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Posts Tagged ‘magnolia house in cairo’

Cooking - Off the Grid!

November 24th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

As has become our annual tradition, hubby cooked our 18-pound turkey on his Weber Charcoal Grill. It was one of the most delicious birds I’ve ever enjoyed. The best part was that it was cooked 100% “off the grid.”

The charcoal is a no-brainer. Lots of people know how to use charcoal to cook their meat.

But the secret of a well-cooked bird  is the rotisserie attachment which spins the meat at a slow speed. This year, the small but powerful rotisserie motor was powered  by our new “Solar System,” three 15-watt solar panels which we recently installed at The Ringer Ranch.

These three photovoltaic panels convert the sun’s rays into electricity, which is stored in a 12-volt deep-cycle marine battery. The inverter (shown below) converts the 12-volt system into 120 volts, suitable for household use.

To learn more about how we installed these solar panels, click here.

Hubby proudly points out his delicious turkey spinning on the grill.

Hubby proudly points out his delicious turkey spinning on the grill.

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Look

Our three 15-watt solar panels are on top of the shed roof.

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The electrical items (inverter, solar controller and battery) are inside the shed.

The electrical items (inverter, solar controller and battery) are inside the shed. Notice the orange extension cord coming out of the inverter? That is powering the rotisserie.

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The most amazing part is that the solar panels were charging the battery *faster* than the rotisserie motor was drawing off power.

The most amazing part is that the solar panels were charging the battery *faster* than the rotisserie motor was drawing off power. And this was at 8:00 am.

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Safety first. Hubby uses the five-gallon bucket to keep the cords out of the wet dew.

Safety first. Hubby uses the five-gallon bucket to keep the cords out of the wet dew.

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It was indeed a most splendiferous bird!

It was indeed a most splendiferous bird!

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Want a “solar system” of your own? We did it for $351 (total cost). To buy your own, click here.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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To read about a very happy Thanksgiving in 1918, click here.

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“This is a Most Attractive Little Home…”

November 18th, 2012 Sears Homes 2 comments

Last month, I wrote about “The Experiment,” where Sears built two Sears Rodessas (small bungalows) side-by-side in Cairo, Illinois, to prove the superiority of the Ready-cut System. The two homes were built in the late 1910s, and now, almost 100 years later, those wonderful little houses are still standing.

Why did Sears choose the Rodessa for their experiment? I don’t know. It was a popular house for Sears, but it wasn’t that popular! If I were to venture a guess, I’d say it was in the Top 50 Most Popular Designs.

However, it was, as the Sears ad promised, “a most attractive little home.” It was cute, simple and practical, which probably made it easy to build in a hurry.

In my travels, I’ve come across several Rodessas. In fact, there’s one not far from me in Urbana, Virginia. You can read about that house by clicking here.

To read more about the Rodessa, scroll down!

pretty

Indeed, the Rodessa is a "pretty little home." And look at the price!!

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Little is right.

Look at those small bedrooms. In 2012, a room that measures 9-feet square is a walk-in closet!

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Busy kitchen

And what does that "B" stand for in the kitchen? BOILER!

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The boiler

The "boiler" (whose placement is indicated with the "B" in the floorplan) was a water heater with a water line that ran through the back of the cook stove. Pretty complicated affair.

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text

"This is a most attractive little home."

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In 1924,

In 1924, Mr. Kidwell built this Rodessa in Washington DC and sent this snapshot in to Sears and Roebuck. He was "fully satisfied" with his Ready-cut home.

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Happy 1926

In 1926, Sears put out a brochure that was titled, "Happy Homes." The Rodessa was featured within its pages. According to the accompanying text, it was built in Independence, MO.

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Happy

Not sure why Sears included a picture of corn with the testimonial.

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HeWood

It's endured some significant remodelings, but at least it's still standing. This transmogrified Rodessa is in Wood River, Illinois (just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, MO). That salt-treated porch railing just does not work on this old bungalow.

