, aluminum siding and those pediments added to the top of the door and windows, but the proportions are spot on. I've not been inside this house, but I'd say there's a 98% chance that this is a Sears Belfast.

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This house in Bucksport is NOT a Sears Belfast.

This house in Bucksport is NOT a Sears Belfast. The Belfast is a mere 24-feet wide. This house is probably 32-feet wide (or more). The proportions are also way off. And look at the space between the 2nd floor windows and the first floor windows. This house probably has nine or ten foot first floor ceilings. The Belfast has eight foot ceilings. The Sears Belfast and the Bucksport Houses are wildly different from one another.

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To learn more about the many Sears Homes in Elkins, West Virginia, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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Bob Beckel’s Christmas Crescent

December 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

Friday night, Milton and I turned on the television and saw “The Five” (talk show on Fox News, with five commentators, including Bob Beckel).  Within 30 seconds, the program showed a picture of Bob Beckel’s house, and I exclaimed to Milton, “Oh my goodness. It’s a Sears Crescent!”

Sure enough, after I got a close look, I saw it was a Christmas Crescent.

What is a Sears house? Sears homes were 12,000-piece kit houses, and each kit came with a a 75-page instruction book. Sears promised that “a man of average abilities” could have it assembled in 90 days. The instruction book offered this somber warning: “Do not take anyone’s advice on how this house should be assembled.” The framing members were marked with a letter and a three-digit-number to facilitate construction. Today, these marks can help authenticate that a house is a kit home.

Searching for these homes is like hunting for hidden treasure. From 1908-1940, about 70,000 Sears Homes were sold, but in the 1940s, during a corporate housecleaning, Sears destroyed all sales records. The only way to find these homes is literally one-by-one.

Or one television show at a time.  :)

At some point, the classic Crescent windows in Mr. Beckel’s house were discarded and replaced (and that’s a real pity) but the house does have its original cypress clapboards. The small shed dormer was probably added later, but it *might* have been original to the house. There was some usable space on the 2nd floor, and dormers are a frequent addition to the Sears Crescent.

Mr. Beckel, did you know you have a Sears house? If you’re like 90% of Americans, you did NOT know - until now!

To read more about the Sears Crescent, click here.

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Bob Beckels house, all decked out for the holidays.

Bob Beckel's house, all decked out for the holidays. Although it's barely visible in this photo, at the top of the porch's arch, you can see a faint triangle there. This is one of the classic signs of a Sears Crescent.

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Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Judging by the placement of the fireplace, Mr. Beckels house is a

This photo shows that triangle on the porch's peak more clearly. And notice the three large columns on the corners of the porch. All classic Crescent features. And it has its original siding!

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Flippped

The Crescent was offered from 1918-1928. Image above is from the 1928 catalog. Note the unusual windows, the triangle in the porch's peak, and the three columns. That massive porch is its most distinctive feature.

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RaleighThe dormers were original to this Crescent in Raleigh, NC.

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A darling

A darling little Crescent in Wheeling, WV, sitting like a jewel atop the hill.

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One of my favorite Crescents in Bloomington, IL.

One of my favorite Crescents in Bloomington, IL. It still has the original lattice work, as shown in the catalog images. And like Mr. Beckel's house, it has the optional fireplace.

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In 1928

In 1928, the "super-sized Crescent" (as Mr. Beckel has) was a mere $2,195. The larger floorplan is shown in the upper right. The 2nd floor layout is on the lower right.

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This testimonial

Jerome Kelly from an unnamed city really loves his little Crescent.

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To learn more about the Sears Crescent (with interior views), click here.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.

Are there more kit homes in Beckel’s neighborhood of Brookmont? Without a doubt. There was a Sears Modern Homes Sales Center nearby, and these were only placed in communities where sales were already strong. Plus, sales went way up after one of these retail stores was opened in the area.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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Pennsgrove: Up Close and Personal

November 12th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

When I first learned that a Baltimorian had discovered a Pennsgrove in their very own neighborhood, I was more than a little dubious. After all, neither me nor my slightly obsessed house-hunting buddies had ever seen a Pennsgrove in the wild.

And yet, not only had my Baltimorians found a Pennsgrove, but now we’ve learned that they found THE Pennsgrove that had been used as the model for the image in the 1932 Sears catalog.

Now that’s an exciting find.

The Baltimorians (Tom and Jada Lawson) were kind enough to send me some high resolution photos so that we can really get a good look at this sweet thing.

And then last week while I was hanging out at the Sergeant Memorial Room (Norfolk Public Library), doing research on Penniman, Bill Inge (my #1 favorite librarian), sat down next to me and quietly confessed, “I think that Pennsgrove is  my favorite Sears House.”

Bill is not just an world-class librarian, but he’s also an incredibly interesting fellow and an indefatigable resource of historical knowledge. If there’s a person in this world that loves early 20th Century American history more than moi, it might just be Bill.

Many thanks to Tom and Jada for the wonderful photos and thanks to the city of Norfolk for having the wisdom and foresight to hire a true historian like Bill Inge.

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The Pennsgrove, as seen in the 1932 catalog.

The Pennsgrove, as seen in the 1932 catalog.

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Living Room 1932

Also in the 1932 catalog is a view of the living room in the Pennsgrove. Oh it'd be fun to get inside the Baltimore house and get a picture of the living room today - from the same angle!

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Garage

As kit homes go, this was a very busy house. The two-car attached garage was very unusual for a house of this vintage, and even more unusual for a Sears House. In fact, I believe that this is the only Sears House with a two-car attached garage (1932 catalog).

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send floor

The second floor makes the house seem crowded and small. And from an architectural standpoint, there's a lot of wasted space on this second level. And check out that third bedroom. It's a mere eight feet wide!

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house

Ah, but it sure is a beauty!

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Tom did a flawless job of photographing this house from the same angle as the original catalog image. And the best part: Even the shadows are falling in the same places. Check out the shadow on the arched entry by the garage. Photo is copyright 2013 Tom Lawson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Compa

The side-by-side comparisons are my favorite. What a house!

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phenomenal

The Pennsgrove is a real beauty, and the stone, brick, stucco and slate provide a stunning complement to one another. I love the half-timber look on that front gable. Personally, I think the balloons look a little tired though. Photo is copyright 2013 Tom Lawson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house

Check out that slate roof. Most likely, it's Buckingham Slate which weighs 1,400 pounds per square. Yes, you read that right. One ten by ten section of Buckingham Slate weighs 1,400 pounds. Houses with slate roofs are built extra sturdy to accommodate the tremendous weight. Photo is copyright 2013 Tom Lawson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Thanks to Toms great images, we can really see the details.

Thanks to Tom's great pictures, we can really see the details. Notice this Pennsgrove still has the original light fixture! Photo is copyright 2013 Tom Lawson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And original windows, too. I understand the house recently changed hands. Hopefully the new owners will also be good stewards of this historic home. Photo is copyright 2013 Tom Lawson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Nothing makes my heart go pitter-pat like the details. Check out the round downspouts. They may not be original, but they do look good. Photo is copyright 2013 Tom Lawson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Several people commented on the fact that the stone work around the front door is a perfect match to the old catalog image. That's when I started to realize that this is THE house shown in the 1932 catalog. This close-up proves it!

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What a house!

And I can't help but ask, do the owners know what they have? I surely hope so. Photo is copyright 2013 Tom Lawson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Don’t replace that slate roof! Read this first and it will change your life! No kidding!

To learn more about the Pennsgrove, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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Almost as Good as a Magnolia! (Sears Pennsgrove!)

September 5th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

My website recently hit 750,000 views. That’s a lot of people reading about Sears Homes. And with all those visitors, I also get a lot of “I saw a neighborhood just full of Magnolias” emails.

And yet tonight (Thursday night), someone left a comment, saying that there was a Sears Pennsgrove in their neighborhood. The Pennsgrove is one of those rare kit homes that neither I, nor Rebecca, nor Dale have ever seen. And we’ve been looking!

A Pennsgrove.

In Baltimore.

And much to my surprise, they were right. It was a Sears Pennsgrove. The Pennsgrove was only offered in 1931 and 1932, which is part of the reason it’s so rare. Those were not boom years for American real estate.

The Pennsgrove was truly a beautiful home, and fancy too. It’s spacious (about 2,200 square feet), has a two-car attached garage, and is full of unique features. Driving past this beauty, you’d never guess in a million years that this house came from Sears.

And yet it did.

Many thanks to Tom and Jada for telling me about this splendiferous Sears House in Baltimore. You can visit their website here.

Thanks also to the anonymous, gifted, talented and generous Realtor who so graciously permitted me to use her incredibly beautiful photos.

To learn more about identifying kit homes, click here.

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Pretty fancy house for a kit, isnt it? (1932 catalog)

Pretty fancy house for a kit, isn't it? (1932 catalog)

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I love the text in these old catalogs.

"Pleasing proportions, picturesque detail, contrasting surfaces and softly blended colors give the Pennsgrove that rare charm characteristic of the countrysides of Kent and Surrey across the sea."

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Two car attached garage? Wow.

Two car attached garage? Wow. And the garage is big enough to store pine trees, too!

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house

Small bedrooms, but look at all that busyness off the master bedroom.

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Nice house.

The Pennsgrove, as it appeared in the 1932 catalog.

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And the Pennsgrove as it appears today.

And the Pennsgrove as it appears today.

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Wow

Gosh, what a house!

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Inisde, the house has some delightful and quirky features.

Inside, the house has some delightful and quirky features, such as this opening onto the staircase. And look at that wood! It looks like the house is mostly in original condition.

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stairs

Another view of the entry foyer.

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A cute

This house has two full bathrooms, and in this bath, the original tub remains.

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There is something charming about a bathroom tucked under a dormer.

There is something charming about a bathroom tucked under a dormer.

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dining

Beautiful dining room with original wainscoting.

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bed

Another dormer in an upstairs bedroom.

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What have you got in YOUR neighborhood?

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

To read another really fun blog, click here.

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Eight Pretty Maggies in a Row

August 29th, 2013 Sears Homes 9 comments

As of last month, we’ve found eight Sears Magnolias. There are probably more, but where are they?

The last three Magnolias that were discovered (in North Carolina, New York and West Virginia) were found thanks to the readers of this blog.

So where’s Number Nine?  :)

If you know, please leave a comment below!

Below are pictures of the eight Magnolias.

Enjoy!

The Sears Magnolia was featured on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog.

The Sears Magnolia was featured on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog.

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When first offered

When first offered in 1918, the Magnolia was also offered as a "plan" (blueprints only) for $10.

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The Magnolia in Benson, NC was discovered when a faithful reader of the blog sent me a note and reported that shed seen a Magnolia featured on the news. She even sent me a link to the news story, so I was able to conform it was a Magnolia before I traveld five hours south to Benson.

The Magnolia in Benson, NC was discovered when a faithful reader of the blog sent me a note and reported that she'd seen a Magnolia featured on the news. She even sent me a link to the news story, so I was able to conform it was a Magnolia before I traveled five hours south to Benson. This Magnolia has been in constant use as a funeral home since the early 1940s. The interior has been pretty well gutted and rebuilt, but at least it's still standing.

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Canton, Ohio

The Magnolia in Canton, Ohio was almost lost in the 1980s. The roof had collapsed into the second floor, but the house was purchased by someone who truly loved old houses, and they did a thorough restoration of the home. In 2002, I visited this house when filming a segment for PBS's "History Detectives." Photo is courtesy Janet LaMonica and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Located in the hills of West Virginia, this beautiful Magnolia also passed through its own shadow of death in the early 2000s. In 2003, it was purchased and lovingly restored.

Located in the hills of West Virginia, this beautiful Magnolia also passed through its own "shadow of death" in the early 2000s. In 2003, it was purchased and lovingly restored.

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In 1985, this Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska was in pitiful shape (when these photos were taken). In late 1985, the house suffered additional damage when it caught fire. It was razed sometime in 1985.

