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Posts Tagged ‘magnolia’

Wood River, Illinois and “The Chilton”

September 24th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

For about a dozen years, I lived in Alton, Illinois. In fact, that’s where I researched and wrote The Houses That Sears Built.

Last week, I returned to Alton to visit family.

Of course, I couldn’t resist driving around my old stomping grounds a bit and looking at the old houses. I left the area in Spring 2006. Since then, I’ve acquired many “new” old catalogs and learned a great deal. While in the Riverbend area last week, I made many “fresh” discoveries.

One of the more interesting finds was this Sterling “Chilton” in nearby Wood River, Illinois

Sterling was based in Bay City, Michigan, and was one of six national companies that sold kit homes in the early 20th Century through mail-order catalogs.

They started out life as International Mill and Timber Company, and in 1915, they launched their own line of pre-cut kit homes, and re-named their company, “Sterling Homes.”

Sterling Homes offered construction services for developers and one of their largest clients turned out to be General Motors, which paid for 1,000 houses to be built in Flint Michigan (for GM workers). Their last catalog was printed in 1974. Total sales during their 59 years in business were about 45,000 homes. (Thanks to Dale Wolicki for the stats and facts on Sterling!)

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for providing me with the scanned images from the 1917 Sterling Homes catalog!

Learn more about the history of Sterling Homes by clicking here.

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The Sterling Chilton, from the 1917 Sterling Homes catalog.

The Sterling Chilton, from the 1917 Sterling Homes catalog.

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Sterling Homes was based in Bay City, Michigan, and while they were a national company, they were probably one of the smallest companies selling kit homes through mail order.

Sterling Homes was based in Bay City, Michigan. During their 59 years in business, they sold about 45,000 pre-cut kit homes. Shown here is the cover of the 1916 Sterling Homes catalog.

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I just love these graphics.

I just love these graphics. And notice the political commentary that was written in by some anonymous soul. Charles Evans Hughes ran against Woodrow Wilson in 1916. He put in a good showing and lost by a mere 594,000 votes. If Hughes had won California, we wouldn't have nearly so many high schools named after Woodrow Wilson.

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The Chiltons

The Chilton had an oversized living room and dining room, and two small bedrooms, one of which had a cedar closet. Notice the "Jack and Jill" bathroom.

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house house

The base of the columns on that Chilton are what make it really stand out! There's been some debate in our Facebook group as to the purpose of those projections on those stuccoed columns. Rachel suggested it was to have a safe place for your beer while you were out mowing the yard. Sounds pretty smart to me.

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Close

While not a spot-on match to the catalog image, I am confident that this house in Wood River is a Sterling Chilton. The front door is easy enough to move, and this is a common alteration. Plus, the house has replacement windows, aluminum siding (ick) and aluminum trim (sigh), so it's possible that it's been subjected to many "improvements."

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View from the other side.

View from the other side. Three windows have been added to the front gable, but the rest of the details on the home's front are very good, including the five brackets and their placement, the broad piece of fascia across the front and the size and shape of the porch wall.

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House

While the house in Wood River has a few details that are a bit off, this column is a spot-on match, and it's such a unique architectural feature, that I'm willing to bet money that this is indeed the Sterling Chilton.

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The reason for my return to the St. Louis area: My daughter will soon be married to this fine gent. Theyre sitting in front of the gazebo where their wedding will take place.

The reason for my return to the St. Louis area: My daughter will soon be married to this fine gent. They're sitting in front of the gazebo, gazing at the very spot where their wedding will take place.

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As a final note, sometime in 1999 or 2000, my (then) husband and I went to an open house in Alton, IL where we saw this house for sale. Its an Aladdin Magnolia. I drove more than 80 miles, criss-crossing every street in Alton looking for this house but could not find it. If you know where this house is, please leave a comment below. Ill be returning to Alton later for my daughters wedding and would love to get a photo of this house.

