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Posts Tagged ‘sears and cairo’

The Sears Bandon: Neat, Practical And Modern

January 5th, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

The Sears Bandon is a rare bird indeed. The only one I’ve ever found was in Pulaski, Illinois, not far from the Sears Lumber Mill in Cairo, Illinois. That mill was the site of a 40-acre mill where Sears created and produced up to 250 pre-cut kit homes per month. It was a tremendous operation with more than 100 employees at its peak, and 20 acres of outbuildings.

It was also the site of “The Experiment.” Click here to see the only remnant of the Sears Mill in Cairo.

In 2001, whilst doing research on  Sears Homes at the Cairo Public Library, I stumbled across a little item in their vertical file about a Sears Bandon built in nearby Pulaski. Later that day, I hopped into the car and drove out to Pulaski and found my Bandon on the main drag through town. It was perfect in every way.

In March 2010, when I traveled to Illinois to do research for my newest book (”The Sears Homes of Illinois“), I went back to Pulaski to get newer/better photos. While standing on this main drag in this tiny town, I had three people stop and ask me if I needed help.

Speaking as a former long-time resident of Illinois, I don’t miss those long, cold Illinois winters, but I surely do miss the kind, generous, hard-working folks of small-town Midwestern America. They’re truly the crème de la crème of our country.

Below is the information I found in the vertical files at the Cairo Public Library;

The house (identified specifically as the Sears Bandon) was built in 1921. According to this document, the lumber for this kit home was shipped from the Sears mill in Cairo. It gave the following costs:

Cost of The Bandon $2794.00
Plaster (extra)  $133.00
Material to finish attic rooms  $241.00
Complete hot water heating system  $403.66
Wire and light fixtures  $133.66
Labor for carpenter (including masonry work)  $1600.00

Total $5305.32

This document also stated that, in 1924, a Sears Cyclone Barn (shipped from Cairo, IL) was built on the property. The kit barn cost $943.00.

Is there a Sears Home in your neck of the woods? Please send photos to Magnolia2047@gmail.com.

Enjoy the photos!

The Sears Bandon was a beauty, but why wasnt it more popular? Ive only seen one - ever - and that was just outside of Cairo, Illinois.

The Sears Bandon was a beauty, but why wasn't it more popular? I've only seen one - ever - and that was just outside of Cairo, Illinois (image is from 1921 catalog).

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It had a very busy floor plan. Note

It had a very busy floor plan, and it's the only house I've ever seen with a "dining porch." This room - which jutted out from the rest of the house - had ventilation on three sides, and seven windows.

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Close

Close-up of the floorplan shows how busy this house is! Look at the kitchen! The ice box was in the staircase landing. And the kitchen was oh-so tiny!

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And it was a fine-looking house!

And it was a fine-looking house!

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And here is the real-life beauty in Pulaski!

And here is the real-life beauty in Pulaski!

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Nice, isnt it?  :)

Nice, isn't it? :)

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The 1921 catalog image included this thumbnail from straight--on.

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Pretty, pretty house!

Pretty, pretty house! While southern Illinois does have some of the nicest people, it also some of the worst, mean, loud and scary-looking dogs! These dogs never did stop barking!

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The  Sears Bandon is perfect in every way!

The Sears Bandon is perfect in every way!

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Its perfect! Down to the details!!

It's perfect! Down to the details!!

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And its in a beautiful, bucolic setting!

And it's in a beautiful, bucolic setting!

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From this angle, you can get a better view of the Dining Porch.

From this angle, you can get a better view of the Dining Porch.

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As a nice bonus, the old barn (built 1924) is still standing, and in beautiful condition.

As a nice bonus, the old barn (built 1924) is still standing, and in beautiful condition.

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The Cyclone Barn was a very popular item for Sears (shown here in the 1920 catalog).

The Cyclone Barn was a very popular item for Sears (shown here in the 1920 catalog).

