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Posts Tagged ‘prefabricated houses’

Sears Catalog House, or Something Like it (Part II)

July 27th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

In my most recent blog, I talked about the fact that Hopewell’s “Collection of Sears Homes” (and I use that term loosely) was in the local news again.

At the end of that blog, I offered to help Hopewell sort through their historical chaff and find the wheat.

The fact is, at this point I’d be willing to donate my services (gratis), to help this small town (just outside of Richmond) get their Sears-home story straight. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this enticing offer may not be accepted.

A few years ago, I wrote a couple of letters and emails (yes, both) to some folks in Hopewell, making this same offer. I never heard a peep. Not a “Thanks, but no,” not a “we’re not interested,” or even a “Go to hell, Rosemary Thornton.”

Honestly, I would have preferred to hear something, rather than nothing.

In case anyone from Hopewell is reading this, I can tell you, I know a little something about Sears Homes. Here’s a short bio I use with the media:

Rose is the author of several books on early 20th Century kit homes. Rose and her work have been featured on PBS History Detectives, A&E’s Biography, CBS Sunday Morning News, MSNBC, NPR’s All Things Considered and BBC Radio. In print media, her story has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, L. A. Times, Dallas Morning News, Christian Science Monitor and more.

Sounds darn good, doesn’t it?

So what can I do to help Hopewell correct their boo-boos?

I don’t know.

In the meantime, below is the “re-do” of a blog that was a personal favorite of mine. The idea was the brainstorm of Rachel Shoemaker, who loves both music and kit homes, and found a delightful way to blend the two topics.

You can read Rachel’s wonderful blog here.

Here’s the ditty that will  help you learn more about correctly identifying houses.

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Ses

Here's a screen-shot of the Sesame Street ditty that tell us, "One of these things is not like the other." Its intent is to teach youngsters how to spot differences in similar items. Learning how to distinguish subtle differences in physical objects can be tough. Ever more so if you live in the small towns around Richmond (apparently).

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houses

Let's try it with houses now.

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One of the houses above is different from the others.

If you guessed the brick house with the metal casement windows, you’re right!

For some time, Hopewell was promoting a brochure (showcasing a driving tour of alleged kit homes in Crescent Hills neighborhood) that identified this brick house as a Sears Dover.

But oh noes!! That’s not a Sears Dover!

The other three houses (the three that look just alike) are the Sears Dover.

More recently, Hopewell has modified this statement and now claims that this brick house is a Sears Maplewood.

Let’s see how that works.

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Blue

Oh noes - AGAIN! One of these homes just doesn't belong! Which one is it? If you guessed the brick house, you're right! The other three homes are the Sears Maplewood.

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houses

There's also the fact that the Sears Maplewood and Dover were never ever offered with metal casement windows. There's also the fact that this house was probably built after WW2. But hey, why let something like "historical fact" get in the way of a good story!

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maple

Here's a Sears Maplewood (1930 catalog).

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house

If you really think that the brick house above looks like a Sears Dover, I highly recommend the Sesame Street "Not like the other" series. It's helped many a lost soul find their way through the thickets of misidentified kit homes.

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house

Meanwhile, in Hopewell, they have a cache of rare and unusual Aladdin Homes (like the one above) and what is being done to promote those houses? Nothing. Unbelievable.

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To learn more about how to distinguish differences in certain objects, click here.

Thanks to Rebecca Hunter for the use of her photograph above (the blue Maplewood). You can visit Rebecca’s website here.

Visit Rachel’s website here.

Read about the bonanza of kit homes we found in Richmond!

If you’re from Hopewell, and you’d like to take up Rose on her offer, please leave a comment below.

If you’re not from Hopewell and you THINK they should take up Rose on her offer, please leave a comment below.

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Sears Catalog House or Something Like It (Hopewell, VA)

July 25th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

Last week, Hopewell was in the local news again, touting their Sears Homes. I’m not going to post a link to the article that appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch, because it was rife with errors.

I’m somewhat incredulous that a paper as prestigious as the Richmond Times Dispatch didn’t do some fact-checking before publishing this story.

The recording and publishing of history is such a sacred trust, and writers have a solemn charge to get the facts right, before sending this information into perpetuity.

And there’s this: I’ve been sought out and interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, BBC Radio, All Things Considered (PBS)  and more. I’ve been featured on PBS History Detectives, CBS Sunday Morning News, A&E’s Biography, and MSNBC.

It’s disheartening to know that a newspaper so close to home ran this article without seeking me out for a quote, or even asking me to help with the fact checking (which I would have gladly done).

Hopewell and I have a history.

When I visited Hopewell in 2003 (to give a talk), I was shown a small brochure touting 44 Sears Homes in Crescent Hills.

As mentioned in several other blogs (click here), Hopewell is mighty mixed up about what is, and what is not a kit house.

Of those 44 purported “Sears Homes” in Crescent Hills, only eight are the real deal, and frankly, it may not be eight. Some of those eight could well be plan book homes.

On that “list of 44,” this house (see below) was featured.

To read more about Hopewell, click here.

Many thanks to Rachel Shoemaker who successfully identified this house!

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Nice House

The brochure promoting the Hopewell Sears Homes stated that this was a Sears "Newbury." Ooh, nice try and thanks for playing. We have some lovely parting gifts for you.

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Ruh

The Hopewell brochure states that it looks JUST LIKE a Newbury, except for the "sloping roof, full width dormer, extra windows and round columns." Good grief, if that's our criteria I could say that my dog Teddy looks like just like a Sears Magnolia.

