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CQ, CQ, CQ…Hopewell?

August 22nd, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Tonight, for the first time in months, I got on the ham radio, calling CQ on the 40-meter band.

My second contact was “Bob.”

In a flash, my buddy Milton (sitting with me) looked up Bob’s call sign on his computer, and started laughing hysterically.

“You’re not going to believe this,” he said. “This guy’s in Hopewell!”

My oh my.

How is it that I can transmit a 100-watt signal through a magnificent antenna strung up high in the trees; a signal with the capacity to bounce off the ionosphere and travel all the way around the world, and I end up to talking to Hopewell?

Fortunately, Bob from Hopewell was a very pleasant fellow and we had a lovely chat.

He asked me if I was familiar with the many older homes in Hopewell. I told him that I was! And I suggested he check out my website.

Oh MY!

To read my other blogs on Ham Radio, click here and here.

To visit the website for the Norfolk Ham Club, click here.

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Henry

One of my very favorite movies is "Testament," which tells the story of a small town outside San Francisco, after San Francisco takes a direct hit from a nuclear bomb. In "Testament," Henry Abhart is the hero, because he's able to talk with the outside world when all other lines of communication have been lost. I highly recommend this movie. It's a tribute to the fact that, Ham Radio will always be reliable when other communications systems have failed.

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The best of both worlds: A fine-looking antenna mounted on Sears Avondale in Illinois.

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Sears Avondale as seen in the 1919 catalog.

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To read my other blogs on Ham Radio, click here and here.

To read about Hopewell, click here.

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The True Origins of the Sears Magnolia

February 10th, 2014 Sears Homes 6 comments

The Sears Magnolia, offered from 1918-1922, seems to be a source of a much misinformation and confusion.

Yesterday, someone sent me a link to another purported “Magnolia” in Watseka, IL (719 South Fourth Street). And then a member in our “Sears Homes” Facebook group showcased a quote from author Daniel Reiff (Houses from Books) stating that even though the house in Watseka is not a Sears Magnolia, it may have been an inspiration for the Sears architects.

Built models might have also been an influence [for the Sears Magnolia]. Only one hundred miles from Chicago, in Watseka, IL is an impressive Colonial Revival built in 1903 with many features in common with the Magnolia (Houses from Books, p. 194).

I’d say there are a few other houses that have “many features in common with the Magnolia” - as in thousands.

The Magnolia would be best described as a Colonial Revival, which was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Sears was not an innovator in anything, most of all, architectural design. They looked at what was popular and created their housing designs accordingly.

Judging from the photos in Houses from Books, much of Reiff’s research was centered in the Northeast, specifically the New York area. Mr. Reiff should have traveled down to the South, because we’re loaded with examples of what is commonly known as the Colonial Revival.

If I felt compelled to connect a specific house to the architect’s creation of the Sears Magnolia, I’d put my money on a 1910-built house in Blacksburg, SC (photos below).

The South Carolina “Magnolia” was built in 1910, and based on the home’s interior moldings, mantels, staircase and some other clues, I’d say that the 1910 build-date is pretty accurate. And although this is a wild guess, I suspect that it MAY BE a pattern book house.

This “SCFM” (”South Carolina Faux Maggy”) is four feet wider and four feet longer than the Sears Magnolia.

When Sears “borrowed” patterns from other sources, they’d change the dimensions a bit, and in the case of the SCFM, it was a bit too big for Sears purposes, so shrinking the footprint made sense.

One more interesting detail: The underside of the front porch (eaves) shows that there are ten brackets across the front of the Magnolia. The SCFM has eight brackets. The Magnolia’s dormer has four of these eave brackets. The SCFM has three. These are the kind of details that matter.

Mr. Reiff also identified a Sears Magnolia in Dunkirk, NY.


