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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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house house hosue li

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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Magnolia house house house

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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Inside the Sears Magnolia: In 1918 and 1985

July 12th, 2013 Sears Homes 8 comments

Last week, I did a blog on the lost Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska. One of only eight known Magnolias in the country, the Sears House in Lincoln was torn down in 1985.

Fortunately, the Magnolia in Lincoln was extensively photographed a few months before it was razed. The photos were then archived and saved by the Nebraska State Historical Society.

And nearly 30 years later, the folks at NSHS were kind enough to share these wonderful photos with me.

After studying their photos, I realized that those historically minded folks at Nebraska State Historical Society had photographed the Magnolia’s interiors from the same angle shown in a special fold-out offered in a 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

I’m in possession of two 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalogs, and yet this “special fold out” is not present in either catalog. I suspect that there were two or more revisions of the 1918 catalog, and the catalog that featured the “interior views” (shown below) was a very rare catalog.

For several years, friend and fellow researcher Rachel Shoemaker has been collecting these old catalogs, and she was kind enough to share her copy of this rare 1918 catalog.

A big thank you to Rachel and also to the kind souls at the Nebraska State Historical Society. Because of them, I’m able to put together these 30-year-old photos with the 90-year-old drawings featured in the old Sears Modern Homes catalog.

And a little hint for today’s blog: Take an extra moment and read the captions thoroughly. While I was going through these images, I learned some fascinating things about old houses in general and the Magnolia in particular.

Please share the link with your old-house loving friends!  :)

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Interior

This fold-out appeared in the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog. I've been playing with Sears Homes for 15 years, and yet I'd never seen this page - anytime anywhere. When the Nebraska State Historical Society sent me their files on the Sears Magnolia in Lincoln, they included a faded (and repeatedly xeroxed) copy of this very same page. And it was this page that they apparently used as a guide when they took *their* photos.

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house

Close-up of the text box in the fold-out (1918).

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house house

If you look closely at the floor plan, you'll see a second set of stairs off the kitchen. In tiny print, it says, "To servants' room." Remember that detail. If you look at the back wall of the kitchen, you'll also see the words, "Ice box door." This feature enabled the ice man to place 25 or 50 pounds of ice directly into the ice box - from the back porch - without entering the house. It was also known as the "Jealous Husband's Door."

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house showing

Those kitchen stairs lead into a small hallway that opens up right into a small bedroom, which leads to a bathroom. The servants' area was purposefully isolated from the rest of the family. The servants' bathroom was also smaller and more modest. Remember that detail, too. The family bathroom has a sink that says, "MC" (medicine chest). The servants' bathroom does not say MC. The poor Irish servant girl didn't even have a place to store her toiletries.

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house house house

Close-up of the Magnolia's 20-foot long living room.

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banana house living room

And here it is in real life. Those folks at the Nebraska State Historical Society did a fine job, didn't they? The fireplace mantel is not a perfect match, which is a puzzler. Notice also that the home's original owners went for the Hercules Steam Heating Outfit (which was the most expensive heating option available). Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house house house house

The Magnolia had a grand entry hall. The French doors at the top of the landing lead to a small balcony outside.

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house house house

The Magnolia was an elegant home with classic lines and aristocratic airs, and despite the deterioration occasioned by decades of neglect, its timeless elegance was still apparent. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house upstairs

The photographer was standing in front of the dressing room looking toward the rear of the house on the 2nd floor. These are the same French doors shown in the prior photo, which lead out to that small balcony. If you look close, you can see the balcony's railing. I believe the door on the left leads to that servants' staircase. It's an interesting arrangement, because the balcony and that door are both on a lower level than the rest of the 2nd floor. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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kitchen

My favorite image: The kitchen. Look at that darling little breakfast nook sitting in the coolest spot in the house, with pretty casement windows on all three sides. The door on the right leads to the ice box (with the "Jealous Husband's Door"). And the door on the right leads to the back porch.

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house house kitchen

The NSHS photographers outdid themselves on this image. Nice match to the picture above! The door that's partially open leads to the servants' staircase. The nook is still intact, but the little dinette is gone. The sink has been moved from the right side to the left. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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kitchen floorplan

Here's a close-up of the Magnolia's kitchen and surrounding area. This is a very complicated space! And there's a Butler's Pantry (with a sink) between the dining room and kitchen.

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the den the den

Most post-1950s homes feature a "den," but this wasn't a common concept in the late 1910s (when the Magnolia was first offered). Another unusual concept was the two fireplaces (in the living room and den). By the 1910s, wood-burning fireplaces had fallen from favor because they were considered primitive and old-fashioned. Most houses had a single fireplace so that the family could burn an occasional fire on a cold-winter evening, just for ambiance, but two? Definitely not typical. Plus, it was getting harder and harder to find cheap firewood in the cities, due to the explosive growth of residential and commercial construction.

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house house house house house

Now this mantel is a good match to the image above (minus the cracked mirror)! The floor tile wasn't original, but was probably added in the 1940s or 50s. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house bathroom

This was not the maid's bathroom. This was the FAMILY'S bathroom. How do I know this? Let me count the ways. First, it has that niche created by the chimney (left corner). And it has a shower. Yes, a shower. And while we're in the bathroom, look at the subway tile on the walls and diagonal tiles on the floor. Nice, isn't it?

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shower

The shower was a pretty fancy deal for 1918. I don't know of any other pre-1930 Sears Homes that were offered *with* showers. And this isn't your typical shower. This one sits at the far end of the tub, away from the tub's drain and supply lines. Now that's curious. I wish I knew when showers came into vogue in typical American homes. If a reader could answer that, I'd be tickled pink.

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house in Benson

This is *not* the Magnolia in Lincoln, but it's another Magnolia with a "Family Bathroom" that's in original condition. When I first saw this bathroom, I was utterly mystified by the hose bibs on the lower right. There's a bedroom on the other side of that wall. Why would there be plumbing on the far side of the tub? And I have thought about this curious plumbing arrangement ever since. Thanks to Rachel's 1918 "interior views," I think the puzzle is solved. I suspect that these water lines supplied water to that funky shower at the far end of the tub. The house bibs may have been added for a washer hook-up later on, but look at the plumbing lines that snake around the back of the tub and (perhaps) to the side where that shower once was.

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house shower

It's a not-so-great photo, but you can see the two hose bibs with two lines coming off and snaking around the back and side of the tub. And if you look close, you'll see a piece of that old subway tile behind the tub.

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house tub

If you look at the front of the tub, you see the lines here (for the bathtub faucets) are original and in use. In fact, judging from the paint, they haven't been disturbed in a very long time.

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house bathroom

The contemporary photo of the bathtub (with those awesome swans on the side) was taken almost four years ago, and yet it's only in the last 24 hours, when I saw this vintage image, that I was able to surmise why there were pipes behind the tub. Who says history isn't fun? :)

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house house house

How many Magnolias are out there? Thus far, we know of eight that were built, and seven are still standing.

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house in Nebraska

The grand old Magnolia in Nebraska was torn down in 1985 due to decades of neglect. These photos are bittersweet, because this house should have been salvaged. Instead, it's now just another pile of construction debris in a local landfill. Nonetheless, I'm unspeakably grateful for these many wonderful images. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house in neb

This framing members used in the construction of this house were first-growth lumber, #1 Southern Yellow Pine, harvested from the virgin forests of Louisiana. The exterior (siding, trim and balustrades) is Cypress, once lauded as "The Wood Eternal," because of its natural resistance to moisture, decay and insect infestation. The two-story columns were Yellow Poplar. Inside, the entire house had oak trim and mill work, with tongue-and-groove oak floors. The kitchen floor was maple. This house was built with a quality of building materials we will never again see in this country. RIP, Magnolia. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Many thanks to the Nebraska State Historical Society for sharing these photos, and thanks also to Rachel Shoemaker for sharing the vintage images from that rare 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Read more  the “Jealous Husband’s Door” click here.

To learn more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

Want to see more photos of the Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska? Click here.

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“Strikingly Handsome!” - The Sherburne

June 8th, 2012 Sears Homes 7 comments

One of my personal favorite Sears Homes is the Sherburne. For one thing, it’s quite distinctive (and easier to identify than a very simple little house). And, it’s just so pretty. I love the lines, the big front porch, the steeply pitched roof and all those windows.

Enjoy the photos!

Strikingly handsome

The 1921 catalog described the Sherburne as "Strikingly handsome."

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And popular (1920)

And apparently, it was popular too (1921).

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Spacious

The first floor had three spacious rooms.

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Favorite graphic 1916

My favorite graphic of all time comes from the 1916 catalog, and features the Sherburne. Mom and Dad are living in squalor here, eyeballing the "plans" for their new house, The Sherburne. Look at their circumstance! The house they're in now has GAS lights! The curtains are threadbare, the rug is worn and tired, and the library table is so pedestrian! Such a primitive structure!

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Kids wow

But Dad and Mom are already dreaming The American Dream and they've sent in their $1 good faith deposit to Sears. They have started on the path to the "Materialization" of their great dream. And it's a Sears Sherburne!

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More weirdness

And now they're moved up to the "Realization" of their wonderful dream! The manifestation of all that dreaming (and working) is an imposing, three-story Sears Sherburne!

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Happy ending

And what follows "Anticipation, Materialization and Realization"? Gratification! The kids are dancing a jig! Mom and Dad are happy, happy, happy! And look at the house! They now have electric lights! And a phonograph! And a mantel clock and artwork on the walls! Why, even the library table has grown a marble top. They now have a thick, plush rug!

