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Posts Tagged ‘mail order kit’

The Historic (Kit) Homes of Concord, Massachusetts!

June 11th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

My husband and I recently returned from the Boston area, where we visited my daughter. For Sunday lunch, we landed in Concord, Massachusetts and on the way out of town, I spotted an Aladdin kit home - The Plaza.

And what a beautiful Plaza it is!

Much to my chagrin, I was not able to get a photo of this fine home because it’s located on a busy street, and the traffic on that narrow road was unbelievably horrific!

And now, I’m wondering, how many more kit homes are there in this historic Revolutionary town?

If you’re new to this site, you may be wondering, what IS a Sears kit home?

In the early 1900s, you could buy an entire house out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. These were not prefab houses, but real “kits” (with about 12,000 pieces of building materials!). The lumber came pre-cut and numbered to help facilitate construction. Those numbers, together with a 75-page instruction book, and blueprints designed for a novice, enabled a “man of average abilities” to build their own home.

Sears promised that you could have a house assembled and ready for occupancy in 90 days!

When Sears closed their “Modern Homes” department in 1940, all sales records were destroyed, so the only way to find these homes in one by one. In fact, based on my 12 years of experience, more than 90% of the people living in these homes didn’t realize what they had until I knocked on their door and told them.

In the early 1900s, there were six national companies selling these mail-order kit homes. Aladdin was one of those six companies, and it was in business longer than Sears (and sold more houses), but is not as well know.

How many more kit homes are in Concord? I’d love to know!

To learn more about Aladdin, click here.

To read about the Sears house I found in Needham, click here.

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Aladdin was a bigger company than Sears (in terms of selling kit homes) but was not as well known. This image is from Aladdins 1914 catalog.

Aladdin was a bigger company than Sears (in terms of selling kit homes) but was not as well known. This image is from Aladdin's 1914 catalog.

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Roanoke Rapids, NC is an example of a town built by Aladdin.

Roanoke Rapids, NC is an example of a town built by Aladdin.

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The Plaza was a classic bungalow and a popular house for Aladdin.

The Plaza was a classic bungalow and a popular house for Aladdin.

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Aladdin Plaza

The accompanying text pointed to the Aladdin Plaza as a "woman's reward for thrift."

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Plaza

Plaza, as seen in the 1919 Aladdin catalog.

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The Aladdin Plaza in Concord has had a couple minor changes, but it’s still mighty close to the original catalog image. And, be still my little heart, it still has its original porch railing! Does the owner know that they live in a historically significant kit house? I’d love to know! Photo is from the assessor’s website, and I’m hoping that assessor is a friendly fellow, and doesn’t mind the fact that his lovely photo was “borrowed” for such a historical purpose.

Heres another perfect Aladdin Plaza, and this one is in Roanoke Rapids. Like the house shown above, this one also has its original porch railings.

Here's another perfect Aladdin Plaza, and this one is in Roanoke Rapids. Like the house shown above, this one also has its original porch railings.

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And heres an Aladdin Plaza in my home town, Norfolk.

And here's an Aladdin Plaza in my home town, Norfolk.

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Do you know of any kit homes in Concord? Please leave a comment below!

To learn more about Aladdin, click here.

The Bellewood: A Happy Combination!

April 26th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

“The Bellewood is another happy combination of a well laid out floor plan with a modern exterior” (1932 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

And it’s also a real cutie-pie of a house.  With only 1,000 square feet of living area, it’s not surprising that people often convert the attic into usable living space.

The Bellewood is not an easy house to find, mostly because, it was only offered a short time (1931 - 1933), which also happened to be the first years of the Great Depression. In 1931, housing starts plummeted, so finding any post-1930 Sears Home is a special treat. (In January 1931, the Chicago Tribune reported that housing starts for the year [1930] were down 53%.)

Post-1930 Sears Homes are hard to find, and yet, there was one Sears House that will still selling by the hundreds in the early 1930s: The Crafton!

By the way, are you near Staunton? If so, come to our lecture on May 2nd!  :)  A good time will be had by all!

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1933 catalog house

The Bellewood (1933). Note that the Sears Modern Homes department is now known as the "Home Construction Division." In 1934, Sears closed down their kit homes department and in 1935, they reopened it for a short time. In 1940, the whole program was shuttered once and for all.

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1932 text

In 1932, it was described as a "Happy combination of a well laid out floor plan with a modern attractive exterior." In 1933, it was simply "an up-to-the-minute...design." How pedestrian.

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house floor plan

The Bellewood had a very simple floorplan, with two large closets and a tiny bathroom.

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Bellewood 1933

The Bellewood, as seen in the 1933 catalog.

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1932 catalog house

A close-up of the house as seen in 1932.

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Bellewood in Hopewell

Here's a lovely Bellewood in Hopewell, Virginia. Notice the vent on the 2nd floor has been replaced with a double-hung window. There's probably not a lot of head room on that 2nd floor.

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Andrew Mutch Ann Arbor

This Bellewood (Ann Arbor, MI) is in wonderfully original condition. It still has its original windows, siding and trim. Down this wall, there should be a single window in the living room, and paired windows in the dining room, and kitchen. The living room window is paired, and the dining room windows are missing. Given that it has its original siding, it was probably built this way. There's certainly room for another set of windows down that long wall. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch, and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Ann Arbor Bellewood house

The "short side" of the Sears Bellewood in Ann Arbor. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch, and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house shutters

The Bellewood came with "batten" shutters (shown here).

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house shutters

The Bellewood in Ann Arbor still has its original shutters! Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch, and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Lara Solinicke Des Plaines IL

And Lara Solinicke found this beautiful Bellewood in Des Plaines, Illinois. What a pretty house!! Again, that upstairs vent has been replaced with a double-hung window! Photo is copyright 2013 Lara Solickne and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Does Hopewell, VA have a large collection of Sears Homes? No, they do NOT. However, they do have a Bellewood (and a handful of others). Click here to learn more.

Want to learn how to identify Sears Homes? Click here!

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Buster Keaton and Sears Homes

April 29th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

Did you know that Buster Keaton did a short film about building a pre-cut kit house?

First released in 1920, the 20-minute film shows happy newlyweds (Buster and Sybil) receiving the gift of a “ready-to-assemble” kit home. Driven by jealousy, an old beau surreptitiously changes the numbers on the pre-cut framing members, thus wreaking havoc on Buster’s ability to build his 12,000-piece kit home.

As the saying goes, “True comedy is timeless.”

This is not only true comedy, but an awesome look back at a time when people built these kit homes. And it’s also interesting to think that - in 1920 - kit homes were such a big part of the American scene that moviegoers were expected to understand about “marked lumber.”

That “joke” would likely be lost on contemporary movie audiences because so little is known about this piece of America’s architectural history.

I first discovered “One Week” in Spring 2004, when my dear daughter highlighted this piece in a senior project. I was honored and touched that my daughter was drawn to an old movie about pre-cut kit homes - because of her mother’s career! :)

Click here to see Buster Keaton’s “One Week” on Youtube.

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Buster Keatons pre-cut kit house had a few minor problems.

Buster Keaton's pre-cut kit house had a few minor problems.

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It should have looked a little more like this.

It should have looked a little more like this. (Sears Whitehall under construction in Carlinville, IL - about 1919.)

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Sears kit homes did come with instruction books (as shown above).

Sears kit homes did come with instruction books (as shown above).

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The houses were ordered out of catalogs, such as this (1921).

The houses were ordered out of catalogs, such as this (1921).

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Framing members were marked (as shown) to help facilitate construction.

Framing members were marked (as shown) to help facilitate construction.

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To learn more about Sears Kit Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s latest book, click here.

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Starlight, Starbright, First Kit House I See Tonight…

April 28th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

In the early 1910s, it’s probable that the Sears Starlight was their most popular model. In the early days, it was offered with and without an indoor bathroom.

In 1921, the Starlight had a significant model change. The small shed dormer in the attic was enlarged and changed to a hipped dormer with three windows. In addition, the pitch of the attic was made more steep, creating space for an additional room (for short people with a good tolerance of summertime heat).

The pre-1921 Starlights are miserable to try and identify because they are so simple, and they look like every other little house out there. Plus, before 1920, lumber in Sears Homes was not marked. Authentication of these pre-1921 Starlights requires measuring the home’s footprint and measuring individual rooms to affirm that it really is a Starlight, and not a “look-alike.”

Click here to learn more about Sears Homes.

In the 1919 catalog,

This little ad appeared in the the 1919 catalog, showing the many sizes and shapes of the Sears Starlight. This shows the houses with a myriad of dormers!

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In 1920, the Starlight had the shed dormer (most of the time).

In 1920, the Starlight had the shed dormer (some of the time).

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This Starlight in Boone, Iowa has a

This Starlight in Boone, Iowa has a traditional shed dormer.

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But this little Starlight in Painesville had

But look at the dormer on this little Starlight in Painesville. It's a gabled dormer and it's really, really tiny. And the front porch roof is flat, and it's not an integral part of the house, as it is with the traditional Starlight. How confusing!!

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Built in Castalia, Ohio, this

Built in Castalia, Ohio, this Starlight has a different railing, and I have no idea what the floor plan is, because those windows down the side are in the wrong place.

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Detroit

Again, the railing is different and this one has a hipped dormer (rather than shed) and this appears to be a bathroom-less model.

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Starlight

In the 1921 catalog, these interior photos were featured.

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house

A view of the Starlight's dining room (1921 catalog).

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Early starlights

The bathroom-less Starlight was offered into the 1920s.

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1921 Starlight

In1921, the Starlight sold for $1,553.

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Sears Starlight in Alton, Illinois.

Sears Starlight in Alton, Illinois.

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This Starlight in Duquoin, IL is in mostly original condition.

This Starlight in Duquoin, IL is in mostly original condition.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn about Wardway Homes, click here.

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The Sears Castleton: A Four-Bedroom Four-Square

April 6th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

The Sears Castleton is fairly easy to identify because it has a number of distinctive features. The most distinctive feature is that “hanging bay window” on the side, which extends up to the roofline. That’s something you don’t see too often.

On the red Sears Castleton (shown below), it has the classic Castleton dormer with three windows, and the hipped dormer comes right off the ridge of the primary roofline. That’s also a unique feature.

Sears

Sears Castleton as seen in the 1916 catalog.

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Sears Cat

This Castleton in Peoria, Illinois does not have the Castelton porch columns, but rather has the traditional Sears porch columns found on the Sears Woodland.

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Sears

This Castleton had the tradition Castleton columns, but has a different dormer! (Aurora, IL)

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As is typical of four-squares, it has four rooms on the four corners of the house, but look at the size of the "den"!

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Sears

The front bedroom is a mere 7'7" wide. Pretty darn tiny.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn more about Wardway Homes, click here.

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An Honorable Mention of the Honor Bilt “Honor” (in Washington, DC)

March 15th, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

Sears offered 370 designs of homes during their 32 years in the kit home business (1908 - 1940), and not surprisingly, some models were more popular than others. One of the more unusual models is the Sears “Honor.”

The only Honor I’ve ever seen was in Washington, DC and that was in 2003. I’ve not seen one since then. And it’s a distinctive house, so they’re easy to spot!

Here are a few photos of the Honor-Bilt “Honor” in DC. And thanks to Catarina Bannier, a Realtor for sending me these wonderful photos. (You can visit Catarina’s website here.)

To learn more about why they’re called “Honor-Bilt” click here.

The Honor, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

The Honor, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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Floor

Nice spacious floor plan and there's a half bath on the first floor!

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And theres a cubby in the kitchen for the refrigerator!

And there's a cubby in the kitchen (pantry) for the refrigerator!

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Close-up of the Sears Honor (1921).

Close-up of the Sears Honor (1921).

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And here it is, looking absolutely lovely!

And here it is, looking absolutely wonderful! One of the chimneys is missing, but that just means someone opted to not have the living room fireplace. I am puzzled as to why there's a plumbing vent over the dining room, though. Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And in the basement, Catarina found the model number written on the floor joists!

And in the basement, Catarina found the model number written on the floor joist! This is a very good way to authenticate a Sears Home. The model number was scribbled in blue grease pencil before it left the mill at Cairo, IL. The floor joists were among the first pieces of lumber that'd be placed as the home was built, so they were on top of the bundles that left the Sears mill. Here, you can see the model number "3071." Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Model

In addition to names, Sears Homes were also given model numbers. The "Honor" was #3071.

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And the Honor still has its old ice box door on the back porch.

And the Honor still has its old "ice box" door on the back porch.

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To learn a lot more about ice box doors, click here.

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Back in the day, better-quality iceboxes had a little service door in the rear. It was called a Service Door. This enabled the the Ice Man to put a 10-pound block of ice into the ice box without traispsing through the house. Sawdust was used in the Ice House to insulate the blocks  of ice, and as the Ice Man walked up to the house, hed brush the sawdust off the ice as he walked. Invariably, some of that sawdust ended up in the kitchen.