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House

Except for the absence of a hip roof, full width windows, round columns and cypress wood, these two dwelling places are stunningly similar. You'll note that the subject on the right also does not have ears or fur, but both of these items could have easily been removed during an earlier remodeling.

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Newbury

Sears Newbury, from the 1936 catalog.

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compare

Wow, look at this! The house on the left is in Illinois and it actually LOOKS like a Newbury!

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compare

Ruh Roh. These don't look anything alike!

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Monticello

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker, we now know that this house in Hopewell came from "Standard Homes Plans" (1923, 1928 and 1929). You may notice that THIS looks a lot like the house in Hopewell!

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Montie

In fact, "The Monticello" is on the cover of the catalog! What a beauty!

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Wow

And lookie here. It is a very fine match!

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Big and fancy

Did anyone from Hopewell ever go into this house and compare the interior layout? If so, I hope the homeowner gave their seeing-eye dog a tasty biscuit. The floor plan for the Monticello is radically different from the Sears Newbury (shown directly below). And the Monticello is 50% bigger. These details matter.

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What

The Newbury is a modest, simple house (1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

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If you dont love this house, theres something wrong with you!

According to the text in the ad, if you don't love the Monticello, there's something seriously wrong with you!

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It’d really be swell if Hopewell would invite me back to do a thorough and proper survey. I would be more than happy to get the facts right and help them create a new brochure.

In fact, I really wish they’d give it a go. It’s time to make this right.

To learn more about Hopewell, click here.

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

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The Navarre: Remarkably Well Designed

February 18th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

In “Driving Miss Daisy,” there’s a scene where Hoke is studying a wall filled with family pictures, and he comments “I just love a house with pictures, Miss Daisy. It do make a house a home.”

Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t send me a picture of a house, but my favorites are the old family photos that capture a moment in time when a family was enjoying their newly built “home.”

Last week, Donita Roben joined our group on Facebook (”Sears Homes”) and posted a picture of her home, asking if someone could identify a family home that had come from Sears Roebuck.

In no time at all, Rachel Shoemaker identified the house as a Lewis Navarre, and posted original catalog images from the 1920 catalog. (BTW, to read more about why 80% of people who think they have a Sears House are wrong, click here.)

Thanks so much to Donita for sharing these photos! And thanks to Rachel for identifying this wonderful old house!

To hear Rose’s recent interview on NPR, click here!

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Heres

Donita said that her father-in-law remembered the house being delivered by train. She wrote, "My father-in-law remembers that everyone in town was so excited about its arrival. He talked about unloading the train and hauling things by wagon. Even the kids got in on helping by pulling their little wagons loaded with kegs of nails, etc. He did not live in the house until later. It was actually built by the town doctor (Dr. Cross)." Photo is copyright 2014 Donita Roben and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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One of the things I love about the vintage image (shown above) is that it shows the Lewis Navarre from the same angle as the 1924 catalog picture!

One of the things I love about the vintage image (shown above) is that it shows the Lewis Navarre from the same angle as the 1924 catalog picture!

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A close-up of the fam also provides some detail on the front porch.

A close-up of the boys also provides some detail on the front porch. Check out those paneled columns. Photo is copyright 2014 Donita Roben and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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columns

Knowing what those columns look like, the readers of this blog should be able to spot a Lewis Navarre at 100 paces! Quite unique! (Image is from 1924 Lewis Homes Catalog.)

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The Navarre was a surprisingly spacious house with a full second floor.

The Navarre was a surprisingly spacious house with a full second floor. The house has four bedrooms and a bath on the second floor. Downstairs, it had a nice-size kitchen with a walk-in pantry and a mudroom.

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Donita also shared some pictures of the homes interior.

Donita also shared some pictures of the home's interior. The photo was taken in the dining room, facing into the living room. Note the fireplace on the left. Photo is copyright 2014 Donita Roben and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And it still has its original windows!

And it still has its original windows! Photo is copyright 2014 Donita Roben and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And she found some markings under the staircase.

And she found some markings on the lumber Photo is copyright 2014 Donita Roben and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Heres the original catalog page from 1924 Lewis Homes.

"You can see that the Navarre is remarkably well designed..." (1924).

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And theres the house as it appears today!

In her email to me, Donita wrote, "One of my best friends lived in this house and I used to walk home from school with her when we were in high school. I spent quite a bit of time at the house, and loved it even then." Photo is copyright 2014 Donita Roben and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Thanks so much to Donita for sharing these photos! And thanks to Rachel for identifying this wonderful old house!

To hear Rose’s recent interview on NPR, click here!

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Thou Shalt Not Steal, Part II

January 31st, 2014 Sears Homes 9 comments

Who owns this pre-1923 image from an old Sears catalog?

Who owns this photo?

Shown above is a Wizard block-making machine. These were hugely popular for Sears and now they're in great demand as collectors' items. Apparently, they were well made and worked as promised. All for a mere $57.50!

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I sure don’t want my wonderful fun-laden website to turn into an on-going tutorial on copyright issues, but several times in the last few years, people have asked me, “Isn’t an image from an old catalog the property of the creator of that catalog?”

With the blog I published on January 29th, that question has arisen again.

With a caveat that the following is *my* understanding of the vagaries and complexities of intellectual property as it relates to pre-1923 images, I’ll give this a shot, but bear in mind…

I am just a lowly writer. My husband is the smarty-pants lawyer, but even he is reluctant to render an opinion on intellectual property issues because these laws are intricate, complicated and forever changing.

With that in mind, here goes.

