Posts Tagged ‘rosemary’

The Sears “Groot-Mokum” in Scranton

May 16th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

How fitting that Sears would name one of their finest Dutch Colonials “The Amsterdam.”

After all, Amsterdam is the capital of The Netherlands!

In Dutch, the word Amsterdam translates into “Groot-Mokum” - hence, the title of this blog.

I did a blog on The Dandy Amsterdam more than two years ago, but since then, I’ve come across another Amsterdam in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

I’m guessing that - due to cost and size - the Groot-Mokum was a pretty rare model for Sears. I’ve only seen one “in the flesh” and that was the model in Scranton. For reasons I’ve long since forgotten, I did not photograph the house in Scranton when I was there about 10 years ago, and just recently re-discovered these photos, sent by a Sears House Aficionado.

Unfortunately, the SHA did not include their name on the photos, so I don’t know who found this Amsterdam and/or who shot the photos. If it was you, please leave a comment below!  :D

BTW, if you have an Amsterdam in your neighborhood, take a photo and send it to me!



At $3,578, the Groot-Mokum was a pricey affair (1928).


Lots of room

The Groot Modum was a spacious house. Even had a Music Room!


Four spacious bedroms

Love the four bedrooms, but not sure about the bathroom on the home's front.


Beautiful house

The Amsterdam (1928)


Whomever took this photo did a perfect job of getting it from the same angle as the catalog page.

Whomever took this photo did a stellar job of replicating the angle in the catalog page.


The inscription on the back of the card is also very interesting!

The inscription on the back of the card is also very interesting! But who wrote it?



Side-by-side they're a nice match (minus the gabled porch add on).


This Groot-Mokum is in

This Groot-Mokum is also in Pennsylvania, specifically Pittsburgh. (Photo is copyright 2011 Melody Snyder and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)


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

If you know who photographed the Scranton house, please leave a comment below!

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Thou Shalt Not Steal.

January 29th, 2014 Sears Homes 13 comments

There are more than 800 blogs at this site, and many thousands of photos. THOUSANDS of photos.

I love these old kit homes and I love this piece of our history, but I’m getting mighty disheartened and discouraged.

Today, I have discovered (for the umpteenth time) that my work - my photos - have been lifted en masse from my site and placed on someone else’s website without a speck of attribution or credit. In this lengthy essay, my name does not appear.

Photos yes - name NO.

The person (or people) who lifted my photos didn’t even bother to edit out some of the flaws in my photos, but simply copied and pasted them.


With few exceptions, each and every photo is the result of a great deal of personal expense and effort. And that doesn’t even touch on the amount of time (years, actually) it took to learn and memorize hundreds and hundreds of kit house designs. But, as I’ve said before, this is a labor of love and for the most part, folks seem genuinely grateful to be learning more about this piece of American architectural history.

Heaven knows, I don’t make enough money from this gig to keep body and soul together. In fact, I frequently have to throw my own money at this venture to keep it going.

How is it that people can think it’s okay to take someone’s work but not give credit? Did no one ever tell them that it’s wrong to take things without asking? When they were in school, did no one ever tell them that it’s wrong to copy the answers from someone else’s test? Have they never heard of the Ten Commandments?

Or do they simply lack the sophistication to understand that violation of intellectual property is just as wrong as stealing lawn furniture or bicycles or televisions? Or maybe they don’t realize that the laws governing intellectual property apply to internet content as well?

Tomorrow, I’ll return to happy, happy posts, but today, I’m so very disheartened and disappointed by these so-called historians who take other people’s work, and don’t put a single word of credit or attribution with their posts.

It’s enough to make a person abandon historical research altogether.

To read Part II, click here.

*Images from pre-1923 publications are now in the public domain, which means they can be reprinted without permission. And there is a difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement. Copyright infringement is taking copyright-protected intellectual property without permission (such as is now happening regularly with my photos). Even if a work is out of copyright (public domain), it can still be plagiarized. If I copied every word from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1910 best-seller, “The Secret Garden,” and published it under my own name, that would be plagiarism. If I copied every word from Orson Scott Card’s 1980 best-seller “Ender’s Game,” that would be plagiarism and copyright infringement.

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Heres an example of one my photos that was borrowed with no attribution from my website. Thing is, its easy enough to find these photos in

Here's an example of one my photos that was "borrowed" with no attribution from my website. Thing is, it's easy enough to find these photos in an old Sears catalog. BTW, this is an advertisement for the Wizard Block Maker. I loved it because it looks like a mirror image of the famous evolution graphic, where man goes from being stooped over to upright. Then again, I'm pretty easily entertained.



The Wizard Block Maker was hugely popular and it's easy to find pictures of it in early Sears catalogs. I guess it's much easier to just lift it from my website?


This is another image that has been borrowed time and time again with no attribution. Let me tell you about this image.

This is another image that has been "borrowed" time and time again with no attribution. Let me tell you about this image. It also appears in my book, "The Sears Homes of Illinois." To get this photo, I left my home in Norfolk, VA and traveled 1,000 miles to Illinois where I spent three weeks driving from Chicago to Cairo doing research and photographing houses. This photo (above) came from a Sears house near Champaign, IL. And that's the thing - there's a story of work and effort behind almost every photo I've published here. I have reconciled myself to the fact that people will use these photos without first asking permission, but at least put MY NAME with MY PHOTOS!! Please!


And thats why, with my new book on Penniman, Ill be putting my website name on each and every photo that I post online.

And that's why, as I do research on Penniman, I'll be putting my website name on each and every photo that I post online. BTW, these are the "Ethels" in Penniman about 1918. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)


Because, this really does take the fun out of the thing.

And I'm on the cusp of resorting to this, but it really does take the fun out of the thing.


To read about the kit homes in Clifton Forge, click here.

To read a happy, happy post about my “Atomic Kitchen,” click here.

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Do You Have 60 Seconds To Save A Sears House? (Part III)

July 31st, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

The Sears Lewiston (ordered from Montgomery Ward) in Bowling Green, Ohio is threatened with immediate demolition. As of this writing (July 31, 2012), the house is scheduled to be razed on August 7th.

Click here to read Part I and Part II of this story, which gives more background on the house and its original buyer/builder.

To sign a petition to help save the house, please click here. The goal is to garner 2,000 signatures. We’re getting very close. Your signature could make the difference.

The Sears Lewiston/Wardway Home is in the way of a proposed expansion at Bowling Green State University. Currently, this classic Neo-Tudor houses the college’s “Popular Culture Program.”

There are several reasons that this house is historically significant and should be saved.

For one, it’s real rarity in the world of kit homes.

We’ve now determined that this Sears Lewiston was not ordered from Sears, but from Montgomery Ward. It seems likely that Virgil H. Taylor (the home’s buyer and builder) had connections at Montgomery Ward.. Perhaps he sent them the catalog page from the Sears Modern Homes catalog, featuring the Sears Lewiston, and asked Montgomery Ward to “custom build” that model - just for him.

And apparently, they obliged. To learn more about why this house is a rarity in the world of kit homes, click here.

Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes during their 32 years in the kit home business. Wardway, by contrast, sold fewer than 25,000 kit homes.

That’s one of the reasons it’s such a thrill to find a Wardway Home that was modeled after a Sears Lewiston. Wardway Homes are a limited edition. How many Wardway Homes are there that are a perfect replica of a Sears Lewiston?

Probably just one. And unless BGSU reverses its decision to destroy this house, it’ll soon be just another pile of rubble sitting at the landfill.

Enjoy the photos that tell the story of Virgil’s custom-built Wardway Home. Designed by Sears. Copied by Wards.


Unlike most home buyers, Virgil didnt start with the Wardway Catalog. He started with the Sears catalog.

Unlike most Wardway Home buyers, Virgil didn't start with the Wardway Catalog. He started with the Sears catalog.


Virgil seemed to have fallen in love with a model found only in the Sears Modern Homes catalog, The Lewiston.

Virgil seemed to have fallen in love with a model found only in the Sears Modern Homes catalog, The Lewiston.


In the Wardway catalog, Montgomery Ward promised that custom designs were no problem.

In the Wardway catalog, Montgomery Ward promised that "custom designs" were no problem.


But the small print didnt say anything about designs from Sears and Roebuck!

But the small print didn't say anything about designs from Sears and Roebuck! All Wards needed was a photo, which Virgil may have cut out of the Sears Modern Homes catalog. This is what makes Virgil's house such a treasure. It came from both Sears and Wards - in a way! In my 12 years of searching, I've only found two other instances where this occurred.



There in Ohio, Montgomery Wards had "a complete unit of our Field Service Organization to work with people like Virgil.


Maybe Virgil got to meet The Wardway Man.

Maybe Virgil got to meet "The Wardway Man," who bore a stunning resemblance to James Cagney.


Virgil was building a custom home - from the standpoint of Montgomery Ward. He was able

Virgil was building a custom home - from the standpoint of Montgomery Ward. And while it was patterned after the Sears Lewiston, it would be outfitted with several tell-tale Wardway features, such as door hardware, millwork, plumbing fixtures, etc.


In 1932, Virgil H. Taylor pored over this instruction book, to figure out how to turn that 12,000-piece kit into something resembling a house.

When Virgil's house arrived in late 1931, Virgil pored over the 70+ page instruction book, struggling to figure out how to turn that 12,000-piece kit into something resembling a house.


Virgil obtained a Wardway mortgage for his Wardway home. The 15-year mortgage came with a 6% interest rate and (typically) 25% downpayment. The lot could suffice as the 25% downpayment.

Virgil obtained a Wardway mortgage for his Wardway home. The 15-year mortgage came with a 6% interest rate and (typically) 25% down payment. The lot could suffice as the 25% down payment. The lot was apparently a gift from Virgil's father.


This story is interesting for so many reasons, and heres a biggie. Virgil worked for the Sentinel Tribune as an advertising rep. And on March 1, 1932, a couple weeks before Wardway Homes closed down, this ad appeared in the Sentinel Tribune.

This story is interesting for so many reasons, and here's a biggie. Virgil worked for the "Sentinel Tribune" as an advertising rep. And on March 1, 1932, a couple weeks before Wardway Homes closed down, this ad appeared in the Sentinel Tribune. I'm not even sure what to make of that.


Montgomery Ward had a requirement that the house be substantially complete and ready for occupancy four months after materials were received. Virgils 12,000 pieces of house were dlievered to the Bowling Green train station in early November 1931. This picture was taken soon after the house was completed.

Montgomery Ward had a requirement that the house be "substantially complete and ready for occupancy four months" after materials were received. Virgil's 12,000 pieces of house were delivered to the Bowling Green train station in early November 1931. This picture was taken soon after the house was completed. In the foreground, you can see that the yard has not been landscaped or seeded.


Wardway did good. Virgils house was a spot-on match to the Sears Lewiston.

Wardway did good. Virgil's house was a spot-on match to the Sears Lewiston.


Pretty darn impressive, in fact.

Pretty darn impressive, in fact. And I *love* it that the house in the old photo was taken from the SAME angle as the Sears Lewiston.


Virgils door knobs

Inside the house, you'll find pristine examples of original Wardway Hardware, such as these "Rexford Door Knobs." (Photo is copyright 2012 Ray I. Schucks and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)


house door

Wardway Homes were quite elegant. They did have pretty doors.



And here's the door that ended up on Virgil's "custom-designed" Wardway Home.


detail on door

Eighty years later, it's still a fine-looking door. (Photo is copyright 2012 Michael Wiatrowski and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)


detail on hinge

I love the detail given in the catalog images (1931 catalog).


house hinge

And here's the Wardway hinge on Virgil's home. (Photo is copyright 2012 Michael Wiatrowski and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)


hardware on door

The original lock set (1931 catalog).


All that remains

All that remains is the deadbolt escutcheon. (Photo is copyright 2012 Michael Wiatrowski and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)


house house house

hThese were solid homes, made with first-growth lumber from virgin forests. It's a quality of lumber and building materials that we will never again see in this country. To send it off to the landfill is a sin.


house house house

Inside the house, the lumber is marked, "From Montgomery Ward and Company, Davenport, Iowa." (Photo is copyright 2012 Ray I. Schucks and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)


house house house

This plan shows the name of the buyer and the train depot to which the kit home was shipped. The address below is address of Virgil's parents, where Virgil lived when he placed the order. (Photo is copyright 2012 Ray I. Schucks and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)


Today, Virgils house is threatened with demolition. Please visit the link at the top of the page and save the petition that can HELP save this house.

Today, Virgil's house is threatened with demolition. Please visit the link at the top of the page and sign the petition that can HELP save this house. Photo is reprinted courtesy of The Blade, Toledo, Ohio.


According to “The Slate Roof Bible” (Joseph Jenkins, 2003), construction and demolition debris make up 28% of the volume at landfills. The “greenest” thing that BGSU can do is to restore the house and let it remain at its current location. The second greenest thing would be to relocate the original structure to another site.

One thing is for sure: Our landfills do *not* need another historically significant house.

Click here to read Part I and Part II of this blog.

Click here to sign the petition.

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The Kit Homes of Chapel Hill, NC

May 24th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

Chapel Hill is a city full of hazards for a house hunter such as myself.

First, there are the trees. Lots and lots of mature trees, which makes it difficult to see the houses.

Secondly, there are bushes. Ligustrums, Photinias, Hollies, Nandina and Wax Myrtles are everywhere. And they’re really big, too!

Third, it’s a college town, full of students who think nothing of stepping off the curb in front of a slow-moving Camry. That was just scary.

And last, the streets are very narrow and labyrinthine, winding to and fro.

And that’s how I missed the Ardara (or so I tell myself). There’s a famous Sears House in Chapel Hill, built in the 1920s and still occupied by its original resident! I’d love to get a high-resolution photo of this house, because I never saw it!  :(

Perhaps next time I’m in the area, someone will drive me around. That makes house-hunting much easier!

However, I did see that the town has a “Rosemary Street,” and better yet, of the three kit homes I found, two of them are on Rosemary Street!

Now that’s a fine town!


In North Carolina, I've found far more Aladdin kit homes than Sears. Aladdin (like Sears), sold kit homes through a mail-order catalog. Aladdin had a mill in Wilmington, NC so it's not surprising that there are so many Aladdins in this part of the country.



The Brentwood (shown above) was one of Aladdin's biggest houses. It's a classic "Arts & Crafts" design, and was offered in the 1910s and 1920s.


chapel hill

Located on Rosemary Street, this Brentwood is in incredibly beautiful shape. The owners obviously love their home. After discovering this house, I did something that I *never* do anymore. I parked the car and walked up the driveway and knocked on their door. I'm highly allergic to people, and yet, this sweet thing was worth it. No one answered, so I'm hoping if they read this blog, they'll leave a comment. I'd love to see the inside some time. This house is in amazingly original condition and has been beautifully maintained. The owners get my award for "Most Beautiful Aladdin Brentwood in the United States."



A comparison of the Aladdin Brentwood (catalog image and Chapel Hill house).


The Harris Brothers

Harris Brothers was yet another kit home company, based in Chicago.


Due to that darn landscaping, I could not get a good photo

Due to that darn landscaping, I could not get a good photo but if you look closely at the fireplace chimney, windows and porch overhang, you can see that this is a Harris Brothers N-1000. And it has the rounded porch (as shown in the catalog page).


The Aladdin Inverness

The Aladdin Inverness had a very interesting roofline!


And that roofline makes it easy to identify!

And that distinctive roofline makes it easy to identify! Notice the three brick pillars that just kind of sit there, with no purpose in life (other than serving as a plant stand).


And here it is!

Also located on Rosemary Street (yay!), this little house is a perfect example of the Aladdin Inverness. Even has the three brick pillars out front! This house is near downtown. I wonder if the folks in Chapel Hill know that it's a kit house?


ahoseComparison of the two houses. Pretty sweet, huh?


And the one that got away...

And the one that got away. Somewhere in Chapel Hill is a Sears Ardara. I'd love to get a photo of this house. I can't believe I missed it!


To learn more about the kit homes in North Carolina, click here.

To read about the large collection of Aladdin kit homes in Roanoke Rapids, click here.

Or if you’re tired of reading about houses and want to read about my shiny new horseless carriage, click here.

Did you enjoy the blog? Please leave a comment!

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EPA RRP: Government Regulation Gone Mad

December 10th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Many people have still not  heard about the EPA’s “Old House Decimation Act,” also known as EPA RRP. According to this legislation (which went into effect Spring 2010), if you’re disturbing more than six square feet of wall area (inside or out) in a pre-1978 house, you must engage in all sorts of ludicrous, over-reaching abatement procedures, including (but not limited to), tyvek suits, respirators, crime-scene tape and yellow warning signs posted at the corners of the property, warning all your neighbors that your house is now eligible to become a super-fund site. (As this author writes, “The EPA just declared war on contractors, remodelers and homeowners…”)

Failing to abide by these onerous regulations can result in fines up to $37,000.

Recently, I got a sneak peak of the 2012 revisions to the EPA RRP regulations. Everyone should be aware of this new legislation. It’s quoted below.

Effective July 1, 2012, EPA’s new “Biome Protection Act” adds an additional layer of protection to delicate ecosystems in our communities, including any and all surrounding wildlife potentially impacted by the adverse health effects of lead paint.

Any and all “at-risk” wildlife at the work site (including but not limited to insects that fly, crawl, creep and wiggle), must be humanely captured (in EPA approved containment vessels), tagged, and be outfitted with size-appropriate half-mask respirators with a HEPA filter, TYVEK suits and steel-toed shoes and then released.

Upon completion of construction project[s], impacted wildlife must be recaptured and all articles of protective gear removed. To insure the safety of said animals, blood samples must be obtained and then submitted to the EPA for review.

If elevated lead levels are found in surrounding wildlife, contractors will be held liable, and subject to fines not to exceed $12 billion.

Below is a picture of a contractor who just learned of the newest EPA legislation:

And  a new promotional campaign from EPA:

To learn about Sears Homes, click here.

To write your representative about this business-killing legislation, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Stealth, Ninja Diphtheria

November 6th, 2011 Sears Homes 9 comments

Whilst in Wisconsin last week, I visited the Lake Mills Public Library, seeking information on Addie Hoyt Fargo. I read about 15 months of the Lake Mills Leader from November 1900 to February 1902 (when Enoch married Maddie). The Lake Mills Leader was a weekly, and I found this obituary published on June 20, 1901. The other Addie obit that I published earlier came from The Jefferson County UnionRead it here.

I suspect both of these obits were penned by Oatway. He made a couple boo boos on this one.


Actually, Addie was born in January 1872. Sheesh.

page two

At the bottom, it does say Addie had a funeral, but that would have been logistically problematic. Dead at two, buried by 10, how did they notify people? Typical Victorian funerals were grandiose affairs; the wealthier the better! More on that below.

This obit raises a lot of questions. First off, given that Oatway is the star of this obit, I think he wrote it in the wee hours. And the first obit (published here) said she got sick Tuesday late morning and died at 2:00 in the morning on Wednesday. Okay, so the midnight hour passed once. He defines that as two days. Huh.

And a second tidbit: Here he says there was a funeral. That’s not mentioned in the prior obit. But this was pre-telephone and pre-radio. How did they arrange a funeral? How did they notify mourners?  Did Enoch run door to door and say, “Addie’s dead - please come to our funeral? It’s being held in 45 minutes? And hurry!!”

Again - more questions than answers.

Now, about that obituary. Those of us spending time in the 21st Century have learned about the Heimlech Maneuver, and what’s the first thing we learned? If the person can talk, they are getting some air, and they’re not truly choking.

And what if they have the ability to actually “exclaim!”?


Okay, so maybe her airway was restricted and she was in distress. That’s possible, but if those are the facts, she is NOT going to fall back on the bed and die.

That’s the first point.

Here’s the second.

Dr. Oatway was the county health officer and one of his duties was to file a report with the Wisconsin State Board of Health and report on the incidence of communicable disease in Lake Mills. This was a paid position (and he earned extra for epidemics), and it was a very important job.

In 1876, Wisconsin created a “State Board of Health” that compiled facts and stats on communicable diseases. “Health Officers” were appointed (and paid) by the state, and it was their job to help track, record and monitor the prevalence and severity of the dreaded scourges of the day such as diphtheria, small pox, consumption, cholera and typhoid.

Each year, these health officers filed a report with the state, wherein they answered several specific questions. Two of the most interesting questions they were asked were, “Are the laws regarding birth certificates and burial permits enforced in your community?” and “What’s the incidence of communicable disease in your community?”

In the report that Oatway filed with the state of Wisconsin for the period of time that included Addie’s death, Oatway stated, “the law requiring the report of dangerous contagious diseases is observed with regard to small pox, diphtheria and scarlet fever only.”

Reporting as the health officer, he mentions the deaths from a number of diseases but he says nothing about any cases of diphtheria in Lake Mills, or deaths from diphtheria in Lake Mills.

Okay, this is good news. There were no cases of diphtheria, and no one died from diphtheria in Lake Mills in 1901.

Okay, so maybe he forgot ALL about treating Lake Mills’ most famous socialite, married to Lake Mills’ most wealthy man, living in Lake Mills’ most grandiose castle. Okay. Maybe.

But this wasn’t just diphtheria! This was stealth, Ninja, Knock-off-your-socks (and Put-on-your-boots?), Diphtheria!

It was an especially virulent bout of diphtheria! In Oatway’s own words, “[the diphtheria] had advanced with unusual rapidity…it was the most stubborn, and rapidly developing case he has ever met with, and the result seems to justify the belief that no human power or skill could have furnished relief…”

And Oatway’s narrative also states that he “resorted to the most modern means in use for battling with the disease, and made every effort to check the disease…”

In 1894, a German doctor discovered an anti-diphtheria serum that was found to have excellent results. In 1895, it was manufactured (and available) in the United States. About that time, the mortality rate from this dread disease started to plummet. In Wisconsin’s small towns, the 1901 death rate for patients with diphtheria was 9.1%, and that includes children (who had a much higher death rate from the disease).

In one of these 1901 health reports, another doctor writes a short essay explaining that he’d lost a young child to diphtheria, and it never would have happened, had it not been for the family’s neglect to notify the doctor earlier. The doctor’s angst shone through his words, that even a child shouldn’t die in such a time as this, with the availability of modern serums.

Even if there was no serum in Lake Mills, couldn’t someone be sent (by train) to Milwaukee to fetch a vial for Mrs. Fargo?

But I don’t think there was any diphtheria that day (or that year) in Lake Mills. I think Dr. Oatway told the truth on the 1901 report to the State Board of Health. Oatway knew that the burial permit was a state document, checked by the state, and used specifically to track the incidence of communicable diseases, and that’s why he was willing to falsify the death certificate (making up a number for the burial permit), but not the burial permit. The burial permit was being watched by the state, and it might even trigger an investigation from the state. (Especially given that no diphtheria had been present in Lake Mills for some time.)

The death certificate could be safely forged. The burial permit could not. That’s why there was no burial permit for Addie.

And this obituary makes it much more difficult to believe that Oatway could have forgotten all about Addie’s death when he filed that report with the State Board of Health for 1901. After all, it was the most (fill in the blank with adjectives) Diphtheria he had ever seen! How does one forget such a thing?

They don’t.

As to Addie picking that up in Portage? The Lake Mills Leader said she traveled there around June 6th. The communicability period for diphtheria germs is less than six days. There’s that Ninja Stealth Diphtheria again.

And the best part? The Health Officer for Portage reported that there were no cases (and no deaths) of diphtheria in 1901.

It’s that stealth component.

So in conclusion, Addie got diphtheria and died. But there were no cases of diphtheria in Lake Mills in 1901. But she got it from her trip to Portage. But there were no cases of diphtheria in Portage, either.

As my daughter says, “Maybe Addie had that stealth, Ninja, reach-up-out-from-under-the-canoe-and-grab-you, throw-your-boots-on-your-feet-while-you-lay-sick-in-bed, jump-up-and-scream-while-choking, and then flop backwards on the bed and die” Diphtheria.

Best explanation I’ve heard yet.

To read about Addie’s exhumation, click here.

Page one of Dr. Bentleys report from Portage, WI. This covered all of 1901.

From the State Board of Health Report, this is the first page one of Dr. Bentley's report from Portage, WI. This covered all of 1901. Page two continues below.


Dr. Bentley's report on Portage, second page (see top).



This snippet appeared in the 1902 "Report of the State Board of Health" for Wisconsin and covered the the time period during which Addie Hoyt allegedly died of diphtheria. How did Oatway forget about Addie's horrible diphtheric death?



This statement, taken from the above text and penned by Oatway, says that if there was a case of diphtheria in his town (Lake Mills), it *would* be reported.



Unless you're paid off by Enoch Fargo to falsify a death certificate...


Addies death certificate, allegedly falsified by Dr. Oatway.

Under the date (June 1901), Addie's death certificate reads, "Burial Permit #32." State law demanded accuracy in reporting of birth certificates and burial permits. He apparently felt compelled to tell the truth when he submitted his written report to the state of Wisconsin.


Addies little

Was this what the well-dressed, sick-in-bed diphtheria patient wore in 1901? Based on the remnants found in Addie's grave, these were probably similar to the shoes that Addie was wearing (and was buried with) when she died in June 1901.


Addie was exhumed on November 3, 2011. She will not be returning to Lake Mills.

Addie was exhumed on November 3, 2011. She will not be returning to Lake Mills. After the autopsy is complete, Addie's remains will be coming home with me.


Exhumation under way.

Exhumation under way.


Addies grave was empty by 12:00 noon.

Addie's grave was empty by 12:00 noon.


The view on Friday morning.

The view on Friday morning. I would have preferred to have had that foot stone removed and discarded, but the city wanted it to remain.

Addie in 1886 (about 14 years old).

Addie in 1886 (about 14 years old).

Addie - close-up

Addie - close-up

Addie and her sister, Anna Hoyt (my great-grandmother).

Addie and her sister, Anna Hoyt (my great-grandmother).

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The Ten Most Important Things I Learned About Harvesting Rainwater

July 26th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

This dry dusty city of Norfolk, Virginia, has an ordinance that forbids sinking a well within 50 feet of any property lines. Since our house is centered on our 110′ by 110′ lot, that means the only place we could have a well is in the center of our basement.

My other option was rain water harvesting. Fortunately, the city doesn’t have any ordinances against collecting rain water. (In some states, it is illegal to collect rain water.)

After I set up my first rain barrel, it didn’t take me long to realize that one 60-gallon rain barrel didn’t go very far during one of Tidewater’s hot, dry summers. It was a start, but I need more water.

One rain barrel

One solitary rain barrel

The next summer, I added more rain barrels, placing them under a downspout that produced copious amounts of water. The first year, my little rain barrels sat directly on the dirt, and I didn’t use them very much. They were too low, too muddy and the head pressure was abysmal.

Later that year, I built a nice wooden stand for my rain barrels.


The triplets.

The stand made it much easier to access my rain barrels, plus, the three feet of height gave them a little bit of head pressure, and improved water flow. And the 3-foot stand made it easy to fasten a hose to the spigot (a simple feat that was nearly impossible when the barrels sat on the ground).

Rain barrels have many benefits for many purposes, but they’re ideal for gardening. Chlorinated water - the stuff that flows from the city’s pipes and into our homes - is stuffed silly with chlorination and fluoride, neither of which are good for living things, especially little plants. While chlorination keeps us humans from getting cholera and other nasty bugs, that chlorination will also kill off the microorganisms in the soil that helps plants thrive. (Fluoride is a toxic by-product of the aluminum smelting process, and if it weren’t dumped into our city water supply, the EPA would require that it be treated as hazardous waste!)

But back to rain barrels. There’s a sound financial reason for using rain barrels, too. Experts say that 40% of our summertime water use comes from the outside spigot.

In the process of using these rain barrels throughout the summer, I learned a lot of practical lessons. Below are the top 10 most important things I learned.

1) Height is important. For every foot of height you add to your stand, you’ll gain .43 psi of head pressure. If you could manage a ten-foot stand (not advisable for safety reasons), that’d give you 4.3 psi. From a practical matter, the three-foot stand (pictured above) put the spigot at the perfect height for me. And if you’re working with a raised bed garden (like mine), you’ll need the extra height so that water can flow easily to your thirsty plants.

Raised beds

My raised bed is 24" tall, so the three-foot stand is perfect.

2) Weight is also important. Water weighs about 8.3 pounds per gallon. Those rain barrels hold 60 gallons. That’s 498 pounds per barrel, and I’ve got three on one stand, so that’s almost 1,500 pounds of weight (when the barrels are full). That’s a tremendous amount of weight and you should plan accordingly when building your stands. This summer, when my barrels run dry, I’ll have to pull them down and add cross-bracing to the stands. You’ll note in the picture that they’ve started to lean hard to the left. Cross bracing would have prevented that.


Let's not twist again, like we did last summer...

3) Placement. My three rain barrels are located in my back yard, underneath a busy downspout. Water comes from the main roof (which is slate), flows down to the smaller roof and into my rain barrel. With 10-15 minutes of a good downpour, all three rain barrels are filled up full.


The downspout on this side of the house produces a lot of rainwater.

4) Pre-screen your rainwater. These rain barrels have a four-inch floor drain in their top, with a piece of mosquito screen affixed. Too many times to count, I’ve rejoiced as a summer storm pours rain from above, only to find that the four-inch hole became hopelessly choked with the debris from the gutters, and very little of that delightful rainwater actually entered my rain barrels. My solution to this was simple. I took the aluminum-framed screen from an old storm window and stuck it on top of the rain barrel. That solved my problem. The large surface area of the aluminum screen allowed water to flow even after that first pile of gunk came washing down the spout.

Pre screen

And it's just an aluminum screen from an old storm window. The brick keeps it in place. My husband said this rig makes it look like Jed Clampett lives here, but it works.

5) If you’re building/making your own rain barrel, put the spigot in the right place. When my neighbor saw my rain barrels, he ran out and bought some materials and made his own barrels. Every single one of his five rain barrels has a spigot at the half-way point on the barrel’s side. This means that he’ll only be able to use 50% of the water in the barrel. Not a good design. There are also entire blogs devoted to building your own rain barrel. The barrels shown here are food-grade olive barrels, used to ship olives here from overseas. Learn more here.


Spigot placement is important.

6) Don’t get bugged. Mosquitoes are naturally drawn to stagnant water and rain barrels provide the ideal breeding ground. Screens will stop some of that, but not all. One year, I had mosquitoes crawling in through my overflow pipe. Adding several drops of baby oil to each rain barrel will create an oily film in the water, and should stop mosquitoes from laying eggs in your rain barrel.

7) One downside to this rainwater fun is that you’ll now have to keep your gutters cleaned out. If all that precious rainwater is cascading over the front edges of your gutters because the downspouts are blocked, your rain barrels won’t do much for you. And if your house is sheltered by large trees (like mine), this can be a perennial problem.


Trees are pretty to look at, but hard on gutters.

8) When the barrel runs dry, remember to turn the spigot off. Sounds simple enough, but somehow, it’s so easy to forget this little detail. Many times, I’ve gone outside to check my rain barrels after a hard rain, only to find that I left the spigot open and all that rainwater went in through the top and out through the spigot.


It's easy to forget to close the spigot when rain barrels run dry.

9) Maintenance. About once a year, I rinse out the rain barrels with city water. The bottom gets a layer of crud in it and the smell is horrific. I’m not sure about the microbiology of all that decaying matter, and maybe it’s just dandy for the garden, but the stench will knock your socks off.

10) Keep water away from the foundation. A surprising amount of water can be discharged through your overflow pipe. Make sure that water is directed away from the house.

Make sure that water flows away from house.

I keep meaning to put that downspout spillway *under* the overflow hose.

11) Your downspout might not quite hit the sweet spot on the rain barrel. A little extra piece of aluminum downspout is probably the simplest solution. I used a piece of Plexiglas, which also does the job nicely.


You might need to add a little extender to the downspout to reach your rain barrel.

12) If a drought hits, and you don’t want to use chlorinated water on your lovingly maintained and chlorine-free tomato plants, you can fill one rain barrel with city water and let it sit for several days. The chlorination will dissipate in time and you’ll have chlorine-free water. This isn’t the ideal, but in a pinch, it’s one way to keep your garden chlorine free.

13)  Use a good quality hose, so you don’t go stark-raving mad. A cheap hose will kink repeatedly, and because the pressure is so low on water flowing from a rain-barrel, this kinking problem will be 50 times worse than it would be with city water delivered at 60 psi.

14) Enjoy. I’ve had a lot of fun playing with my rain barrels. And look how my garden grows!


Garden views.


Tomatoes, strawberries and carrots share living space.


And the world's most perfect strawberry, from my garden.

And flowers, too!

And flowers, too!

When we were kids, we’d sing this little ditty.

See, see my playmate,
Come out and play with me
And bring your dollies three
Climb up my apple tree
Holler down my rain barrel
Slide down my cellar door
And we’ll be jolly friends
Forever evermore.

If you’re in Hampton Roads, I highly recommend “Mike’s Rain Barrels.” Mike, the owner of this small business, is knowledgeable, customer-service oriented, friendly and thorough. Best of all, his prices are very affordable. You can contact Mike via email at or call (757) 761-1553. The best part - he’ll deliver your rain barrels in his Toyota Priuss.

To read about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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The Sears Ivanhoe

June 25th, 2011 Sears Homes 5 comments

The Magnolia was Sears biggest and best kit home, but the Ivanhoe was a close second. In my travels, I’ve only seen a handful.

One of them was in Lewisburg, WV and the other was in Elmhurst, Illinois (see pictures of these homes below). I found a third in Northern Illinois but neglected to note the city. Carol Parish (Monmouth, IL) sent in a picture of an especially beautiful (and original) Ivanhoe in her city.

According to the testimonials found in the old Sears Modern Homes’ catalogs (and referenced in Rebecca Hunter’s book), there’s a Sears Ivanhoe in West Point, Virginia, but it faces the waterfront and despite letters written to the owners, I’ve not been able to get a photograph.

Recently I was scanning some old paperwork and stumbled across the Sears Ivanhoe (LaGrange, IL) featured in a Sears roofing brochure. I’d love to get a current photo of this BRICK Ivanhoe!  :)


This Ivanhoe is located in LaGrange, IL. I wonder if it's still standing!


Close-up of the letter written someone whose signature is illegible in a city whose name is misspelled. It's LaGrange, not LaGrauge.

Below are the Ivanhoes in Lewiston, West Virginia, Elmhurst, Illinois, and an unknown city in northern Illinois.

First, the original catalog image.

Sears Ivanhoe from the 1919 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Ivanhoe from the 1920 Modern Homes catalog


Ivanhoe floorplan, second floor.


Ivanhoe floorplan, first floor.

Ivanhoe in Elmhurst, IL

Ivanhoe in Elmhurst, IL

And heres

And this beautiful Ivanhoe is in Monmouth, IL. Thanks to Carol Parish for snapping the photo and sending it along!!

Ivanhoe in Lewiston

Ivanhoe in Lewisburg, WV

This Ivanhoe is somewhere in Northern Illiois, but not sure where. The photo was taken in 2002.

This Ivanhoe is in Northern Illinois - somewhere (2002).

If you know of the location of an Ivanhoe, please leave a comment below. And if you own an Ivanhoe and would like to send me a picture, please do!  Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

If you’ d like to read more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Idaho’s Kit Homes

February 12th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

Idaho must be one of the most beautiful places on earth. It has everything - mountains, wide-open places, clean mountain streams, crisp clear skies, and trees. Lots of trees. In fact, Boise’s nickname is, “The City of Trees.”

Idaho also has a few kit homes. What is a kit home? Well, Sears was the best-known name in the early 20th Century business of selling kit homes through mail-order catalogs. Sears Homes were offered in prices ranging from $500 to $5000. The homeowner would browse the 100+ pages of a Sears Modern Homes catalog and select a suitable house. Next, he’d send in a $1 good faith deposit to Sears,  and Sears would send him working blueprints. If the homeowner liked what he saw, he’d remit the rest of money.

Upon receipt of the cash, Sears would send 12,000 pieces of house via boxcar. The kit came with a 75-page instruction book that told the homeowner how all those pieces and parts went together. Sears promised a man of average abilities could have the house ready for occupancy in 90 days!

Below are some photos I snapped during a summertime visit to Idaho.

Sears Argyle from the Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Argyle from the Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Argyle in Nampa, Idaho!

Sears Argyle in Nampa, Idaho!

Close-up of porch detail

Close-up of porch detail

Note how the details on this 1910s Argyle have been preserved!

Note how the details on this 1910s Argyle have been preserved!

Boise Bungalow Duplex - from Pacific Ready Cut Homes

This Boise Bungalow is a duplex, and was offered by Pacific Ready Cut Homes, a large kit home company that was based in Los Angeles.

Pacific Ready Cut Homes bungalow in Boise

This image is from the 1919 Pacific Ready Cut Homes catalog. Nice match, eh?


From the 1919 Pacific Ready Cut Homes catalog.

kit home in Nampa

Kit home from Pacific Ready Cut Homes. This little house is in Nampa

And the last house is a mystery. I saw this house a few years back in Boise, near the downtown area and have not been able to find it since!  If anyone knows where it is, I’d love to have the address so I can get a photo. It was within five minutes of the downtown area.

This is a kit home offered by Gordon Van Tine and Montgomery Ward. It’s pretty distinctive with that over sized front porch with dentil molding. Note the heavy-duty clipped gable (where it looks like someone took a bite out of the roof line).


Lost in Boise! Where am I?

And the beauty part of Boise!

Beautiful Boise

Beautiful Boise

Beautiful Boise

Beautiful Boise

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

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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