Back in the day, better-quality iceboxes had a little service door in the rear. It was called a "Service Door." This enabled the the Ice Man to put a 10-pound block of ice into the ice box without traipsing through the house. Sawdust was used in the Ice House to insulate the blocks of ice, and as the Ice Man walked up to the house, he'd brush the sawdust off the ice as he walked. Invariably, some of that sawdust ended up in the kitchen.

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This

There was a corresponding door built into the house (shown above), that was a little bigger than the corresponding door on the ice box. This little door had another name: "The Jealous Husband's Door." Hauling those 25, 15 and 10 pound blocks of ice around all day really made a fellow fit and tan. I'm sure there were a few "Ice Men" that were real hotties! :)

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Inside the house, the old ice box is still in place!

Inside the house, the old ice box is still in place!

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn more about “The Jealous Husband’s Door,” click here.

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The Sears Homes in Washington, DC

March 8th, 2012 Sears Homes 10 comments

As of last month, more than 260,000 people have visited this website. As a result, more and more folks are sending me beautiful pictures of the Sears Homes in their neighborhood, and one of those people is Catarina Bannier, a Realtor in the DC area. (Visit her website here.)

Every house featured below was found and photographed by Catarina.

If you have a bundle of beautiful Sears Homes in your city, please send me your photos. Just leave a comment below (with your email, which will not be publicly visible), and I’ll contact you!

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

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First, my favorite house: The Sears Preston.

First, my favorite house in this bundle: The Sears Preston. The Preston was featured on the cover of "Houses by Mail," and yet it's a rare bird in the world of Sears Homes.

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And here it is in Washington, DC.

And here it is in Washington, DC, complete with its original shutters. Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Sears Westly was a perennial favorite for Sears.

The Sears Westly was a perennial favorite for Sears (1919 catalog).

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This Westly is in shockingly beautiful condition.

This Westly is in wonderfully original condition. Even the original siding (shakes and clapboard) have survived several decades worth of pesky vinyl siding salesmen. Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Sears Fullerton is a beautiful and classic foursquare (1925 catalog).

The Sears Fullerton is a beautiful and classic foursquare (1925 catalog).

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Fullerton

Even though the vinyl siding salesmen have "had their way" with this grand old house, you can still see the classic lines of the Fullerton. Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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In addition to Sears, there were other companies that sold kit homes in the early 1900s, including Lewis Homes. They were based in Bay City, Michigan. Catarina has found several Lewis Homes in the DC area.

In addition to Sears, there were other companies that sold kit homes in the early 1900s, including "Lewis Homes." They were based in Bay City, Michigan. Catarina has found several Lewis Homes in the DC area.

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The Ardmore is an easy-to-recognize kit home because of its many unique architectural features.

The Ardmore is an easy-to-recognize kit home because of its many unique architectural features. Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Sears Barrington was probably one of their Top 20 most popular homes (1928 catalog).

The Sears Barrington was probably one of their "Top 20" most popular homes (1928 catalog).

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Barrington

This Barrington in DC looks much like it did when built in the late 1920s. Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And one of my favorites, the Sears Alhambra.

And one of my favorites, the Sears Alhambra.

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Ive seen hundreds of Alhambras throughout the country but I have never seen one painted orange! Doesnt look too bad!

I've seen hundreds of Alhambras throughout the country but I have never seen one painted orange! Doesn't look too bad! It's a nice orange - kind of a "Popsicle Orange." And the house is in beautiful condition. Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And another Lewis Home, the Cheltenham (1922 catalog).

And another Lewis Home, the Cheltenham (1922 catalog).

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This Lewis Cheltenham in DC is in beautiful condition.

I have recurring dreams about a big beautiful 1920s Dutch Colonial that someone has left to me in their will. I'm a sap for a beautiful Dutch Colonial and the Cheltenham is one of the prettiest ones I've ever seen. Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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On the rear cover of the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog, they listed a few of the Sears Modern Homes Sales Offices in the country. They placed these Sears Modern Homes Stores in communities were sales of kit homes were already quite strong, and once these stores were in place, sales (not surprisingly) became even stronger.

In the 1930s, Sears listed the location of their "Sears Modern Homes Sales Offices." They placed these "Sears Modern Homes Stores" in communities were sales of kit homes were already quite strong, and once these stores were in place, sales (not surprisingly) became even stronger. In DC, the Sears Modern Homes Sales Office was on Bladensburg Road.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, visit here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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