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Want to contact Rose? Please leave a comment below.

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

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Pretty, Pretty Preston!

December 28th, 2012 Sears Homes 10 comments

Houses By Mail” (published 1985) is a wonderful field guide for those seeking more information on the 370 models of Sears kit homes that were offered from 1908 - 1940. The book contains some factual errors, but it’s still one of my favorites and has a cherished spot in my library and in my heart.

The house featured on the cover of “Houses By Mail” is the Sears Preston. It’s a puzzle as to why the publisher selected this particular house, as it was a pretty rare model.

When Pete Sanders first discovered a Sears Preston in Berkley, Michigan, it was love at first sight.

“The character of the house was outstanding,” he said. “I loved it, and I left a note in the door, asking about buying it.”

Pete says he didn’t realize it was a Sears House until after he purchased it.

Pete told me, “Once I got inside the house, I was really in love. It had nine-foot ceilings, and the built-in bookcases had amazing detail.”

Pete has very good taste in houses!

The Preston was one of the top five fanciest (and most expensive) houses that Sears offered, right up there with the Magnolia and the Lexington.

Is there a Preston in your neighborhood? Send me a photo!

And thanks to Pete Sanders, Catarina Bannier and Judy Davids for supplying all these wonderful photos!

The Sears Preston was one of Sears biggest and fanciest homes. Its shown here in the 1921 catalog.

The Sears Preston was one of Sears biggest and fanciest homes. It's shown here in the 1921 catalog. Note the price. The Preston was second only to the Magnolia in terms of price and grandeur. The Sears Magnolia was the most expensive house that Sears offered.

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Close-up of the Prestons dining room.

Close-up of the Preston's dining room.

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Notice the detail on the living room fireplace. This is a classic design for a Sears fireplace.

Notice the detail on the living room fireplace. This is a classic design for a "Sears" fireplace.

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This was the only house Sears offered that showcased the optional wall safe.

This was the only house Sears offered with an optional wall safe. I see some Federal Reserve notes on the bottom, but what's in the top shelf?

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The Preston also had a built-in breakfast nook.

The Preston also had a built-in breakfast nook.

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The floorplan shows the massive rooms.

The floorplan shows the massive rooms. The living room was 27' long. That's a big room.

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Upstairs

Upstairs had four modest bedrooms and a sleeping porch.

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It really was (and is) a beautiful home.

It really was (and is) a beautiful home.

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And heres the house that Pete Sanders fell in love with in Berkley, Michigan.

And here's the house that Pete Sanders fell in love with in Berkley, Michigan. The dormers were removed and the front entry was remodeled sometime in the early 1930s. Photo is copyright 2012 Judy Davids and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Incredibly, Pete has some vintage photos of the house.

Incredibly, Pete has some vintage photos of the house. This photo shows the house with the original dormers and entry-way. Even the flower boxes are in place. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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bicycle

This shot shows a cute little kid on a big bike and also the home's original entryway. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And the homes rear.

And the home's rear. One of the unique features of the Preston was that it was one of only FIVE models that Sears offered with functional shutters. (In addition to The Preston, the other Sears Homes with real shutters were The Puritan, The Lexington, Martha Washington and The Verona.) The other Sears Homes had decorative shutters that were permanently affixed to the wall. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And a wonderful photo showing a picture-perfect picket fence.

And a wonderful photo showing a picture-perfect picket fence for a perfect and pretty Preston. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Close-up of the house

Close-up of the house. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another view of the house

Another view of the house, post-entry-way remodel. The dormers were removed when the entry-way was squared off. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another view of the house, showcasing that incredible fence. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Baldwins owned the home in the 1930s.

The Baldwins owned the home in the 1930s. Judging from this photo, they didn't have the official Sears fireplace (shown above). You can see a piece of the original built-in bookcases behind Father's left shoulder. Ernest R. Baldwin (seated) was the mayor of Berkley from 1932 to 1944. Those were tough years to be a mayor of any town. Florence Church Baldwin is seated beside him. Also pictured are their two sons, Robert and James. Ernest R. Baldwin was a veteran from The Great War. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Pete really scored a bonanza with these photos of the homes interior.

Pete really scored a bonanza with these photos of the home's interior. This is the living room, adjoining the entry hall. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And check out the bedroom!

And check out the bedroom! What a perfect picture, encapsulating the furnishings and lifestyles of the early 1930s. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Preston is a very rare Sears kit home, but Catarina Bannier found one in the Washington DC area.

The Preston is a very rare Sears kit home, but Catarina Bannier found one in the Washington DC area. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And I found this one in Wyoming, Ohio in 2003.

And I found this one in Wyoming, Ohio in 2003.

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It is indeed a real beauty.

It is indeed a real beauty.

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

To join our group on Facebook, click here.

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Quite Possibly, The Most Beautiful Elsmore in the World

December 10th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

The Elsmore was a hugely popular house for Sears, and it was probably one of their top five best selling models.

Since all sales records were destroyed during a post-WW2 corporate housecleaning at Sears, it’s hard to know for sure, but I do know that I’ve seen a whole lot of Elsmores in my travels.

Earlier this year, I posted another blog on the Elsmore (click here to see that), but I was inspired to post a second blog, due to this home’s incredible popularity and also because Cindy Catanzaro found and photographed one of the prettiest (and most well-cared-for) Elsmores that I’ve ever seen.

To read more on the Elsmore, click here.

Refinement and Comfort here.  How elegant sounding!

"Refinement and Comfort here." Sounds lovely!!

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Heres an Elsmore that was built in Cairo, IL not far from the spot where Sears had their 40-acre mill.

Here's an Elsmore that was built in Cairo, IL not far from the spot where Sears had their 40-acre lumber mill. This Elsmore, built at 1501 Commerce Avenue, was torn down pre-2001. I visited Cairo then and went looking for this house, but 1501 Commerce was an empty lot at that point. How many Sears Homes in Cairo have been razed? It's a vexing question.

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Another vintage Elsmore.

Another vintage Elsmore. This one was in Glenshaw, PA (1919 catalog).

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This is one of my favorite Elsmores. Its in Park Ridge, Illiois. Picture perfect in every way. Photo is copyright 2010, Dale Patrick Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

This is one of my favorite Elsmores. It's in Park Ridge, Illinois. Picture perfect in every way. Photo is copyright 2010, Dale Patrick Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

Visit Dale’s website by clicking here.

And the crème de la crème

And the crème de la crème. Cindy Catazaro found this house in Oakwood Ohio and it has been lovingly and faithfully restored. The house has obviously had some "renovations," but they've been done in a thoughtful, sensitive manner. I'm so impressed to know that there are people in the world who love their Sears House *this* much! Photo is copyright 2012, Cindy Catazaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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An mini-Elsmore? It might be a trick of the eye, but it appears this Elsmore in Walnutport, PA is a little narrower than the catalog version.

An skinny mini-Elsmore? It might be a trick of the eye, but it appears this Elsmore in Walnutport, PA is a little narrower than the catalog version. The window arrangement is also a little different. I'd love to know the history behind this house. Photo is copyright 2012 Angela Laury and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Elsmore, as it appeared in the later 1910s and 20s was actually a remodel of this

The Elsmore, as it appeared in the later 1910s and 20s was actually a remodel of Modern Home #126, which was first offered in the 1908 (first) Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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If you compare the two floorplans, youll see how similar they really are.

If you compare the two floorplans, you'll see how similar they are. This is the floorplan for the Sears Modern Home #126 (1908). Notice the size of the rooms and placement of windows.

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Floor

And here's the floorplan for the Elsmore (1916). The chamfered corners are gone and the front porch is different, but the rest of the house is the same, down to window placement and room size. The front porch roof on Modern Home #126 (with cantilevers) *always* sagged due to its fantastic weight. Not a good design. The changes to the Elsmore porch fixed that problem.

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Thanks to Cindy Catazaro and Dale Wolicki for providing such beautiful photos!

To read more about the Elsmore, click here.

To visit Dale’s website, click here.

Did you enjoy this blog? Please take a moment and leave a nice comment below. I’m living on nothing but love.

:)

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The Willard: A Two-Story English Cottage

December 5th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

The Neo-Tudors (also called Tudor Revivals) have always had a special place in my heart. They’re cute, practical and distinctive.

The Sears Willard was one of their most popular designs, and because of its many distinctive features, it’s easy to spot.

Scroll on down to see several real-life examples of The Willard.

The Sears Willard was the house featured in a promotion showcasing affordable monthly payments.

The Sears Willard was the house featured in a promotion showcasing affordable monthly payments. It's a darling house, and the payments aren't too bad either.

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The Sears Willard, as seen in the 1928 catalog.

The Sears Willard, as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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Think you may have a Willard? Wont be hard to figure out if you can get inside! Look at the many unique features on this floorplan!

Think you may have a Willard? Won't be hard to figure out if you can get inside! Look at the many unique features on this floorplan!

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It is a darling house!

It is a darling house!

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In all my house-hunting career, Ive never photographed a Sears Willard from the right angle. Something in my muscle memory demands that I take the photo from THIS angle.

In all my house-hunting career, I've never photographed a Sears Willard from the right angle. Something in my muscle memory demands that I take the photo from THIS angle. Nonetheless, you can see a few of those distinctive features from this angle. Notice the three windows in a row on the right side, and the dainty cornice return. Also notice the nine lites (windows) in the front door. This brick Willard is in Colonial Heights, VA.

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This house is photographed from the correct angle, but its not my photo.

This house is photographed from the correct angle, but it's not my photo. This Willard is in Bowling Green, Ohio and the photo was taken by Dale Patrick Wolicki (copyright 2010, and can not be reprinted or used without written permission).

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And heres another Willard

This Willard was not photographed by me, but you can see that Rebecca Hunter (the photographer) has the same problem with muscle memory that I do. (Photo is copyright 2010 Rebecca Hunter and can not be reprinted or used without written permission). We just yearn to photograph this house from the three-window side.

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Galax, Virginia is a fun little town with lots of rolling hills which makes photography a bit challenging.

Galax, Virginia is a fun little town with lots of rolling hills which makes photography a bit challenging. Lots of utility wires in this photo, but it's definitely a Willard (with a modified dormer) in Galax. Unfortunately, as built, that dormer (with a flat roof in front of the dormer window) leaks like a sieve, so people often build out the dormer to enclose that flat spot.

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One fine little Willard in Peoria, Illinois.

One fine little Willard in Peoria, Illinois. Again, from the wrong angle.

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Here's the lone Willard photo I have taken from the correct angle. It's in Crystal Lake, IL.

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And another fine Willard in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

And another fine Willard in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Look at the angle. Sigh.

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To visit Dale’s website, click here.

To visit Rebecca’s website, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

Interested in Wardway (Montgomery Ward) kit homes? Click here.

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The Sears 264P202! What a House!

December 1st, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

Before 1918, Sears Homes were given numbers, not names. From a marketing perspective, it was brilliant to assign names to these models. After all, would you rather tell Mum and Dad that you’re buying “Sears Modern Home #2089″ or that you’ve just purchased The Magnolia?

Pre-1916, some of these houses had very long model numbers, such as the house shown here. It was apparently a fairly popular house for Sears, as I’ve got four real-life examples below, and yet it was offered only for a few short years, appearing last in the 1916 catalog.

Does this look like a Sears House to you? Didnt look like one to me, either, but it is! Its the venerable 264P202, and judging by the photos below, its a design that you should memorize, because it was apparently fairly common!

Does this look like a Sears House to you? Didn't look like one to me at first, but it sure is! It's the venerable 264P202, and judging by the photos below, it's a design that you should memorize, because it was apparently fairly common! This one is in Benld, IL.

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An interesting aaside: Do you know how Benld got its name? A fellow named Ben L. Dorsey purchased the land foor its rich mineral rights (coal, really) and it was developed into a tiny town. The name “Dorsey” was already taken, so Ben L. Dorsey chose the name “Benld,” a combination of his first name and subsequent initals.

For the flatlander tourist, it might help you to know that it’s pronounced, “Benn-ELD.”

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The original catalog page (1916) shows that this house sold for

The original catalog page (1916) shows that this house sold for $1,165 and by 1917, it was gone. In 1918, Sears Homes were given names instead of numbers. The 264P202 never had a name, so we know it was gone by 1918.

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housse house

This wonderful example of a 264P202 is in Okawville, IL. Look at the detail on the columns! It's a real beauty in original condition, but...

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house house

A broader view shows that this old house has been converted into a Funeral Home, and that brick ranch globbed onto the side is actually a not-so-sensitive addition.

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house house

This 264P202 is in West Chicago. Of the four examples shown on this page, three of these homes have porte cocheres.

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Close-up of the original catalog image (1916).

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House in Arkansas

Here's one in Searcy, Arkansas that is being offered for sale at $128,000. In the listing, this house is described as "One of the last Sears Roebuck houses left in White County."

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To learn more about “one of the last Sears Roebuck houses in White County,” click here.

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The house in Searcy has a bathroom thats in beautifully original condition.

The house in Searcy has a bathroom that's in beautifully original condition. Left is the 1916 Modern Homes catalog. Right side is the house in Searcy.

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house text

Nice floor plan.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To see an abundance of awesome photos of the house in Searcy, click here.

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The Flossmoor: Good Dental Advice or a Sears House?

November 29th, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

Or maybe both?

Yes, the Flossmoor was a Sears House that was offered for a short time in the late 1910s. By 1923, it was gone.

The massive cornice returns make it easy to identify. Another eye-catching feature is the clipped gable and the grouping of three windows on the front.

The 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog promised, “You will like this.” Apparently, that statement was more hopeful than realistic. In my travels, I’ve only see a couple of these unique houses. Is there one in your neighborhood? If so, stop what you’re doing, get a photo and send it to me.  :)

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Flossmoor 1920

Massive cornice returns, clipped gables and the three windows on the home's front make the Flossmoor an easy house to identify (1920).

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This Flossmoor was built in Evansville, Indiana and was featured in the 1919 Modern Homes catalog. Is it still standing?

This Flossmoor was built in Evansville, Indiana and was featured in the 1919 Modern Homes catalog. Is it still standing? Do the owners know what they have?

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Should

Mr. F. M. Hills of Evansville, Indiana shouldn't be too hard to find! :)

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According to the text in the 1920 catalog,

According to the text in the 1920 catalog, The Flossmoor was also built in these cities. Notice there's supposedly one in New York City!

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House

Look at the size of that reception hall! Also, note the "good morning" stairs.

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The floorplan was quite simple.

The floorplan was quite simple. A small hallway makes maximum use of the small footprint. Squeezing four small bedrooms out of this floorplan is pretty impressive.

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house

Nice house, isn't it? Another feature is that unusually small attic window.

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And heres the real life example in Batavia, Illinois.

And here's the real life example in Batavia, Illinois. Be still my heart.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To see more photos of the Sears Homes of Northern Illinois, click here.

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The Race is On! (To Build a Sears Rodessa)

October 23rd, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

Sometime in late 1918, Sears conducted a “race,” building two houses, a Sears Honor Built pre-cut kit home and an identical house with no pre-cut lumber. For their experiment, they chose the Sears Rodessa, a darling little bungalow with clipped gables and oversized  eaves.

The result of this race was thoroughly documented in the 1919 and subsequent Sears Modern Homes catalogs.

It’s a very interesting story with many interesting images.

The “race” was conducted at the Sears Mill in Cairo, Illinois (at the southern most part of Illinois).

Today, those two Rodessas are still standing side by side, and they are the last remnant of the  40-acre mill that was once a substantial manufacturing center, employing more than 100 men, and cutting enough lumber every day to build 10-12 kit homes. The Sears Mill had 20 acres of outbuildings, several sidings of railroad track, and a  massive berm, built to keep out the springtime flooding of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

The pre-cut Honor Bilt Rodessa was the easy winner in this race, with 231 hours to spare (compared to the stick-built house). To learn more about the specifics, read the captions on the photos below.

To learn more about the old Sears Mill in Cairo, click here.

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hosue

Two Rodessas were built side-by-side at the site of the old mill in Cairo.

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House being built Sears Rodessa (1921)

The house they chose to build was the Sears Rodessa (1921).

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Rodessa

Perhaps the Rodessa was chosen for this experiment because it was a "Pretty little home." After all, you probably wouldn't want to build a pretty BIG home for an experiment (1919).

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Comparison of the two building techniques

A thorough comparison of the two building techniques.

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And the ordinary way

In the "ordinary" way, the old hand saw is to blame. In fact, many carpenters would not have used a steam-powered saw at the building site, but would be stuck sawing all the wood "the old fashioned way." The electric saw didn't come into widespread use until 1925 (according to "American Carpenter and Builder" magazine).

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The full page showing the experimeent

The full page showing the experiment.

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Wow.

According to their experiment, a Sears pre-cut home could be built 231 hours faster than a stick-built version of the same house. And this was probably realistic, too. Pre-cut lumber did create a substantial savings of time and money.

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Really ture

Time and money saved - "the modern way."

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I love this. Theyre slouchers.

I love this image. Look at these guys. They're a pair of slackers. All their lumber is pre-cut and ready to use. They can take their time and start the work day with a rest break.

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But look at these poor saps.

But look at these poor saps. They have everything laid out and ready. They even have their saws stacked up against the massive piles of lumber, ready to go. In fact, it looks like they've already started! And there are three guys on this crew.

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The end result is strikingly similar

More than 230 hours AFTER the pre-cut Rodessa was finished, the stick-build Rodessa was finally done. Kinda of like being the very last soul to drag across the finish line at a 26K marathon. These folks are so pooped, they collapsed in exhaustion on the front porch. And the yard is still a mess, full of construction debris! They didn't have the time or energy to tidy things up. Why, they're sitting down before it's finished! The shame of it all!!

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These

Meanwhile, the pre-cut Rodessa was done 230 hours before the stick-built house, and the builders not only tidied up the yard but planted many fine-looking bushes! Pretty darn impressive. You think there's a little subtle message going on here? Looks like it to me! If you buy a pre-cut Sears House, you''ll have time and energy for pretty gardens!

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Sears House - The Rodessa - in Cairo.

Throughout the city of Cairo, you'll find several Rodessas, such as this one. I suspect that the folks at the Sears Mill had several "practice" sessions building the Rodessa before the timed experiment actually took place at the mill.

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A

Today, those two Rodessas sit side by side, the last remnant of the massive Sears Mill that sat on this site in the early 1900s (in Cairo, IL). I'm sorry to say that I don't know which Rodessa is pre-cut and which one is stick built. If the graphic above is accurate the pre-cut kit house has a stucco foundation and the stick-built has a brick foundation. Next time I'm in Cairo, I'll check that out. BTW, these homes are located on Sears Road.

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To read more about Sears and Roebuck Road, click here.

To read more about the history of the Sears Mill, click here.

