Posts Tagged ‘rebecca l hunter’

Did You Know About This *Other* Website?

April 27th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

For five years, Dale Wolicki and I labored to write a book on Wardway Homes titled, The Mail Order Homes of Montgomery Ward. My oh my, did we work hard on that book!

This incredible tome has 347 pages and more than 500 vintage and extant photos of the kit homes sold by Montgomery Ward in the early 1900s. Dr. Rebecca Hunter wrote a couple chapters for us, too. I suspect that Dale put a few thousand miles on his Mercury Mountaineer, photographing houses from Mississippi to Michigan and Kentucky to Pennsylvania.

Like Sears, Montgomery Ward also sold kit homes through their mail-order catalogs. Sears started in 1908; Montgomery Ward started in 1909. Montgomery Ward saw the writing on the wall and closed down their “modern homes” department in 1932; Sears held on another eight years until 1940.

Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes during their 32 years in the kit home business. Based on our best guess, we suspect that Montgomery Ward sold about 25,000 kit homes.

Dale and I maintain a website devoted to Wardway Homes here. It’s another website that’s just stuffed full of information on Wardway Homes.

To visit the website, click here.

To learn more about our book, click here.

*   *   *

Wardway Homes

Montgomery Ward also sold kit homes. This is the cover of their 1931 catalog.


And they did have some truly beautiful homes.

And they did have some truly beautiful homes.


Dale and I worked for five years to research and write this book.

Dale and I worked for five years to research and write this book.



Teddy especially enjoyed reading about the Wardway Newport.


Wayne Ringer stands in front of the

Wayne Ringer stands in front of the Norfolk and Western's 1218 (A Class), the last known 2-6-6-4. When built in 1943, this was the most powerful steam locomotive in the world. I'm including this photo here because these were the type of trains that hauled the 12,000-piece kit homes from the southern mills to waiting customers in all 48 states. And I'm also including this photo because this is just a cool photo. This train is now on display in Roanoke, Virginia at the Virginia Museum of Transportation.



From the 1919 Pacific Ready Cut Homes catalog, this picture shows two workmen loading 12,000 pieces of kit house into a boxcar.


Montgomery Ward offered many kit homes, but this is one of my favorites. They named it The Kenmore.

Montgomery Ward offered many kit homes, but this is one of my favorites. They named it "The Kenmore."

Learn more about Wardway Homes by clicking here.

*   *   *

“The Betsy Ross,” by Sears

April 8th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

Of the 370 models that Sears offered, 107 Sears Homes were named after cities in Illinois. A few others were named after famous figures in American history, such as the Martha Washington and the Betsy Ross.

The Martha Washington was a massive two-story Dutch Colonial. The Betsy Ross was a diminutive bungalow with a single bedroom. Seems a little unfair for a widow woman who joined the “Fighting Quakers” and made our first flag during the American Revolutionary War.

In 1928, the Betsy Ross was an “Honor Bilt” home, but in prior years, it was a “Standard Bilt” house, meaning it not an especially sturdy house. To learn more about the differences between Honor-Bilt and Standard Bilt, click here.

The fact that it was offered for years as a Standard Bilt house may explain why it’s such a rare model. Standard Bilt homes were not likely to survive these many decades.

In my travels, I’ve only seen two examples of the Betsy Ross: One in Elgin (which Rebecca Hunter found), and one in Effingham, Illinois.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

1928 Betsy

The Betsy Ross was a pretty modest little house, and as built, had only one bedroom (with a closet-less dining room that could be used as a second bedroom).


Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross had a fairly complicated floorplan for such a little house. The dining room is oddly positioned for a "dining room." As a second bedroom, it made much more sense.



Notice the cut-out shutters (with clover leaf) and details on the front porch gable.

Elgin, IL

Rebecca Hunter has authenticated this Betsy Ross in Elgin, Illinois. Notice the "spokes" in the front porch gable. This porch has gable returns, while the original Betsy Ross does not, and yet this house (in Elgin) is most certainly the real deal. Notice also the original shutters and flower boxes.


Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross- the details


To learn how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

*   *   *

From House-wrecker to Home Maker: The Harris Brothers

February 10th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Harris Brothers was a small Chicago-based kit home company that started out life as a house-wrecking company. Today, we use another name to describe this line of work; something a little more delicate and environmentally friendly, like “Architectural Salvage.”

Of the six national companies, selling kit homes through mail-order catalogs, Harris Brothers was probably the least-well known.

According to fellow researcher Rebecca Hunter, Harris Brothers got their start when they were awarded contracts to demolish exhibitions at the 1893 World’s Fair (also known as The Chicago World’s Fair). That same year, they were first incorporated as The Chicago House Wrecking Company. In 1913, they changed their name and their image: Harris Brothers.

Rebecca’s research shows that their last mail-order pre-cut house catalog was issued in 1931. From then until 1958, the company remained in business, selling millwork and building materials through mail order catalogs.

Identifying Harris Brothers’ homes is especially difficult because so many of these designs were also offered in popular building magazines and also in planbooks. Outside of the Midwest, one has to be especially careful because it’s virtually impossible to tell - from the exterior - if a house is a Harris Brothers’ kit home, or a house ordered from another source.

Harris Brothers catalog from 1915

Harris Brothers' catalog from 1915

Harris Brothers

It's 1917 and the happy couple on the cover are still reviewing the paperwork, trying to decide on their new home.

A letter explains

This letter (reprinted here in original colors) accompanied the Harris Brothers' catalog and extolled the many salutary benefits of owning a Harris Brothers' home. Those tilting houses in the left margin make me a little nervous. Kind of a "wizard of oz spinning house" thing.

The catalog was also filled with happy testimonials from happy buyers.

The catalog was also filled with happy testimonials from happy buyers.


"Cheap" is such a harsh sounding word.

Boxcar being loaded

Where's OSHA when you need them? This picture is from 1915.

Line drawing

Line drawing from their 1915 catalog, showing the 40-acre mill in Chicago

Harris Brothers

Harris Brothers J-161, as seen in the 1917 catalog.

And here it is, in living color. Nice match, too.

And here it is, in living color. Nice match, too. This house is in Richmond, VA.

Harris Brothers

Harris Brothers

Sears Modern Home #190.

Sears Modern Home #190 or Harris Brothers J-84? It's impossible to know without inspecting the interior and comparing the precise room measurements of the two floorplans. From the exterior, these two homes are identical.This house is also in Richmond.

This is from the Harris Brothers catalog. Its the Ardmore, and its not hard to spot with that odd second floor sticking up out of the bungalows roofline!

This is the Harris Brothers Ardmore, and it's not hard to spot with that odd second floor sticking up out of the bungalow's roofline!

Harris Brothers Ardmore in Suffolk, VA

Is it an Harris Brother's Ardmore ? Physically, it's a good match from the outside. This house is in Suffolk, VA. Darn tree wouldn't get out of the way, despite repeated warnings from a certain author. Even making chain-saw noises didn't help. The tree remained perfectly still, unfazed and unimpressed.


This Ardmore is in Vinton, Virginia, a small town just outside of Roanoke.

Here it is: THe Harris Brothers kit home, the Ardmore. Id bet money that the owners have no idea that they have a kit home from a small, Chicago-based company.

Harris Brothers' Ardmore in Raleigh, NC.

And they sold pre-cut kit barns, too.

And they sold pre-cut kit barns, too.

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

To learn more about Rose, click here.

* * *