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Posts Tagged ‘rose thorton’

Fake Half-Timber: Just Not a Good Idea for Kit Homes

December 28th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

Sears kit homes were made of first-class building materials, such as #1 southern yellow pine (framing members). The exterior sidings were offered in red cedar, redwood or cypress.  Most frequently, exterior sidings were cypress, and exterior trim pieces (corner boards, door and window trim, eaves, etc.) were also cypress.

The cypress came from Louisiana and Mississippi and it was a quality of lumber which we’ will never see again in this country. To learn more about building materials used in these early 20th Century kit homes, click here.

With that being said, it’s a puzzle as to why homeowners feel a need to cover this old siding with substitute materials, such as vinyl (bad, bad idea) or permastone (almost as bad as vinyl) or even this fake half-timber effect (shown below).

Half-timber may have been appropriate on houses built in the 17th Century, but it doesnt look so good on kit homes from the early 1900s.

Half-timber may have been appropriate on houses built in the 17th Century, but it doesn't look so good on kit homes from the early 1900s. (Photo is copyright Rebecca Hunter 2011, and may not be used or reproduced with written permission.)

Heres the original catalog image for the house above. It came from Harris Brothers (Chicago).

Here's the original catalog image for the house above. It came from "Harris Brothers" (Chicago).

Sears Madelia, as it appeared in the 1919 catalog.

Sears Madelia, as it appeared in the 1919 catalog.

Hard to understand. Just hard to understand.

Sears Madelia (built in 1919) clad in its fake 17th Century garb. (Photo credit Dale Wolicki. Photo is copyright 2010, Dale Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

To learn more about kit homes, click here.

To contact Rebecca Hunter, click here.

To learn more about early 20th Century building materials, click here.

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Is My House a Sears House? The Nine Easy Signs.

November 27th, 2011 Sears Homes 1 comment

The number one question I’m asked again and again - How do you identify a Sears Kit Home?

First, begin by eliminating the obvious. Sears sold these homes between 1908-1940. If your home was built outside of that time frame, it can not be a Sears catalog home. Period. Exclamation mark!

The nine easy signs follow:

1) Look for stamped lumber in the basement or attic. Sears Modern Homes were kit homes and the framing members were stamped with a letter and a number to help facilitate construction. Today, those marks can help prove that you have a kit home.

2) Look for shipping labels. These are often found on the back of millwork (baseboard molding, door and window trim, etc).

3) Check house design using a book with good quality photos and original catalog images. For Sears, I recommend, “The Sears Homes of Illinois” (all color photos). For Wardway, there’s “The Mail-Order Homes of Montgomery Ward.”

4) Look in the attic and basement for any paperwork (original blueprints, letters, etc). that might reveal that you have a Sears home.

5) Courthouse records. From 1911 to 1933, Sears offered home mortgages. Using grantor records, you may find a few Sears mortgages and thus, a few Sears homes.

6) Hardware fixtures. Sears homes built during the 1930s often have a small circled “SR” cast into the bathtub in the lower corner (furthest from the tub spout and near the floor) and on the underside of the kitchen or bathroom sink.

7) Goodwall sheet plaster. This was an early quasi-sheetrock product offered by Sears, and can be a clue that you have a kit home.

8 ) Unique column arrangement on front porch and five-piece eave brackets (see pictures below).

9) Original building permits. In cities that have retained original building permits, you’ll often find “Sears” listed as the home’s original architect.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To read another article, click here.

Lumber was numbered to facilitate construction

Lumber was numbered to facilitate construction

Numbers

The numbers are usually less than an inch tall and will be found near the edge of the board.

The Sears Magnolia was also known as Model #2089

See the faint markings on this lumber? This mark was made in blue grease pencil and reads, "2089" and was scribbled on the board when the lumber left Cairo, Illinois. This was a photo taken in a Sears Magnolia in North Carolina. The Sears Magnolia was also known as Model #2089

Sears Magnolia was also known as #2089

Sears Magnolia was also known as Model #2089.

Shipping labels can also be a clue that you have a Sears Homes

Shipping labels can also be a clue that you have a Sears Home.

"The Sears Homes of Illinois" has more than 200 color photos of the most popular designs that Sears offered and can be very helpful in identifying Sears Homes.

Ephemera can help identify a house as a Sears Home

Ephemera can help identify a house as a Sears Home. This picture came from an original set of Sears "Honor Bilt" blueprints.

Ephemera

Ephemera and paperwork can provide proof that you do indeed have a Sears Home.

Haa

Plumbing fixtures - such as this bathtub - can provide clues, as well. I've found this "SR" (Sears Roebuck) stamp on bathtubs, sinks and toilets. On the sink, it's found on the underside, and on toilets, it's found in the tank, near the casting date.

Goodwall Sheet Plaster

Goodwall Sheet Plaster was sold in the pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs. This was a "fireproof" product that was much like modern sheetrock.

About two dozen of Sears most popular designs had a unique column arrangement that makes identification easier. The Vallonia was one of those 24 Sears Homes with that unique column arrangement.

About two dozen of Sears most popular designs had a unique column arrangement that makes identification easier. The Vallonia was one of those 24 Sears Homes with that unique column arrangement.

Close-up of the columns.

Close-up of the columns.

And in the flesh...

And in the flesh...

Houses should be a perfect match to original drawings found in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Houses should be a perfect match to original drawings found in the Sears Modern Homes catalog. This is where people get into trouble. They ignore the details.

Sears Mitchell in Elgin, Illinois.

Sears "Mitchell" in Elgin, Illinois.

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The Sears Winona, as featured in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The house in Raleigh (see below) is just a spot-on match, a rarity in a house of this age!

The Sears Winona, as featured in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The house in Raleigh (see below) is just a spot-on match, a rarity in a house of this age!

Sears Winona in Raleigh, looking PERFECT!

Sears Winona in Raleigh, looking PERFECT!

Sears Auburn in Halifax, NC

Sears Auburn

And a dazzling Auburn in Halifax, NC.

And a dazzling Auburn in Halifax, NC.

Sears Pheonix from the 1919 Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Pheonix from the 1919 Modern Homes catalog.

And a lovely Sears Pheonix in Newman, IL. Photo is courtesy Rebecca Hunter.

And a lovely Sears Pheonix in Newman, IL. Photo is courtesy Rebecca Hunter.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Send Rose an email at thorntonrose@hotmail.com

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

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The Sears Roebuck House in Urbanna, Virginia

October 28th, 2010 Sears Homes 2 comments

In early 2000, I was often on the road, traveling throughout the Midwest and giving lectures on Sears Homes (and selling books!).  At least a dozen times, kind-hearted Midwesterners would saunter up to me after the talk and ask, “Do you know about the Sears Roebuck house in Urbanna, Virginia?”

Seems like knowledge about this little house has spread far and wide.

A few years ago, I made the 75-minute drive to Urbanna to check out this “Sears Roebuck House.” It wasn’t hard to find, as Urbanna is a tiny fishing town and home of Virginia’s annual Oyster Festival.  (BTW, the Oyster Festival is THIS weekend!!)

Within ten minutes of driving up and town the few streets, I found my Sears Home. Here’s a photo of my little pretty.

I later learned that local folks didn’t realize that Sears had 370 designs, but thought there was just the one model, hence the name, Sears Roebuck House. In fact, this is a Sears Rodessa, one of Sears most popular models.

Sears Rodessa in Urbana

Sears Rodessa in Urbana

Sears catalog image

Sears catalog image

Sears Rodessa

Sears Rodessa

Sears Rodessa

Sears Rodessa

Sears Rodessa

Sears Rodessa

Do you have a Sears House? Learn how to identify Sears Homes by clicking here.

Sears Rodessa - A Pretty Little House

Sears Rodessa - A Pretty Little House

Archaic Rituals of Death and Their Meaning

August 13th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

In one of my favorite movies, Fried Green Tomatoes, there’s a scene where the young woman dies and her attendant immediately arises and covers a large mirror and then stops a nearby clock. I’d always been fascinated by this old tradition/ritual and wondered about its meaning. I assumed that these practices must have a reason , but I had no idea what that reason might be.

And then I happened to talk to an old friend who explained the reasons for these “odd” traditions.

Let me tell you about my old friend. Her name is Joyce and she’s in her late 70s now, but was raised in the backwoods Georgia of the 1930s. Translated: It was a land and a time more reminiscent of Victorian America. When Joyce was growing up, she had a little sister named Louise that died at the age of three from whooping cough. Joyce remembers “Granny” rocking the child through the night and praying for her, hoping against hope that the little girl would pull through. It wasn’t to be.

Sometime in the wee hours, the little girl looked up at Granny, smiled broadly and passed on quietly. Later that morning, someone in the family went outside and rang the large bell in the front yard.

“It was almost like morse code,” Joyce said. “The bell was tolled a certain number of times for different things. When Louise died, they rang the bell a certain number of times and everyone knew what it meant. Almost immediately, people started coming to the house to help.”

Joyce said they sent the little girl’s body to the mortician who embalmed it and returned the body to the family, for the wake at home. In preparation for the wake, the mortician brought heavy, deep red draperies into the front room of the old house and hung them over the windows, blocking out all sunlight.

“I’m not sure why they put up those drapes,” she said. “Maybe it was to give a solemnity to the wake.”

During the two days of the wake, the little girl’s beloved dog sat dutifully beside the coffin and emitted a mournful wail. The mourners commented on that lamentable howling, and it left them all with a chill. After the wake, the coffin was moved to the church where a service was held. The child’s body was buried in the church cemetery.

The dog followed the family to the cemetery. Some time later, the dog’s body was found along the road. It appeared that the little girl’s pet had literally laid down and died.

My friend Joyce knows a lot about the old ways and about these old rituals.

