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Posts Tagged ‘little prefabs’

The Ferndale: A Charming English Bungalow

April 21st, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

There are many ways to find a Sears House, but Andrew and Wendy Mutch found a very rare Sears House in Ann Arbor using a technique I had never thought about before: Reading the obituaries.

They discovered an obituary for an elderly woman that mentioned the building of a Sears House.  Seems that Helen Bethke and her husband Emil Bethke had built a kit home in 1931, and after enjoying 64 years of wedding bliss, Emil passed on (in 1995).

Andrew and Wendy were able to figure out Mrs. Bethke’s address, but couldn’t readily identify the model. In fact, when I first saw their photos, it took me a few minutes to figure it out.

And that’s because, it’s a model I’ve never seen before.

Now that’s a thrill!  :)

And frankly, the only reason I was able to identify this darling little house was because it was in mostly original condition. Had this beauty been slathered in vinyl siding and aluminum trim, I’d still be scratching my head and wondering.

Fortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Bethke did a fine, fine job keeping their Sears Fernwood in first-class shape. Let’s hope the home’s next owners follow their worthy example.

Mrs. Bethke’s obit:  On Aug. 31, 1930, Helen married Emil Carl Bethke, and after 64 years of marriage, he preceded her in death in June of 1995. They built their Sears kit home in 1931, and raised their children in that old West Side home on Koch Street.

To learn more about the kit homes in Ann Arbor, click here.

On May 2nd, come to Rose’s lecture in Staunton, Virginia!

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Charming

The Ferndale was only offered for two years, 1929 and 1933. It's shown here in the 1929 catalog.

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Those dark shutters are not only pleasing, but functional!

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It tickles me that the tub on the Ferndale juts out in this floorplan.

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It is indeed a "charming" little house.

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And thanks to Mrs. Bethke, it's still in mostly original condition, looking much like it did when built in 1931. Will the new owners take good care of it, and preserve the original windows, siding and shutters? We can only hope. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Check out the detail around the front porch (1929 catalog).

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Picture perfect! Looks just like the catalog. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Now it's for sale, but 80 years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Bethke bought it as a 12,000-piece kit from Sears and Reobuck, and then built their own home. Very impressive. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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A view of our darling Fernwood from the other side. If you look at the floorplan above, you'll see it's a perfect match. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To learn more about the kit homes in Ann Arbor, click here.

On May 2nd, come to Rose’s lecture in Staunton, Virginia!

Want to learn a lot about Sears Homes in a hurry? Join us on Facebook!

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Oh My! So Many Kit Homes in Hampton, Virginia!

February 22nd, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

Thus far,  my friend Dale and I have found more than 50 kit homes in Hampton! It’s a real surprise to find so many houses from Aladdin and Sears in one city here in Southeastern Virginia and they’re all clustered together in one neighborhood!

Not surprisingly, there are almost as many Aladdin Kit homes in Hampton as there are Sears kit homes. Aladdin (like Sears), sold their kit homes through a mail-order catalog. These were true kits - shipped in 12,000-piece kits - and arrived at the train station “some assembly required.” Each kit came with a 75-page instruction book that told the neophyte home builder how all those pieces and parts went together.

Take a look at some of our favorite finds!

One of my favorites, the Aladdin Shadowlawn (1919 catalog).

One of my favorites, the Aladdin Shadowlawn (1919 catalog).

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What a beauty! A perfect Aladdin Shadowlawn! Just perfect.

What a beauty! A perfect Aladdin Shadowlawn! Just perfect.

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The Aladdin Pasadena was another very popular house for Aladdin.

The Aladdin Pasadena was another very popular house for Aladdin.

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And there are several of these in Hampton. Heres one!

And there are several of these in Hampton. Here's one!

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And heres another!

And here's another!

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The Sears Fullerton is a big, bold and beautiful foursquare (1925).

The Sears Fullerton is a big, bold and beautiful foursquare (1925).

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This Sears Fullerton in Hampton is a perfect match to the catalog page!

This Sears Fullerton in Hampton is a perfect match to the catalog page! (Minus the red Ford truck, that is.)

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One of the characteristic features of the Fullerton is that broad dormer.

One of the characteristic features of the Fullerton is that broad dormer with one tiny window. This house still retains its original siding and windows!

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Another fun find was the Sears Hathaway (1925 catalog).

Another fun find was the Sears Hathaway (1925 catalog).