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A Fascinating Little Tidbit about WLS and Sears

December 29th, 2011 Sears Homes 10 comments

“What does WLS stand for?” is a question I often ask lecture attendees.

After giving more than 200 lectures in 25 states, only two people have answered this question correctly.

I’ll give you a hint. It has to do with Sears and Roebuck.

Thanks to eBay, I’ve located and purchased all manner of Sears Modern Homes ephemera, and one of my treasures is this employee newsletter. In fact, it was the very first edition of the “WLS” employee newsletter! Published in early 1925, it featured an interesting story titled, “The House The Kelly’s Built,” which told the story of a next-door neighbor  (Mr. Kelly) who’d hired “Jerry” (a 12-year-old boy) to help him build his newly purchased Sears kit home, The Clyde.

Jerry’s father (Mr. Thomas) was incredulous when he heard about this. After all, housebuilding is a difficult trade, for seasoned and experienced craftsman. When Jerry tries to explain that it’s a Sears kit house, with a 75-page instruction book, and numbered framing members (for easy assembly), his father chastises him for his impunity and reminds him that he is not to interrupt his elders.

It has a happy ending, as Mr. Kelly (the new Sears Homeowner) explains to Mr. Thomas (Jerry’s dad), that it is a very easy house to build, and when completed, it’ll be a real dandy of a home.

There are three important take-away lessons from this story.

1)  Building a kit home (12,000 easy pieces) was considered to be a simple task by the people who lived in the early 20th Century.

2) It was acceptable (and even common practice) to hire 12-year-olds for hard work.

3) Mr. Thomas was a horse’s ass.

To read another fascinating story about a murder in Lake Mills, click here.

Here

This short story appeared in the first edition of an employee newsletter issued for employees of Sears Roebuck. The name of the newsletter was "WLS."

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Lumber was numbered to facilitate construction

Framing members were marked with a three-digit number and a letter (D is for 2x8s, C for 2x6s, B for 2x4s). This mark, together with a 75-page instruction book, made assembly easy for even the novice homebuilder.

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The house that the Kellys are building (with young Jerrys help) is the Sears Clyde, a very modest and popular bungalow.

The house that the Kellys are building (with young Jerry's help) is the Sears Clyde, a very modest bungalow. Because it is such a modest house, it often gets severely remuddled through the passing decades. Identifying these simple houses is very difficult.

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Clyde

The Clyde, as seen in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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At least 98.76% of the time, the bay window in a little bungalow such as this is used for the dining room. The Clyde is an odd exception. In this little house, that bay on the side is for a bedroom, and the bathroom is right behind it. This is a useful detail for identifying The Clyde, as you should expect to see a bathroom vent roof pipe behind the bay.

At least 98.76% of the time, the bay window in a little bungalow such as this is used for the dining room. The Clyde is an odd exception. In this little house, that bay on the side is for a bedroom, and the bathroom is right behind it. This is a useful detail for identifying The Clyde, as you should expect to see a bathroom vent roof pipe behind the bay.

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This little Clyde in Cairo, IL is not feeling very well, and yet - it is definitely a Sears Clyde. That lowered platform on the front porch is still in place, but obscured by this white sedan. The gable ornaments and porch details are gone, and someone thought itd be a swell idea to do a thatch effect roof (shudder), but its a Sears Clyde.

This little Clyde in Cairo, IL is not feeling very well, and yet - it is definitely a Sears Clyde. That lowered platform on the front porch is still in place, but obscured by this white sedan. The gable ornaments and porch details are gone, and someone thought it'd be a swell idea to do a "thatch effect roof" (shudder), but it's a Sears Clyde.

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WLS

WLS stood for "World's Largest Store." The famous Chicago radio station, WLS, actually began as a promotional tool for Sears. The station signed on in 1924 with farm reports and weather information. Sears sold the radio station in the fall of 1928. Back in the day, call signs had meanings. Here in Norfolk, we had WGH which stood for "World's Greatest Harbor."

To read Part II, click here.

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

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Cairo, Illinois: When Bad Things Happen to Little Cities…

February 25th, 2011 Sears Homes 6 comments

In its heyday, Cairo was a bustling river town and was home to captains of industry, shipping magnates, wealthy business people and other “people of note.” It’s even mentioned in James A Michener’s epic miniseries, “Centennial.” IT earned a spot in Michener’s book because in the late 1800s, Cairo was the gateway to the west.

The first time I saw downtown Cairo, I stopped my car in the middle of the deserted street and stared in disbelief. The entire business district, which comprised several blocks of brick streets in beautiful condition, was empty - silent, still and devoid of all movement. Had it not been for a piece of trash blowing down the middle of the street, the scene before me would have been wholly motionless.

The stillness, the quiet, the absence of any sign of life was fascinating, yet also left me wondering if the next sound I heard would be the theme from The Twilight Zone with a voice-over by Rod Serling.

In the mid-1960s, racial unrest and riots were a sad part of the American landscape, but in Cairo, things went especially badly. African-Americans, weary of Jim Crow laws and disparate treatment, threatened to boycott businesses that employed only whites. White business owners responded by closing their stores. Large numbers of families left the area and never returned. Industry left. Businesses closed. Wealthy people took their capital and moved away.

Today, downtown Cairo is a ghost town - an incredible time capsule - frozen in the 1960s. The city that once boasted of 14,000 citizens now has about 3000 people living within its borders.

Outside of downtown, things aren’t much better. The burnt out hull of old buildings remain, the architectural victims of bored miscreants.  There’s no money in the state or local budget to raze the remnants of these destroyed homes. Folks often say California is on the cusp of bankruptcy. Illinois can’t be far behind, and Cairo is the poster-child for an American city that went from princely to pauper.

In the early 1900s, Cairo was the site of a 40-acre Sears Mill, where Sears kit homes were milled and shipped out to all 48 states. It was a vibrant business, in an important southern town. Cairo’s location at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers made it a natural for shipping and distribution. At the turn of the last century, Cairo (pronounced “Care-Roe”) could boast of having four major rail lines, enabling it to become a centralized shipping point for lumber harvested from the South and sent to the North.

In Spring 2010, I returned to Cairo and visited the town again. More burned out buildings, more desolation, more depressing sites.  What’s happening to our once-great land that we now have cities that are in collapse, and states that are in bankruptcy?

I’ve nothing pithy to add to this sad story. Pictures tell the story far better than I could.

Entrance to Cairo
Entrance to Cairo. The old flood dates are no longer in working, but the old rivers still work really, really well.

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Part of the charm of the downtown is it really is a step back in time. Notice the vintage cat in the foreground.

Spearmint “Pepsin Gum” surely got their money’s worth out of this old advertisement.

Hospital in Cairo

Is there a doctor in the house?

School

School's out for summer. And for the rest of time.

Throughout the city, there are many such houses, burned out and left to fall down. Note, this shot shows three houses in a row.

Throughout the city, there are many such houses, burned out and left to fall down. Note, this shot shows three burned out houses in a row.

What remain in Cairo, Illinois are many Sears Homes. Most are in marginal condition.

What remain in Cairo, Illinois are many Sears Homes. Many of these Sears Homes are no longer "pretty little homes."

Sears House - The Rodessa - in Cairo.

Sears House - The Rodessa - in Cairo.

An old Sears Homart (prefab house) sits on the edges of the city, not far from the Sears Mill in Cairo, IL

An old Sears Homart (prefab house) sits on the edges of the city, not far from the Sears Mill in Cairo, IL. Homart Homes were post-WW2 Sears Homes that were shipped out in sections, which were then bolted together at the building site. These were radically different from "Sears Modern Homes" which were pre-cut kit homes.

Sears

A glorious billboard at the city's entrance offers such promise.

To learn more about Cairo, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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