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Posts Tagged ‘sears and roebuck’

“Perhaps You’d Like to See Our Tombstone Catalog…”

March 27th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

According to “Sears, Roebuck, USA: The Great American Catalog Store and How It Grew,” a Sears customer wrote the Chicago Mail-order giant and asked if she could return several bottles of patent medicine that she’d purchased the month before.

In her letter, she explained that the medicine had been intended for her husband and after ingesting the first bottle, he’d quickly passed on.

The clerk who received the inquiry responded quickly, with an assurance that certainly, she could return the unopened bottles, and by the way, would she like to see a copy of Sears’ Tombstone Catalog?

Funny story, but the sobering fact is, traditional, elaborate Victorian funerals were expensive. Tradition dictated that certain rituals and procedures be done, and a middle-class family might endure shame and scorn if they couldn’t afford a decent marker for their loved one. And what about the poor? Often, they had to quietly and stoically endure the humiliation of seeing their loved one placed in a pauper’s grave.

(An aside:  There’s a 1920s pauper’s grave in Williamsburg where 35+ bodies (many of whom are children) are buried. The only “markers” at the site were small granite stones - the remnants of tombstones - that were provided by the undertaker. These markers outlined the individual graves. With the passage of time, those graves were forgotten and now  there’s a condo built on top of part of that cemetery.)

After Aunt Addie’s exhumation made the headlines, several people shared “old family legends” about a time when a young child died, and the family - unable to afford a real burial and/or pay burial fees - surreptitiously stole into the city graveyard in the dark of night, and buried their little one in a make-shift coffin.

By contrast, such stories make a pauper’s grave seem like a mercy.

I have no pictures of Sears tombstones, but with all these testimonials, they shouldn’t be too hard to find. Plus, they were made from Vermont Slate, which as a distinctive color and veining.

If you look up Sears Tombstones on the internet, you’ll find there are folks claiming that Sears tombstones were hollow, zinc markers (metal) but this is one of those apocryphal stories. Not sure where it started, but it’s not true.

To learn more about Victorian burial customs, click here.

To read about early 1900s burial rituals, click here.

To learn more about Addie, click here.

Verse 1904 Thomb

The Tombstone Catalog from 1904.

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people loved them

Does anyone in Plain City, Ohio want to get me a picture of the Frazell tombstone? I would love to see one of these. And there's the Chitty tombstone in Rapid City, SD. That's also a fairly unusual name.

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freight costs might seem

You'd think freight costs would be prohibitive, but Sears had it all worked out.

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Lettering

Inscription cost six cents per letter, unless it's a verse, and then its 2-1/2 cents per letter, unless it's on the upper base and then it's 15 cents per two-inch letter.

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here lies mary

Mark Hardin observed that most of these images in the 1904 catalog depict young people. In the late 1800s, one out of five children passed on before they reached adulthood. In early 1900s America, there would have been very few families whose lives hadn't been touched by the death of a child.

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Mary again

When I was researching the life and death of my Aunt Addie (died in 1901), I came across one story in the 1893 Lake Mills Leader that I will never forget. It was the height of a diphtheria epidemic, and the diphtheria was present in many counties in Wisconsin. In southern Wisconsin, a family had lost seven of their eight children to that single epidemic. The paper reported that the "eighth child had also contracted the diphtheria" and was not doing well. The article said that the children apparently had "weak blood." Today, we'd call it a genetic predisposition .

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another one

The epitaphs mostly depict a young child.

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house tombstone

When my beloved mother died suddenly in 2002, she was cremated and her ashes were scattered. In retrospect, I now more fully understand the comfort that a marker such as this can provide to greiving families.

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another

For a poor family desperate to have their loved one remembered, the economical "Sears option" may have been a God-send. It provided an option to an unmarked pauper's grave.

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icky

"Verse inscription ideas - at no extra cost to you, our loyal customer."

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Whoa

I sincerely hope that no one chose this verse.

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house

This is not a Sears Tombstone, but I find the last line quite interesting. My daughter Crystal found this in an old graveyard near Hartwell, Georgia. Photo is copyright 2010 Crystal Thornton and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To read about Penniman’s poor flu victims that were buried in a forgotten grave, click here.