As a final note, sometime in 1999, my (then) husband and I went to an open house in Upper Alton, IL (near Edwards Street) where we saw this house for sale. Last month, I was looking through the 1953 Aladdin catalog and re-discovered this house. It's an Aladdin Magnolia, and as soon as I saw the image, I remembered seeing this very same house in 1999. When I was in Alton last week, I drove more than 80 miles, criss-crossing every street in the city, looking for this house but could not find it. If you know where this house is, please leave a comment below. I'll be returning to Alton later for my daughter's wedding and would love to get a photo of this house. Thanks!!

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To join our “Sears Homes” group on Facebook, click here.

To read more about the Aladdin Magnolia, click here.

If you know where that Aladdin Magnolia is, please leave a comment below! And please share this link with your Riverbend Friends!

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“A Mansion of Colonial Style Architecture” - Sears Kit Home #303

December 6th, 2012 Sears Homes 6 comments

There are scores of Sears kit homes that I have never laid eyes on, and Sears Modern Home #303 is one of them.

This particular model is of special interest because it is so grand and ostentatious. It has many unique features, so it’s easy to differentiate #303 from your garden variety Queen Anne manse.

And this was offered by Sears Roebuck as a “Kit Home.”

What a kit!

I don’t know that any of these were ever built. The sale of Sears Homes didn’t really take off until after The Great War ended (1919), and this house was only offered in one year (1910). It does not appear in “Houses by Mail.”

My dear friend and co-author Dale Wolicki posits that it was just a carryover from a pattern book house that Sears added to their catalog in 1910. That’s a pretty sound theory, and very likely.

Modern Home #303 was offered only in the very rare 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Modern Home #303 was offered only in the very rare 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog. It was the most expensive house offered in the catalog, and was intended to be built with solid brick walls. Sears estimated that the finished cost would be about $6,700.

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Would you pay almost $7,000 for this house?

Would you pay $6,700 for this house?

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One of the towers

One of the towers is a polygon (not circular).

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And the other is round.

And the other is round.

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And there's a toilet on the first floor! No sink, just a toilet!

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Close-up of all that busyness on the back of the house.

Close-up of all that busyness on the back of the house.

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Check out this floorplan!

Check out this floorplan! Notice the trunk room over the kitchen area? Back in the day, it wasn't fittin' to put a bedroom over the kitchen. Too much heat and too many odors.

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And its even better than a Barbie Dream Mansion!

And it's even better than a Barbie Dream Mansion!

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read about Wardway Houses, click here.

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South Carolina, Churlish Chiggers, and Fake Maggies

July 25th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

Last month, I spent several days traveling in South Carolina. I visited many cities in the northern part of South Carolina but found very few Sears Homes. The highlight of the trip was Anderson, where I found several kit homes from Sterling Homes (a competitor to Sears).

Click here to see photos of those houses.

I did, however, find more than 20 chiggers. Or should I say, they found me. I was in Pumpkintown, SC merrily traipsing through a happy, happy meadow when I picked up Satan’s microscopic hitchhikers.

Suffice it to say, my sufferings in the next few days rivaled that of Job, who used pottery shards to relieve the itch of his sores. (Having endured this misery, I’m now convinced that old Job hisself got into a mess of chiggers.)

But I digress…

During an earlier trip to Blacksburg, South Carolina (February 2011), I’d visited the twin of the Sears Magnolia.

The house in Blacksburg turned out to be a fake Sears Magnolia. And yet, it was so close to the real thing. After spending three days at this fine house, I decided it could not be a Magnolia.

In retrospect, I believe it may have been an early pattern book house, and that the fine folks at Sears discovered this pattern book design and incorporated it into their “Book of Modern Homes,” calling it, The Magnolia.

The house in Blacksburg was built about 1910 (according to tax records), which also fits with my pattern book theory.

