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Posts Tagged ‘prefab homes’

The True Origins of the Sears Magnolia

February 10th, 2014 Sears Homes 5 comments

The Sears Magnolia, offered from 1918-1922, seems to be a source of a much misinformation and confusion.

Yesterday, someone sent me a link to another purported “Magnolia” in Watseka, IL (719 South Fourth Street). And then a member in our “Sears Homes” Facebook group showcased a quote from author Daniel Reiff (Houses from Books) stating that even though the house in Watseka is not a Sears Magnolia, it may have been an inspiration for the Sears architects.

Built models might have also been an influence [for the Sears Magnolia]. Only one hundred miles from Chicago, in Watseka, IL is an impressive Colonial Revival built in 1903 with many features in common with the Magnolia (Houses from Books, p. 194).

I’d say there are a few other houses that have “many features in common with the Magnolia” - as in thousands.

The Magnolia would be best described as a Colonial Revival, which was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Sears was not an innovator in anything, most of all, architectural design. They looked at what was popular and created their housing designs accordingly.

Judging from the photos in Houses from Books, much of Reiff’s research was centered in the Northeast, specifically the New York area. Mr. Reiff should have traveled down to the South, because we’re loaded with examples of what is commonly known as the Colonial Revival.

If I felt compelled to connect a specific house to the architect’s creation of the Sears Magnolia, I’d put my money on a 1910-built house in Blacksburg, SC (photos below).

The South Carolina “Magnolia” was built in 1910, and based on the home’s interior moldings, mantels, staircase and some other clues, I’d say that the 1910 build-date is pretty accurate. And although this is a wild guess, I suspect that it MAY BE a pattern book house.

This “SCFM” (”South Carolina Faux Maggy”) is four feet wider and four feet longer than the Sears Magnolia.

When Sears “borrowed” patterns from other sources, they’d change the dimensions a bit, and in the case of the SCFM, it was a bit too big for Sears purposes, so shrinking the footprint made sense.

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

Mr. Reiff also identified a Sears Magnolia in Dunkirk, NY.


A second example of a brick Magnolia can be found in Dunkirk NY, Despite the lack of side wings because of the narrow lot, the similarities to the Sears model are still striking, but the house is much narrower than its model. In fact, although the 93 West Fourth Street is the same depth as the Magnolia (36′1 vs. 36), it is a full ten feet narrower (29.10 vs. 40.0)
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All of which are deal killers. Dimensions matter - a lot. However, Mr. Reiff pulls it out of the fire at the end with this:

The plan of the Dunkirk house is considerably different. Instead of the formal central hallway with staircase and rooms on either side, here the plan is far more compact; One enters the living room which runs across the front of the house in the middle of its long side; the stairs are at one end…Here we almost certainly have an instance of a local builder who studied the illustration in the Sears catalog and created his own version of it, without ordering the plans or, in all likelihood, any of the materials from Sears (p. 196).


Besides, if you were going to name a house “The Magnolia,” would your inspiration come from the frozen North?

I think not.

Now, where is that 9th Magnolia?

To see pictures of all eight Sears Magnolias, click here.

To read more about the “fake” Magnolia in SC, click here.

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If I was going to pick a house to have been a model for the Magnolia, Id pick this house in Blacksburg, SC!!

If I were going to pick a house to have been a "model" for the Magnolia, I'd pick this house in Blacksburg, South Carolina After all, this actually looks like a Magnolia!

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The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 and is shown here on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 and is shown here on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog. Some may describe it as a Colonial Revival, but really, it's a foursquare with delusions of grandeur.

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The Magnolia (1920 Modern Homes catalog).

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This house in Blacksburg, SC was built in 1910. You want to talk about a model for the Magnolia? This would be it. The house was wider and deeper than the Magnolia, but it would have been easy work to cut it down to size for a kit house catalog.

This house in Blacksburg, SC was built in 1910. You want to talk about a "model" for the Magnolia? This would be it. The house was wider and deeper than the Magnolia, but it would have been easy work to "cut it down to size" for inclusion in a kit house catalog. There are 15 small lites over the large windows on the first floor - just like the Magnolia. And, it's in South Carolina, just where you'd expect to find a "Magnolia"!

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The other big difference are the columns.

The other big difference is the columns. The real Magnolia has hollow wooden columns (made of poplar). The house in Blacksburg had columns made of concrete. Try shipping *that* from Chicago!

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The details around the eaves are also a little bit off.

The details around the eaves are also a little bit "off." The eave brackets on the SC house are more ornate (photo on right). The underside of the front porch (eaves) shows that there are ten brackets on the Sears Magnolia. The Blacksburg house has eight brackets. The Magnolia's dormer has four of these eave brackets. The Blacksburg house has three. These are the kind of details that really do matter. (The house on the left is a Magnolia in Nebraska which has since been torn down. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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But boy oh boy, its a close one!!

But boy oh boy, it's a close one!!

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Has those 15 lites over the window, too!

Has those 15 lites over the window, too!

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Even the interior floorplan was a good match!

However, the interior floorplan was not quite right, and that's a big deal, too.

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Heres the real deal in Northern West Virginia.

Here's the real deal in Northern West Virginia.

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And here are

In June 2012, I traveled to Anderson, SC and found these two Colonial Revivals within a block of each other. In the South, this house style is very popular and can be found in almost every old neighborhood. In fact, these houses might just be real Colonials (as opposed to a post-Civil war "Revival").

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The Colonial Revival was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To learn more about this style, I heartily recommend this book. Why, its just *FULL* of Sears Magnolias!!!  (Not)

The Colonial Revival was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To learn more about this style, I heartily recommend this book. Why, it's just *FULL* of Sears Magnolias!!! (Not)

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

Better yet, if you’d like to buy a copy or Rose’s book, click here.

To read about the now-deceased Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska, 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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SA

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 11 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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Almost as Good as a Magnolia! (Sears Pennsgrove!)

September 5th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

My website recently hit 750,000 views. That’s a lot of people reading about Sears Homes. And with all those visitors, I also get a lot of “I saw a neighborhood just full of Magnolias” emails.

And yet tonight (Thursday night), someone left a comment, saying that there was a Sears Pennsgrove in their neighborhood. The Pennsgrove is one of those rare kit homes that neither I, nor Rebecca, nor Dale have ever seen. And we’ve been looking!

A Pennsgrove.

In Baltimore.

And much to my surprise, they were right. It was a Sears Pennsgrove. The Pennsgrove was only offered in 1931 and 1932, which is part of the reason it’s so rare. Those were not boom years for American real estate.

The Pennsgrove was truly a beautiful home, and fancy too. It’s spacious (about 2,200 square feet), has a two-car attached garage, and is full of unique features. Driving past this beauty, you’d never guess in a million years that this house came from Sears.

And yet it did.

Many thanks to Tom and Jada for telling me about this splendiferous Sears House in Baltimore. You can visit their website here.

Thanks also to the anonymous, gifted, talented and generous Realtor who so graciously permitted me to use her incredibly beautiful photos.

To learn more about identifying kit homes, click here.

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Pretty fancy house for a kit, isnt it? (1932 catalog)

Pretty fancy house for a kit, isn't it? (1932 catalog)

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I love the text in these old catalogs.

"Pleasing proportions, picturesque detail, contrasting surfaces and softly blended colors give the Pennsgrove that rare charm characteristic of the countrysides of Kent and Surrey across the sea."

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Two car attached garage? Wow.

Two car attached garage? Wow. And the garage is big enough to store pine trees, too!

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house

Small bedrooms, but look at all that busyness off the master bedroom.

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Nice house.

The Pennsgrove, as it appeared in the 1932 catalog.

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And the Pennsgrove as it appears today.

And the Pennsgrove as it appears today.

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Wow

Gosh, what a house!

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Inisde, the house has some delightful and quirky features.

Inside, the house has some delightful and quirky features, such as this opening onto the staircase. And look at that wood! It looks like the house is mostly in original condition.

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stairs

Another view of the entry foyer.

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A cute

This house has two full bathrooms, and in this bath, the original tub remains.

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There is something charming about a bathroom tucked under a dormer.

There is something charming about a bathroom tucked under a dormer.

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dining

Beautiful dining room with original wainscoting.

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bed

Another dormer in an upstairs bedroom.

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What have you got in YOUR neighborhood?

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

To read another really fun blog, click here.

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So Many Kit Homes in Waynesboro!

May 28th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

Earlier this year, I had occasion to stop and visit Waynesboro and I found a few fine-looking Sears Homes.  Several days later, fellow kit house aficionado and researcher Linda Ramsey drove to the area and found four more kit Homes! (To see pictures, scroll down.)

On Thursday, October 17th, I’ll be returning to Waynesboro to give a talk on Sears Homes. It’ll be at the WTA Gateway, 329 W. Main St at 7:00pm. For more info, click here.

And you may be asking, what is a Sears kit home?

From 1908-1940, Sears sold entire kit homes through their mail-order catalog. Each 12,ooo-piece kit came with a 75-page instruction book that promised “a man of average abilities” could have the house assembled in 90 days! During their 32 years in the kit house business, Sears and Roebuck sold about 70,000 houses, offered in 370 models.

A few fun facts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you Thursday night!

Thanks so much to Linda Ramsey for driving out to Waynesboro and finding these Sears Homes (and photographing them!).

To learn more about the history of Sears Modern Homes, click here.

To learn more about Rose’s upcoming talk in Waynesboro, click here.

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Brist

First, my #1 favorite kit house in Waynesboro. And what's so cool about this is it's not just a kit house, but it it came from Gordon Van Tine. GVT homes were also sold through mail-order catalogs (just like Sears Homes), however GVT Homes were not as popular as Sears. And the house in Waynesboro is the "Bristol," a very unusual Gordon Van Tine home!

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First, my favorite kit house in Waynesboro. And whats so cool about this is its not just a kit house, but it it came from Montgomery Ward! Wardway Homes were also sold through mail-order catalogs, however Montgomery Ward homes were not that popular.

The floorplans could be flipped (or reversed), based on the owner's preferences. I've flipped the image above to match the house in Waynesboro. It's pretty unlikely that these homeowners know that they have a house that came from a mail-order catalog.

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Briston

And here's the Wardway Bristol in Waynesboro! And it's just a spot-on match to the catalog! Many thanks to Linda Ramsey for getting this photo and finding this Wardway home! Photo is copyright 2013 Linda Ramsey and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The most common misconception about kit homes is that they were simple, boxy little affairs, and this image from the 1935 GVT catalog should dispel that once and for all.

The most common misconception about kit homes is that they were "simple, boxy little affairs," and this image from the 1935 GVT catalog should dispel that once and for all. This is the interior view of the GVT Bristol, showing the 20' by 12' living room. Check out the vaulted ceiling and the long, tapered fireplace.

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First, my favorite. This is the Sears Alhambra, a hugely popular house for Sears - and a beautiful one too. Shown here from the 1919 Sears Modern Home catalog.

Next is "The Sears Alhambra," a close runner-up to the Wardway Bristol. Shown here from the 1919 Sears Modern Home catalog. It was offered in frame, stucco and brick. Stucco was the most common siding.

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Be still my quivering heart. The Alhambra that Linda Ramsey found in Waynesboro!

Be still my quivering heart. The Alhambra that Linda Ramsey found in Waynesboro! And it's in brick! And it's also perfect in every detail! Photo is copyright 2013 Linda Ramsey and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Oh yeah!

Oh yeah! What a perfect match!!! Oh my goodness!!

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Another really sweet find is the Sears Strathmore.

Another really sweet find is the Sears Strathmore. This house was also offered in stucoo, frame and brick, but was most often built as a frame house with clapboard siding.

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This lovely Strathmore is just across the street from the Wardway Bristol shown above!

This lovely Strathmore is just across the street from the Wardway Bristol shown above! Like the Bristol, the floorplan has been reversed. Look at that distinctive front door, and the asymmetrical front gable.

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The Lewiston was a popular house for Sears (1930 catalog).

The Lewiston was a popular house for Sears (1930 catalog).

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Oh yeah, baby! What a nice match!

Oh yeah, baby! What a nice match!

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this is my favorite part. Check out the front doors (

This is my favorite part. Check out the front doors (Waynesboro house and catalog image).

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Sears Lynnhaven

The Lynnhaven was a very popular model for Sears. And it's also a lovely house.

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Its hiding behind a tree, but thats definitely a Lynnhaven back there.

It's hiding behind a tree, but that's definitely a Lynnhaven back there. Look at the details around the front door.

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Linda also found

Linda also found a Conway/Uriel. (This popular model was known by both names.)

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And what a fine Conway it is!

And what a fine Conway it is! And in wonderfully original condition! Photo is copyright 2013 Linda Ramsey and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Last but not least, she also found a second Collingwood.

Last but not least, she also found a second Collingwood.

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house

Again, a very nice match to the original catalog image! Photo is copyright 2013 Linda Ramsey and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And heres a picture of the other Collingwood I found in Waynesboro.

And here's a picture of the other Collingwood I found in Waynesboro.

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One of my favorite finds in Waynesboro was the Del Rey!

One of my favorite finds in Waynesboro was the Del Rey!

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Again, its in PERFECT condition! Wow. Just WOW!

Again, it's in PERFECT condition! Wow. Just WOW!

How many more kit homes are there in Waynesboro? Probably many more than I’ve found thus far.

I’ll be arriving in Waynesboro on Wednesday morning, so if you know of a Sears House in the area, leave a comment below!

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

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

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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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It’s People Like John P. Waters That Confuse Us Historians 100 Years Later.

April 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

Until I started scanning a 1914 Sears Modern Homes catalog, I’d never heard of Sears Modern Home 264P165.

Prior to 1918, Sears Homes were given names rather than numbers, so we know that this unusual-looking home never made it to the 1918 catalog. In fact, it’s not in my 1912 catalog or my 1916 catalog, so it was short lived (to say the least).

And yet, by 1914, this house had been sold in New Braunfels, TX and Lansdowne, MD and New Orleans, Louisiana.

And it might have been sold to John P. Waters of Massena, Iowa.

Maybe.

Reading these testimonials can be a little tricky, and this testimonial written by John of Massena is also a little vague. Did he buy millwork?  Or did he buy this house?  The way this testimonial is positioned, one would surely think he bought Modern Home 264P165, and yet if you read it carefully, it seems more likely that John just purchased some millwork from Sears Roebuck sometime around 1914.

Too many times to count, people will approach me and insist that they have a Sears kit home. Despite my best efforts, I’m often unable to match their “alleged Sears House” to the 370 designs that Sears offered in the early 1900s.

When I ask these folks, “What makes you think it’s a Sears House?” they often have the same story: “My grandfather said his dad ordered it from Sears.”

Now I’ll know to ask these people, “Was your great-grandfather’s name John P. Waters?”

Because in the early 1900s, it was not unusual for people like John P. Waters to order lumber from Sears.

JUST lumber.

In 1895, Sears started offering building materials (lumber, millwork, windows, doors, sheathing, etc) through a specialty catalog. That was 13 years before the “Sears Modern Homes” program was even a glimmer in Richard Sears’ eye.

And it was in 1895 that the stories probably began:  “See that house on the corner? Old John bought every stick of lumber for his house from Sears.”

Forty years later it’s, “Grandpa John ordered his house from Sears!”

And after a full century has elapsed, someone sends me an email that says, “My great grandfather John built a Sears House!”

Maybe he did.

Or maybe he pulled a “John P. Waters” and just ordered the building materials from Sears.

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To learn how to “read” lumber markings on old kit homes, click here.

To read about the wonderful kit homes of Charlottesville, click here.

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Sears Home

This house apparently was offered for only a couple years. And yet, there's one in Braunfels, Texas, Lansdown, Maryland and New Orleans, Louisiana (1914).

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tricky testimonial

John P. Waters testimonial was for lumber, PROBABLY, and yet it appears on the page next to the picture of the 264P165.

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house house

The 264P165 was a very unique house, which makes it easy to identify.

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Here are the cities where three 264P165s were built.

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Whoa, check out this floorplan! Look at the bathroom! I suppose the occupants were profoundly grateful that this 1914-era kit home even *had* a bathroom, as many of these early 20th Century kit homes did not have "indoor plumbing." And check out the "living hall." It has a fireplace!

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house details

Have you seen this house? The details around the front porch should make it easy to identify, especially if you're in New Braunfels TX, Lansdowne MD or New Orleans.

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An additional note: Apparently, Lansdowne is next door to Baltimore!

Have you seen a 264P165? Please leave a comment for Rose!

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Hey Plymouth Meeting House, I’d Like to Meet Your Houses!

March 20th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

According to the 1921 Sears catalog, there’s a whole neighborhood of the prettiest little Sears kit homes in Plymouth Meeting House, PA (about 30 miles from Philadelphia).

In the not-too-distant future, Mr. Ringer and I will be heading up North to visit family and we’re planning to swing by Plymouth Meeting House and see if we can find these homes.  But before we drive several hours out of our way, we’d sure like to know if these homes are still standing!

Any ideas where to look?

It looks like a dandy bunch of kit homes.

house

In the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog, Sears highlighted several communities where large numbers of their kit homes had been built. Plymouth Meeting House (very near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was one of those communities.

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front pages

In addition to Plymouth Meeting House, there were also large number of (modest) Sears Homes sold in a little community called "Chester, Pennsylvania."

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link

The accompanying text says these homes were purchased by the American Magnesia Company.

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Here's the photo showcasing the homes in Plymouth Meeting House.

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Close-up of some of the houses. Note, the street has not been paved yet.

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The other side of the street.

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Gladstone

According to that vintage photo, there are several Gladstones in that collection in Plymouth Meeting House. This house should be easy to spot! The Gladstone has the unique columns (with those blocks at the top) and also note that third window on the first-floor front. On the side, you'll see that funky little window upstairs. Have you seen this house?

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Marina

The Marina shouldn't be hard to find in this bunch! Note the interesting window arrangement in that shed dormer. Those are two closet windows.

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And the Somers is also an easy house to identify! Look at the lines on the porch roof!

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Are these houses still intact? Did they survey the intervening decades? If you know, please leave a comment below.

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

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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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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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