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All Things Considered…

February 19th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Monday evening, a 50-second snippet of my interview with NPR radio host Jon Kalish, was featured on NPR’s program, All Things Considered.

I haven’t had the nerve to listen to it yet, but I’m told that the program was well done.

If you’d like to listen to it online, you can click here.

This must be a very popular program, because my website traffic has doubled in the last three days.

Train

All things considered, this is one of my favorite train photos! I love this picture because it looks like a photo of a model train set, but in fact, it's all life size! :D This excursion train is in Elkins, WV.

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To read about Sears Houses, click here.

To learn more about Aunt Addie, click here.

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It’s a Mystery

February 14th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Take a guess what this item is (shown below).

Plaster

Looks kind of hairy and gross, doesn't it?

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Does this help?

I'll give you a hint. It was found inside a 1920s home.

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This should help you figure it out.

This should help you figure it out.

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This pretty well gives it away.

This pretty well gives it away.

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In fact, its a chunk of plaster that was cut out of a wall.

In fact, it's a chunk of plaster that was cut out of a wall to add a new outlet.

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Up until sheetrock became widely accepted, a home’s interior walls were finished with plaster. Today, the word “plaster” is used loosely to describe any gypsum-based wall covering, but in fact, plaster is fairly unusual in post-WW2 homes and quite rare in post-1980s homes.

If you look at an old Sears catalog, you’ll find that while kit houses did not include plaster (due to shipping weight), your 12,000-piece kit house did come with good quality lath. In fact, the “Chelsea” (a 2,000-square-foot foursquare) came with 840 square yards of wooden lath. Sears estimated that a plasterer would charge you $200, which included nailing up all those thin strips of lath and applying three coats of plaster (1916).

Often, people talk about “old-fashioned horse-hair plaster,” but the binding agent in old plaster walls was more commonly cattle hair.

Plastering is fast becoming a lost art, and things have changed a bit in the last many decades. Today, a wire mesh is used in place of wooden lath. And I’m not sure what the contemporary binding agent is, but I seriously doubt it involves shaving dead cattle. However, you can still find good recipes online for making historically appropriate plaster to restore or repair the walls in your old house.

Old plaster walls ahve three coats: The scratch coat, the brown coat and the finish coat.

The scratch coat gets its name from the fact that it is scored so that the surface has a rough texture. This rough texture gives the brown coat (which contains a lot of sand) something to grip.

It’s the sand in the brown coat that helps the finish coat (which is about 1/8″) bond tightly to the walls.

According to the smart people, the scratch coat and brown coat are about 3/8″ thick, but the image shown above (from the 1920s house) tells a slightly different story. Making and applying plaster was a little bit like baking a cake: A lot depended on the cook, and his preferences and practices.

Plus, sometimes the “cook” was sober as a judge and sometimes the “cook” was so plastered (perhaps the source of the term?) that he couldn’t walk a straight line. Weather, humidity and quality of ingredients were other variables that affected the final product as well.

As always, if you have any thoughts to share, please leave a comment below!

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Back

This promotion, which appeared in a 1916 Sears Building Materials catalog, gives a pretty good explanation of how plaster was applied. I can't imagine how long it took to nail up all those lath boards (which were typically 1-inch wide). And the smudge pots were used to keep the temperature and humidity at a certain level while the plaster dried. Making and applying plaster was a slow, arduous process with many variables (1916 Sears Building Materials).

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By 1916,

By 1916, "Sheet Plaster" had already gained a toe-hold in the market, but it wasn't until after WW2 that it really became popular. And yet even in modern custom-built homes, plaster walls are considered an upgrade (and they're mighty expensive, too). My 1962-built ranch has sheetrock walls and plaster ceilings, which seems an odd combination (photo is from 1916 Sears Building Materials).

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Sheet

As shown in this 1916 Building Materials catalog, "Sheet Plaster" was much easier to install.

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To read a *fascinating* article about the benefits of old plaster walls (and how it was made), click here.

Bob Vila drives me to hard liquor, but his writers did put together a nice piece on plaster. You can read it here.

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Those Riverview Bungalows and a Virginia Ghost Town

February 7th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

If you love history or if you just like looking at pictures of old houses, you won’t want to miss our talk at the next CPRV Civic League Meeting.

