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Posts Tagged ‘precut homes’

Why I Love Ferguson, Missouri

October 5th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

In Fall 2002, I was broke, depressed, lonely and very worried about the future. Months earlier, my beloved mother had died unexpectedly and my marriage of 24 years had ended in divorce.

Those were tough times.

I had one thing going for me: My newly published book, The Houses That Sears Built.

Working 100-hour weeks, I did nothing but promote that book and send out free copies to local media outlets. I slept and I worked. There wasn’t time or money for anything else.

If the book didn’t start selling fast, I’d have to do something I dreaded: Get a real job, and jobs in Alton, Illinois were tough to find.

Sometime in late 2002, I drove around Ferguson, Missouri and found a few Sears Homes. I’m sorry to say I’ve forgotten how it unfolded from there, but I hooked up with a local architect and history lover named Alan. He put me in touch with a couple folks from the city of Ferguson. In time, I was hired to do a survey of the kit homes in the city of Ferguson.

Alan drove me around to the different neighborhoods and it was great fun. Most of what I knew about architecture came from reading books. Alan graciously answered my many simple questions about architecture. I will always remember his kindness and patience.

After I’d identified a few kit homes,  the city had a lovely ceremony, and each Sears Home owner was presented with a beautiful plaque. I was invited to be part of the presentation ceremony.

It was a lovely memory for so many different reasons.

First and foremost, the folks in Ferguson - homeowners, Alan the Architect, city officials and employees  - showed me so much kindness and respect.

Secondly, this was my rubicon.

My divorce had been heart-breaking, but this experience in Ferguson showed me that my work had value and my life had purpose, and that there were people in the world who shared my passion for these old houses.

Some time later, the kit homes in Ferguson were featured on “Show Me St. Louis” (a popular TV show),  and that also warmed the cockles of my heart, and gave me new hope that I could make a career out of this vocation.

In subsequent years, my book and I have been featured on PBS History Detectives, CBS Sunday Morning News, A&E’s Biography, MSNBC, NPR, BBC Radio, and many more. I’ve traveled to 25 states doing surveys and giving talks.

But it all started with the grace and kindess of the many fine folks in Ferguson.

That’s why I love Ferguson so much.

BTW, if you know the addresses of these homes or even street names, please send me a note or leave a comment.  When I did this survey, I didn’t know much about the other kit home companies. I’d love to come back and do a more thorough survey.

Lastly, these images are from 12-year-old slides. The colors are off and the images are grainy.

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One of the reasons there are so many kit homes in St. Louis is because there was a Sears Modern Homes sales center in St. Louis. There were only 40 of these in the country, and these were only placed in areas where sales had been strong. And once a Modern Homes sales center opened, sales were even stronger!

One of the reasons there are so many kit homes in the St. Louis area is because there was a Sears Modern Homes sales center in St. Louis. There were only 40 of these in the country.

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And in the early 30s,

Sears only placed these "Sales Centers" in communities where sales were strong.

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Ferguson

Sears Walton as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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Ferguson

I remember the homeowner here was just THRILLED to learn she had a Sears House!

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Leanon

The Lebanon was a popular house for Sears (1921 catalog).

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Lebanon

Lovely Lebanon in Ferguson. Notice the placement of the door next to the one window.

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Marina

Sears Marina (1916)

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Marina

A perfect Marina in Ferguson.

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Lex

The Sears Lexington was one of their biggest and most expensive homes.

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Lexington

Initially, I'd missed this stately Lexington hiding behind the hedge, but this IS a Lexington!

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compare

Nice comparison of the Lexington entryway. Although it's somewhat obscured, you can see the fan light in the 1928 image. The details on the porch are spot on!

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Ferguson

Sears Barrington (1928).

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Pattern book

Although I initially identified this as a Barrington, I'm starting to wonder if it is a pattern book house. These many years later, I do not remember if we went inside this house.

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Gordon Van Tine

In addition to Sears Homes, I also found a Gordon Van Tine home in Ferguson.