A second example of a brick Magnolia can be found in Dunkirk NY, Despite the lack of side wings because of the narrow lot, the similarities to the Sears model are still striking, but the house is much narrower than its model. In fact, although the 93 West Fourth Street is the same depth as the Magnolia (36′1 vs. 36), it is a full ten feet narrower (29.10 vs. 40.0)
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All of which are deal killers. Dimensions matter - a lot. However, Mr. Reiff pulls it out of the fire at the end with this:

The plan of the Dunkirk house is considerably different. Instead of the formal central hallway with staircase and rooms on either side, here the plan is far more compact; One enters the living room which runs across the front of the house in the middle of its long side; the stairs are at one end…Here we almost certainly have an instance of a local builder who studied the illustration in the Sears catalog and created his own version of it, without ordering the plans or, in all likelihood, any of the materials from Sears (p. 196).


Besides, if you were going to name a house “The Magnolia,” would your inspiration come from the frozen North?

I think not.

Now, where is that 9th Magnolia?

To see pictures of all eight Sears Magnolias, click here.

To read more about the “fake” Magnolia in SC, click here.

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If I was going to pick a house to have been a model for the Magnolia, Id pick this house in Blacksburg, SC!!

If I were going to pick a house to have been a "model" for the Magnolia, I'd pick this house in Blacksburg, South Carolina After all, this actually looks like a Magnolia!

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The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 and is shown here on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 and is shown here on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog. Some may describe it as a Colonial Revival, but really, it's a foursquare with delusions of grandeur.

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The Magnolia (1920 Modern Homes catalog).

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This house in Blacksburg, SC was built in 1910. You want to talk about a model for the Magnolia? This would be it. The house was wider and deeper than the Magnolia, but it would have been easy work to cut it down to size for a kit house catalog.

This house in Blacksburg, SC was built in 1910. You want to talk about a "model" for the Magnolia? This would be it. The house was wider and deeper than the Magnolia, but it would have been easy work to "cut it down to size" for inclusion in a kit house catalog. There are 15 small lites over the large windows on the first floor - just like the Magnolia. And, it's in South Carolina, just where you'd expect to find a "Magnolia"!

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The other big difference are the columns.

The other big difference is the columns. The real Magnolia has hollow wooden columns (made of poplar). The house in Blacksburg had columns made of concrete. Try shipping *that* from Chicago!

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The details around the eaves are also a little bit off.

The details around the eaves are also a little bit "off." The eave brackets on the SC house are more ornate (photo on right). The underside of the front porch (eaves) shows that there are ten brackets on the Sears Magnolia. The Blacksburg house has eight brackets. The Magnolia's dormer has four of these eave brackets. The Blacksburg house has three. These are the kind of details that really do matter. (The house on the left is a Magnolia in Nebraska which has since been torn down. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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But boy oh boy, its a close one!!

But boy oh boy, it's a close one!!

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Has those 15 lites over the window, too!

Has those 15 lites over the window, too!

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Even the interior floorplan was a good match!

However, the interior floorplan was not quite right, and that's a big deal, too.

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Heres the real deal in Northern West Virginia.

Here's the real deal in Northern West Virginia.

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And here are

In June 2012, I traveled to Anderson, SC and found these two Colonial Revivals within a block of each other. In the South, this house style is very popular and can be found in almost every old neighborhood. In fact, these houses might just be real Colonials (as opposed to a post-Civil war "Revival").

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The Colonial Revival was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To learn more about this style, I heartily recommend this book. Why, its just *FULL* of Sears Magnolias!!!  (Not)

The Colonial Revival was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To learn more about this style, I heartily recommend this book. Why, it's just *FULL* of Sears Magnolias!!! (Not)

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

Better yet, if you’d like to buy a copy or Rose’s book, click here.

To read about the now-deceased Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska, click here.

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The Things We Do For Love (of Sears Homes)

May 9th, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

As a sensitive youngster, Fred Rogers (the “Mr. Rogers”) would sometimes become alarmed when he heard about bad things happening in the world. His mother comforted Fred by telling him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

It saddens me to think about how many Sears Homes have been razed or lost to horrific and insensitive remodeling.

In the world of historic architecture, where the losses are much bigger than the wins, it’s really important to “look for the helpers.”

One such helper is a man in Georgetown, Texas named Will Moore.

Will is a builder from that area, and in 2006, he learned that a Sears Avondale was in trouble. Some local folks owned the lot underneath the Avondale, and it was their intention to move the Avondale out “to the country,” so they could build their own home on the city lot.