When one of her elderly aunts lay dying, a family member sat quietly by the bedside. When the old woman breathed her last, the family member arose and draped a heavy cloth over the mirror and opened the clock’s glass face and stopped the clock.

“I saw someone do that in a movie,” I told Joyce. “What’s that about?”

“The cloth over the mirror is for the protection of the departed,” she said. “It’s believed that the spirits of our loved ones may glance into a mirror and become frightened when they see no one looking back.”

That had a resonance of truth, as I’d heard stories about people with near-death experiences saying they couldn’t see any reflection when they looked in a mirror. Wonder how they knew about that back in the 1930s?

“And the clock was stopped for a much more practical reason,” she said. “The clock was stopped so that the mortician would know the time of death.

There was also a requirement - never to be breached - that a loved one sit with the body until burial. I’d imagine this was a throwback to olden days before medical equipment when the dead occasionally came back to life (much to the surprise of the watcher).

It was all fascinating.

As Tevye sings in Fiddler on the Roof, “because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many years.”

Traditions should be remembered and honored, because oftimes, they were created for very practical reasons.


Note at the bottom of this old tombstone, the macabre reminder, "Reader, you must die." Photo is courtesy of Crystal Thornton, copyright 2009, Crystal Thornton.

Bungalows and Listerine

August 2nd, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

Dr. Joseph Lister - a 19th Century British physician - is largely responsible for the bungalow craze, but that’s one tidbit that I’ve never seen in my books on architectural history. The fact is, Joseph Lister and his germ theory dramatically changed the way Americans thought about their homes.

For so many years, mothers could only watch in helpless horror as their young children died from any one of a myriad of “common” diseases. And then in the late 1800s, Dr. Joseph Lister discovered that germs were culprit. Mothers and fathers, weary of burying their infants, had a new arch enemy: household dirt. As is explained in the 1908 book, Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’ Cook-Book:

Not many years ago disease was most often deemed the act of Providence as a chastening or visitation for moral evil. Many diseases are now known to be merely human ignorance and uncleanliness. The sins for which humanity suffers are violations of the laws of sanitation and hygiene, or simply the one great law of absolute sanitary cleanliness… Every symptom of preventable disease and communicable disease…should suggest the question: “Is the cause of this illness an unsanitary condition within my control?”

Now that the enemy had been identified, modern women attacked it with every tool in their arsenal. Keeping a house clean was far more than a matter of mere pride: The well-being, nay, the very life of one’s child might depend upon a home’s cleanliness. What mother wanted to sit at the bedside of their sick child, tenderly wiping his fevered brow and pondering the awful question: “Was the cause of this illness an unsanitary condition within my control?”

Because of Dr. Lister and his germ theory, the ostentatious, dust-bunny-collecting Queen Anne, with its ornate woodwork, fretwork and gingerbread fell from favor with a resounding thud.

Simplicity, harmony and durability are the keynotes of the modern tendency. The general intention seems to be to avoid everything that is superfluous; everything that has a tendency to catch and hold dust or dirt. Wooden bedsteads are being replaced by iron or brass; stuffed and upholstered furniture by articles of plain wood and leather. Bric-a-brac, flounces, valances and all other superfluous articles are much less fashionable (from Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’ Cook-Book).

Remember the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”? There’s a 1920s scene where George Baily and his girlfriend pause in front of the massive Second Empire house. It sits abandoned and empty, deteriorating day by day. This was not an uncommon fate for Victorian manses in post-germ theory America. Who knew what germs lay in wait within its hard-to-clean walls?

The February 1911 Ladies’ Home Journal was devoted to the new housing style: Bungalows. One headline said, “The Bungalow, because of its easy housekeeping possibilities is becoming more popular every year.

And all because of Dr. Lister.

(By the way, Dr. Lister did not invent the popular mouthwash but it was named after him and his discoveries.)

To learn more about the bungalows sold by Sears, click here.

To read another fun blog, click here.

Snow White Kitchen

The "Snow White and Sanitary Kitchen" as seen in the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Kitchens and baths were usually painted with a lead-based white enamel paint (trim and walls) because it gave the appearance of cleanliness and it was easier to keep track of dirty germs that way (and eradicate them) or so they believed.

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Germ Theory

The Clorox man's claim to fame was superior germ-killing abilities. Note the adoring women praising him. Notice, they're all wearing aprons. "Germicide and disinfectant" is proudly displayed on this dapper bottle's label.

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The Victorian fell from favor really quickly and in its place, the diminuitive bungalow became hugely popular.

The Victorian fell from favor really quickly and in its place, the diminutive bungalow became hugely popular. Look at the Kismet! It's a wee tiny house!

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And yet, it was easy to keep clean and those disease-laden, child-killing germs could be hunted down, rounded up and done away with.

And yet, it was easy to keep clean and those disease-laden, child-killing germs could be hunted down, rounded up and done away with. (Elmhurst, Illinois)

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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