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GVT

Very distinctive house!

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Ferguson House

The porch has been enclosed, but this is a lovely GVT #605 in Ferguson.

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Spent years

I have spent many years trying to identify this house. I've yet to find it in any pattern books, kit house catalogs or magazines. But hey - it's only been 12 years. I'm still looking!

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To read about the kit homes I found in Kirkwood, click here.

To learn more about how to identify kit homes, click here.

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Marguerite’s Beautiful and Beloved #124

February 5th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

Last year, Sears homeowner Marguerite Deppert saw my blogs (here and here) on Sears Modern Home #124 and sent me several wonderful photos of her own home, which she had recently purchased in Montvale, NJ.

It’s a real beauty and in gorgeous condition. I wouldn’t be surprised if Montvale has many Sears Homes, due in part to the fact that they’re less than 30 miles from Port Newark, where Sears had a large mill. (Sears had but two mills - one in Cairo, IL and one in Newark, NJ.)

Thanks so much to Marguerite Deppert for sharing these photos with me! I’ve been drooling over them all morning!

To see a wide variety of pictures of Sears Modern Home 124, click here.

Did you know there’s a #124 in Lincolnton, Georgia? Click here to see that.

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Number 124 was gone by 1918 (when Sears Homes were given names), but it seemed to be a fairly popular house. Its certainly distinctive!

Sears Modern Home #124 was gone from the catalogs by 1918 (when Sears Homes were given names), but it seemed to be a fairly popular house. It's certainly distinctive! (1916)

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Marguerites house was even mentioned in the 1916 catalog!

Marguerite's house was even mentioned in the 1916 catalog!

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Spaciosu floor plan.

Some of the older homes have rather "odd" floorplans, but #124 was quite sensible.

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Years ago, Rebecca Hunter and I toured the inside of the #124 in Crystal Lake, IL and that little bathroom shown above was really tucked away under that sloping roof. Interesting, but almost claustrophobic.

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Nice house, and a darn good price!

Nice house, and a darn good price!

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Oh my, what a house!

Oh my, what a house! Even the detail around the chimneys is a match to the vintage image! (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Wow.

The rock border on the driveway is a nice complement to the stone columns. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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phoo

A view from the side highlights that beautiful stone work on the chimney. The two chimneys are covered with stone to the roofline, and then above the roofline, they're brick. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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close up

Close up of those unique details on the front porch. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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house

What a fine-looking house. What a treasure for Montvale. And I suspect Marguerite is one of the happiest homeowners in America! (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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details

Look at those wee tiny second-floor windows tucked up under that porch roof. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

What a beautiful house!

What a beautiful house! Just stunning. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Thanks again to Marguerite for sharing these wonderful photos!

To see a wide variety of pictures of Sears Modern Home 124, click here.

Did you know there’s a #124 in Lincolnton, Georgia? Click here to see that.

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Help Me Find These Hidden Treasures in Chester, PA!

September 11th, 2013 Sears Homes 12 comments

Say what you will about Facebook, but it is a great boon for those of us who love history.

Recently, the Delaware County (Pennsylvania) History page on Facebook picked up an old blog I did about these lost houses built by Sun Ship Building Company in Chester, PA and their interest in this topic has given me renewed hope that we might yet find these houses.

It’s one thing for me to sit around studying grainy images in 93-year-old catalogs, but it gets a lot more exciting when the local history lovers start hunting around for these treasures!

And this was quite a large collection of Sears Homes.

The neighborhood seems to extend on for several blocks. It’s certainly possible that 90 years later, these houses have been torn down, but I doubt that every last one of them is gone. And thanks to these wonderful old vintage images, I think our chances of finding these houses are very good!

Please pass this blog along to anyone and everyone who may have some knowledge of Sun Ship and/or Chester.

And please take a moment to read the loquacious captions. That’s where the fun stuff is!

If you can provide more info about these houses are, please leave a comment below.

Oh boy, my first UPDATE! Sun Shipbuilding was located at Route 291 and Harrah’s Blvd in Chester, PA. These houses would have been close by!

To learn more about Rose’s upcoming visit to Louisa, VA click here.

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

To join our group on Facebook, click here.

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Sunship

In the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog, this front page featured several communities where large numbers of Sears House had been sold. The red arrow shows the houses built by Sun Ship. So that's our first clue: The houses were 100% finished by late 1918.

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Zooming in a  bit, you can discern more detail.

Zooming in a bit, you can discern more detail. The neighborhood was three streets wide, but there's a large "green space" between the two rows on the left, and there appears to be another cluster of houses on the right, in the rear. So that's our second clue: The neighborhood was three streets wide, with one street some distance from the first.

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Zoom

If you zoom in on the center, you can count the houses in the middle row. I see 10 houses, two Rositas and two Arcadias (models of Sears Homes). More detail on these two models below. And that's our third clue. Look at the roofline for this row. Front-gabled with a shed dormer (#1), very small house with a hipped roof and a porch with a tiny shed room (houses #2 and #3), and approximately seven more front-gabled houses with a shed dormer pointing in the other direction (away from the camera).

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More detail

There were six homes on the left side, and I do believe that's an outhouse at the end of the row. And I don't *think* the outhouse is there today. However, here's another clue. Side-gabled bungalow (first) with dormer facing the street, followed by four front-gabled bungalows with dormer facing the outhouse. Hipped-roof house with small shed roof on porch is at the end. And look at the placement of the sidwalks here, too. That probably hasn't changed TOO much.

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house on the right

These houses on the right were really puzzling me, but I think I finally got them figured out. More on that in a moment.

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House

The first house on the left side of the picture is easily identifiable as a Sears Arcadia. I believe the house next to it (and the subsequent four houses) are also the Sears Arcadia, turned 90 degrees. At the end, there's a small house with a hipped roof. Keep on scrolling down and all will become clear.

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See what I mean?

The Sears "Arcadia." Except for the lady sitting on the front porch, it's a perfect match.

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And now look at the middle row.

And now look at the middle row. That's an Arcadia turned 90 degrees on the lot. The dormer was only present on one side, and for the rest of the Arcadias, the dormer is facing away from the camera. But look at those little houses with hipped roofs! What might they be?

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I suspect that these hipped roof houses are the Rosita.

I suspect that these hipped roof houses in Chester, PA are the "Rosita" (shown above). This was a very small house (and also bathroom-less, just like the Arcadia). The panoramic image first appeared in the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog, and both the Rosita and Arcadia were offered in the 1918 catalog, so that's a good fit.

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Look at the floorplan for the two houses.

Look at the floorplan for the two houses. The Rosita is on the left; the Arcadia is on the right. This is a minor detail, but look at the placement of the chimneys. The panoramic view shows that the chimneys are pretty closely aligned. On the Arcadia (right), the chimney is 9'4" from the home's rear. On the Rosita, it's 11'1" from the rear. That's *about* the representation shown in the old panoramic view. And it's a quirky feature, but look where the front door is on the Arcadia. It enters into the dining room! And, there is no bathroom in either house.

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And the Arcadia

And the Arcadia floorplan really did lend itself to being spun 90 degrees on the lot. Here, I've taken the floorplan and turned it 90 degrees, and I've also added a doorway into the front bedroom, and moved the front door from the dining room (which is darn quirky) into the living room.

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So heres what youre looking for: The

So here's what you're looking for: The Arcadia (left) and the Rosita (right). Note, a lot of things about a house can change through the years, but the chimney placement and roofline usually do not change. When you find these houses, they should all still be lined up, much like they appear in the vintage photos above. You should be able to look at them on Bing Aerial photos and count the rooflines - five side-gabled, two hipped, etc., and it should be a spot-on match to what is shown above in the street (panoramic) shots.

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house on the right

Last but not least, what model are these houses on the right? I puzzled over them for some time. The first house in this row is an Arcadia. Notice how the next house juts out a bit further than the Arcadia? I think to "mix it up a bit," that they stuck a small front porch on an Arcadia turned 90 degrees. The proportions are right and the placement on the windows (on the side) is right. In Carlinville's "Standard Addition" (where Standard Oil built 156 Sears Homes), those houses also had minor architectural changes, so that the houses didn't look just the same.

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Heres a Rosita in the flesh in Deerfield, VA.

Here's a Rosita "in the flesh" in Deerfield, VA. Somewhere in Chester, Pennsylvania, you have a whole neighborhood of these, and the Arcadias, built by Sun Ship Building Company about 1918, but where? Photo is copyright 2012 Linda Ramsey and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

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Be Still My Heart: The Eighth Magnolia?

June 29th, 2013 Sears Homes 6 comments

Updated!! See detailed photos here!!

A few moments ago, my sleepy husband stuck his head into the room and said, “It’s 3:11  in the morning. Why are you still up?”

“Well, I think we’ve found our eighth Magnolia,” I replied.

“Oh,” he said quietly, as he toddled back to the bedroom.

No additional information was needed.

Every month, I get a handful of emails from people who are 100% certain that they’ve found the crème de la crème of all kit homes: The Sears Magnolia.

And 98% of the time, they’re wrong.

Sears sold kit homes from 1908-1940, and in that 32-year span, they offered 370 designs. Of those 370 designs, the Magnolia was the fairest of them all (and the biggest and the most expensive).

In 1918 (the year the Magnolia first appeared), 90 designs were offered, and only 13 of those homes cost more than $2,000. Not counting the Magnolia, the most expensive house in that catalog was the Preston, at $2,812.

The other 76 models offered in 1918 were under $2,000, and the overwhelming majority of those were less than $1,200.

The price tag for the Magnolia was $4,485.

Most of the Sears Homes in that 1918 catalog had less than 1,000 square feet, and the Magnolia had almost 3,000 square feet.

For years and years, it was widely believed that only six Magnolias had been built in the country, and yet their locations were not known. In time, those six Magnolias were discovered in Benson, North Carolina, South Bend, Indiana, Irwin, Pennsylvania, Canton, Ohio and a fifth in Piedmont, Alabama. A sixth had been destroyed by fire in Nebraska. (Of those six Magnolias, the house in Benson was the “newest” discovery, found in March 2010.)

And that was that.

Six Magnolias. All accounted for.

Five alive.

One dead (and cremated).

And then in May 2011 (thanks to this blog), someone  contacted me and said that there was a Sears Magnolia in Syracuse, NY.

I didn’t pay too much attention, because frankly, I’d heard it before, but fortunately, a friend and faithful reader (Heather Lukaszewski) did pay attention and she did a little research. She wrote me a nice note and said, “I think this may be the real deal.”

And that’s how we found the 7th Magnolia. The discovery made the local papers, and it was all pretty exciting. Click here to read the article from May 2011.

All of which brings me to this newest discovery of an 8th Magnolia!

Friday evening, someone contacted me and said that he lived in a house that was across the street from a Sears Magnolia. We exchanged several emails and I started to get pretty interested in this story. It had a lot more background and depth than the typical “There’s a Magnolia just down the street” stories.

Thanks to a lot of help from Rachel Shoemaker and Mark Hardin, we were able to see the house via Bing Maps, and I have to say, I think we’ve got a winner.

In fact, I’d be willing to say that I’m 90% certain that we’ve found our 8th Magnolia.

And the best part of all?

It’s in West Virginia.

I love West Virgina and I’m headed to Elkins in six weeks (with the aforementioned hubby) to visit family.

I’d sure love to stop by this sweet old kit house and check it out in person. Boy oh boy, would I love to see this fine house in the flesh.

Wow.

Just wow.

To read more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

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Magnolia 1918

The Magnolia was featured on the cover of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog, and yet, those leaves in the border are not Magnolia leaves. What a fraud!

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1918  1918

Close-up of the Magnolia (1918)

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house house

The Magnolia was first offered in the 1918 Modern Homes catalog (shown above). In 1919, the Magnolia hit its highest price: $10,000, more than double its price in 1918.

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1921

In 1921, the price of the Sears Magnolia dropped to $6,489 and one year later, it would drop to $5,849. Following WW1, prices of building materials fluctated dramatically.

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Magnolia Benson

In March 2011, a reader told me that there was a Sears Magnolia in Benson, NC.

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Janets house

The Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio was almost lost due to neglect but was lovingly restored in the 1990s. Photo is copyright 2012 Janet's Hess LaMonica and may not be reproduced without written permission.

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Syracue

Our 7th Magnolia, in Syracuse! And what a fine-looking kit house it is! (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Magnolia columns

Close-up of the columns on the Sears Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama.

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To learn more about the Sears Magnolias among us, click here.

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

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SAVE the Westly in Lewisburg, WV!

March 3rd, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

When Back to the Future” first came out (1985), I was a lass of 26, and yet my sympathies readily fell to the Clock Tower Lady (Elsa Raven) and the Hill Valley Preservation Society.

Heck yeah, they needed to save that Clock Tower in Hill Valley! It was an integral part of the community and its history and culture.

And now, a historic preservation group in my much-loved state of West Virginia is trying to save a Sears kit home that I identified during a visit to their town in Fall of 2010, and heck yeah, they need to save that Westly.

The endangered house is in Lewisburg, WV.

The Sears Westly was first offered in the very rare 1909 Sears Modern Homes catalog, and by 1914, this model had undergone a significant “face lift” and the new Westly looked quite a bit different from the old Westly.

According to the folks at PAWV, the Westly in Lewisburg was built about 1924 or 1925. Perhaps at some date in the not-too-distant future, I’ll have the opportunity to see the inside of this fine old house and perhaps learn a bit more about this piece of architectural history.

Unfortunately, thus far, I’ve not had good success in saving kit homes in college towns. Last year, I blogged continually about another rare kit home (in Bowling Green, OH), threatened with extinction. Seems like all my blogging accomplished was to get that house torn down AHEAD of schedule. However, that house was on the college campus, and colleges are notorious bungalow-eaters.

Hopefully, the Westly in Lewisburg will be spared that fate. As I understand it, this house is not on a college campus, but is currently used as a West Virginia University Extension Office. It is not threatened with immediate demolition, but is dying a slow, ugly death due to neglect.

Please visit this website to learn more about what you can do to save the house in Lewisburg.

Click here to learn more about the kit homes in Lewisburg.

And a PS to the folks at Preservation Alliance of West Virginia: If it would help your cause, I’d gladly come out and give a talk on your kit home(s) gratis. Please contact me by leaving a comment below.

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The Sears Westly was first offered in the very rare 1909 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Sears Westly was first offered in the very rare 1909 Sears Modern Homes catalog. It was then known merely as Modern Home #144. Note the floorplan, which is a little different from the Westly that was offered in 1915 and beyond.

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The floorplan shows a vestibule, which is certainly an eye-catching feature.

The first-floor floorplan shows a vestibule, which is certainly an eye-catching feature.

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And

And the second floor is a bit different from the later model Westly, too.

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Close-up of the house.

Close-up of the house.

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And heres the Westly in Lewisburg!

And here's the Westly in Lewisburg! See that Vestibule!

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Close-up on the details of the old Westly.

Close-up on the details of the old Westly.

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Pretty

The details on the Westly in Lewisburg are a little different from the image above. That could be for several reasons. For instance, the front porch has columns that were offered on a later-model Westly. This house seems to have elements of both the old and newer Westly. According to PAWV, this house was built in the mid-1920s.

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Heres a Westly as seen in the 1919 catalog.

Here's a Westly as seen in the 1919 catalog.

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And a real life example in Portsmouth, VA.

And a real life example in Portsmouth, VA. Notice how the porch columns look more like the Westly in Lewisburg. This house also has the windows as seen in the 1909 catalog.

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Another view of the house in Lewisburg.

Another view of the house in Lewisburg.

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Please visit this website to learn more about what you can do to save the house in Lewisburg.

Click here to learn more about the kit homes in Lewisburg.

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The Chesterfield Home: Of English Ancestry

February 4th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

“The Chesterfield home has an English ancestry which has stood the test of public favor for many centuries…”

The Sears Chesterfield was indeed a nobby tudoresque design, but apparently it didn’t catch on. And it was offered only in the 1926 Sears Modern Homes catalog. I’ve never seen one “in the flesh.”

However, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of Andrew Mutch, Wendy Mutch and Melodie Nichols, we now have pictures of a beautiful Chesterfield in Clawson, Michigan.

For those visiting this page for the first time, you might be wondering, what is a Sears Home? These were 12,000-piece kits that were ordered right out of the pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog.  The homes were offered from 1908 - 1940, and during their 32-years in the kit home business, 370 models were offered.

Sears promised that a “man of average abilities” could have the house built and ready for occupancy in 90 days. That could have been a little ambitious. Typically, it took novice homebuilders six months or more to finish these homes.

To learn more about this fascinating topic, click here.

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Text from the catalog page (1925)

In a pinch, you could offer this page to someone as an eye test, and see if they notice that the font gets smaller and smaller near the bottom. On a side note, I have no idea what an "informal massing of the walls" means (near the center of the text). Then again, I have never seen a "formal massing" of walls. Is it like an informal gathering? Are the walls just hanging out together, having one big quiet party? If you were a quiet wall and you didn't participate in these informal gatherings, would you be a wall flower? Or would you just be a wall wall? One has to wonder. (From 1926 catalog.)

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Pricey little dog, given the fact that this was 1926.

Pricey little dog, given the fact that this was 1926.

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I dont see any informal massing here.

I don't see any informal massing of the walls here. However, I bet that breakfast room was a chilly place on a balmy Michigan winter morning.

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Where are the informal masses?

I wonder if the "informal masses" are hiding in the spacious closets?

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Chesterfield, as seen in the 1926 catalog.

Chesterfield, as seen in the 1926 catalog.

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What a beauty!

What a beauty! It's been altered a bit but the original lines are still there. And the third floor of this house must be quite spacious. This house is in Clawson, Michigan which (thanks to Andrew, Wendy and Melodie) has been found to be a real hotbed of kit homes! Photo is copyright 2012 Melodie Nichols and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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From the side

A side view of the Chesterfield. Look at that enormous chimney. Photo is copyright 2012 Melodie Nichols and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Oh my stars, now we KNOW its a Sears Home! It has an S on the chimney!!

Oh my stars, now we KNOW it's a Sears Home! It has an "S" on the chimney!! Ah, not really. This is one CRAZY myth that is still bouncing around on the internet. That "S" on the chimney is a stylistic feature that has nothing to do with whether or not it's a Sears House. In this case, that "S" is part of the brace that helps keep that oversized chimney stable. Photo is copyright 2012 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house

Nice shooting, Melodie! She did a perfect job of photographing the house from the same angle as the original catalog picture.

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To read the next blog (also about kit homes in Michigan), click here.

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The Rembrandt: A Masterpiece!

February 3rd, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

At first glance, the Rembrandt looks like a massive Dutch Colonial, but in fact, it was 1,672 square feet. As early 1900s housing goes, this was certainly a spacious home, but not dramatically so.

However…

Building this two-story home from a 12,000-piece kit that arrived via boxcar would certainly have been a challenge! Each piece of lumber was numbered to facilitate construction and the blueprints were written with extra detail and accompanying explanations (to help novices), and the kit came with a 75-page instruction book, however…

This still would have been quite a project to tackle!

Based on my research, about 50% of the people who purchased Sears Kit Homes hired contractors to build their house, and the other half spent a lot of time poring over those detailed blueprints and built the house themselves!

What is a Sears Home? Click here to learn more.

To watch Buster Keaton build a Sears Home, click here.

house house house

The Sears Rembrandt

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For a "big" house, it had a very small kitchen!