Will had a sinking feeling that the little Avondale would not fare well, sitting out in a field, far from town, perhaps forlorn and forgotten. He negotiated a deal with the home’s owners and purchased the house, and had it moved six blocks over to a lot he owned on Elm Street.

That was 2006. Seven years later, he’s still working on the 1,600-square foot bungalow, pouring a whole lot of time, energy and money into the old Sears House.

“It’s been a lot of work,” he told me during a recent phone conversation, “And there have been a lot of issues. Some people might say call them ‘headaches,’ but I’m glad I did this. I saved the house. I’m a real history buff and a preservationist, and that’s the reason that I did this.”

And before the house could be moved, someone had to shave off those beautiful oversized eaves.

Will explains,

The city told me the house could only be thirty feet wide for the move, so I had to cut the eaves off both sides of the house to comply.And of course, the chimney, the front porch and the brick foundation were all knocked down to make the move. Those three items, plus the rebuilding of the roof, took a couple years to complete.

Presently, the home is still under renovation. After rebuilding the roof, the chimney, the porch, and finding matching brick for the underpinning, I have concentrated on the exterior. At sometime during its past life, the home was covered with vinyl siding. When I removed that, I found the underlying siding to be in such a state that it all needed to be replaced.

That required all the old siding to be removed, along with the window, door and corner trim. Additionally, code requirements would not allow me to use the original windows, and I have replaced those with new, but using the original design.

The new siding will be Hardieplank, but with small exposure. Even with new siding and efficient windows, the facade of the home will be very much in keeping with the 1914 look. In order to allow for modern efficiency, I blew insulation into the walls while I had the exterior exposed.

Will has promised to provide more photos as the restoration continues. And I’ve also asked for a few interior photos.

I hope someday I can make it down to Georgetown and meet this fellow, who has done so much for this wonderful old kit house, and who has done so much to save a historic structure in his community.

The news of Will’s faithful restoration of this old house has brought me much joy.

Will Moore of Georgetown, Texas is definitely, one of the “Helpers.”

To read more about the Avondale, click here.

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The Sears Avondale was one of Sears most popular homes.

The Sears Avondale was one of Sears most popular homes. The Avondale was built as a model home for the Illinois State Fair (in Springfield) in 1909, and was wholly furnished with items from the 1,400-page Sears and Roebuck catalog. Pre-1918, Sears Homes had model numbers instead of names, so for this postcard, it was identified as merely a "bungalow."

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Another postcard shows the fancy interior of the Avondale.

Another postcard shows the fancy interior of the Avondale (with all those furnishings from Sears). The dining room was unusually large for a typical Sears House, measuring 23 x 14 feet.

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The 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog shows the dining room, which was massive.

The 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog shows the living room, which was 21 by 14 feet. The oak columns and screen (on the right) were an upgrade.

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The Avondale was one of Sears larger (and better) homes, with two spacious bedrooms and one teeny tiny bedroom.

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And it was praised by many thousands!

And it was "praised by many thousands"! Was that because it had a croquet set in the front yard?

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Avondale

Sears would ask their customers to send a snapshot of the house after it was completed. Was this the photo that Mr. Logan (the home's original builder) sent to Sears? It might have been. He sure got the angle just right! BTW, is that snow on the roof, in Georgetown, TEXAS?? Photo is courtesy Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Comparison of the Avondales, with the catalog (left) and Mr. Logan's dream home (right).

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But wheres Mr. Logans croquet set?

But why doesn't 's Mr. Logan's house have a croquet set on the front lawn?

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Another shot of Mr. Logans Avondale, shortly after it was built.

Another shot of Mr. Logan's Avondale, shortly after it was built (about 1914 or 1915). And there in the front yard is George Logan Junior's baby buggy. Photo is courtesy Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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George Logan Jr., with his mother on the front porch of the Sears Avondale. The Avondale's current owner, Will Moore, told me that he was present when Mr. Logan (now 92) saw this photo recently. "It was an emotional moment for him," said Will. "He had never seen the photo before." There's so much that's wonderful about this photo, but my favorite part is that Mom is showing Junior a family photo album. And Junior appears to be wholly captivated. Photo is courtesy Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Fast forward about 91 years, and heres a photo of George Logan, Jr., sitting in the kitchen of the Avondale. Shortly after Will Moore purchased the house, Mr. Logan visited Mr. Moore. It was a happy day for both. a visit.

Fast forward about 91 years, and here's a photo of George Logan, Jr., facing the camera. Shortly after Will Moore purchased the house, Mr. Logan visited Mr. Moore. It was a happy day for both. Photo is courtesy Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Avondale, pre-move. Unfortunately, those beautiful eaves had to be shaved off before it could be relocated to its new lot. Photo is copyright 2006 Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another shot of the Avondale, before the move. Photo is copyright 2006 Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Post move, the house is missing its eaves, but the new fireplace is finished, and looks beautiful. Will took out those four stained glass windows and put them in a safe spot. Photo is copyright 2006 Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Tyvek wrap goes up before the new Hardiplank siding goes up. Due to local building codes, Will had to replace the original windows, but he did a good job of matching them to the old windows. The brickwork is all new as well. Photo is copyright 2006 Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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My favorite part of this story was hearing about how much George Logan Jr. enjoyed this old photo of him and his mother, on the front porch of their Avondale. I can only imagine the emotional ties he must have to this old house - the house built by his own father (George Logan Sr.) almost 100 years ago. In fact, this was the very house where George Logan, Jr. was born. These houses are such an important piece of our history, for so many different reasons. Photo is courtesy Will Moore and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

To read more about why Sears Homes matter, click here.

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About That Sears House in Greeley, Colorado (Part II)

December 20th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

A few days ago, I wrote a blog about the Sears Avondale in Greeley, Colorado. When that blog was posted, I had nothing more than vintage photos of this house, built by Winfred H. Senier.

Thanks to Betsy Kellums of the Greeley Preservation Historic Office, I now have contemporary photos of Mr. Senier’s fine old Avondale (shown below).

Take a look at the original vintage photo below from the 1912 Sears Modern Homes catalog. If you look closely, you’ll see Winfred’s wife (May) sitting on the front porch and old Winfred on the porch wall.

To read the prior blog, click here.

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

Noothing like old photos

This photo first appeared in the 1912 Sears Modern Homes catalog. It's a great photo and you can see that - when built in 1910 or 1911, Mr. Senier's house had stained glass windows. This was an upgrade, and it's likely that the home's interior had some fancy upgrades as well.

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obi

Sharon Dunn (reporter for the Greeley Tribune) forwarded me Winfred's obit, which showed that Mr. Senier raised Shire horses, Tamworth hogs, and Airedale and Shepherd dogs. Above is a photo of Winfred and May, and two of their dogs (about 1910 or 1911).

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Is this a Shire horse?

Is this a Shire horse? Or is this just "Pumpkin" the friendly horse who helped build the house?

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Now this is one thing I have never ever seen before. In 1919, Mr. Senier supplied a subsequent photo of the Greeley home, and it was published in the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog. You can see tha

Now this is one thing I have never ever seen before. Years after the house was built, Mr. Senier supplied a subsequent photo of the Greeley home (with mature landscaping), and it was published in the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog. You can see that the vegetation has grown up a bit! And there's Winfred and May on the front porch (still).

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1910

The Sears Avondale was first offered in the 1909 Sears Modern Homes catalog. When was Mr. Senier's house built? Well, most likely it was between 1909 - 1911. I'd love to know for sure.

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Avondale was a heck of a house

The Avondale was one of Sears nicer homes. It was spacious and fancy. The house in Greeley is probably one of the first Avondales built in the country.

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Floorplan

Look at the dimensions of the living and dining rooms. It was a very spacious house.

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Showed up at the fair in 1911

In this colorized card, you can see the stained-glass windows on the house. There are four. Two flanking the fireplace and two on the home's front.

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Interior

Another postcard shows the interior of the Sears Avondale.

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Thanks to Betsy Kellam, we now have contemporary photos of Mr. Seniers Avondale.

Thanks to Betsy Kellums, we now have contemporary photos of Mr. Senier's Avondale. Still looks a little lonely out there in Greeley. (Photograph is copyright 2012 Betsy Kellums and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Its still standing but needs a smidge of paint.

It's still standing but needs a smidge of paint. Given the fact that's it's 100 years old, it's in remarkably good condition. (Photograph is copyright 2012 Betsy Kellums and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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If you look at the roof lines and thee porch, you can see that the house is still square and straight and true. Mr. Senier and Sears did a fine job with this house. (Photograph is copyright 2012 Betsy Kellums and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Mr. Senier died 67 years ago, but the house that he built for his family lives on. What a remarkable testimony to the quality of Sears kit homes. (Photograph is copyright 2012 Betsy Kellums and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Sadly, those beautiful stained-glass windows are gone.

Sadly, those beautiful stained-glass windows are gone. (Photograph is copyright 2012 Betsy Kellums and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

Thanks to Sharon Dunn (Greeley Tribune) for sending me Mr. Senier’s obituary. If you have any interest in Colorado history, this obit is a fascinating read. Mr. Senier was the son of Mr. and Mrs. John Senier, two original Greeley pioneers. Winifred Senier (the Avondale builder) had only one child (a daughter), but apparently his one daughter had eight children, all of whom lived in Greeley.

W. H. Senier Dies Thursday (December 4, 1945).


Winfred Howell Senier, who for 35 years operated a stock farm east of Greeley, died early Tuesday morning at the Weld County hospital after an illness of a year and a half. He had been a patient at the hospital only a few days.

He was 73 years old. Mr. Senier was a breeder of Shire horses, Tamworth hogs, and Airedale and Shepherd dogs. He was the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. John Senier, Greeley pioneers, his mother being Eva Camp, daughter of a Union Colony member.

Mr. Senier was born in Covington, Ga., and came to Greeley with his parents when he was six years old.

He is survived by his wife, Mrs. May Porter Senier, and one son, Archie Camp Senier, eight grand-children and one great grandchild, Richard Glen Senier.

His grand-children are Pfc. Winfred E. Senier of Fort Lewis, Wash.; Pfc. Robert John Senier of Lamar; ARM 1/c Woodrow E. Senier of Bakersfield, Calif.; WT 1/c William A. Senior [sic] awaiting discharge from the army following overseas duty; Gloria May, June Alice, Buddy and Doral Senier, all of Greeley.

One sister, Mrs. Jeanette Noxon of Greeley, also survives.

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Thanks to Mark Hardin and Rachel Shoemaker for their indefatiguable efforts in researching this house in Greeley, and thanks to Betsy Kellums for the wonderful photos!

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To read more about the house in Greeley, click here.

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About That Sears House in Greeley, Colorado

December 7th, 2012 Sears Homes 7 comments

Updated! To see the newest blog with contemporary photos of this house, click here!!

More than a year ago, I posted a blog about a Sears Avondale/Hawthorne in Greeley, Colorado.

Since then, several folks have left comments, and thanks to their efforts, the house has been found.  :)

And that’s remarkable for two reasons.

One, Sears Homes aren’t that common in the “Far West” (as that area was known in the early 1900s), and two, Sears offered 370 models but the Avondale/Hawthorne was one of the fancier homes.

To read the original blog, click here.

Text continues below the pictures.

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Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for supplying this photo. It originally appeared in the 1912 Sears Modern Homes catalog. I erroneously identified a house in McHenry Illinois as the house in Greeley.

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for supplying this photo. It originally appeared in the 1912 Sears Modern Homes catalog. In an earlier blog, I erroneously identified the house in McHenry Illinois as the house in Greeley. This is the correct photo (as you can see in the caption). Best of all, it shows Mr. Senier's wife, horse and two dogs. Digging through old census records, Rachel also discovered that the husband's name is Winfred and the wife's name is May. Rachel was not able to discern the name of the horse and dogs. Let's call them "Teddy" and "Freddy" (dogs) and "Pumpkin" (horsie). Actually, I'm not sure if that's Winfred sitting on the rail. Whomever it is seems to be wearing a bowler hat.