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Perfect in every way!  (Minus the red truck - again.)

Perfect in every way! (Minus the red Ford truck - again.)

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In addition to Sears and Aladdin, I also found a kit home sold by Lewis Manufacturing.

In addition to Sears and Aladdin, I also found a kit home sold by Lewis Manufacturing.

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The Lewis Shelborne - looking just like the catalog image above!

The Lewis Shelborne - looking just like the catalog image above!

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The Sears Alhambra was a perennial favorite (1919 catalog).

The Sears Alhambra was a perennial favorite (1919 catalog).

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And Hamptons Alhambra is dressed in brick!

And Hampton's Alhambra is dressed in brick!

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Gordon Van Tine was another kit home company that sold mail-order homes in the early 20th Century.

Gordon Van Tine was another kit home company that sold mail-order homes in the early 20th Century. The model shown above was known as "The Roberts" (1921).

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This one in Hampton faces the water - and its been supersized!

This one in Hampton faces the water - and it's been supersized!

Hampton has too many kit homes to fit into one blog. To read part II, come back tomorrow and click here!  :)

To learn about the kit homes I found in Newport News (East End), click here.

To read about the kit homes of Norfolk, click here.

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A Crowning Jewel of a Bungalow: The Corona

July 5th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

One of the most interesting stories I ever heard came from a man who grew up next door to a Sears Corona in Gillespie, Illinois (about 70 miles northeast of St. Louis).

It was 2003, and I’d just finished a talk on Sears Homes in Bloomington, Illinois. A nice fellow approached the podium and told me that he’d grown up in Gillespie, Illinois, next door to the Sears Corona. He now lived in Chillicothe, Illinois (about 60 miles away), and he thought I should come out to Chillicothe and see his house, for it was really special.

“Oh brother,” I thought to myself. “Another nut job.”

But he continued.

All of his life, he’d appreciated the fine craftsmanship and beauty of the Sears Corona in his hometown, and he vowed that when he grew up, he’d live in a house just as beautiful and well-built.

He’d recently finished his own home in Chillicothe, and his beautiful new home had been built as a modern-day replica of the old Sears Corona.

Now it was getting interesting.

The next morning, I delayed my trip home to Godfrey, Illinois and detoured to Chillicothe. It was well worth the trip, and it was a beautiful home.

In my many travels, I’ve only seen three Coronas, and two of them were within 20 minutes of each other. The third was the reproduction Corona in Chillicothe.

By the way, “Corona” is Latin for the word “crown.”

To learn more about kit homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

Sears Corona as seen in the 1919 catalog

Sears Corona as seen in the 1919 catalog

The reproduction Corona in Chillicothe

The reproduction Corona in Chillicothe. It's a beautiful house, and he did a first-class job! This photo was taken in 2003, shortly after the house was completed. I'd love to get an updated photo.

And from the 1921 catalog

In this catalog picture (1921), you can see that the gabled dormer is centered on the roof. This is a pretty distinctive feature of the Corona.

The original Corona in Gillespie that provided the inspiration for the house in Chillicothe

The original Corona in Gillespie that provided the inspiration for the house in Chillicothe. This Corona in Gillespie, IL is one of the most perfect examples of a Sears house that I've ever seen. The fact that the original pergola is intact is remarkable.

This Corona is a little different with that supersized dormer. Its in Benld (pronounced Benn-eld), Illinois. The town was named for Ben L. Dorsey (some famous guy in Illinois). There was already a town named Dorsey, so the townfolk decided on Benld, which is an abbreviation of Ben L. Dorsey.

This Corona is a little different with that super-sized dormer. It's in Benld (pronounced Benn-eld), Illinois. The town was named for Ben L. Dorsey (some famous guy in Illinois). There was already a town named "Dorsey," so the townsfolk decided on "Benld," which is an abbreviation of Ben L. Dorsey. One of the unique features of the Corona is the cross-gabled porch roof. That always catches my eye. Perhaps the most unique feature is that dormer, centered squarely on the roof.

Another angle of the Corona in Benld.

Another angle of the Corona in Benld.

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And you can see how much the Benld house looks like the original catalog image.

Floorplan

The Corona is a spacious house, measuring 49.6 by 26'.

And theres more space upstairs.

And there's more space upstairs.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Bookcases and Little Wooden Churches

February 8th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

In Spring 1972,  one of my junior high school teachers told the class to make a “special project” that featured some aspect of Colonial Williamsburg. As good Virginians, we were studying this period in American history for about the 7th time in my seven years of schooling.