This “SCFM” (”South Carolina Faux Maggy”) is four feet wider and four feet longer than the Sears Magnolia, which is interesting (and also fits with the above theory). When Sears “borrowed” patters from other sources, they’d change the dimensions a bit, and in the case of the SCFM, it was a tiny bit too big for Sears purposes, so shrinking the footprint made a lot of sense.

One more interesting detail: The underside of the front porch (eaves) shows that there are ten brackets on the Sears Magnolia. The SCFM has eight brackets. The Magnolia’s dormer has four of these eave brackets. The SCFM has three. These are the kind of details that matter.

I seriously doubt the SCFM is the only one of its kind. Does your town have a fake Magnolia?

To read my favorite blog on the Sears Magnolia, click here. It’s an old carpenter telling about HOW he built a Magnolia in the 1920s.

To read about the sweet ride that carried me to old South Carolina, click here.

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The Sears Magnolia, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

The Sears Magnolia, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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And heres the SCFM in Blacksburg. Its NOT a Sears House, but it sure is close.

And here's the SCFM in Blacksburg. It's NOT a Sears House, but it sure is close.

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Really, really close.

Really, really close.

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I mean, cmon. You cant get much closer than this. And yet, this is not a Sears Magnolia. Sadly.

I mean, c'mon. You can't get much closer than this. And yet, this is not a Sears Magnolia. Sadly. All the details are just so darn close...

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Even has those distinctive marginal lites.

Even has those distinctive marginal lites.

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And the porch is a good match, too.

And the porch is a good match, too.

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One of the first thigns that caught my eye were these columns. Theyre concrete. The Sears Magnolia had hollow wooden columns (poplar). No kit house is going to come with concrete two-story Corinthian columns. The weight would be enormous. When I saw these columns I knew - this was not a kit home from Sears.

One of the first details that caught my eye were these columns. They're concrete. The Sears Magnolia had hollow wooden columns (poplar). No kit house is going to come with concrete two-story Corinthian columns. The weight would be enormous. When I saw these columns I knew - this was not a kit home from Sears.

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And its a beauty, too.

Minus the concrete columns, it's still such a good match.

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Inside the house, it has a Magnolia room!

Inside the house, it has a "Magnolia Room"! How apropos!

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The citys records show that this house was built in 1910, and those city records are not always right, but in this case, I suspect theyre close. The SCFM had a fireplace in every room and they were coal-burning fireplaces, which was typical for homes built in the first years of the 1900s.

The city's records show that this house was built in 1910, and oftimes, those city records are not always right, but in this case, I suspect they're close. The SCFM had a fireplace in every room and they were coal-burning fireplaces, which was typical for homes built in the first years of the 1900s. The Magnolia had two fireplaces, both wood-burning.

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This beautifully decorated house has a massive entry hall...

This beautifully decorated house has a massive entry hall, but that's one of the problems. The floorplan for this SCFM is NOT a good match to the Magnolia's floorplan. Plus, the Sears Magnolia had nine-foot ceilings. The ceilings in this house were 10' or more.

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The staircase in the real Magnolia is in a different spot.

The staircase in the real Magnolia is in a different spot. It's much closer to the front of the house, whereas the SCFM's staircase is much further back, and its hallway goes straight back to a rear entry door (unlike the floorplan above).

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In the end, I had to boldly declare that this was NOT a Sears Magnolia which made me very sad. However, it did tell me that this was probably a planbook house at some point. Now we just need to figure out WHICH plan book!

In the end, I had to boldly declare that this was NOT a Sears Magnolia which made me very sad. However, it did tell me that this was probably a planbook house at some point. Now we just need to figure out WHICH plan book!

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Also in Blacksburg, SC I found my favorite Alhambra of all time. Its LAVENDAR!

Also in Blacksburg, SC I found my favorite Alhambra of all time. It's LAVENDER!

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If you see this house, send me an email!

Such a beauty - but it's not from Sears.

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This is the real deal in Canton, Ohio.

This is the real deal in Canton, Ohio. Photo is copyright 2012 Janet Hess LaMonica and can not be used or reproduced without written permission. So there.