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House

This Rodessa may look a little blue, but it's actually a very happy house with lots of good self-esteem. It's in Northern Illinois. Photo is copyright 2010 Rebecca Hunter and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Heres the Rodessa in my home state (Virginia). Its located in a tiny fishing village known as Urbana.

Here's the Rodessa in my home state (Virginia). It's located in a tiny fishing village known as Urbana. The plaque over the door reads, "Sears Roebuck House, 1924." I was told that the folks in Urbana didn't realize that Sears had 369 other kit home designs. This is a fairly common misconception. This 88-year-old house is in beautiful condition.

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And here are the two Rodessas that were built side-by-side at the site of the old Sears Mill (in Cairo, IL).

And here are the two Rodessas that were built side-by-side at the site of the old Sears Mill (in Cairo, IL). They were built in the late 1910s as part of an experiment to prove that "The Ready-Cut Method" was far more efficient than traditional building practices of the time.

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Ready

The house that was built using traditional building practices took 583 hours and the poor saps aren't finished yet. The yard is still a mess with scraps of lumber scattered hither and yon. The workers have collapsed on the front porch in utter despair and humiliation.

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house

Ah, but the pre-cut Sears Kit Home is all buttoned up and beautiful! They even had time to finish up the landscaping! The kitchen windows are wide open. They had so much time to spare that they went inside and cooked dinner!

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By 1933, the Rodessa had undergone a radical transformation.

By 1933, the Rodessa had undergone a radical transformation. The clipped gables were gone, as were the dramatically oversized eaves. The unique shape of the front porch was replaced with a simpler gabled roof. In a word, its flair and panache had been replaced with pedestrian and dull.

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Learn more about the two Rodessas at the Sears Mill by clicking here.

How did Sears Homes become so popular so fast? Read about that here.

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift? It’s just one click away!

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Cairo: The Little Illinois Town That Couldn’t

April 30th, 2011 Sears Homes 1 comment

To read a more updated version of this story, click here.

Cairo, Illinois is in the news today, due to all the flooding around the Mississippi.

Politicians are debating a procedure that would blow the levees and allow the flooding of 132,000 acres of farmland in order to save Cairo (which is currently being flooded by the rising Mississippi). Illinois democrat Dick Durbin (one of my least favorite people) is quoted as saying, “most of us believe that this city is worth saving.”

If that is an honest statement (and that’s a big if considering the source), then where has Dick Durbin been for the last 40 years, as Cairo has been slip-sliding away? A casual visitor dropped into Cairo, Illinois would think he’s in a third-world country. The city is awash in burned-out hulls of buildings, abandoned churches and hospitals and schools. If Durbin cares so much about Cairo, he’s sure doing a good job of keeping it a secret.

Cairo is Illinois’ own mini-version of Detroit, Michigan.

In its heyday, Cairo was a bustling river town and was home to captains of industry, shipping magnates, wealthy business people and other “people of note.” It’s even mentioned in James A Michener’s epic miniseries, “Centennial, because in the late 1800s, Cairo was the gateway to the west.

In the mid-1960s, racial unrest and riots were a sad part of the American landscape, but in Cairo, things went especially badly. African-Americans, weary of Jim Crow laws and disparate treatment, threatened to boycott businesses that employed only whites. White business owners responded by closing their stores. Large numbers of families left the area and never returned. Industry left. Businesses closed. Wealthy people took their capital and moved away.

Today, downtown Cairo is a ghost town - an incredible time capsule - frozen in the 1960s. The city that once boasted of 14,000 citizens now has about 3000 people living within its borders.

Outside of downtown, things aren’t much better. The burnt out hull of old buildings remain, the architectural victims of bored miscreants. There’s no money in the state or local budget to raze the remnants of these destroyed homes. Folks often say California is on the cusp of bankruptcy. Illinois can’t be far behind, and Cairo is the poster-child for an American city that went from princely to pauper.