David Spriggs and I will give a talk Monday night, featuring more than 100 vintage photos (many of which were recently discovered) showcasing a chapter of Riverview’s history that has been all but forgotten.

The talk is at 7:00 pm at the Eggleston Garden Center at 110 Lavalette Avenue in Norfolk (February 10th, Monday).

Scroll on down for a quick preview of some of the images we’ll be featuring Monday night.

Enjoy the photos below - and hope to see you Monday night!

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The image on the left

The house on the left is on Ethel Avenue in Riverview (circa 1948). The house on the right shows the same bungalow in Penniman, Virginia (Spring 1918). The photograph on the right was taken shortly after the house was built. Penniman was located six miles east of Williamsburg, and it was a town "built by DuPont." After World War I, the houses in Penniman were placed on barges and moved to several cities, including Norfolk! Cheatham Annex is now located where Penniman once stood. Photo on right is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Penniman was located on the York River and covered more than 6,000 acres.

Penniman was located on the York River and covered more than 6,000 acres. At its peak, Penniman had about 15,000 residents, and had its own hospital, hotel, movie theater, bank and post office. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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If

If you look closely at the screened-in front porch of this Riverview house, you'll notice the original railings in place from its former life on the York River. This house is also on Ethel Avenue (1948).

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Penniman was

The houses that now sit on Ethel and Lavalette were the "permanent houses" built at Penniman, and they can be seen in the background (near the water's edge). Most of the houses seen in this photo were temporary structures with tarpaper siding and roofing. Pretty primitive. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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If you look

If you look closely at these 1948 photos, you'll see extra skirting around the bottom of the houses. This is probably from "the big move" and was an effort to cover up the new foundations built for the incoming houses.

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The houses were shipped from Penniman by barge.

The houses were shipped from Penniman by barge. The houses shown here ended up in the Riverfront neighborhood (Major and Glenroie Avenue). The photo is from the December 1921 Virginia Pilot. Many thanks to Robert Hitchings for finding this newspaper article!

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One of our big breaks came when fellow researcher Mark Hardin discovered that our Ethels had been built at Dupont, Washington (another DuPont plant) and Ramsay, Montana.

One of our big breaks came when fellow researcher Mark Hardin discovered that our "Ethels" had been built at Dupont, Washington (site of another DuPont plant) and Ramsay, Montana. (This photo is courtesy of Mark Mckillop and may not be reproduced without written permission.)

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This

This photo shows the original placement of the Ethel Bungalows at Penniman. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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And we discovered that this house (and a second one on Beach Street) also came from Penniman.

We discovered that this house on Ethel (and another one on Beach Street) came from Penniman.

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Hope you can join us Monday night, at 7:00 pm at the Eggleston Garden Center at 110 Lavalette Avenue in Norfolk.

To see images of several “Ethel Bungalows” from 1948, click here.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Travel Back In Time With Me and Say Hello to The Ethels!

November 25th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

Thanks to a well-organized city assessor’s office in Norfolk, I was able to see and photograph several vintage photos of our “Ethels” (in Riverview - Norfolk) from the late 1940s and early 50s.

And I must say, it was very interesting!

These were the houses that were built at Penniman, VA (DuPont’s 37th munitions site) and moved - by barge - to Riverview. You can read more about that here.

The main reason for today’s blog is that I just *LOVE* looking at vintage pictures of houses, and the only thing better than looking at them myself is sharing the images with others. These early 20th Century bungalows looked so pure and simple and sweet back in the day. Best of all, when most of these photos were taken, the siding salesman hadn’t been invented yet.

And because of the Penniman connection, I have a special fondness for our Ethels.

So stroll down Ethel Avenue with me through the 1940s, and take a peek at our Ethels!

(Photos are courtesy Norfolk City Assessor’s Office.)

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Ethel

To begin, here's an Ethel in its native habitat: Penniman, VA. These homes were built in Spring 1918 by DuPont to house the munitions workers at the plant. While built based on DuPont plans, the construction of these homes was actually funded by the U. S. Government. After The Great War ended, the government sold them off as salvage in an effort to recoup some of their investment. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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Lava

Here's an "Ethel" in 1948. In the back yard, you can see the rear of another Ethel. And check out the sweet ride in the driveway. When photographed, this Ethel was a mere 30 years old, and had lived in Riverview for 25 years.

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Lava Eth

Some of the photos were crisper than others, and some photos were newer than others. Wish I knew what kind of car that was (right corner). That might help "date" the photo.

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238

This Ethel is looking so pretty and pure, but then again, it's still so young.

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more

And this Ethel has a flower box. How sweet is that? Pretty house!

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house hosue house

The Ethels looked a lot better without substitute siding.

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hello

Fine-looking house, and check out the curious housewife.

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oeek a boo

I recognize that look. It's a "what-the-heck-are-they-doing-photographing-my-house" look.

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house house

You can see the original railings on the other side of the screened porch.

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houseie

People loved their porches in the days before air conditioning.

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house hosue

And there's a curious feature I've noticed in these vintage pictures: There's additional wooden siding below the home's skirt board. I suspect that this has something to do with the house being built elsewhere and moved to this site, but exactly what it means is a mystery.

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house house

Here's another close-up on the extra clapboards *below* the skirt board. I don't recall ever seeing anything like that before, and I've seen a lot of pre-1920s housing.

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Amptjer

Another close up, and this one has cedar or cypress shakes to fill in the gaps. On most frame houses (such as our Ethels), the skirt board is the bottom-most vertical trim piece. Why did they add the extra trim?

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notice

In these Penniman photos (from 1918), there is some skirting but it's vertical planking and is used to keep the rodents and wind out of the crawl space. That extra siding below the skirt board was done at the Riverview site for reasons that elude me. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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Mr. Hubby has mixed feelings about spending his lunch hour at City Hall, helping the crazy wife organize files and study old pictures, and yet, he remains a good sport about it all.

Mr. Hubby has mixed feelings about spending his lunch hour at City Hall, helping the crazy wife organize files and study old pictures, and yet, he remains a good sport about it all.

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To learn more about Penniman, click here.

Want to see how many houses you can fit on a barge? Click here.

If you have a theory as to why that extra material was added below the skirt board, please leave a comment below!

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William & Mary College and Kit Homes

October 28th, 2013 Sears Homes 12 comments

Recently, I was on the William and Mary College campus doing research on Penniman, Virginia. (You can read more about that here.)

As part of the research, I was reading through the early 1920s college yearbooks and happened upon an interesting photo in the 1922 yearbook, “The Colonial Echo.” It was a picture of the Theta Delta Chi fraternity fellows, seated in front of their fraternity house, an Aladdin Colonial.

How apropos, I thought to myself! What else would you buy for a college campus in a famous colonial town, but THE Colonial?

For first-time visitors to this site, Aladdin was a kit home company that (like Sears), sold entire kit houses through mail order catalogs in the early 20th Century. Each kit came with 10,000-12,000 pieces of house, and included a detailed instruction book, designed for the novice homebuilder.

Update: Andrew Mutch has found the house, but it’s not happy news.

Our Aladdin Colonial, aka “The Clark House” (located on Jamestown Avenue) was demolished in 2004.

A press release put out by the college in 2004 said the house was built in 1911 and had been deemed “physically unsound” ten years prior (1994).

Ding, ding, ding, nice try and thanks for playing.

The Colonial first appeared in the 1915 “Aladdin Houses” catalog for a price of $1,980, but the Colonial on the W&M campus was built in 1920 or 1921 (based on info gleaned from the college yearbooks). This means the 1911 date is quite a boo boo.

As to the “physically unsound” part, I have serious reservations about that, too.

It’s a good thing they got rid of that early 20th Century kit home with all that first-growth southern yellow pine from virgin forests, and those oily old cypress clapboards.

Not.

This was an egregious waste of America’s irreplaceable and most-precious resources. Approximately 30% of all waste found in landfills is construction debris. Doesn’t make much sense to fill a campus with recycling receptacles for paper, plastic and aluminum if you’re going to send 350,000 pounds of architectural history to the landfill.

Images of the 1922 William and Mary “Echo” came from www.archive.org.  If you have several hours to kill, I highly recommend their site!

