Last week, I visited Needham, Massachusetts and spent time with my daughter, Anna Rose.
After a Saturday morning breakfast, we were driving back to her house when I saw a house that caught my eye on Webster Avenue. As she pulled up to a nearby stop sign, I hopped out of the car (much to my daughter’s surprise), and said, “Circle the block and pick me up in a few minutes!”
Not only had I spotted a Sears House, but it was a Sears Ivanhoe, one of their biggest and best kit homes! Unfortunately, due to the many trees, I was not able to get a good photo, but there’s definitely a fine-looking Ivanhoe hiding behind all those trees!
Later in the day, I drove around town a bit more, but didn’t see any other kit homes. Then again, I probably only saw 30% of the pre-WW2 neighborhoods in Needham. And Needham is a very difficult community to navigate! The streets are very narrow and the traffic is very heavy.
Did I miss a few? I’m betting that I did.
If you’re new to this site, you may be wondering, what IS a Sears kit home?
In the early 1900s, you could buy an entire house out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. These were not prefab houses, but real “kits” (with about 12,000 pieces of building materials!). The lumber came pre-cut and numbered to help facilitate construction. Those numbers, together with a 75-page instruction book, and blueprints designed for a novice, enabled a “man of average abilities” to build their own home.
In fact, Sears promised that you could have a house assembled and ready for occupancy in 90 days! When Sears closed their “Modern Homes” department in 1940, all sales records were destroyed, so the only way to find these homes in one by one. In fact, based on my 12 years of experience, more than 90% of the people living in these homes didn’t realize what they had until I knocked on their door and told them.
This is a piece of American history that is at great risk of being lost, which is why I travel all over the country, take photos and maintain this blog.
Do you know of more kit homes in the Boston neighborhoods? Please leave a comment below!
To read about another kit home I found in New England, click here.
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Needham is a suburb of Boston and to the flat-lander tourist, it appears to be an incredibly prosperous community. The architecture is thoughtfully preserved and - with few exceptions - in excellent (original) condition. It's also a town full of churches. The Baptist Church is shown above.
The Sears Home I found in Needham is an "Ivanhoe," one of the largest and fanciest models that Sears offered (1920). It was more than 2,000 square feet, not including the sunporches.
The dotted lines on the floorplan represented beamed ceilings (made of oak).
Great symmetry! And notice the side porches. Plus, there was quite a bit of space on the 3rd floor.
This Ivanhoe is in Lewisburg, West Virginia.
Another Ivanhoe in Monmouth, Illinois. Photo is copyright 2010 Carol Parish and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.
And here's the Ivahoe in Needham! Unfortunately, due to the abundance of trees, I had a heck of a time getting a photo of the house, but it's definitely a Sears Ivanhoe!
Detail of the dormer on the 3rd floor.
Another classic feature of the Ivanhoe are those oversized eaves. I was delighted to see that the house in Needham has not been decimated with aluminum trim and substitute sidings. These houses were built with all cypress exteriors. Cypress was billed as "The Wood Eternal." Because it's an oily, dense wood, it's naturally resistant to wood rot and insect infestation.
A view from the other side. Again, the landscaping made it very difficult.
And unlike 90% of the Ivanhoes I've seen, this one in Needham still retains its original little windows in the living room. The house is currently being remodeled. I hope the windows survive!
And it sits on a big spacious lot!
I’d love to hear from folks in Needham. Are there other kit homes in the city? Please contact me by leaving a comment below!
Want to learn more about the superior quality building materials that were used in Sears Homes? Click here.
To learn more about kit homes in Boston, click here.
To learn more about Anna, click here.
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