In the early 1900s, Cairo was the site of a 40-acre Sears Mill, where Sears kit homes were milled and shipped out to all 48 states. It was a vibrant business, in an important southern town. Cairo’s location at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers made it a natural for shipping and distribution. At the turn of the last century, Cairo (pronounced “Care-Roe”) could boast of having four major rail lines, enabling it to become a centralized shipping point for lumber harvested from the South and sent to the North.

In Spring 2010, I returned to Cairo and visited the town again. More burned out buildings, more desolation, more depressing sites. What’s happening to our once-great land that we now have cities that are in collapse, and states that are in bankruptcy?

I’ve nothing pithy to add to this sad story. Pictures tell the story far better than I could.

Entrance to Cairo
Entrance to Cairo. The old flood dates are no longer in working, but the old rivers still work really, really well.

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Part of the charm of the downtown is it really is a step back in time. Notice the vintage cat in the foreground.

Spearmint “Pepsin Gum” surely got their money’s worth out of this old advertisement.

Hospital in Cairo

Is there a doctor in the house?

School

School's out for summer. And for the rest of time.

Throughout the city, there are many such houses, burned out and left to fall down. Note, this shot shows three houses in a row.

Throughout the city, there are many such houses, burned out and left to fall down. Note, this shot shows three burned out houses in a row.

What remain in Cairo, Illinois are many Sears Homes. Most are in marginal condition.

What remain in Cairo, Illinois are many Sears Homes. Many of these Sears Homes are no longer "pretty little homes."

Sears House - The Rodessa - in Cairo.

Sears House - The Rodessa - in Cairo.

An old Sears Homart (prefab house) sits on the edges of the city, not far from the Sears Mill in Cairo, IL

An old Sears Homart (prefab house) sits on the edges of the city, not far from the Sears Mill in Cairo, IL. Homart Homes were post-WW2 Sears Homes that were shipped out in sections, which were then bolted together at the building site. These were radically different from "Sears Modern Homes" which were pre-cut kit homes.

Sears

A glorious billboard at the city's entrance offers such promise.

To learn more about Cairo, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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That Rare and Elusive Bird: The Sears Magnolia

January 12th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

Visits to my website are steadily going up, which is a good thing. And with those extra visits, more inquires about Sears Magnolias are also on the rise! Oh, but if only a few of the many photos were actually the real deal!

Priced at about $6,000, the Sears Magnolia, offered from 1918-1922 was Sears most expensive house, and the biggest, too. Unfortunately, it was also the rarest, with only six known Magnolias sold in the entire country!

Right after WW1 (The Great War) ended, prices went sky high. Sears couldnt keep up with the volatility in the cost of building materials, so they started inserting price sheets into their catalog. This shows the profound reduction in cost, in the late 1920s.

Right after WW1 (The Great War) ended, prices went sky high. Sears couldn't keep up with the volatility in the cost of building materials, so they started inserting price sheets into their catalog. This shows the profound reduction in cost, in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Sears Magnolia was purposefully patterned after a popular housing style, The Southern Colonial. Here in Hampton Roads, there are Southern Colonial Revival styled homes in many of our turn-of-the-century neighborhoods. However, the Sears Magnolia - the real deal - has some unique features that’ll help differentiate it from other homes of that period.

Below are some images from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog, showing details around the roof and front porch. Take a moment and really study these images and you’ll see some of the unique architectural features. And if you want to see a real Sears Magnolia, click here and here and here.

Sears Magnolia from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Magnolia from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Magnolia

Sears Magnolia - first story floor plan.

Details on Sears Magnolias front porch

Details on the Sears Magnolia's front porch. The two-story columns are an eye-catching feature. Also notice the distinctive roof lines and unique details around the front porch. At its core, the Sears Magnolia is a classic foursquare with delusions of grandeur.

Maggy in Benson

Maggy in Benson

If you really think you’ve found a Sears kit home, look for stamped lumber in the basement, like this:

And in the flesh, it looks like this:

The mark appears on two places: The butt end and also on the tall face, about 2-6 inches from the end of the lumber.

The mark appears on two places: The butt end and also on the tall face, about 2-6 inches from the end of the lumber.

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.

maggy_benson_nc

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog