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Posts Tagged ‘Mount Vernon’

More Treasures Within Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia

September 29th, 2015 Sears Homes 2 comments

Yesterday (September 28th), Lori Jackson Black met me and Lara Widdifield Mortimer in Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia and then gave us a first-class tour of Mathews County and Gloucester County. We spent a solid four hours driving throughout the residential areas and didn’t find as much as we’d hoped, but we did find a couple interesting houses.

And Lori even found a handful of true-blue Sears and Roebuck tombstones in a local cemetery (ordered from the tombstone catalog). Contrary to internet rumors, these tombstones were *not* zinc, but rather “blue dark vein Vermont Marble” and the stones were shipped from Vermont.

Driving through the many long and winding roads, Lori provided historical background on the community and its people. She explained that many of these families have lived in this area for generations, and that the houses were often passed down from one generation to another.

As I listened to Lori talk about these multi-generational homes and farms, I felt a twinge of envy, wishing that I’d had the good fortune to have some distant kin from this area.

It’s a beautiful place, surrounded by marsh, wetlands and deep water, and there’s a stunning new vista around every twist and turn in the road. If only they had a few more kit homes.  :)

You can visit Lori’s website here.

Learn more about Sears and Roebuck tombstones here.

To read the first blog I wrote on Gloucester Courthouse, click here.

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This Wardway Warrenton was my favorite find of the day.

This Wardway Warrenton was my favorite find of the day. I've only see one of these homes (in Rainelle, WV) and have never seen another - until yesterday. It was a spacious home with six bedrooms (five up, one down).

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I swear, sometimes those foursquares all look alike, but the Wardway Warrenton has a number of unique architectural details, such as that gabled-within-a-hip porch roof, and the four dramatic gabled dormers, replete with cornice returns.

Sometimes those foursquares all look alike, but the Wardway "Warrenton" has a number of unique architectural details, such as that gable-within-a-hip porch roof, and the four gabled dormers, replete with oversized cornice returns. The porch columns are also somewhat distinctive.

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The trees prevented

Lots of landscaping prevented us from getting a picture from the right angle (shown above in the catalog picture), but it's clearly a "Warrenton." The windows on this side are a good match with the lone exception of the dining room window (which originally was a double-window). Upstairs, there were three bedroom windows on this side (also a good match here).

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The Mt. Vernon was a hugely popular house for Montgomery Ward.

The "Mt. Vernon" was a hugely popular house for Montgomery Ward (1931).

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This house

Almost across the street from the Wardway Warrenton (shown above) is this Wardway Mount Vernon. There's also a pattern-book version of this house, but its proximity to the Warrenton suggests it's the Wardway house. This dear little house has also been a victim of vinyl siding. The straight gables (compared to the Mount Vernon's clipped gables) adds a bit to the puzzle of it all!

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Not far from the other two Wardway homes, we found this cute little tudor-esque home.

Not far from the other two Wardway homes, I thought that I'd found this cute little tudor-esque home. Sadly, after a close comparison of the images, I realize it was not a good match (1931).

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House

You can see it's close to the Wardway Berkeley, but not quite right. Drat.

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house house house

And there's a Sears Modern Home #118 in Mathews.

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When Lori first turned her massive Ford Explorer onto this residential street, I was more than a little flummoxed. It was a quiet dead end filled with post-Vietnam era houses with brick veneer and vinyl sidings. Whats she doing? I wondered. When we hit the end of the street, she turned down a private driveway and said, Never in a million years did I think thered be a Sears House on this street, but this is Model #118. She was right. I was more than a little surprised.

When Lori first turned her massive Ford Explorer onto this residential street, I was more than a little flummoxed. It was a quiet dead end filled with post-1960s houses with brick and vinyl sidings. "What's she doing?" I wondered. When we hit the end of the street, she turned down a private driveway and told us, "Never in a million years did I think there'd be a Sears House on this street, but this is Model #118." She was right. Given the "private property" signs, we didn't have the nerve to get any closer.

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Fortunately, Rachel Shoemaker had found a much better photo on Realtor.com. The house was recently for sale (and has since sold).

Fortunately, Rachel Shoemaker had found a much better photo on Realtor.com. The house was recently for sale (and has since sold). It is a beautiful Sears House in a beautiful place. It's quite amazing to see it's in original condition and even the porch railings are still in place. They're probably not original, but they're an accurate replacement. Situated right on the deep water, this house must have endured a lot of bad weather (and more than few hurricanes) through the decades.

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Modern Home #118 was first offered in the 1908 Sears Modern Homes catalog, which was the VERY first year that Sears sold kit homes.

Modern Home #118 was first offered in the 1908 Sears Modern Homes catalog, which was the VERY first year that Sears sold kit homes (1908 shown).

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I was driving down Main Street when this little pretty raised its hand and softly called my name.

In addition to the Wardway Homes and the lone Sears House, I also found this Aladdin Kentucky on the city's main drag. Like the #118 above, it's also in wonderfully original condition.

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But its definitely a Kentucky!

The Kentucky was one of the finest homes offered in Aladdin's early catalogs.

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And I also spotted a Gordon Van Tine #594. Like Sears and Aladdin, Gordon Van Tine was another national kit-home company that sold houses through a mail-order catalog.

During my prior visit to Gloucester Point, I'd also spotted a Gordon Van Tine #594 on Belroi Road. This house was also offered by Wardway, so - if you want to talk details - it's impossible to know if it's a Gordon Van Tine #594 or the Montgomery Ward version. For now, we'll call it a GVT.

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I love the GVT 594 because its so easy to spot. Lots of distinctive features (1924 catalog).

I love the GVT 594 because it's so easy to spot. Lots of distinctive features (1924 catalog).

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Those windows down the side always catch my eye, as does the smaller front porch roof

The Gordon Van Time #594 has a slew of unique features, such as the window arranagement, the smaller front porch roof (at a slightly different pitch) and three porch columns.

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A massive old tree obscured the views, but peeking through the branches, you could

A massive old tree obscured the views, but peeking through the branches, you could see that distinctive bumpout, with the unusual window arrangement.

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Were it not for the tree, I could have done better on the angles here, but you can see theyre a nice match!

Were it not for the tree, I could have done better on the angles here, but you can see they're a nice match! Check out the detail on the front porch! Very pretty!

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Lori drove us past this house (on a main drag), but I didnt note the address or get the photo. If anyone from the area knows where this house is, Id love to get a second look!

Lori drove us past this house (on a main drag), but I didn't note the address or get the photo. If anyone from the area knows where this house is, I'd love to get a second look! One of the distinguishing features is the three windows on the front of the second floor.

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It was Lori that discovered this authentic Sears tombstone in a local cemetery.

It was Lori that discovered this authentic Sears tombstone in a local cemetery. Unfortunately it's in terrible condition and the lambie on top has deteriorated.

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Heres a picture from the 1898 Sears Tombstone catalog.

Here's a picture from the 1898 Sears Tombstone catalog.

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Thanks again to Lori for meeting us and working so hard to discover her town’s own history. It was a delightful day!

You can visit Lori’s website here.

Learn more about Sears and Roebuck tombstones here.

To read the first blog I wrote on Gloucester Courthouse, click here.

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“I Was The Petted Daughter of a Rich Man…”

November 21st, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

“Look at those prices!”

That’s probably the #1 comment I hear from people as they browse the pages of an old Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Why were Sears kit homes priced so incredibly low?

Well, they weren’t really. Like everything else in history, the prices of early 20th Century housing have to be looked at in context.

One context to consider is taxation. In 1918, only the very wealthy paid federal income tax. In fact, only 5% of Americans paid any income tax at all. If your employer paid you $15 a week, you took home $15 a week.

The other issue is inflation. Pervasive, savings-eroding inflation has not always been a way of life in America.

In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the first step that moved us off the gold standard. It was a desperate attempt to re-inflate the sagging dollar. In 1933, Roosevelt issued Executive Order #6102, requiring Americans to deliver their gold to the Federal Reserve.

At the time, law required that Federal Reserve notes (aka “dollars”) had to be backed by 40% gold reserves held in the vaults at the Federal Reserve. That was our first disconnect from a true gold standard. The second came in 1971 when President Nixon permanently disconnected us from the gold standard.

After that, the Federal Reserve was free to print as much money as they felt was needed. And it was (not coincidentally) in the 1970s when inflation hit double digits.

A stable (non-inflating) economy made it far easier for people to save up their dollars over a period of years and eventually purchase a home. (Inflation rewards those who borrow and penalizes those who save.) In the early 1900s, taking on debt of any kind was considered foolhardy, dangerous and even reckless.

There was no “rush to buy” because the price of housing (and the value of dollars) was fairly stable. Young couples took their time and often spent many, many years saving up to buy a home.

The third historical context that needs to be considered is simplicity. Take a look the Sears Kismet (shown below). This house has 520 square feet with two bedrooms that measure 8′ by 9′. I’m not sure, but I think a FEMA trailer is bigger than that.

The fourth issue is building codes (a subset of simplicity, really). It was estimated that a kit home cost 30-40% less than a comparable stick-built home. The average joe could order his dream home out of the Sears Roebuck catalog, and within 90 days, his 12,000-piece kit would be delivered to the train station. Many locales did require building permits, but it was nothing like the process is today.

The building permit was - above all - a way for the city/county to make sure that no opportunity for new taxes was overlooked.

Homeowners often installed their own plumbing, electrical, heating and mechanical systems.  And these systems were simple. Fuse boxes were 30-amp service, with one outlet in each room (if that!). Plumbing consisted of a sink in the kitchen and one bathroom. Maybe. Heating systems were often “pipleless” which was a nice way of saying it was a massive space heater in a center hallways.

Houses were much smaller and simpler, and building codes were quite lax.

Still want an $800 house?  :)

Dollar for dollar, the Katrina Cottages offered by Lowes were comparable. These were very basic, very small kit homes selling for $20,000 or so (depending on model). Interestingly, they’re no longer available.

The world has changed since Sears first offered these kit homes in 1908. Most folks today would not find The Kismet suitable. And how many people have the skills to build a 12,000-piece kit? And I don’t know of any city in America where you could build a small house without a whole lot of government intrusion and/or oversight.

But I digress.

The main point is, wages in the 1910s and 1920s were a fraction of today’s incomes. According to American Carpenter and Builder Magazine (December 1912), skilled carpenters in Chicago were earning 65 cents an hour and plumbers were making 75 cents an hour.

In the early days, Ladies’ Home Journal was a magazine devoted to helping women get into a home of their own. Each issue was filled with stories from people who had overcome financial adversities and bought or built their own house on tiny incomes.

Some stories had headings such as, “How a wife did it herself,” and “Bought her own home with nine children and $800 a year income.”  These stories paint a vivid word picture of how much toil and sacrifice pre-World War I families endured to have a home of their own.

The following story appeared in the October 1903 Ladies’ Home Journal and was the winning entry for the magazine’s series, “How some families have saved for their own homes.”

It’s a wonderful story that really demonstrates the sacrifice involved in purchasing a home at the turn of the last century. The wages mentioned in this piece lend some additional insight to the dollar values of the day, and help explain the low prices of homes offered in the Sears catalogs.

We planted a garden and my husband worked it himself. He [arose] every morning at about four and worked [in the garden] until time to go to the shop - about two hours.  We’d sell the vegetables at market, keeping only a minimum for ourselves.

We could not afford to buy a sewing machine, so I rented an old-fashioned hand machine at $3 a year and had to turn the wheel with one hand and guide the work with the other.  I would sew every night (taking in work for hire) never retiring earlier than one o’clock.  I got up at five every morning.

So much work came to me that [many] nights, I would sit up until daybreak, snatch an hour’s nap, then get up to cook breakfast  My husband would get up when I retired, work his garden, split the wood, build a fire in the kitchen stove, bring in enough water for the day (we had no well) and then set the coffee pot to boil. I did the washing and ironing and made my own soap.

Three years thus rolled away. My husband’s wages went up to $8 a week but we still practiced the most rigid economy and cut off some of our necessities. Our cow had a calf and when he was one year old, we killed him and sold the meat.

To clothe my little boy, I took my husband’s cast-off clothing, turned it wrong side out and cut out the best portions, making the boy’s clothes.

At the end of seven years, my husband’s wages had increased to $9 a week. After seven years of struggle and extreme economy, toil and labor, today finds us with a comfortable home, horses and cows.

As for myself, before my marriage I never knew the value of money as I was the petted daughter of a rich man.

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In the early 1900s, Ladies Home Journal was a housing magazine for women.

In the early 1900s, Ladies' Home Journal was a housing magazine for women.

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The magazines pages were filled with articles on how to buy a nice house.

The magazine's pages were filled with articles on how to build or buy a nice house.

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In the early 1900s, houses were cheap, but so were wages.

In the early 1900s, houses were cheap, but so were wages. In 1920, these women (sorting incoming orders for Montgomery Ward) probably didn't make $1,000 a year. In 1920, the average teacher's salary was $920 a year.

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Heating systems were very primitive compared to todays modern furnaces and boilers. The pipeless furnace was hugely popular. It would be set in the crawlspace or basement near the center point of the house. The living room would be tropical, while the folks upstairs could see their breath.

Heating systems were very primitive compared to today's modern furnaces and boilers. The "pipeless furnace" was hugely popular. It would be set in the crawlspace or basement near the center point of the house. The living room would be tropical, while the folks upstairs could see their breath.

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The Kismet, as shown in the 1919 catalog.

The Kismet, as shown in the 1919 catalog.

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Could

Pretty small house. Could you raise five kids in the house? Many folks did. There was the parent's bedroom and the kids' bedroom. If you were really fancy, you might get a three-bedroom house with a girls' bedroom and a boys' bedroom.

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This Kismet in Elmhurst, Illinois is a cutie, but its pretty small.

This Kismet in Elmhurst, Illinois is a cutie, but it's pretty small. And it's had a substantial addition added onto the back of the house.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy your loved one the PERFECT Christmas gift, click here!

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The Sears Silverdale in Headache, Illinois

August 27th, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

Well, that’s what my husband calls it. In fact, it’s Hettick, Illinois, a small town in central Illinois, about 60 miles north of St. Louis, Missouri.

When I told Hubby about the find, the West Virginia filters on his hearing translated Hettick into “Headache.”

The Silverdale is an interesting house, because it looks like every early 20th Century farmhouse on every rural route in the Midwest. In my travels, I’ve probably seen dozens of them, but discounted most of them, because it’s so hard to positively identify them.

Do you have a Silverdale in your town? Please send me a photo!

Edited to add: A reader noticed that this house in Hettick, IL is actually a better match to the GVT version (#167)! I hope to add more-better photos in a couple days!

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The Silverdale as seen in the 1921 catalog.

The Silverdale as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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1916 catalog

The Silverdale also appeared in the 1916 catalog.

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The Headache House (well, Hettick, actually).

The Headache House (well, Hettick, actually).

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Another view

Another view of the Silverdale in Hettick.

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Floorplan 1921

Floorplan for the first floor.

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Second floor silverdale

Second floor of the Silverdale. Note, there's no livable space over the kitchen. Back in the day, the room over the kitchen was considered uninhabitable, due to heat and smells that wafted from the kitchen below.

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house hosue testimonial

There are more than a few Silverdales around.

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house house house

Mr. Egan and Wife seemed to be pretty happy with their Silverdale.

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Typical

Typical hinge found in Sears kit home. This was found in the Silverdale in Hettick.

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Silverdale

An old glass window (with diamond muntins) has survived the remodelings.

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To read about the Sears Homes in Carlinville, click here.

To learn more about why I was in Hettick, click here.

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