The image shown above is pre-1923, which means it is in the public domain (and therefore, no longer has copyright protection). The image originally appeared in a 1910s Sears Concrete Block catalog. After scanning the image, I also cleaned it up a bit, cropping it down and removing spots and crease marks.

Practically speaking, anyone who knows how to use “copy and paste” can lift that image from my site and run with it (as many people have). However, there needs to be some consideration as to what was involved in my acquiring that image.

1)  Research. How many people even know that Sears offered these block-making machines? How many people are aware that Sears had a specialty catalog devoted to block-making?

2) Expense. Through the years, I’ve spent countless thousands of dollars on research materials and old catalogs. And the expense of acquiring these materials doesn’t even touch on the time I’ve spent on the road, giving lectures and listening to people’s stories after the lectures. Because of this, I’ve learned so much from people of all ages, throughout the country. Such education is invaluable and irreplaceable, but it does not come cheap.

3)  Time. I don’t have the emotional courage to add up how many hours I’ve spent researching architectural history, but I’ve written six books on this topic and that alone has required thousands of hours. And scanning a 100+page catalog can take HOURS.

4)  Expertise, which, honestly, combines all of the above.

And then there’s the labor involved.

In most cases, the process of scanning a 90-year-old catalog destroys the binding. You’re left with an abundance of brittle pages that must be stored in an acid-free envelope or folder. And after the scanning is done, there’s the long, slow process of cleaning up each and every image.

Back to my original question: Who owns the image?

The following comes from Wikipedia:

In Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. (1999), the New York District Court held that “a photograph which is no more than a copy of a work of another as exact as science and technology permits lacks originality. That is not to say that such a feat is trivial, simply not original”.

In spite of the effort and labor involved in creating professional-quality slides from the original works of art, the Court held that copyright did not subsist as they were simply slavish copies of the works of art represented.

Although that case related to photographs rather than scans, it would be reasonable to say that by analogy the US courts would not grant copyright to a scan which has been enhanced - even manually - with a view to creating an image which is as similar as possible to the original.

Where the enhancement has gone beyond that, for example in bringing out selected details or colors not easily visible in the original, Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. may be less persuasive, and such cases should be considered on their own facts.

Seems that even for the courts, these are murky waters.

From my reading of Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., the act of scanning does not in and of itself constitute the creation of a “new” image that can be protected by copyright (which does not bode well for all the poor saps who scan pre-1923 catalogs and sell the CDs on eBay).

Conversely, when it comes to my contemporay photographs, those are most certainly protected by modern copyright laws.

However, even if my “scanned and enhanced pre-1923 images” are not protected by copyright laws (and it appears they may not be), the fact remains that from a literary standpoint, the ethical and professional thing to do is to give attribution and credit when materials are taken from another source.

And as Rachel has pointed out, it’s also the smart thing to do. This website gets 1,200+ visitors every day. Sharing some “Link love” is a sure-fire way to boost visitors at your own website.

In conclusion, if you wish to use any images from my site, please - oh please - just put my name with the image. Something like, “This image is used courtesy Rosemary Thornton,” or, “Image is courtesy searshomes.org.”

It’s just the right thing to do.

And now, back to happy things.

To read about my beautiful “Atomic Kitchen,” click here.

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This is one of the happiest pictures I could find. Its my brother Eddie, licking the beaters after Mother had made some wonderful dessert.

This is one of the happiest pictures I could find. It's my brother Eddie, licking the beaters after Mother had made some wonderful dessert (about 1958). He stands in front of our home's fine-looking metal cabinets that were in our 1925 Colonial Revival house in Portsmouth. Check out the round handles on the cabinet's front. And to the left is a top-loading portable dishwasher, which we used to store dishes. It had a glass top, and some plumber told Mother that if she ever hooked it up to the sink, our entire plumbing system would explode and we'd have to have new lines installed, all the way from the city reservoir system to our sink. Or something like that. One night, when my parents went out, my brothers hooked up the dishwasher and let it run through a cycle. We were all relieved and pleased when nothing exploded. Lastly, check out Eddie's flannel-lined pants. So very cool!

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Another happy picture is me,

Here's a happy picture of moi, studying the intricacies of our beautiful wooden staircase (just out of view). I always loved that staircase with its solid walnut banister, terminating with a winding volute. I spent my hours wondering how it was all assembled. Mother is jiggling the crib in an effort to distract me (about 1960). To this day, a soft jiggle is still thoroughly distracting.

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To read about Frank’s beautiful Strathmore in Waldwick, NJ, click here.

Interested in the Sears Wizard? Click here!

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“Americanized English” - The Sears Wilmore

January 16th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

“We have worked out an attractive exterior along the lines commonly known as ‘Americanized English.’”

So reads the text that accompanies the description of the pretty little Neo-Tudor, known as a “Wilmore.”

And better yet, “The kitchen is sure to make friends among housewives…”

That’s a dark day in womanhood when a woman’s best friend is a kitchen.

Thanks to Dale Wolicki and Rebecca Hunter for sharing their photos of Wilmores found in the Midwest!

To read my favorite blog about Sears biggest house, click here.

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The Wilmore

One of the optional extras for The Wilmore was a permanent staircase to the expandable attic (1938).

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Not a very big house, but a smart floor plan!

Not a very big house, but a smart floor plan!

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It is a real cutie-pie of a house.

It is a real cutie-pie of a house. Note the bellcast roof on the right rear.

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Heres a pretty little Wilmore that Dale found in West Peoria, IL.