To contact Rose, leave a comment below.

To read more about the Sears Magnolia, 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 Dandy Amsterdam!

March 23rd, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

The Sears Magnolia was their biggest, fanciest home, but the Sears Amsterdam was a close second.  The Magnolia had 2,880 square feet of living area, and the Amsterdam was only 300 square feet behind, at 2552. Heretofore, we’ve found seven Magnolias in the country, and yet I’ve never seen one Amsterdam. The one shown below came from a photo sent by Melody Snyder. This house is in Pittsburgh, PA.

If you’ve seen an Amsterdam in your town, please send me a photo! I suspect these houses weren’t that rare, but more likely, folks have not really been looking for them! Of the 70,000 Sears kit homes in the country, probably fewer than 20% have been identified as such. In general, about 90% of the people living in these Sears Houses didn’t know what they had until I knocked on their door and told them.

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

The Amsterdam, as seen in the 1928 Sears catalog.

The Amsterdam, as seen in the 1928 Sears catalog.

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And it has a music room (and a half-bath) on the first floor!

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Look at that floorplan! Very spacious.

Look at that floorplan! Very spacious.

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The Amsterdam - in brick!

The Amsterdam - in brick! This house is in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo is copyright 2011 Melody Snyder and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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And from the side...

And from the side, you can see a little piece of that staircase bumpout on the back of the house. (Photo is copyright 2011 Melody Snyder and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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One common feature found in many Sears Homes is this plinth block. The simple block made it easier for homeowners to deal with complex joinery (such as is found at staircase landings). Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Banner and cannot be used or reproduced without written permission.)

One common feature found in many Sears Homes is this plinth block. The simple block made it easier for homeowners to deal with complex joinery (such as is found at staircase landings). Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Banner and cannot be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Marked lumber is another way

Marked lumber is another clue that tells you, it may be a kit home. On Sears Homes, the mark is a three-digit number and a letter (as is shown on this floor joist).

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To learn more, click here.

Holy Moly, There IS a 7th Magnolia (and It’s In Syracuse) - UPDATED

May 5th, 2011 Sears Homes 17 comments

We have confirmation on our seventh Magnolia.  Absolute, incontrovertible proof.

Earlier this month, I contacted the owner, and learned that she has documentation, showing that this house did indeed come from Sears and Roebuck. Between that, and the visual confirmation, we have a WINNER!  :)

Let’s back up a bit. What is a MagnoliaThe Magnolia was the creme de la creme of the Sears kit homes. It was bigger and grander and fancier than any of the other 370 models that Sears offered. You can learn a whole lot more about the Magnolia by clicking here and here.

In short, The Magnolia was Sears’ finest home. And it was also one of the rarest.

For years, we’d heard that there were six Magnolias built in the country. There was one in Nebraska (which burned down many years ago), and one in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Alabama, Indiana and Ohio. (Click on the links to read more about those particular houses).

And then in February, I got wind of a purported Sears Magnolia in Blacksburg, South Carolina. I put 897 miles on my car that weekend, driving down to Blacksburg to see that house in the flesh. It was close - real close - but it was not a Sears Magnolia. You can read more about that here.

So when I got another note Wednesday morning (May 4, 2011)  that there was a Sears Magnolia in Syracuse, I was skeptical. Actually, I was many miles past skeptical. It was 2:00 a.m., and I couldn’t sleep so I went to Google and “drove” via Google Maps. And then I saw it.

“Holy cow,” I muttered under my breath in the quiet stillness of my pre-dawn bedroom. “I think that’s a Magnolia!”

By 8:30 a.m., an old-house lover and architectural angel (Mariel Proulx) responded to a desperate note I’d posted online, and jumped in her car and drove to Syracuse to photograph a 90-year-old house for a perfect stranger. She snapped a dozen photos for me.

After seeing the photos, I was 99% convinced this was the real deal. And then last night, two more architectural angels (Scott Bailey and Jerry Ashley) offered to drive to Syracuse and get more photos for me!