And - again - many thanks to Rachel for finding these high-resolution images at archive.org!

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Words

While looking through the 1922 "Colonial Echo," I found a most interesting picture!

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Words

The full page from the 1922 "Echo" shows the Theta Delta Chi gang, seated in front of their freshly built Aladdin Colonial! Wouldn't it be interesting to know if these fellows assembled that Aladdin kit house on their own!

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What a beautiful

What a beautiful house! The Colonial was first offered in 1915. The image above is from the 1922 "Colonial Echo," so it's possible that the house was newly built (which may be why it merited its own photograph). I wonder how long it was used as the house for Theta Delta Chi?

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The Aladdin Colonial, as seen in the 1919 Aladdin Homes catalog.

The Aladdin Colonial, as seen in the 1919 Aladdin Homes catalog.

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Heres an Aladdin Colonial in Roanoke Rapids, NC.

Here's an Aladdin Colonial in Roanoke Rapids, NC.

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Rachel

Rachel Shoemaker, researcher extraordinaire, found this picture (also at archive.org) of the Theta Delta Chi boys gathered around the front porch of their newly built Aladdin Colonial in 1921 (from "The Colonial Echo" 1921). In prior years, the frat boys were photographed in front of a different (older) house. I would love to know - did these guys BUILD this house? What a pity that W&M saw fit to destroy this house in 2004. An aside, with 15 minutes of searching the yearbooks, Rachel figured out that this house was built in 1920 or 1921.

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In addition to the

In addition to the Aladdin Colonial shown above, Williamsburg also has a Sears kit home, "The Oak Park" (shown above). (Vintage image is from the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.)

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And just down the street is this Wardway Mayflower. How appropos!

And just down the street is this Wardway "Mayflower." How apropos!

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To learn more about kit homes, click here.

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The Sears Elmhurst, Part II

October 11th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

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

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

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

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Testimoniaal

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

The Zvonecs loved their house

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

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

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

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And heres the Elmhurst recently discovered in St. Louis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If so, please leave a comment below!

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

To read  more about the Elmhurst, click here.

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Inside The Sears Elmhurst (St. Louis)

October 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 13 comments

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

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

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

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

Elmhurst first appeared in the 1928

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

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house floorplan

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

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Cover of the 1932

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

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house 1930 catalog

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

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house 1930

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

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house house house

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

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house gerst

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

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Elmhurst compare

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

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Mike gerst elmhurst

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

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house ricin

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

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house stairs

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

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house house stairs

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

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house la tosca

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

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house house la tosca

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

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phone niche

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

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house house door

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

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front door stuff

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

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comparison

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

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Wall

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

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kitchen 1932

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

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kitchen today

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

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

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

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house inside

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

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house hallway upstairs

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

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window staircase

Downstairs looking up at the staircase window.

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house elmhurst

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

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house plinth block

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

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business card

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

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pipe tag pipe tag

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

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house pipe tag pipe tag

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

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houe exterior house

From all angles, the Elmhurst is quite stunning.

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On the inside, those dormers look like this.

On the inside, those dormers look like this.

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house solid brick

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

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gerst home

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

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Elmhurst in Chitown

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

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house 1930

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The 1924 Tornado of Lorain and An Aladdin Villa

September 25th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

The picture tells quite a story, doesnt it?

June 28, 1924, a tornado formed over Sandusky Bay and eventually came ashore in Lorain, Ohio. More than 500 homes were destroyed and about 1,000 buildings suffered damage. The storm caused 85 deaths, and 72 of those deaths occurred in Lorain. Fifteen souls perished when the State Theater in Lorain collapsed. In today's dollars, the damage was well more than $1 billion. Later, it was estimated that this was an F-4 tornado, and 89 years later, it remains the 4th most deadly tornado ever experienced in northern states. Photo is courtesy Dan Brady and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And look closely at the house featured on this postcard: Its an Aladdin Villa.

And look closely at the house featured on this postcard: It's an Aladdin Villa. Photo is courtesy Dan Brady and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Folks must have been in shock.

Folks must have been in shock as they wandered around, horrified at the amount of destruction. The tornado occurred in June, and yet look at the clothing. Judging by these photos, the storm ushered in some cold weather. The houses around the Villa were mostly leveled, but the three-story Villa is mostly standing (sans roof and attic). Photo is courtesy Dan Brady and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Villa was first offered in the 1916 Aladdin catalog.

The Villa was first offered in the 1916 Aladdin catalog. That means that the Villa in Lorain was less than eight years old, at the very most, when it was severely damaged by the Lorain Tornado of 1924.

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Fien house

In addition to being "beautiful and modern," it was pretty sturdy.

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Spacious

The Villa was more than 4,00 square feet, not including the attic. The sunporch has a fireplace.

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Sunporch, as seen in the 1919 catalogs line drawing.

The Villa was Aladdin's finest home, and several interior views (line drawings) were featured in the 1919 catalog.

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Living room

The living room was 26-feet long and 16-feet wide.

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Dining room

The dining room must have been difficult to decorate, with two sets of french doors (into the reception hall and breakfast room), three tall windows and a swinging door into the kitchen.

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Seen in 1919

The Aladdin Villa, as seen in the 1919 catalog.

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house house house

If you look closely at the sun porch here (facing the camera), you can see the masonry fireplace in the center of the room. For all the sadness and horror occasioned by this terrible storm, this real-life example proved pretty clearly that Aladdin Homes were strong, sturdy, well-built homes. Photo is courtesy Dan Brady and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Photo is

Today, this house is a shining jewel in Lorain, Ohio and there's not a hint that anything bad ever happened to this almost-100-year-old Villa. Photo is copyright 2012 Dan Brady and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Scotland Neck

Just for comparison, I've included a Villa in Scotland Neck, NC.

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Lorain

I have a special fondness for Lorain, Ohio. Sometime in 2003 (as I recall), I visited Lorain, Ohio courtesy of Valerie Smith at the Lorain Public Library. I had a wonderful time and I must say, it was quite a thrill to see my name "in lights" on the historic Palace Theater! And while in Lorain, I was also the guest of the Kaczmarek family. Lawrence Kaczmarek built a Sears Westly in Lorain County in 1919.

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I met the family

I met the Kaczmarek family when Richard Herman, a descendent of Lawrence Kaczmarek (misspelled above in the testimonial) sent me a letter shortly after my first book was published in 2002. Richard, if you're reading this, I wish you'd contact me. I'd love to hear from you again! Sadly, Mr. Kaczmarek's Westly was torn down in the 1960s (as I recall) to make way for a bridge expansion project.

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To visit Dan Brady’s wonderful blog, click here.

To read another blog about kit homes surviving natural disasters, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

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Help Me Find These Hidden Treasures in Chester, PA!

September 11th, 2013 Sears Homes 11 comments

Say what you will about Facebook, but it is a great boon for those of us who love history.

Recently, the Delaware County (Pennsylvania) History page on Facebook picked up an old blog I did about these lost houses built by Sun Ship Building Company in Chester, PA and their interest in this topic has given me renewed hope that we might yet find these houses.

It’s one thing for me to sit around studying grainy images in 93-year-old catalogs, but it gets a lot more exciting when the local history lovers start hunting around for these treasures!

And this was quite a large collection of Sears Homes.

The neighborhood seems to extend on for several blocks. It’s certainly possible that 90 years later, these houses have been torn down, but I doubt that every last one of them is gone. And thanks to these wonderful old vintage images, I think our chances of finding these houses are very good!

Please pass this blog along to anyone and everyone who may have some knowledge of Sun Ship and/or Chester.

And please take a moment to read the loquacious captions. That’s where the fun stuff is!

If you can provide more info about these houses are, please leave a comment below.

Oh boy, my first UPDATE! Sun Shipbuilding was located at Route 291 and Harrah’s Blvd in Chester, PA. These houses would have been close by!

To learn more about Rose’s upcoming visit to Louisa, VA click here.

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

To join our group on Facebook, click here.

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Sunship

In the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog, this front page featured several communities where large numbers of Sears House had been sold. The red arrow shows the houses built by Sun Ship. So that's our first clue: The houses were 100% finished by late 1918.

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Zooming in a  bit, you can discern more detail.

Zooming in a bit, you can discern more detail. The neighborhood was three streets wide, but there's a large "green space" between the two rows on the left, and there appears to be another cluster of houses on the right, in the rear. So that's our second clue: The neighborhood was three streets wide, with one street some distance from the first.

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Zoom

If you zoom in on the center, you can count the houses in the middle row. I see 10 houses, two Rositas and two Arcadias (models of Sears Homes). More detail on these two models below. And that's our third clue. Look at the roofline for this row. Front-gabled with a shed dormer (#1), very small house with a hipped roof and a porch with a tiny shed room (houses #2 and #3), and approximately seven more front-gabled houses with a shed dormer pointing in the other direction (away from the camera).

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More detail

There were six homes on the left side, and I do believe that's an outhouse at the end of the row. And I don't *think* the outhouse is there today. However, here's another clue. Side-gabled bungalow (first) with dormer facing the street, followed by four front-gabled bungalows with dormer facing the outhouse. Hipped-roof house with small shed roof on porch is at the end. And look at the placement of the sidwalks here, too. That probably hasn't changed TOO much.

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house on the right

These houses on the right were really puzzling me, but I think I finally got them figured out. More on that in a moment.

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House

The first house on the left side of the picture is easily identifiable as a Sears Arcadia. I believe the house next to it (and the subsequent four houses) are also the Sears Arcadia, turned 90 degrees. At the end, there's a small house with a hipped roof. Keep on scrolling down and all will become clear.

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See what I mean?

The Sears "Arcadia." Except for the lady sitting on the front porch, it's a perfect match.

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And now look at the middle row.

And now look at the middle row. That's an Arcadia turned 90 degrees on the lot. The dormer was only present on one side, and for the rest of the Arcadias, the dormer is facing away from the camera. But look at those little houses with hipped roofs! What might they be?

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I suspect that these hipped roof houses are the Rosita.

I suspect that these hipped roof houses in Chester, PA are the "Rosita" (shown above). This was a very small house (and also bathroom-less, just like the Arcadia). The panoramic image first appeared in the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog, and both the Rosita and Arcadia were offered in the 1918 catalog, so that's a good fit.

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Look at the floorplan for the two houses.

Look at the floorplan for the two houses. The Rosita is on the left; the Arcadia is on the right. This is a minor detail, but look at the placement of the chimneys. The panoramic view shows that the chimneys are pretty closely aligned. On the Arcadia (right), the chimney is 9'4" from the home's rear. On the Rosita, it's 11'1" from the rear. That's *about* the representation shown in the old panoramic view. And it's a quirky feature, but look where the front door is on the Arcadia. It enters into the dining room! And, there is no bathroom in either house.

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And the Arcadia

And the Arcadia floorplan really did lend itself to being spun 90 degrees on the lot. Here, I've taken the floorplan and turned it 90 degrees, and I've also added a doorway into the front bedroom, and moved the front door from the dining room (which is darn quirky) into the living room.

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So heres what youre looking for: The

So here's what you're looking for: The Arcadia (left) and the Rosita (right). Note, a lot of things about a house can change through the years, but the chimney placement and roofline usually do not change. When you find these houses, they should all still be lined up, much like they appear in the vintage photos above. You should be able to look at them on Bing Aerial photos and count the rooflines - five side-gabled, two hipped, etc., and it should be a spot-on match to what is shown above in the street (panoramic) shots.

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house on the right

Last but not least, what model are these houses on the right? I puzzled over them for some time. The first house in this row is an Arcadia. Notice how the next house juts out a bit further than the Arcadia? I think to "mix it up a bit," that they stuck a small front porch on an Arcadia turned 90 degrees. The proportions are right and the placement on the windows (on the side) is right. In Carlinville's "Standard Addition" (where Standard Oil built 156 Sears Homes), those houses also had minor architectural changes, so that the houses didn't look just the same.

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Heres a Rosita in the flesh in Deerfield, VA.

Here's a Rosita "in the flesh" in Deerfield, VA. Somewhere in Chester, Pennsylvania, you have a whole neighborhood of these, and the Arcadias, built by Sun Ship Building Company about 1918, but where? Photo is copyright 2012 Linda Ramsey and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

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