Here's a pretty little Wilmore that Dale found in West Peoria, IL. Someone painted over the nine-lite window on the front door. Ugh! And then someone put up sea-shell shutters! (I wonder if Suzie sold them the sea-shell shutters?) Photo is copyright 2014 Dale Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Rebecca Hunter found this Wilmore in Mendota, IL.

Rebecca Hunter found this Wilmore in Mendota, IL. I love the vintage lawnchairs. Photo is copyright 2010 Rebecca Hunter and may not be used or reproduced without written permisison.

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Heres a Wilmore I found in the Staunton area,

Here's a Wilmore I found in the Staunton (Virginia) area, just across from the North River School. If someone can give me a better address than that, I'd be very grateful.

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And this is perhaps the most interesting Wilmore. Its a customized Wimore in Kirkwood, Missouri, and I visited the house in 2003, and authenticated it as The Real Deal. The house was turned sideways on the lot, and the front gable was extended to create a more spacious living room.

And this is perhaps the most interesting Wilmore. It's a customized Wilmore in Kirkwood, Missouri, and I visited the house in 2003, and authenticated it as The Real Deal. The floorplan is *flipped* (as compared to the catalog image) and turned 90 degrees on the lot. The front gable was extended to create a more spacious dining room. The front door was moved to the side of the gable, and a small window is on the smaller gable in place of a door. This angle really highlights that bellcast roof on the gable (left side of picture).

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

To visit Rebecca’s website, click here.

Dale’s website is here.

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The Sears Elmhurst, Part II

October 11th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

Recently, Rachel Shoemaker was looking through a Sears Modern Homes catalog (1930) when she discovered a testimonial for a Sears Elmhurst built in Flushing, New York. She then did some extra digging and was able to glean the home’s current address.

In fact, Rachel wrote a blog on her wonderful discovery (click here to see it).

Now, we need someone near Flushing to snap a few photos of this grand and elegant home in Flushing. If you’re near the area, please leave a comment below and I’ll contact you toote suite!

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Testimoniaal

Here's the testimonial that Rachel found in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Zvonecs loved their house

I have a feeling that the Zvanovec's are no longer extending an open invitation to visit their home. Nonetheless, it sounds like they really did love their home, and were very proud of it.

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As Rachel points out in her blog, this must have been one of the first Elmhursts built, because it appeared in the 1929

Close-up of this beautiful Sears Elmhurst in Flushing, NY. Look at the beautiful stone work on the front porch.

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And heres the Elmhurst recently discovered in St. Louis.

And here's the Elmhurst recently discovered in St. Louis.

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An Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb (originally discovered by Rebecca Hunter).

Here's an Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb (originally discovered by Rebecca Hunter). Notice this house has the decorative blocks under the faux half timbering on that front gable. These blocks are missing from the Elmhurst in St. Louis and Flushing, NY. This Elmhurst and the one in Flushing are both brick veneer, whereas the one in St. Louis is solid brick. As mentioned in the prior blog, solid brick is very unusual on a Sears kit home.

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Is this a Sears Elmhurst? I think its likely but Im not certain. This house is in Rocky Mount, NC where I found an abundance of kit homes from both Sears and Aladdin.

Is this a Sears Elmhurst? I think it's likely but I'm not certain. It's in Rocky Mount, NC where I found an abundance of kit homes from both Sears and Aladdin. It's not a spot-on match but it's darn close! This is such an unusual house, I'd be inclined to say it probably is an Elmhurst. Probably. Notice, those decorative blocks are in place under the front gable.

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The Elmhurst was featured in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog and had a two-page spread.

The Elmhurst was "featured" in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog and had a two-page spread, including this colorized image. Notice, the blocks are shown in the catalog image.

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Are you near Flushing? Would you be willing to get some good, high-resolution photos for us?

If so, please leave a comment below!

To read more about the kit homes I found in Rocky Mount, click here.

To read  more about the Elmhurst, click here.

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Inside The Sears Elmhurst (St. Louis)

October 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 13 comments

Several weeks ago, a reader of this blog told me that he owned a Sears Elmhurst in St. Louis, and he was kind enough to send me a few photos. To my surprise and delight, he was right!  It really was an Elmhurst.

Last month, I visited the Elmhurst “in person” and my oh my, what a treat!

The home’s current owners have a deep abiding respect and appreciation for the unique origins of their historic home. In other words, they really love their old Sears House, and have been faithfully researching the history of this beautiful old house, and restoring it, inch by inch.

Thanks so much to the home’s owners who were gracious enough to let me take a tour of their home and share a few photos of its interior!

Elmhurst first appeared in the 1928

The Sears Elmhurst was a classic (and classy) Tudor Revival with a "half-timber effect" on the second story. Inside, it had three bedrooms and 1-1/2 baths. The house in St. Louis is in mostly original condition.

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house floorplan

The living room and dining room were spacious. The kitchen and lavatory were not.

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Cover of the 1932

The cover of the 1932 "Homes of Today" showed this fetching entryway, which is from the Elmhurst. It's kind of a "Twilight Zone" doorway, out of the hubbub of busy city living and into another dimension of peace and joy and "the satisfaction that comes from building your own home" (as Sears promised in their literature).

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house 1930 catalog

In the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog, the Elmhurst was given a two-page spread.

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house 1930

Even in the simplified line drawings (from the 1930 catalog) the Elmhurst looks quite elegant.

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house house house

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is a perfect match to the catalog image. Just perfect.

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house gerst

The St. Louis house is being faithfully restored by its current owners, and it's a real beauty.

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Elmhurst compare

Close-up of that entryway shown on the front cover of the 1932 catalog.

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Mike gerst elmhurst

And a fine side-by-side contrast of the St. Louis Elmhurst (left) and the entryway shown in the catalog.

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house ricin

The 1932 "Homes of Today" Sears Modern Homes catalog showed this view of the Elmhurst built in Ohio.

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house stairs

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is a good match to the black/white image above.

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house house stairs

The "Elmhurst built in Ohio" is shown here on the right, and the Elmhurst in St. Louis in on the left. The details are perfect with two lone exceptions: The front door is hinged different in the St. Louis house, and that decorative "S" is missing from the base of the wrought-iron staircase railing (which looks like it'd be a knee-buster anyway). The flip-flops are missing from the Elmhurst in Ohio.

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house la tosca

La Tosca door hardware was a very popular choice in Sears Homes.

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house house la tosca

The LaTosca door hardware, as seen in the Elmhurst and as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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phone niche

The moldings and trim in this Elmhurst are birch, according to the owner. Based on the research he's done, I'd say he's probably right. The owner is doing a remarkable job of restoring the inherent beauty of all the original wood trim throughout the house. The patina and beauty of the natural wood finish on this phone niche isn't accurately represented by this dark photo. While walking through the house, I couldn't help but to "reach out and touch" the beautiful wood trim. It really is that beautiful.

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house house door

The 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog showed this view of the front door (interior). Note that the stylistic "S" is missing from the wrought-iron railing in this picture.

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front door stuff

There was a wall that blocked my shooting the door and staircase from the same angle as shown above, but I got pretty close. This house was a one-hour trip from my brother's home in Elsah, IL (where I was staying), but once I saw the inside of this house, I was mighty glad I'd made the effort. In every way that an old house can be truly stunning, this house *was* stunning. It's a real gem in the heart of St. Louis.

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comparison

Comparison showing the 1930 catalog image and the real live house in St. Louis.

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Wall

From this view (near the landing), you get a better idea of the size of the hallway.

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kitchen 1932

The kitchen of the Elmhurst (as shown in the 1932 catalog). This appears to be a photo, and the picture was taken by someone standing with their backside leaning hard against the right rear corner of the house, looking toward the door that opens into the dining room. Notice the La Tosca hardware on the door.

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kitchen today

The Elmhurst's kitchen today, from that dining room door, looking toward the right rear corner. While I'm a big fan of all things old, even I'd agree that the kitchen needed a little bit of updating for the 21st Century.

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Most Sears kit homes had maple floors in the kitchen and bath (underneath tile and other floor coverings). The owners of the Elmhurst tried to restored the maple floor in their kitchen but it was too far gone.

Most Sears kit homes had maple floors in the kitchen and bath (underneath the floor coverings). The owners of the Elmhurst tried to restored the maple floor in their kitchen but these floors were really intended to be used as a subfloor, not a primary floor.

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house inside

The fireplace in the living room has the same square slate tiles as seen on the front porch.

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house hallway upstairs

This over-sized landing window was another lovely feature of the Elmhurst. As seen from the outside, this is the tall dormer window just to the right of the front porch (as seen from the street).

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window staircase

Downstairs looking up at the staircase window.

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house elmhurst

A distinctive feature found in two-story Sears kit homes are these plinth blocks. These square blocks were used to help the novice homebuilder cope with complex joints. The landing of the Elmhurst had three of these plinth blocks on one landing. I do believe that that's the most plinth blocks I've ever seen in one kit house.

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house plinth block

The plinth block at this juncture is actually two-steps tall.

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business card

While doing some work on the home, the owner found this business card inside a wall. I've seen a lot of very cool ephemera in my fun career, but this is one of the best. There were only 40 Sears Modern Homes "Sales Centers" in the country and there was one in St. Louis. Folks could stroll into these storefronts and get a first-hand look at the quality of framing members, millwork, heating equipment and plumbing fixtures. Apparently Miss Manning visited the Sears Modern Homes Sales Center and had some discussion with Marcelle Elton about her new Elmhurst.

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pipe tag pipe tag

The home's current owners found this tag attached to a cast-iron pipe inside the kitchen wall. It shows that the home's purchaser was a "Miss Margaret Manning" of Clayton, Missouri. For those interested in genealogy, I would LOVE to know where Miss Manning lived before she purchased the house in St. Louis and what she did for a living. Lastly, I'd also be interested in knowing how long she lived in this house.

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house pipe tag pipe tag

Close-up of the tab shows a return address of 925 Homan Avenue, in Chicago, Illinois.

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houe exterior house

From all angles, the Elmhurst is quite stunning.

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On the inside, those dormers look like this.

On the inside, those dormers look like this.

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house solid brick

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is an enigma for several reasons. One, this is not a frame house with brick veneer (like every other "brick" Sears kit house I've ever seen). This house is solid brick, and when the owner remodeled the kitchen, he said the exterior walls had furring strips (typical of a solid brick house). And the flashing and original gutters were copper. When built, the house had a tile roof. These are all significant upgrades and probably cost the home's first owner quite a bit extra.

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gerst home

This photo was taken by the home's current owner. You can see a remnant of the tile roof on the ridge of the house. And if you look closely, you can see the copper flashing around the chimney.

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Elmhurst in Chitown

There's another Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb that Rebecca Hunter found. This Elmhurst has concrete sills (as you'd expect to see on a kit house, because it's simpler than laying brick), but the house in St. Louis had *brick* sills.

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house 1930

The Elmhurst was beautiful, but not very popular. It was offered from 1929 to 1932.

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And look what my buddy Rachel found in her 1929 Brick Veneer Honor Bilt Homes catalog! Its an Elmhurst that was built in Long Island, NY. And Rachel even found the house - as it stands today - in New York!

And look what my buddy Rachel found in her 1929 "Brick Veneer Honor Bilt Homes" catalog! It's an Elmhurst that was built in Long Island, NY. And Rachel even found the house - as it stands today - in New York! Who wants to get a photo of this house? :)

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Thanks again to the home’s current owners for sharing their Elmhurst with me (and the readers of this blog!). It’s a real treasure.

To read more about Rachel’s discovery in New York, click here.

To join our group of Facebook (”Sears Homes”), click here.

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A Magnolia in Alton, Illinois?! Sort Of!

September 24th, 2013 Sears Homes 6 comments

About 1999 or so, my [then] husband and I went to an open house in Alton, Illinois where we saw a darling house.

Last month, while I was looking through a 1952 Aladdin Homes catalog, I [re]discovered that darling house! The house my husband and I had toured in 1999 was actually an Aladdin kit house, “The Magnolia.”

In other words, this house - from Aladdin Homes in Bay City Michigan - came from a mail-order catalog and was shipped to the Alton train station in a box car. The house arrived in about 10,000 pieces and came with a detailed instruction book and a promise that an average fellow could have the house assembled in 90 days.

For the next few days, I really struggled to remember where I’d seen that house, and to the best of my recollection, it was not far from our home in Upper Alton (on Pine Street). Memory can be fickle, but I’d bet money that we saw the house on a little cross street not far from Edwards Street.

In 2006, I left Alton and moved to Norfolk, VA (which makes it harder to find kit homes in Southwestern Illinois).

Last week, I was in Alton visiting family and put more than 80 miles on my rental car, criss-crossing the short streets in Upper Alton. I had Garmin set on “slime trail” so that it left a light-blue line on every street that I traversed. (Have I mentioned how much I love my Garmin?)

Despite driving throughout this area many times over a course of several days, I never did find the Aladdin Magnolia. Now I’m starting to wonder if I saw this house in Godfrey (next door to Alton).

This Magnolia would have been built in the early 1950s, and when we saw it in 1999, it looked much like the house shown in this image. In other words, it had not been “remodeled,” so it should be easy to find. I distinctly remember the oversized living room window and the cantilevers under that second-floor balcony. I also remember the scalloped trim on that front gable.

But where is it?

Please leave a comment below if you know this home’s location. And please feel free to share this link with others who might know the answer to my mystery!

Thanks!!

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The cover of the 1952 catalog.

In 1952, sales of Aladdin kit homes were probably booming. Sears was out of the kit-house business and WW2 was over, and our nation came into a time of previously unknown prosperity and growth. (1952 catalog cover)

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Boxcar stacking

One of my favorite images from the 1952 catalog is this line-drawing showing a "phantom box car." The sides of the box car were invisible to showcase the intricate stacking of 10,000 pieces of kit house (1952 catalog).

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Alton has a Magnolia

Alton has a Magnolia, just like this, but where is it?

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Altons Magnolia

Detail of the first floor. It's a small house, but has a half-bath on the first floor.

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Alton FP

The second floor has three small bedrooms and an oddly-shaped bath tub.

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Maggy

Close-up of the Magnolia in Alton. Or is it Godfrey?

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Garmin

Whoever invented the "slime trail" feature of Garmin is my hero. Back in the day, I used maps and highlighters to figure out which streets I'd traversed. This shows the early hours of my search. By the time I left town Sunday night, almost every street in Upper Alton had the blue slime trail.

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Have you seen the Magnolia in Alton? If so, please leave a comment below.

To learn more about my other discoveries in River Bend, click here.

To see pictures of my favorite Alton kit house, click here.

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The Ferndale: A Charming English Bungalow

April 21st, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

There are many ways to find a Sears House, but Andrew and Wendy Mutch found a very rare Sears House in Ann Arbor using a technique I had never thought about before: Reading the obituaries.

They discovered an obituary for an elderly woman that mentioned the building of a Sears House.  Seems that Helen Bethke and her husband Emil Bethke had built a kit home in 1931, and after enjoying 64 years of wedding bliss, Emil passed on (in 1995).

Andrew and Wendy were able to figure out Mrs. Bethke’s address, but couldn’t readily identify the model. In fact, when I first saw their photos, it took me a few minutes to figure it out.

And that’s because, it’s a model I’ve never seen before.

Now that’s a thrill!  :)

And frankly, the only reason I was able to identify this darling little house was because it was in mostly original condition. Had this beauty been slathered in vinyl siding and aluminum trim, I’d still be scratching my head and wondering.

Fortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Bethke did a fine, fine job keeping their Sears Fernwood in first-class shape. Let’s hope the home’s next owners follow their worthy example.

Mrs. Bethke’s obit:  On Aug. 31, 1930, Helen married Emil Carl Bethke, and after 64 years of marriage, he preceded her in death in June of 1995. They built their Sears kit home in 1931, and raised their children in that old West Side home on Koch Street.

To learn more about the kit homes in Ann Arbor, click here.

On May 2nd, come to Rose’s lecture in Staunton, Virginia!

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Charming

The Ferndale was only offered for two years, 1929 and 1933. It's shown here in the 1929 catalog.

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house house hosue

Those dark shutters are not only pleasing, but functional!

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Ferndale

It tickles me that the tub on the Ferndale juts out in this floorplan.

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house house

It is indeed a "charming" little house.

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house house

And thanks to Mrs. Bethke, it's still in mostly original condition, looking much like it did when built in 1931. Will the new owners take good care of it, and preserve the original windows, siding and shutters? We can only hope. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house house house

Check out the detail around the front porch (1929 catalog).

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house house house

Picture perfect! Looks just like the catalog. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house house house

Now it's for sale, but 80 years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Bethke bought it as a 12,000-piece kit from Sears and Reobuck, and then built their own home. Very impressive. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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side

A view of our darling Fernwood from the other side. If you look at the floorplan above, you'll see it's a perfect match. 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 the kit homes in Ann Arbor, click here.

On May 2nd, come to Rose’s lecture in Staunton, Virginia!

Want to learn a lot about Sears Homes in a hurry? Join us on Facebook!

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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Marked Lumber

March 26th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

Identifying early 20th Century kit homes can be a tricky business. For one thing, more than 30% of kit homes were customized when built, which makes identification even more challenging.

However, there is a quick and simple way to identify kit homes: Marked lumber.

If you find a mark (such as is shown below) on framing lumber in an early 1900s house, chances are good that you’ve found a kit house.

The marks themselves can tell you something about the kit home, too.

Sometimes.

Scroll on down to examine the wide variety of marks we’ve found on kit homes throughout the country.

And a special thanks to the many kit house researchers who contributed photos:

Rachel Shoemaker

Cindy Catanzaro

Ersela Jordan

Jeffrey N. Fritz

Doug Lewis

Andrew Mutch

B. Maura Townsend

Catarina Bannier

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Interested in learning more? Visit our group (”Sears Homes”) on Facebook!

To learn more about why the lumber in Sears Homes is so extraordinary, click here.

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Lumber was numbered with specific markings to help the novice homebuilder figure out how all those pieces and parts went together.

Lumber was numbered with specific markings to help the novice homebuilder figure out how all those pieces and parts went together (1928 catalog). The marked lumber, together with detailed blueprints and a 75-page instruction book, enabled "a man of average abilities" to build his own home. Or so Sears promised.

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Lumber

Sears marked their lumber with a letter and a three-digit number. Usually. The font is solid (not stenciled) and about 7/8" of an inch tall. The mark can be found near the end of the joist, and also on the butt end (typically not visible after construction).

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Lumber s

Sometimes you have to peak around a few obstacles to find the number. Sears marks had a method. "D" was used for 2x8s, "C" was for 2x6s, and 2x4s were marked with "A" or "B."

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Sometimes the marks were not entirely straight.

Sometimes the marks were not entirely straight. Photo is copyright 2013 Cindy Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And sometimes, theyre not easy to see.

And sometimes, they're a little smudged or fuzzy. Photo is copyright 2012 Andrew Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Example

Here's a good example, because you can see the mark both on the butt end and also on the face of the 2x4. Plus, this photo shows how faded those numbers typically become with a little age. Photo is copyright 2010 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Close-up of the 2x4 shown above.

Close-up of the 2x4 shown above. Photo is copyright 2010 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Er

Another typical example, showing how faded these marks become over time. Photo is copyright 2010 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And dont forget to look up!

And don't forget to look up! Note how it's visible on the right, but not the left. Photo is copyright 2010 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission

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Ready for a pop quiz? Wheres the mark?

Where's the mark? This is under a staircase, which, by the way, is a great spot for finding marked lumber. Another great spot is the plumbing access door (behind the tub/shower faucet).

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Did you find it?

Easy to miss, isn't it? And this is assuming bright lights, good vision and that there are no rats scampering around your feet. These marks are most often seen in basements, and the number of obstacles you're going to see in basements is staggering and distracting! Most basements are dimly lit and stuffed silly with all manner of trip hazards!

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close

An extreme close-up of the mark shown above between the two arrows. By the way, it was also very difficult to see when I took this photo, and it showed up better as a picture than it did in real life.

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Ersela took this photo and I thought it was a great photo. Shows those 2x4s stacked up

Ersela took this photo and I thought it was a great photo, demonstrating how the ends were stamped (and how they fade with time). Photo is copyright 2010 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission

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word word

My favorite marked lumber of all is this Vallonia staircase in Columbia, Illinois. The owners were so very proud of their Sears kit home that they purposefully turned the treads and risers wrong side out so that everyone could see that they'd built a kit home.

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Sometimes, youll be looking for a different kind of mark.

Sometimes, you'll be looking for a different kind of "mark." This board was nailed to the underside of the floorboards of a Sears Osborne (as seen in the basement). The Osborne's first owner and builder, H. K. Mohr, had saved a piece of wood from the original shipping crate. The house was in Sidney, Illinois but had been shipped into the train depot at Boncard, Illinois. These shipping creates, marked with the owner's name, were often saved. It's not uncommon to find that the old shipping crates were broken down and the lumber was re-used to build a coal bin or shelving. Notice this mark is stenciled, not solid (whereas the numbers are solid, not stenciled).

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Another lumber

You should also keep your eyes peeled for marks with blue grease pencil. This says "2089" and "Rose" (how apropos). This was found in the basement of a Sears Magnolia, and the first family's name was Rose. The Magnolia was also known as Model #2089 (hence the mark above). In the dark, dank basement, this mark was nearly impossible to see. The photo above was enhanced to make that old blue grease pencil easier to see. You'll going to have look long and hard to find some of these marks.

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And how did that blue grease pencil get there? When the kit homes were bundled and ready for shipment, mill workers would grab their blue grease pencil and walk up to the large pile of framing members and hastily scribble both the model number (#2089 in this case) and family name (”Rose”) on a beam. It was a way to be extra certain that the right house went to the right people.

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This isnt a mark per se, but its something else to be on the look out for.

This isn't a "mark" per se, but it's something else to be on the look out for. Shipping labels are often found on the back of millwork (baseboards, window trim, molding), and in most cases, they don't say "Sears" but have a return address of 925 Homan Avenue, Chicago. Sears was located at the corner of Homan Avenue and Arthington Street in downtown Chicago. In later years, they created a brand name of hardware and plumbing supplies known as "Homart." This was a combination of their two street names.

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In later years, Sears changed they way they did their marks.

In later years, Sears changed they way they did their marks. Jeffrey N. Fritz send me these photos of marked lumber found in his late 1930s Sears kit home. At first, I didn't know what to think. I'd never seen marks like this in a Sears House, but based on some other research he'd shared with me, there was little doubt that this was a late 1930s Sears kit home. By the way, Jeffrey if you're reading this, please send me an email or leave a comment! I can't find your email address! :) Photo is copyright 2010 Jeffrey N. Fritz and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Close-up of the marked lumber Jeffrey found in his Sears House.

Close-up of the marked lumber Jeffrey found in his Sears House. Photo is copyright 2010 Jeffrey N. Fritz and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Aladdin was another kit home company and, like Sears, they sold kit homes out of a mail-order catalog. Aladdin (based in Bay City, MI) sold about 75,000 kit homes, which was *about* 5,000 more than Sears sold.

Aladdin was another kit home company and, like Sears, they sold kit homes out of a mail-order catalog. Aladdin (based in Bay City, MI) sold about 75,000 kit homes, which was *about* 5,000 more than Sears sold. Here's a piece of wood - probably off a shipping crate - found in an Aladdin house ("The Colonial") in Oklahoma. According to Rachel Shoemaker, the folks in town had assumed that this was a Sears kit home for many years. Sadly, the name "Aladdin" has largely been forgotten. To too many people, kit home = Sears home. Photo is copyright 2012 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission

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Heres another example of marked lumber that Rachel found in Oklahoma.

Here's another example of marked lumber that Rachel found in that "Colonial" (model name) in Oklahoma. This one borders on being artwork! Either that, or the Aladdin Stamper that day was pretty well sloshed. Photo is copyright 2012 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission

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Another example of a mark in blue grease pencil. Rach

Yet another example of marked lumber found in the *same* Aladdin Colonial in Oklahoma. You can also see a bit of blue grease pencil scribbled in the upper left hand corner. Photo is copyright 2012 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission

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I found this mark on an old Aladdin Brentwood in Roanoke Rapids.

I found this mark on an old Aladdin Brentwood in Roanoke Rapids, NC. It was very faint, but still legible. So this represents three distinct types of lettering on Aladdin kit homes. The first one shown above is stenciled, with capital letters. The second one is solid (no breaks in the lettering) and is all caps. The example from my Brentwood is first letter capitalized, with the rest lower case, and solid (no stencil).

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Cindy

Cindy Catanzaro found this in an Aladdin kit home. It's all caps, and stenciled (as is shown in the first Aladdin example above). Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And heres another surprise from Sears.

And Cindy found this mark in an Aladdin kit home (The Stratford). It's yet a fourth type of marking: Numbers separated by a dash. And here's where it gets even more confusing. I've seen identical markings in mid-1930s Sears Homes. Same format, same font, a couple numbers separated by a single dash. So for a time, apparently Sears and Aladdin used the same marks. Not to be confused with Gordon Van Tine/Wardway, which were several numbers, separated by a dash. Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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B. Maury Townsend found this blue grease pencil mark in her Aladdin Sherman (1912).

B. Maura Townsend found this blue grease pencil mark in her Aladdin Sherman (1912). It''d be great if we could break the "code." Is it a hand-written part number? That's the most-likely answer. Photo is copyright 2013 B. Maura Townsend and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Im sorry to say I dont have an example of a GVT/Wardway marked lumber, but this graphic from the 1929 catalog gives you an idea of what to look for.

I'm sorry to say I don't have a real-life example of a Gordon Van Tine/Wardway marked lumber, but this graphic from the 1929 catalog gives you an idea of what to look for. I've also seen just the numbers (no letter) separated by hyphens.

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And this expanded view of the same image shows they also stamped *words* on some of the lumber.

And this expanded view of the same image shows that Gordon Van Tine/Wardway also stamped *words* on some of the lumber.

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Agorn

Here's an example of blue grease pencil marks found in a Gordon Van Tine kit home in Oklahoma. Photo is copyright 2012 Rachel Shoemaker and Doug Lewis and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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This is also from a Gordon Van Tine/Montgomery Ward kit house.

This is also from a Gordon Van Tine/Montgomery Ward kit house. Again, it was from the original shipping crate that contained some of those 12,000 pieces and parts. If you find an old plank like this nailed to the old coal bin or used for a shelf, it might well be a kit home. This house was sold to Mathias Ringer of Quinter, Kansas and shipped into Beloit.

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To read  more about the kit home that Mathias Ringer bought, click here.

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Catarina discovered this mark on The Cheltenham, made by Lewis Manfuacturing (yet aother kit home company).

Catarina discovered this mark on The Cheltenham, made by Lewis Manufacturing (yet another kit home company). Is it a part number or a model number? Most likely, it's a model number and yet in the Lewis Homes catalog, no part numbers are listed for the Cheltenham. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Do you have photos of marked lumber to share? Please leave a comment below!

Want to learn more about Sears kit homes? Click here.

Click here to read the next fascinating blog.

Rachel Shoemaker has a blog of her own. Click here to read that.

You can check out Catarina’s blog here.

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