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house in Rudyard

This Sherburne is in Rudyard, Michigan (and is the house mentioned in the testimonial above). This photo is copyright 2010 Dale Wolicki and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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House in Urbana

This beauty is in Urbana, Illinois. I love the colors on this house. This photo is copyright 2008 Rebecca Hunter and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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decature

And this one is in Decatur, Illinois.

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pictures of house

In the 1916 catalog, the Sherburne was $800 less than 1921.

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Scary guy

In both the 1916 and 1921 catalogs, this scary guy is on the front porch.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read about my other favorite Sears kit house, click here.

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The Halfway House, by Sears & Roebuck

April 22nd, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

In 2002, someone called to tell me that they had a Sears House.  (This was way back in the day when my business cards included my personal phone number.)

The caller said, “I live in Washington, DC and I own a Sears Home.”

I asked if she knew which model it was.

She replied, “I sure do. It’s the Halfway House.”

“The Halfway House?” I asked, hoping I’d merely misunderstood.

“Yes, that’s right,” she said.

I asked if she could spell that for me, and she did. I had heard her correctly the first time.

I knew that Sears sold “The Morphine Cure,” in the early days (a patent remedy for breaking a morphine addiction),  and I knew that Sears offered “The Heidelberg Electric Belt” (guaranteed to restore men’s “vitality”).

But I was not aware that Sears had offered any 12,000-piece reformatory kit houses.

I asked the caller to send me a photo. A few days later, a picture arrived in the mail. It was a picture of the Sears Hathaway.

Sears Hathaway (1921 catalog).

Sears Hathaway, first offered with two bedrooms. (1921 catalog).

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It was also offered in a three-bedroom model (1928).

In later years, they offered in a three-bedroom model (1928).

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Floorplan

The third bedroom was created by adding that little bump to the right rear.

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Sears Hathaway in Elmhusrt Illinois

Sears Hathaway in Elmhurst Illinois - in brick!

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Perfect little Hathaway in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Perfect little Hathaway in Cincinnati, Ohio. I'm guessing the address is 1627 but I suppose it could also be 1267 (or 2716 in some Mideastern countries). (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Another Cincinnati Hathaway, courtesy of Donna Bakke.

Another Cincinnati Hathaway, courtesy of Donna Bakke. Not sure why it has two doors. Surely this tiny house has not been turned into two apartments! (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Sears Hathaway in Wyoming, Ohio.

Sears Hathaway in Wyoming, Ohio. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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And heres a Halfway House in Hampton!

And here's a Halfway House in Hampton, Virginia!

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My favorite Hathaway is this one in Newport News, Virginia.

My favorite Hathaway is this one in Newport News, Virginia. It still has its original lattice work on the porch! Every detail is perfect.

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Comparison of the two images.

Comparison of the two images.

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Look at the details on the porch!

Look at the details on the porch!

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And compare it to the original catalog picture!

And compare it to the original catalog picture!

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn about Addie Hoyt, click here.

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The Lost Sears Homes of Atlantic City, New Jersey

August 15th, 2010 Sears Homes 6 comments

A few days ago, I was looking through the pages of my 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog when I happened upon this page (see below). According to this little graphic, there were four Sears homes built in a row somewhere in a 1920s neighborhood in Atlantic City, NJ. I’d imagine there are many other Sears Homes in the area, too.

I live in Norfolk, Virginia and as soon as I can locate the general area of these little pretties (with a little help from my friends hopefully), it’s my intention to drive up there and check out the rest of the city.

There was a massive Sears Mill in Newark, NJ, so I’m confident that there are many Sears Homes in and around the New Jersey area.

In posting this info, I’m hoping and praying some kind soul that’s familiar with the area will drop me a note and tell me where to find these four little Marinas in Atlantic City, NJ. Simply post your response in the comments section (below) and leave an email address and you’ll hear from me pretty quickly.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

The Little Marinas of Atlantic City, NJ

The Little Marinas of Atlantic City, NJ

This is a Sears Marina. This is a close-up of the house Im looking for in Atlantic City, NJ

This is a Sears Marina. This is a close-up of the house I'm looking for in Atlantic City, NJ

Close-up of the other Marina with a shed (flat) former. Theres one of these in this grouping in Atlantic City, NJ

Close-up of the "other" Marina with a shed (flat) former. There's one of these in this grouping in Atlantic City, NJ

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Everything I know about the Sears Homes in Atlantic City, I learned from this paragraph in the 1923 Modern Homes catalog.

Everything I know about the Sears Homes in Atlantic City, I learned from this paragraph in the 1923 Modern Homes catalog.

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Cover of the 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Cover of the 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog