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Posts Tagged ‘mail order houses’

Number Nine

March 20th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

In 2008, Ersela Jordan contacted me and told me that she’d discovered a surfeit of Sears Homes in Beckley, WV. Turned out, she was right!  About the same time, another Beckley resident named Sandi Daniels got in on the fun and said that she’d found a Sears Magnolia in a nearby town!

Within a few weeks of that first contact, I was in the car, headed west on I-64 toward Beckley, WV. Once I arrived, Ersela, Sandi and I became fast friends and we had a wonderful time together.

The three of us together, with Ersela driving, went out to the rural spot where Sandi had spotted a Magnolia.

Turns out, it was not a Magnolia.

In a big way.

Ersela and I chided Sandi a bit, but she took it all in good stride. Through the intervening years, Sandi has sent me photos of her subsequent discoveries and I’ve always had to tell her the same thing, “Sorry Sandi…”

Until yesterday.

She sent me photos of yet another purported “Sears Magnolia” in New Martinsville, WV. But this time, the picture gave me pause.

Sandi and I talked on the phone, and she sent a few more pictures. Within 30 minutes, I was becoming convinced. Plus, Sandi and the home’s owner answered my many questions about the home’s quirky floorplan, well-nigh settling in my mind that this was the real thing.

Sandi sent me about two dozen photos of the house, and the photos pretty well cinched the deal.

I’m hoping to visit this potential “Number Nine” sometime in late Spring, and get a closer look, but right now, I feel very confident that this could well be another Sears Magnolia.

Better yet, it’s the 2nd Magnolia found in West Virginia.

Now that’s impressive!

Thanks so much to Sandi Daniels for finding our 9th Magnolia!

To read about the other Magnolias, click here.

Click here to read my favorite Magnolia blog.

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The Magnolia was offered only from 1918-1922, and was featured on the cover of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia was offered only from 1918-1922, and was featured on the cover of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog. For many years, it was believed that only six Magnolias had been built in the country.

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The Magnolia, as seen in the 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia, as seen in the 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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The Magnolia was Sears biggest and best kit home, and had servants quarters on the 2nd floor.

The Magnolia was Sears biggest and best kit home, and had four bedrooms (two of which had dressing areas), a front and rear staircase, and "servants' quarters" on the 2nd floor (upper left bedroom).

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It was a fine house

It was a fine house, measuring 40 feet deep and 36 feet wide.

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The house Sandi found in New Martinsville, WV has been through a lot of changes. The windows were replaced and substitute siding was installed. Its also been converted from a residential home into a commercial restaurant and shop. All these changes have really altered the appearance of the house, and yet, based on what Ive seen, Im still willing to declare - with much certainty - that this does appear to be a Sears Magnolia.

The house Sandi found in New Martinsville, WV has been through a lot of changes. The windows were replaced aand the window openings were altered. Plus, substitute siding was installed. It's also been converted from a residential home into a commercial restaurant and shop. All these changes have really altered the appearance of the house, and yet, based on what I've seen, I'm still willing to declare - with much certainty - that this does appear to be a Sears Magnolia. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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After seeing the outside, I felt pretty certain this could be a Magnolia, but after I saw the interior, I became ever more convinced.

After seeing the outside, I felt pretty certain that this was a Magnolia, but after I saw the interior, I became ever more convinced. This is what a Magnolia looks like on the 2nd floor.

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And the

In the living room, there have been many dramatic alterations to accomodate its conversion into commercial space, and yet I can still see the hints of a Magnolia lurking here.

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house house

Again, speaking as someone who's inspected the interior of three Sears Magnolias, these proportions look right to me. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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These interior views were featured in the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

These "interior views" were featured in a special fold-out of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog. From this "angle" you can see one o f the more curious features of the Sears Magnolia: There's one set of French Doors on the landing (which lead to a small balcony off the back of the house), and a second set of French Doors (beside the staircase on the first floor) leading to a rear hallway. (Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for sharing this RARE image from her own collection of original catalogs!)

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Check out this

In this picture, you can see the French Doors leading to the rear hallway, and you can see a piece of the French Doors on the upstairs landing. On the New Martinsville Magnolia, the French Doors on the landing now lead to another room (added to the back of the house). Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Is it or isnt it?

Another view of those French Doors on the 2nd floor landing. And just beyond those French Doors (on the first floor, to the left of the staircase) is another door which is *also* a quirky feature, unique to the Sears Magnolia. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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These interior views were featured in the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

If you mentally close those French Doors on the first floor in Sandi's picture (above this one) and compare it to THIS photo, you can really see the similarities. (1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.)

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If you mentally close those French doors,

If you mentally close those French doors to the left in Sandi's photo, you'll see that this is a near-perfect match, down to the unusual volute on the staircase. The spindles in the New Martinsville house are tapered, which I have seen in other high-end Sears Homes.The flair at the base of the stairs is an enhancement, buut for an experienced carpenter, this would be an easy alteration. .

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And from this angle, you can see another doorway tucked back in that small hallway (beyond the French Doors). This is also right (according to the floorplan) and lends even more support to my burgooning hope that this is the real thing.

Look closely, and you can see another doorway tucked back in that rear hallway (beyond the French Doors and to the left). This is also true to the Magnolia's floorplan and lends even more support to my burgooning hope that this is the real thing. And you can also get a better view of the volute. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And theres the outside.

And there's the outside. The house has been through a whole lot of changes, but I like the look of these proportions, too. It's unfortunate that when the front windows were replaced, the 15-marginal lites at the top were removed, and extra tall windows installed, but that's how it goes. At least it's still standing (unlike the Magnolia in Nebraska). Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Its still a fine old house.

It's still a fine old house. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And retains some of its original grandeur.

And retains some of its original grandeur. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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blah

More than 30% of Sears Homes were customized when built. Upstairs, on that 2nd floor balcony, someone opted for French Doors instead of a single door flanked by two small windows (as indicated in the original catalog images). Take a look at the floorplan in this area, and you'll agree, this is a good choice. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The original columns were preserved, but...

The original columns were preserved, but it looks like someone, desperate to deal with the rotting bases, wrapped them in concrete. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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This little detail - something the siding installers left behind - also gives an important clue.

This little detail - something the siding installers left behind - also gives an important clue. BTW, look at how the siding installers "wrapped" the trim around this post. <shudder> Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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That paneled post shown above - is just what Id expect to see on a Sears Magnolia.

That paneled post shown above - is just what I'd expect to see on a Sears Magnolia (minus the wooden ball on top). If this house is not a Magnolia, it's a darn good look-alike.

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This little detail - something the siding installers left behind - also gives an important clue.

This picture also shows the Magnoliaa's pilaster - yet another little detail - that is spot on. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Buut is

But is it our 9th Magnolia? I feel confident that it is. :) Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And while were talking about Sears Houses, I suspect that this is a Sears garage.

And while we're talking about Sears Houses, I suspect that this is a Sears garage. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Pretty nice

Pretty nice match, isn't it?

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To read about the other Magnolias, click here.

Click here to read my favorite Magnolia blog.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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Another Mystery in Richmond!

March 14th, 2014 Sears Homes 16 comments

My blog on the Sears Houses in Richmond has gotten several hundred views in the last few days. I am tickled pink to see it, but I wish I knew what led folks to a 15-month old blog!

But in the meantime, I’ve made another *fascinating* discovery, which might lead me to a neighborhood of Sears Homes in Richmond!

Today, David Spriggs and I were doing research at the Norfolk Public Library, and I found this article (June 16, 1921) in the Richmond Times Dispatch. At first glance, it looks like another 1920s ad, but look closely.

Article

The "beautiful bungalow" shown in the advertisement is a Sears Elsmore.

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Check out the fine print.

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And you can buy “all the material necessary to build this charming bungalow” - from Sears!
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If you look closely at the house in the ad, youll see its a Sears Elsmore.

If you look closely at the house in the ad, you'll see it's a Sears "Elsmore." In fact, it's the picture right out of the Sears Modern Homes catalog!

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This is the picture used in the advertisement shown above.

This is the picture used in the advertisement shown above.

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Heres an Elsmore in Elgin, Illinois. Were any of these beautiful bungalows built in Richmond?

Here's an Elsmore in Elgin, Illinois. Were any of these "beautiful bungalows" built in Richmond?

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Perhaps someone familiar with Richmond can help me find this neighborhood! Was the builder successful in pitching these Sears kit homes to the people who bought his lots?

This could be fun!!  Please leave a comment below if you know where this area is!

To learn more about the Sears Homes I found in Richmond, click here.

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

February 3rd, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Although I never did see one with a red roof.

Although I never did see one with a red roof.

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

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

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One of my favorite Magnolias in Benson, SC.

One of my favorite Magnolias in Benson, SC.

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Another gorgeous Magnolia in West Virginia.

Another gorgeous Magnolia in West Virginia.

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

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

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

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

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A brick Sears Magnolia in Pennsylvania.

A brick Sears Magnolia in Pennsylvania.

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

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

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

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

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

To see the inside of a Magnolia, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Bob Beckel’s Christmas Crescent

December 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

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

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

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

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

Or one television show at a time.  :)

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

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

To read more about the Sears Crescent, click here.

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Bob Beckels house, all decked out for the holidays.

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

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Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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

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

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Flippped

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

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

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A darling

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

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One of my favorite Crescents in Bloomington, IL.

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

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In 1928

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

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This testimonial

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

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

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

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

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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Pennsgrove: Up Close and Personal

November 12th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

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

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

Now that’s an exciting find.

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

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

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

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

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The Pennsgrove, as seen in the 1932 catalog.

The Pennsgrove, as seen in the 1932 catalog.

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Living Room 1932

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

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Garage

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

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send floor

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

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Ah, but it sure is a beauty!

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

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Compa

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

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phenomenal

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

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house

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

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

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

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house hosue house

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

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house house house house

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

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house house house

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

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What a house!

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

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

To learn more about the Pennsgrove, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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The Sears Elmhurst, Part II

October 11th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

Recently, Rachel Shoemaker was looking through a Sears Modern Homes catalog (1930) when she discovered a testimonial for a Sears Elmhurst built in Flushing, New York. She then did some extra digging and was able to glean the home’s current address.

In fact, Rachel wrote a blog on her wonderful discovery (click here to see it).

Now, we need someone near Flushing to snap a few photos of this grand and elegant home in Flushing. If you’re near the area, please leave a comment below and I’ll contact you toote suite!

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Testimoniaal

Here's the testimonial that Rachel found in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Zvonecs loved their house

I have a feeling that the Zvanovec's are no longer extending an open invitation to visit their home. Nonetheless, it sounds like they really did love their home, and were very proud of it.

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As Rachel points out in her blog, this must have been one of the first Elmhursts built, because it appeared in the 1929

Close-up of this beautiful Sears Elmhurst in Flushing, NY. Look at the beautiful stone work on the front porch.

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And heres the Elmhurst recently discovered in St. Louis.

And here's the Elmhurst recently discovered in St. Louis.

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An Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb (originally discovered by Rebecca Hunter).

Here's an Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb (originally discovered by Rebecca Hunter). Notice this house has the decorative blocks under the faux half timbering on that front gable. These blocks are missing from the Elmhurst in St. Louis and Flushing, NY. This Elmhurst and the one in Flushing are both brick veneer, whereas the one in St. Louis is solid brick. As mentioned in the prior blog, solid brick is very unusual on a Sears kit home.

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Is this a Sears Elmhurst? I think its likely but Im not certain. This house is in Rocky Mount, NC where I found an abundance of kit homes from both Sears and Aladdin.

Is this a Sears Elmhurst? I think it's likely but I'm not certain. It's in Rocky Mount, NC where I found an abundance of kit homes from both Sears and Aladdin. It's not a spot-on match but it's darn close! This is such an unusual house, I'd be inclined to say it probably is an Elmhurst. Probably. Notice, those decorative blocks are in place under the front gable.

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The Elmhurst was featured in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog and had a two-page spread.

The Elmhurst was "featured" in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog and had a two-page spread, including this colorized image. Notice, the blocks are shown in the catalog image.

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Are you near Flushing? Would you be willing to get some good, high-resolution photos for us?

If so, please leave a comment below!

To read more about the kit homes I found in Rocky Mount, click here.

To read  more about the Elmhurst, click here.

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Inside The Sears Elmhurst (St. Louis)

October 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 13 comments

Several weeks ago, a reader of this blog told me that he owned a Sears Elmhurst in St. Louis, and he was kind enough to send me a few photos. To my surprise and delight, he was right!  It really was an Elmhurst.

Last month, I visited the Elmhurst “in person” and my oh my, what a treat!

The home’s current owners have a deep abiding respect and appreciation for the unique origins of their historic home. In other words, they really love their old Sears House, and have been faithfully researching the history of this beautiful old house, and restoring it, inch by inch.

Thanks so much to the home’s owners who were gracious enough to let me take a tour of their home and share a few photos of its interior!

Elmhurst first appeared in the 1928

The Sears Elmhurst was a classic (and classy) Tudor Revival with a "half-timber effect" on the second story. Inside, it had three bedrooms and 1-1/2 baths. The house in St. Louis is in mostly original condition.

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house floorplan

The living room and dining room were spacious. The kitchen and lavatory were not.

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Cover of the 1932

The cover of the 1932 "Homes of Today" showed this fetching entryway, which is from the Elmhurst. It's kind of a "Twilight Zone" doorway, out of the hubbub of busy city living and into another dimension of peace and joy and "the satisfaction that comes from building your own home" (as Sears promised in their literature).

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house 1930 catalog

In the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog, the Elmhurst was given a two-page spread.

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house 1930

Even in the simplified line drawings (from the 1930 catalog) the Elmhurst looks quite elegant.

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house house house

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is a perfect match to the catalog image. Just perfect.

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house gerst

The St. Louis house is being faithfully restored by its current owners, and it's a real beauty.

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Elmhurst compare

Close-up of that entryway shown on the front cover of the 1932 catalog.

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Mike gerst elmhurst

And a fine side-by-side contrast of the St. Louis Elmhurst (left) and the entryway shown in the catalog.

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house ricin

The 1932 "Homes of Today" Sears Modern Homes catalog showed this view of the Elmhurst built in Ohio.

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house stairs

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is a good match to the black/white image above.

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house house stairs

The "Elmhurst built in Ohio" is shown here on the right, and the Elmhurst in St. Louis in on the left. The details are perfect with two lone exceptions: The front door is hinged different in the St. Louis house, and that decorative "S" is missing from the base of the wrought-iron staircase railing (which looks like it'd be a knee-buster anyway). The flip-flops are missing from the Elmhurst in Ohio.

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house la tosca

La Tosca door hardware was a very popular choice in Sears Homes.

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house house la tosca

The LaTosca door hardware, as seen in the Elmhurst and as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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phone niche

The moldings and trim in this Elmhurst are birch, according to the owner. Based on the research he's done, I'd say he's probably right. The owner is doing a remarkable job of restoring the inherent beauty of all the original wood trim throughout the house. The patina and beauty of the natural wood finish on this phone niche isn't accurately represented by this dark photo. While walking through the house, I couldn't help but to "reach out and touch" the beautiful wood trim. It really is that beautiful.

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house house door

The 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog showed this view of the front door (interior). Note that the stylistic "S" is missing from the wrought-iron railing in this picture.

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front door stuff

There was a wall that blocked my shooting the door and staircase from the same angle as shown above, but I got pretty close. This house was a one-hour trip from my brother's home in Elsah, IL (where I was staying), but once I saw the inside of this house, I was mighty glad I'd made the effort. In every way that an old house can be truly stunning, this house *was* stunning. It's a real gem in the heart of St. Louis.

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comparison

Comparison showing the 1930 catalog image and the real live house in St. Louis.

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Wall

From this view (near the landing), you get a better idea of the size of the hallway.

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kitchen 1932

The kitchen of the Elmhurst (as shown in the 1932 catalog). This appears to be a photo, and the picture was taken by someone standing with their backside leaning hard against the right rear corner of the house, looking toward the door that opens into the dining room. Notice the La Tosca hardware on the door.

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kitchen today

The Elmhurst's kitchen today, from that dining room door, looking toward the right rear corner. While I'm a big fan of all things old, even I'd agree that the kitchen needed a little bit of updating for the 21st Century.

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Most Sears kit homes had maple floors in the kitchen and bath (underneath tile and other floor coverings). The owners of the Elmhurst tried to restored the maple floor in their kitchen but it was too far gone.

Most Sears kit homes had maple floors in the kitchen and bath (underneath the floor coverings). The owners of the Elmhurst tried to restored the maple floor in their kitchen but these floors were really intended to be used as a subfloor, not a primary floor.

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house inside

The fireplace in the living room has the same square slate tiles as seen on the front porch.

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house hallway upstairs

This over-sized landing window was another lovely feature of the Elmhurst. As seen from the outside, this is the tall dormer window just to the right of the front porch (as seen from the street).

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window staircase

Downstairs looking up at the staircase window.

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house elmhurst

A distinctive feature found in two-story Sears kit homes are these plinth blocks. These square blocks were used to help the novice homebuilder cope with complex joints. The landing of the Elmhurst had three of these plinth blocks on one landing. I do believe that that's the most plinth blocks I've ever seen in one kit house.

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house plinth block

The plinth block at this juncture is actually two-steps tall.

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business card

While doing some work on the home, the owner found this business card inside a wall. I've seen a lot of very cool ephemera in my fun career, but this is one of the best. There were only 40 Sears Modern Homes "Sales Centers" in the country and there was one in St. Louis. Folks could stroll into these storefronts and get a first-hand look at the quality of framing members, millwork, heating equipment and plumbing fixtures. Apparently Miss Manning visited the Sears Modern Homes Sales Center and had some discussion with Marcelle Elton about her new Elmhurst.

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pipe tag pipe tag

The home's current owners found this tag attached to a cast-iron pipe inside the kitchen wall. It shows that the home's purchaser was a "Miss Margaret Manning" of Clayton, Missouri. For those interested in genealogy, I would LOVE to know where Miss Manning lived before she purchased the house in St. Louis and what she did for a living. Lastly, I'd also be interested in knowing how long she lived in this house.

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house pipe tag pipe tag

Close-up of the tab shows a return address of 925 Homan Avenue, in Chicago, Illinois.

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houe exterior house

From all angles, the Elmhurst is quite stunning.

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On the inside, those dormers look like this.

On the inside, those dormers look like this.

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house solid brick

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is an enigma for several reasons. One, this is not a frame house with brick veneer (like every other "brick" Sears kit house I've ever seen). This house is solid brick, and when the owner remodeled the kitchen, he said the exterior walls had furring strips (typical of a solid brick house). And the flashing and original gutters were copper. When built, the house had a tile roof. These are all significant upgrades and probably cost the home's first owner quite a bit extra.

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gerst home

This photo was taken by the home's current owner. You can see a remnant of the tile roof on the ridge of the house. And if you look closely, you can see the copper flashing around the chimney.

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Elmhurst in Chitown

There's another Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb that Rebecca Hunter found. This Elmhurst has concrete sills (as you'd expect to see on a kit house, because it's simpler than laying brick), but the house in St. Louis had *brick* sills.

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house 1930

The Elmhurst was beautiful, but not very popular. It was offered from 1929 to 1932.

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And look what my buddy Rachel found in her 1929 Brick Veneer Honor Bilt Homes catalog! Its an Elmhurst that was built in Long Island, NY. And Rachel even found the house - as it stands today - in New York!

And look what my buddy Rachel found in her 1929 "Brick Veneer Honor Bilt Homes" catalog! It's an Elmhurst that was built in Long Island, NY. And Rachel even found the house - as it stands today - in New York! Who wants to get a photo of this house? :)

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Thanks again to the home’s current owners for sharing their Elmhurst with me (and the readers of this blog!). It’s a real treasure.

To read more about Rachel’s discovery in New York, click here.

To join our group of Facebook (”Sears Homes”), click here.

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Meet Me in Louisa! (September 15th at 2:00 pm)

September 8th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

This Sunday (September 15th), I’ll be in Louisa, Virginia (near Charlottesville) giving a talk on the kit homes in Louisa County.

In the last 12 years, I’ve given more than 250 lectures in 26 states, and the #1 comment I hear from attendees is, “This was such fun, and I learned so much!”

A few fun facts:

* Sears Kit Homes were not prefab homes, but were true kits. Each 12,000-piece kit came with a a 75-page instruction book and a promise that “a man of average abilities” could have it assembled in 90 days.

*  The instruction book offered this somber warning: “Do not take anyone’s advice on how this house should be assembled.”

* The framing members were marked with a letter and a three-digit-number to facilitate construction. Today, these marks can help authenticate that a house is a kit home.

* More than 3/4ths of the people living in these homes don’t realize that they’ve living in a historically significant home!

* And 80% of the people who think that they have a Sears Home are wrong!

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


I hope you’ll be able to come out and join us on September 15th at 2:00 pm, at 214 Fredericksburg Avenue in Louisa.

The auditorium only holds 200 people, so get there early!

And if you know anyone who loves old houses, please invite them to join you!

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Woo-hoo!

Okay, actually this is a simple mailer that Aladdin sent out to their customers the late 1910s to let people know that their Aladdin catalog was on its way. It was so cute I decided I could use it here.

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Aladdin was actually a bigger company than Sears (in terms of mail-order kit home sales). Here in Southern Virginia, Ive found far more Aladdin Houses than Sears.

Aladdin was a bigger company than Sears (in terms of mail-order kit home sales). Here in Southern Virginia, I've found far more Aladdin Houses than Sears. While Aladdin was based in Bay City (Michigan), they had a very large mill in Wilmington, NC. The red dot shows where Louisa is located. Or that's what my husband claims. I have plenty of trouble with maps that have lots of detail. Maps like this leave me feeling like I need to lie down for a bit.

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One of my favorite finds in Louisa was this Aladdin Cape Cod (model name).

One of my favorite finds in Louisa was this Aladdin "Cape Cod" (model name).

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Ooh la la, what a pretty house!

Ooh la la, what a pretty house! And it's in Louisa!

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Also found an Aladdin Madison! (From the 1937 catalog)

Also found an Aladdin Madison! (From the 1937 catalog)

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Oh

The front entry has been squared up and enclosed, but other than that, it's a good match!

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My favorite find was the Aladdin Kentucky!

My favorite find was the Aladdin Kentucky! (From the 1915 catalog).

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This was a spacious and fine home.

This was a spacious and fine home.

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Now thats a gorgeous house!

Of all the houses I've found in my house-hunting career, this beauty is certainly one of my Top Ten Favorites. It looks much like it did when it first appeared in the 1912 Aladdin Homes catalog. Original windows, original cypress clapboards, original columns and porch. Good golly, what a house.

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Man oh man, what a match!

Man oh man, what a match!

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Ill also be talking about what I found in nearby communities, such as this Aladdin Shadowlawn in Orange!

I'll also be talking about what I found in nearby communities, such as this Aladdin Shadowlawn in Orange!

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Another

And what a fine-looking Shadowlawn it is.

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The Wexford, from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Wexford, from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Mineral is best known as the epicenter of the August 2011 earthquake. Its also the home to a perfect Sears Wexford.

Mineral is best known as the epicenter of the August 2011 earthquake. It's also the home to a perfect Sears Wexford. The house was "reversed" from the original image shown in the catalog, which was a common option.

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And look

And look what I found in Charlottesville!

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And look what I found in Charlottesville!

It's a picture-perfect Sears Rockford! Charlottesville has several kit homes that I discovered during a quickie drive-through. I'm sure there are many more just begging to be found.

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To get more information about the upcoming talk, please contact Elaine at info@louisacountyhistoricalsociety.org

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About Rose:

Rose Thornton has traveled throughout the country, seeking and finding Sears Homes. In that time, she’s written dozens of newspaper and magazine articles and several books.

Rose is the author of The Houses That Sears Built (2002,) Finding the Houses That Sears Built (2004) and she’s the co-author of California’s Kit Homes (2004) and Montgomery Wards Mail-Order Homes (2010). Rose’s newest book - The Sears Homes of Illinois - was published in 2011.

Rose has traveled to 26 states to give more than 200 lectures on Sears Homes, from Bungalow Heaven in Los Angeles to The Smithsonian in Washington, DC. She has addressed a wide variety of audiences from architectural preservationists in Boston, St. Louis and Chicago to kit home enthusiasts in small towns across America.

Rose has appeared on PBS (History Detectives), A&E (Biography), CBS (Sunday Morning News) and her book was featured in its own category on Jeopardy. She is considered the country’s #1 authority on kit homes. Her work has been featured in the Wall Street JournalNew York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, L. A. Times, Dallas Morning News, Old House Journal, American Bungalow, Blue Ridge Country and about 100 other publications. Twice in the last three years, the story of her unique career was picked up by the AP and in May 2009, she was interviewed on BBC Radio.

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Eight Pretty Maggies in a Row

August 29th, 2013 Sears Homes 9 comments

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

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

So where’s Number Nine?  :)

If you know, please leave a comment below!

Below are pictures of the eight Magnolias.

Enjoy!

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

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

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When first offered

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

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

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

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Canton, Ohio

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

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

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

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

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

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Syracuse

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

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house house house

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

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

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

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

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

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And in Blacksburg, SC

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

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house house house

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

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marked lumber

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

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Now, about that 9th Magnolia…

Where is it?  :)

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

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A Tale of Two Maggies

August 27th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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comparison

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

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house house

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

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Two Maggies

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

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One house was painstakingly restored.

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

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And one was saved

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

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Photo of Lincoln

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

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Steve Burke

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

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haunting

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

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beautiful old house

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

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Reception Hall

The breathtakingly beautiful reception hall in the West Virginia Magnolia.

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haunting too

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

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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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