When I heard from the homeowner, that cinched the deal! How delightful is that!?!

Enjoy the photos. And please leave a comment below. And thanks so much to both Ted Johnson and Heather Lukaszewski for contacting me and letting me know that there was a good reason to take a closer look at that quiet tree-lined street in Syracuse, New York. And thanks to Mariel Proulx for dropping everything and driving to the next city (in the rain) to get me a dozen good quality photos of my Sears Magnolia! :) And thanks to Scott and Jerry for driving out there today to get even more photos!

First, the original catalog image from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Magnolia

Sears Magnolia as seen in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The Sears Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922.

Magnolia

The glorious Magnolia in all its splendor. (Photo is courtesy of Scott Bailey and Jerry Ashley and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

Close up

Close up of the bracketing under the eaves. Note those awesome Corinthian columns! (Photo is courtesy of Scott Bailey and Jerry Ashley and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

View of the side

Isn't it spectacular! What a house! (Photo is courtesy of Scott Bailey and Jerry Ashley and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

Sears Magnolia in Syracuse, New York

Good gracious, that's a good looking house! (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Incredibly, this 90-year-old house looks much like it did when built! In all my travels, this is surely the MOST perfect Magnolia of them all! (Photo is courtesy of Scott Bailey and Jerry Ashley and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

House

And our Maggy is SO photogenic! Beautiful from every single angle! (Photo is courtesy of Scott Bailey and Jerry Ashley and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

Details on Sears Magnolias front porch

Details on the Sears Magnolia's front porch. Note how the pilasters (flat half-columns flanking the front door) are tapered, and broader at the bottom than they are at the top.

Those tapered columns are also evident here.

Those tapered columns are also evident here. The details around the entry way are very nice. (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. )

Close-up of the house itself (1921 catalog)

Close-up of the house itself (1921 catalog)

And the house in Syracuse

The second floor windows are not a perfect match to the catalog page, but that's a relatively unimportant detail. More than 30% of Sears Homes were customized when built, and moving windows to and fro was one of the more common alterations. (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. )

Long view down the side

Long view down the side. From this angle, you can see that the dormer is also a perfect match to the catalog image, even down to the short pilasters on the dormer's corners! (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. )

Wow.

Wow. Just WOW! (Photo is courtesy of Scott Bailey and Jerry Ashley and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

A beautiful Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

Sears Magnolia

Sears Magnolia in Benson, NC.

Sears Magnolia in Irwin, PA.  (Photo courtesy of Bob Keeling)

Sears Magnolia in Irwin, PA. (Photo courtesy of Bob Keeling) Done in brick, this Sears Magnolia also is not a spot-on match to the catalog page.

Magnolia in South Carolina

The Magnolia in Alabama is also not a spot-on match to the original catalog image. Most obvious is that attic dormer, which is much simpler than the Magnolia dormer. Yet this house in Piedmont Alabama is a Sears Magnolia.

To learn more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Atlanta’s Amazing Abundance of Sears Homes

February 16th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

For 12 years, I lived in Illinois and I spent many happy years seeking and finding kit homes throughout the Midwest. In 2006, I moved back “home” to Virginia, and I’ve spent subsequent years looking for kit homes in the south.

I’m surprised at how many I’ve found in this part of the country. An even bigger surprise was the abundance of kit homes I found during a brief trip to Atlanta. The houses pictured below are the tip of the iceberg, I’m sure. There just wasn’t time to cover the whole of Atlanta.

Take a look at the photos below and enjoy the many pretties of Atlanta!

Btw, if you know of a historical society and/or civic group that’d be interested in sponsoring my return to Atlanta, please leave a comment below.

Enjoy the photos!

And if you’d like to learn more about the kit homes in the south, click here.

Beautiful brick Alhambra in the heart of Atlanta!

This lovely brick Alhambra is located in the heart of Atlanta!

This was Aladdins fanciest home: The Villa

This was Aladdin's fanciest home: The Villa. This image is from the 1916 Aladdin catalog. Aladdin was a kit home company that (like Sears) also sold kit homes out of mail-order catalog. In Atlanta, I found more Aladdin kit homes than Sears kit homes. Not surprising, as Aladdin had a massive mill in North Carolina.

The Aladdin Villa in Atlanta! This may be the prettiest Aladdin Villa that I have ever seen.

The Aladdin Villa in Atlanta! And it's surely one of the prettiest Aladdin Villas that I have ever seen. It is perfect in every way, and a spot-on match to the original catalog image.

The Aladdin Pasadena was a very popular house

The Aladdin Pasadena was a very popular house

And heres the Aladdin Pasadena we found in Atlanta!

An Aladdin Pasadena on a main drag in Atlanta!

Aladdin Pomona, from the 1919 Aladdin Homes catalog

Aladdin Pomona, from the 1919 Aladdin Homes catalog

Aladdin Pomona in Acworth, a suburb of Atlanta

Aladdin Pomona in Acworth, a suburb of Atlanta. This Pomona is in beautifully original condition! Note the details around the porch gable, and the flared columns and the original siding. It's a real beauty. Unfortunately, I shot the photo when the sun was low in the sky. Hence, the long shadows.

The Sears Osborn from the 1921 Sears catalog

The Sears Osborn from the 1921 Sears catalog

One of our most interesting finds was the modern Sears Osborn. It looks like an Osborn - kind of - but its too new and modern. And look at the cornice returns. Most likely, this Sears Osborn is a reproduction, designed by someone who loves Sears Homes!

One of the most interesting finds was this contemporary Sears Osborn. It looks like an Osborn - kind of - but it's too new and modern. And look at the cornice returns. Most likely, this Sears Osborn is a reproduction, built by a real fan of Sears Homes!

One of my favorite photos is this Sears Magnolia in Alabama, just a few miles from the Georgia border!

One of my favorite photos is this Sears Magnolia in Alabama, just a few miles from the Georgia border. Apart from the slightly different dormer up top, this house is a good match to the catalog picture. No, it's not Atlanta, but it's pretty close! And there are only six known Magnolias in the whole country!

If you know anything more about these houses, please leave a comment below. Or if you’d like to contact Rose Thornton, please leave a comment.

If you’d like to keep reading about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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A Sears Magnolia in South Carolina?

February 15th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last week, I put 897 miles on the old Camry driving from Norfolk to Raleigh to South Carolina (and making a few stops along the way). I’d heard that there was a Sears Magnolia in western South Carolina, so I decided to check it out.

Here are some photos:

Maggy May

Purported Magnolia in South Carolina.

Sears Magnolia

Sears Magnolia as seen in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The Sears Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922.

Windows

The windows in the SC Maggy are right. These are replacement windows, but the original proportions and space are correct. The small lites at the top are original, and they're a spot-on match to the Sears Magnolia.

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.

Sears Magnolia in SC

Sears Magnolia in SC. While the Magnolia has a fan lite (semi-circle) over the front door, this one has a rectangle. Still, that's not a huge difference and not a deal breaker.

Maggy in Benson

The Maggy in Benson, NC is a spot-on match.

Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

A beautiful Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

Sears Magnolia

Sears Magnolia in Benson, NC.

Sears Magnolia in Irwin, PA.  (Photo courtesy of Bob Keeling)

Sears Magnolia in Irwin, PA. (Photo courtesy of Bob Keeling) Done in brick, this Sears Magnolia also is not a spot-on match to the catalog page.

Maggy May

The Maybe-Not-A-Magnolia in South Carolina.

Magnolia in South Carolina

The Magnolia in Alabama is also not a spot-on match to the original catalog image. Most obvious is that attic dormer, which is much simpler than the Magnolia dormer. Yet this house in Piedmont Alabama is a Sears Magnolia.