Since conscious memory, I have  loved old houses and I loved drawing pictures of them and reading about them. It didn’t take long to decide I’d like to build a small model of a little wooden church, reminiscent of the Colonial period.

Other kids showed up with their hastily drawn pictures on large pieces of posterboard, but I had my little wooden church, replete with a cross, arched windows, double doors on the front and a removable roof with diminutive wooden pews inside. The gabled roof had a steep pitch of about 12/12, with generous eaves, true to the period. The windows were tall and thin, with an arch at the top.

I had mixed feelings about schoolwork and homework, but building this little wooden church gave me much pleasure and joy.

Kids crowded around my wooden creation, oohing and ahhing when I gently removed the roof and showed the little wooden pews inside. I eagerly anticipated the A+ this project surely would bring.

My accompanying written report was eventually returned to me with the grade scribbled in the upper right-hand corner. When I unfolded the paper, I gasped.

The teacher had given me a bold, red, angry “F.”

After class, I went to her desk and asked about the grade. She coolly replied, “I didn’t ask you to show me what your father could do. I wanted to see what you could do. You failed because you brought in someone else’s work, and claimed it as your own.”

If she’d been a wise woman, she would have asked questions about its construction. Maybe she would have queried me about what kind of saw I used to cut those arched windows. Or asked about the type of wood I used. Or asked what size nails I’d used to fasten the sides.

Instead, she presumed I was a liar.

Memory can be fickle, but as I recall, it was the first time in my life that an adult had accused me of lying. My parents occasionally asked me to be quite certain I was telling the truth during a few intense questionings, but no one had ever called me a liar.

I didn’t bother to tell her that my father wasn’t around much these days because it was obvious - she did not care. It’s true that, you may not remember what people say, but you’ll always remember how they make you feel.

She made me feel pretty low.

In the next day or two, I told my beloved brother Tom what had happened. Tom had been the helper at home. He’d driven me to the hardware store and spent 20 minutes teaching me how to select a saw blade for the old saw frame we had at home. He’d shown me how to drive nails in with a nail punch. He’d patiently taught me how to draw a proportionately accurate arch for those tiny windows, using a little math and a metal compass. My brother, Tom. He was a teacher by trade and also by birth. He loved to teach and he was good at it.

His response to the news of my failing grade was swift and sure. He contacted the teacher and in his most authoritative voice, he explained that I had indeed built this little church entirely by myself.

The next day, my “F” was changed to an “A.”

The school year ended a few weeks later and the teacher asked if she could keep the little wooden church in her classroom, to serve as an example of what can be accomplished by a motivated student.

I thought about it for all of six or seven seconds and said, “No.”

I’d hoped its absence would serve as an example that teachers should not assume that their students are liars, and/or that 7th-grade girls don’t know how to build things.

Today, I write about old houses and now have eight books under my belt. And I still love playing with wood.

It’s the truth.  :)

Check out the photos of the new bookcase I recently completed in my home in Norfolk!

Just so thered be no doubt, I built this puppy while Mr. Husband was out of town. It started with three little shelves on the bottom.

Just so there'd be no doubt, I built this puppy while Mr. Husband was out of town. It started with three little shelves on the bottom.

And then I built the shelves that would sit atop the base cabinet.

And then I built the shelves that would sit atop the base cabinet. The living room was the only place in the house big enough to create a working space for the 88" tall vertical risers.

When the first bookcase was complete, I lifted it into place. These bookcases were kinda big and bulky. I slept well at the end of each day.  :)

When the first bookcase was complete, I lifted it into place. These bookcases were kinda big and bulky. I slept well at the end of each day. :)

All three bookcases now in place.

All three bookcases now in place.

And theyre level, too!  The floor was not anything near level. Its an old sunporch - originally opn - and had a purposeful incline (to allow water to drain), plus it was a little low in one corner. Yay for shims!

And the shelves are level, too! The floor was not anything near level. It's an old sunporch - originally screened in and open - and was purposefully angled (to shed rain water), plus it was a little low in one corner. Shims saved the day.

Hubby Wayne has a heart-to-heart talk with Toucan Sam, after examining the bookcase that was built in his absence. He never asked if my father had helped built it.

Hubby Wayne has a heart-to-heart talk with Toucan Sam, after examining the bookcase that was built in his absence. Wayne never asked if my father had helped build it. He did mention that it was "an A+ job." :)

Its done!

It's done!

Another view!

Another view!

To learn about Sears Homes, click here.

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Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

August 14th, 2010 Sears Homes 2 comments

A few weeks after The Houses That Sears Built was published, the New York Times decided to do a feature story on Sears Homes and contacted me for an interview. Soon after that, a New York production company rang. They were putting together a brand new show for PBS and they wanted one of the first episodes to feature Sears Homes and would I be willing to appear? The show, they told me, would be called, History Detectives.

The show was filmed in Akron, Ohio and we drove to Canton, Ohio to visit the Sears Magnolia there. The filming went on for six days (for a 15-minute segment) during which time I commuted - by tiny airplane - back and forth to Alton, Illinois. Being part of that production was a fun, life-changing experience. The day we drove up to the Sears Magnolia in Canton was one of the happiest days of my life. What fun that was to see this magnificient house - in the flesh - after dreaming about it for so long. And it was just as wonderful as I’d dreamed.

Some days, I stood around and watched and there wasn’t much for me to do. During one such moment, I took a nap in the parlor of the Sears Magnolia. I remember waking up, looking around and wondering if I had died and gone to heaven.

In 2006, I moved back “home” to Norfolk and in Spring 2010, a woman friend wrote and said that she’d found the 5th known Magnolia in the country. Having heard this five times a week for the last seven years, I was highly doubtful.

Nonetheless, when I opened the link she’d sent, I saw a Sears Magnolia smiling back at me! A real Magnolia - the Creme de la creme of Sears Homes!

As soon as possible, I drove down to Benson, North Carolina to see this sweet thing.

The happy owners of the Magnolia allowed me to tour the inside of the house, where I found proof that it was indeed a Sears Magnolia (as if there were any doubt). Click on this link to read more about that.

There are also Sears Magnolias in Indiana (South Bend), Pennsylvania and South Carolina. There was one in Nebraska that burned down many years ago. That’s five Magnolias. There’s still one missing! Write me if you know where it is.

Read more about the Maggy in Benson here.

Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

Pictured below is the Sears Magnolia in Benson, North Carolina, with corresponding catalog image (from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog). This Magnolia is currently in use as a family-owned Funeral Home.

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Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears and The Wizard Block-Making Machine

August 11th, 2010 Sears Homes 1 comment

In the early years of the 20th Century, cement was all the rage. And the idea of making your own cinder blocks (for fun and profit) apparently also became quite popular. The back pages of the 1905 issues of American Carpenter and Builder (a building magazine from that era) were filled with advertisements for block-making machines and cement-stirring machines.

Sears offered the Wizard Block Making machine which retailed for $57.50 (a bargain at twice the price!). And Sears suggested that a man could save a lot of money on building a new home if he made his own blocks. Now if a man devoted himself to making nothing but blocks and if a man had someone else preparing the cement for pouring, he could make about one every two minutes. To do this, the poured cement was loaded into a form, pressed down in this contraption and then removed. The form was not removed until the concrete had hardened a bit. That meant if you were serious about making blocks, you had to have several forms on hand.

The ad below suggests that the block could be removed immediately from the form. I’d love to know if that was accurate. Having never made a block in the Sears Roebuck Wizard Block Making Machine, I can’t say for sure.

Sears estimated that 1,300 blocks were needed for the basement of The Chelsea (one of their kit homes). The Chelsea was a modest foursquare on a short cellar. It’d be safe to assume that a Chelsea made of nothing but block would require more than 4,000 blocks. If you devoted yourself to the creation of those blocks and really hustled, you’d need about 17 eight-hour days to do nothing but work like a dog making blocks and setting forms in the sun and breaking open the forms and placing the forms back into the machine. And that’s if he had someone else preparing the cement. That’s a lot of work.

When I give talks on Sears Homes, I get a surprising number of questions about the Wizard Block Making Machine. Apparently this labor-intensive, cinder-block maker was quite a popular item for Sears.

Close-up of The Wizard

Close-up of The Wizard


The Wizard Block Making Machine from an early 1900s Sears specialty catalogue

In what looks like a backwards evolution graphic, a man demonstrates how to use the easy-to-use Wizard block-making machine.

In what looks like a backwards evolution graphic, a man demonstrates how to use the "easy-to-use" Wizard block-making machine.