In 1985, this Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska was in pitiful shape (when these photos were taken). In late 1985, the house suffered additional damage when it caught fire. It was razed sometime in 1985. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Syracuse

The Seventh Magnolia (in Syracuse, NY) was also discovered thanks to a faithful reader of this blog. It was built by Edward Knapp for his two sisters sometime between 1918-1921. In the 1990s, it was purchased and restored by someone who loved the house and appreciated its unique history. Photo is courtesy Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Magnolia in South Bend, Indiana is now going through its own trying time. If you look at the underside of the front porch ceiling, you'll see moisture damage. The aluminum trim around the eaves and soffit is also falling away. Hopefully, this wonderful old house will be spared the fate of the Maggy in Nebraska. These photos are more than a year old, so perhaps good things are now happening for this house. Photo is courtesy James Layne and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama is also needing a little love.

The Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama is also needing a little love. It's sold three times in the last six years and when I was there in September 2010, it was looking a little ragged around the edges. However, it sold very recently (less than six months ago) and hopefully the new owners will return it to its former glory.

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Last but not least is this Magnolia in Irwin, Pennsylvania. It was built as a brick house, and the floorplan was altered a bit when the house was built. Construction began in 1922 and was not completed until 1927.

Last but not least is this Magnolia in Irwin, Pennsylvania. The brick exterior is original to the house and the floorplan was altered a bit when the house was built. Construction began in 1922 and was not completed until 1927. Photo is courtesy Bob Keeling and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And in Blacksburg, SC

This "almost-a-Magnolia" was discovered in Blacksburg, SC. According to the homeowner (and tax records) the house was built in 1910, and based on millwork and other design elements, that seems like a good date. The classic "widow's walk" (flat top) on the hipped roof is not in place (as with a traditional Magnolia). And see those tall columns? They're solid concrete. No kit house would have concrete two-story columns due to the tremendous weight. These homes were designed with the expectation that a "man of average abilities" could build them in 90 days - or less! I suspect that this house in Blacksburg was purchased from a planbook or architectural magazine, and then Sears "borrowed" the design, shaved a few feet off the footprint and the Sears Magnolia was born.

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The Magnolia was also known as Sears Modern Home #2089. I found this marking in the basement of the Magnolia in Benson, NC. When these framing members were shipped out of Cairo, Illinois, one of the mill workers grabbed a blue grease pencil and marked the top beam in the pile of lumber that was about to be loaded onto a train for Benson. Today, this faint mark can be used to authenticate that this is indeed a Sears kit home.

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marked lumber

Years ago, I talked to an elder gent who remembered helping Mom and Dad build a Sears kit home. The father, standing on the building site, would yell out, "I need a G 503!" and the kids would scramble over the massive piles of framing members to find a beam marked G 503. The floor joist shown above was found in the Magnolia in WV.

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Now, about that 9th Magnolia…

Where is it?  :)

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

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A Tale of Two Maggies

August 27th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

Sometime in the late 1910s, someone in Lincoln, Nebraska sat down with a specialty catalog from Sears & Roebuck and ordered a kit house called, “The Magnolia.” It was the grandest kit home that Sears offered, with almost 3,000 square feet, 2-1/2 baths, four spacious bedrooms, a porte cochere, a couple sunporches, kitchen nook, fireside inglenook, butler’s pantry, servant’s quarters annd much more.

As the decades rolled by, the house fell into disrepair. In 1985, it suffered a fire and was then razed.

Today, all that first-quality lumber (Oak, Cypress and #1 Southern Yellow Pine from the virgin forests of Louisiana) is sitting in a landfill somewhere in Lincoln.

And someone’s much-loved “Dream Home” is nothing but a sorrowful memory.

About the same time, someone in West Virginia sat down and ordered a Sears Magnolia, and as the decades rolled by, that house also fell into disrepair.

In 2003, it was purchased by someone who loved and respected old houses and they spent the next three years doing a thorough restoration of the 3,000-square foot manse. They did a beautiful job. Some folks who saw the restoration (and it was a true restoration) estimate that the cost of the work hit the seven-digit mark.

And someone’s much loved Magnolia is now a historical treasure in West Virginia.

The photos below come from the two Magnolias: The black and white photos are of the house in Nebraska, gone for 28 years now.

Thanks so much to the wonderful folks at the Nebraska State Historical Society for having the presence of mind to document this wonderful old house before it was razed, and so generously sharing these wonderful photos with me, three decades later.

It’s so tragic that this historically significant house is now a pile of rubble in a landfill, but at least we can get a good look at our “Maggy,” and remember, this was a house that someone carefully selected from the pages of a Sears Roebuck catalog and then painstakingly erected, more than nine decades ago.