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In conclusion, after spending about two hours inspecting the house in South Carolina, I’m of the opinion that it is NOT a Sears Magnolia. The lumber in the house just did not look like Sears lumber. I’ve seen many basements of many Sears Homes, and the lumber in this South Carolina house was much lighter and had a rougher cut.

I suspect that this beautiful old house was offered in a plan book somewhere in the early 1900s, and in later years, architects at Sears discovered the planbook and created the “Sears Magnolia” in the image and likeness of that plan book house. That’s a theory. I really don’t know.

What I do know is that the house in South Carolina was built in 1910*, and while the Magnolia’s footprint is 36 x 40, the footprint of the South Carolina house is 39 x 43, exactly three feet bigger in both directions. The interior rooms are adjusted accordingly. And if the Sears Magnolia began life as a pattern book house, or plan book house, this is exactly what Sears would have done to “modify” the design for their needs. At least a dozen times, I’ve found the identical twins of Sears designs in plan books and architectural magazines, a year or ten before it appeared in the pages of a Sears Modern Homes catalog. Typically, Sears would shave a couple feet off the floor plan and give it a nice name and voila! It’s Sears Modern Home #84736.

However, this is just a theory. I’m not sure. From the exterior, this house surely does look like a Sears Magnolia, but it’s not quite “perfect.” If anyone has any ideas, as Ross Perot once said, “I’m all ears.”

* The construction date of 1910 is not a confirmed fact, but came from tax records. Based on the interior design, I suspect that’s an accurate date. The house had coal-burning fireplaces in every room - no exceptions - and coal-burning fireplaces were very common in that time period (very early 1900s).

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Sears Magnolia: Not!

January 30th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

The Sears Magnolia was the biggest, fanciest and prettiest home that Sears offered during their 32 years in the kit home business. According to legend, there were only a few Magnolias built in the country, and heretofore, only six have been found (Benson, NC., South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana). The sixth was in Nebraska, and has since been torn down.

Everyone loves Sears kit homes. People are enchanted and intrigued by the idea that you could order a kit home out of a mail-order catalog and have it shipped (via train) to your building site. These were true kits, arriving in 12,000-piece kits (including a 75-page instruction book). Sears promised that a man of average abilities could have one assembled in 90 days.

But there’s another reason we love these homes: They’re beautiful. They’re well-designed and thoughtfully arranged, with nice profiles and proportions and lines.

Recently I was driving through a 1990s neighborhood and spotted this house. (I’m surprised no one has contacted me to report that this is a Sears Magnolia!)   In my humble opinion, this is not an attractive home. It lacks those those proportions and lines and depth that make a house remarkable. It is, to be blunt, flat and uninspiring.

Modern house in modern area

Modern house in modern area

Below is the real deal. A Sears Magnolia in Benson, NC.

maggy_benson_nc

Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

To read more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

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North Carolina’s Prettiest House: The Sears Magnolia

January 18th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

Thanks to a FOSH (Friend of Sears Homes), I found the 5th known Sears Magnolia in the country. In March 2010, “Joy” sent me a link last week to a news story on a Sears Home in Benson, NC (just outside of Raleigh).  When I clicked on the link, I had no idea the show would be featuring a Sears Magnolia - the Creme de la creme of Sears Homes!

As soon as possible, I left my house in Norfolk, Virginia to make the drive to Benson. Soon, I was parked in front of the Sears Magnolia, staring at her with majestic glee.

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.

This was the second Magnolia that I’ve been inside. The first was in Canton, Ohio. In 2002, PBS’s History Detectives did a segment on Sears Homes, and invited me to be part of the program.  After hours of filming, I took a nap inside the house, and that was one of the happiest naps of my life!

There are also Sears Magnolias in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Alabama.

Below is the Sears Magnolia in North Carolina.

To read more about the Sears Homes in Raleigh, click here.

maggy_benson_nc

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

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 ended, (also known as "The Great War"), 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. Post-war hyperinflation is not uncommon.