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Lumber was numbered to facilitate construction

Lumber was numbered to facilitate construction, but still, building the Rembrandt from a kit would have been quite a task!

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Catalog image of the Rembrandt

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house house annapolis

The real deal in Annapolis, MD. And notice it has Buckingham Slate on the roof. Buckingham Slate is the crème de la crème of slate and weighs 1,400 pounds per square. When building a house that will have a slate roof, the roof is specially constructed to accommodate this tremendous amount of weight. Here in the Southeast, I've seen several Sears Homes with this Buckingham Slate roof.

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Sears Rembrandt in West Chicago, Illinois. Where's a chain saw when you need it?

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This Sears Rembrandt is in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Photo is copyright 2012 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Comparison of the Rembrandt in Ann Arbor with the original catalog picture.

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Beautiful house but it sure looks chilly!! Photo is copyright 2012 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To read more about the Sears Homes that Wendy and Andrew found in Michigan, click here and here.

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The Dresden: An Unusually Fine Bungalow

January 29th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

Apparently, Ypsilanti and nearby Pittsfield Township are “hot spots” for finding kit homes!

Kit House Aficionados Andrew and Wendy Mutch have been supplying me with a plethora of first-class photos of kit homes from Sears, Wardway, Gordon Van Tine, Aladdin and more. I’m so very grateful to them.

They’ve obviously got a keen eye for detail and heretofore, every house they’ve identified has been identified correctly and that is quite a feat (and a rarity!).

And now they’ve moved beyond Sears Homes and into kit homes from Wardway, Gordon Van Tine and Aladdin.

Below you’ll find pictures of the Wardway Dresden. Is it a Wardway house or a Gordon Van Tine house? Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know from exterior appearances alone. Orders for Wardway Homes were fulfilled by Gordon Van Tine (Davenport, Iowa).

The only way to know if it’s a Wardway Home is to inspect millwork and/or shipping labels and/or (sometimes) framing members. A Wardway House will be marked “Montgomery Ward,” and a GVT house will be marked, “G.V.T.” (No kidding.)

Thanks so much to Andrew and Wendy for supplying all the wonderful photos!

Want to learn more about Wardway? Click here.

Dale Wolicki is the master of Gordon Van Tine kit homes. You can visit his awesome website by clicking here.

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Wardway

Wardway Homes were actually manufactured by another kit home company, Gordon Van Tine (based in Davenport, Iowa). Unlike Sears, Montgomery Ward did NOT have an entire division devoted to selling kit homes.

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Des

The Wardway Dresden was featured in the front pages of the 1927 Wardway catalog.

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House

It was categorized as "An unusually nice bungalow" (1927 catalog).

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house

Some details on this "unusually fine bungalow."

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Several Wardway/GVT houses had these offset front porches, which makes identification so much easier. When I created my own field guide (from hundreds of old catalog pages), I created a section dedicated to houses with these offset porches.

Several Wardway/GVT houses had these offset front porches, which makes identification so much easier. When I created my own field guide (from hundreds of old catalog pages), I created a section dedicated to houses with these offset porches. It was - in my mind - a very distinctive feature.

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The Dresden - in all its shining splendor!

The Dresden - in all its shining splendor!

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Thanks to Andrew and Wendy Mutch, I have an unusually fine photo of this unusually fine bungalow.

Thanks to Andrew and Wendy Mutch, I have an unusually fine photo of this unusually fine bungalow. The house is located in Pittsfield Township (Michigan). Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. An aside: If only Andrew or Wendy kept a chain saw in the glove compartment (as I recommend), they could have easily remedied the pesky problem of this small tree blocking their view.

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Another fine photo of this fine bungalow.

Another fine photo of this fine bungalow. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Las

And it still has its original siding and railings! Be still my heart! Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To learn more about Wardway Homes, click here.

To learn how to identify kit homes, click here.

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Cooking - Off the Grid!

November 24th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Look

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It was indeed a most splendiferous bird!

It was indeed a most splendiferous bird!

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

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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

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“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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