“The Tale of Two Maggies,” is the story of two Sears kit homes purchased about the same time (late 1910s/early 1920s); same model house with a radically different outcome.

If you enjoy the blog, please leave a comment below.

To learn more about the Magnolia that lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, click here.

To read about the Magnolia in West Virginia, click here.

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comparison

In 1985, this Magnolia in Lincoln Nebraska was razed after a fire. Prior to this, it had suffered from many years of neglect. And yet, I'm surely grateful that the Nebraska Historical Society had the foresight to photograph the house and then save those photos for posterity. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house house

By contrast, this Magnolia (in West Virginia) did *not* suffer from years of neglect. And yet - being a 90-year-old house - it came to its own crossroads in 2003, and was faithfully restored to its former grandeur.

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Two Maggies

The Tale of Two Maggies; quite a contrast in the "caretaking" of old homes.

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One house was painstakingly restored.

Before the fire and subsequent razing, the Magnolia in Lincoln was in dire need of some basic maintenance. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And one was saved

The Magnolia in West Virginia is the picture of perfection, and thanks to the restoration, will probably live on for another 100 years or more.

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Photo of Lincoln

Going through these photos, I found it remarkable how similar these homes are. They almost look like "before and after" photos of the same house. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Steve Burke

Both houses began at the same starting point: Identical building materials and similar climate conditions, but the Magnolia in WV looks fantastic today - thanks to the restoration work.

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haunting

Of all the pictures I reviewed in preparing this blog, these side-by-side contrasts were the most haunting.

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beautiful old house

Thanks to the Nebraska State Historical Society, we have several interior photos of the Nebraskan Magnolia. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Reception Hall

The breathtakingly beautiful reception hall in the West Virginia Magnolia.

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haunting too

The side-by-side pictures show a striking contrast.

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The simple elegance of the Magnolia still shines through in these living room photos. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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living room house

Note, the fireplace mantel is the same (as shown above in the Lincoln Magnolia) but the frieze is a little different.

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living room haunting as well

These pictures really showcase what a loss this was, don't they?

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two maggies

Two unnamed ladies in front of the Maggie's fireplace. Notice the brick hearth and brick trim around the firebox. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house maggie girls

The marble hearth and surround were added during the restoration work. It's not original to the house, but it sure is a lovely addition and very nicely done.

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girls in maggie

The notes that accompanied these Nebraska photos state that the mantel and trim (and floor) in living room were solid oak. Based on the info in the Sears Modern Homes catalog, I'd say those notes are right.

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nebraska up

A view of the upstairs hallway. See the little bit of balcony through the French doors? A lot of fine details on this house survived the many decades. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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magnolia up

And the same hallway in the West Virginia Magnolia.

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Side-by-side views of the two Magnolias.

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den fireplace

The mantel in the den was quite simple for such a grand house. This den fireplace (which backed up to the living room fireplace) appears to be a coal-burner, very common in this era and more efficient than a wood-burning fireplace. The 12" square floor tiles are not original to the house. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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den maggy

The original den in the Magnolia was a mere eight feet deep. The den (and the kitchen) in the WV Magnolia were both enlarged with a 40-foot wide addition across the back of the house.

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Magnolia kitchen

The kitchen in the Nebraska Magnolia was mighty close to original. According to a rough sketch of the floor plan, provided by the Nebraska State Historical Society, the Butler's Pantry was removed to create additional space in the kitchen. In the background, you can see three casement windows, and if you look closely, you'll see two benches, the remnants of a built-in dining nook. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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kitchen new

The kitchen in the West Virginia Magnolia is quite different!

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house Nebraska

All in all, it's pretty impressive that this house stood so square and true for so long sans maintenance.

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Porch Maggie

And yet it sure is gorgeous when a little tender loving care is applied.

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About 90 years ago,

About 90 years ago, two hopeful wanna-be homeowners pored over the pages of a Sears Modern Homes catalog, counting their dollars and studying their budget and decided upon the Sears Magnolia. It pains my heart to think that the Magnolia in Nebraska - someone's cherished and much-loved home - is now gone.

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To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To read more about the Magnolia, click here.

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