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Is the house in Greeley an Avondale or a Hawthorne? Rachel Shoemaker pointed out that its a Hawthorne, and she is right.

Mr. Senier and family built the Avondale in Greeley. Not a bad house for $2,176.

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The Hawthorne, as seen in 1916.

The Hawthorne, as seen in 1916. This was very similar to the Avondale, but the Hawthorne had a second floor and the side walls were higher (creating more space upstairs).

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The comments that followed the original blog have been hugely helpful, so I’m reprinting them here.

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Rachel

Rachel is an indefatigable researcher.

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And Rachel is right. I had the houses in Greeley, CO and Illinois mixed up.

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And then the intrepid researchers found info on that Greeley House.

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And then around the 5th, Mark (who also left a comment on December 5th) sent me this email:

I found a page that mentions the Senior name on a map from 1915. There is a plot of land on the map that is just outside of Greeley in the area around the Greeley / Weld county airport. I think the map calls it Camp Senier.

Maybe this is the area the house is in if it still exist. If it’s not there then maybe its somewhere between the camp and the rail line to the west.

Using Google Maps, Mark ultimately found Milford Howell Senier’s “Avondale” at about 120 East 4th Street Road in Greeley.

Thanks so much to Rachel and Mark for finding this old Avondale. What an impressive bunch of research!!!

Now I need some photos of this wonderful house in Greeley!  :)

If you’re in the area and can get a photo, please leave me a comment below!

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How to Properly Identify a Sears Magnolia

November 27th, 2012 Sears Homes 12 comments

Nary a week passes that someone doesn’t send me a note, happily reporting that they’ve spotted a Sears Magnolia in their neighborhood.

And 99.99% of the time, they’re wrong.

Priced at about $6,000, the Sears Magnolia (sold from 1918-1922) was Sears biggest and fanciest kit home. And despite lots of searching, only seven Sears Magnolias have been found.

Like most of the 370 designs of houses offered by Sears, the Magnolia was purposefully patterned after a popular housing style: The Southern Colonial. Here in Hampton Roads, there’s a Southern Colonial Revival in many of our early 20th Century neighborhoods.

However, the Sears Magnolia - the real deal - has several distinctive features that distinguish from “look-alikes.”

The photos shown below give some visual clues on how to identify the Sears Magnolia (the real deal).

The Sears Magnolia was their biggest, fanciest and most expensive home. It was offered from 1918-1922. The picture here is from the 1921 catalog.

The Sears Magnolia was their biggest, fanciest and most expensive home. It was offered from 1918-1922. The picture here is from the 1921 catalog. If you look closely at the badge that shows the price, you'll see that the Magnolia was also known as #2089.

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After World War One (The Great War),

After World War One (The Great War), lumber prices went sky high. Sears catalogs had about a six-week lead time (from creation to publishing). Due to the volatility of building material costs, Sears couldn't keep up on the price info. As an alternate, they just stuck price sheets into the pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalog. See the Magnolia above? This shows the profound reduction in cost, in the Spring 1921 Sears catalog.

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The Magnolia had more than 2,900 square feet (as built). The first floor was pretty busy.

The Magnolia had more than 2,900 square feet (as built). The first floor was pretty busy.

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Heres a close-up of the kitchen

Here's a close-up of the kitchen area and butler's pantry. Notice that there''s a downstairs "lavatory." Pretty upscale for 1921.

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My favorite Magnolia. This one is in Benson, NC.

A picture-perfect Magnolia in Benson, NC.

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And this one is in Canton, Ohio.

And this one is in Canton, Ohio.

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The lumber in Sears Homes was numbered, as is shown in this graphic from the rear cover of the 1921 catalog.

The lumber in Sears Homes was numbered, as is shown in this graphic from the rear cover of the 1921 catalog. The mark is on one end of the lumber, and also on the face of it (typically about 6-8" from the end). "B" was for 2x4s, "C" was 2x6s, "D" was 2x8s.

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Heres a real life example of the marks.

Here's a real life example of the mark on the lumber.

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Mak

The Magnolia was also known as Modern Home #2089. If you look closely, you'll see the number 2089 scribbled on this 2x8. This is the basement of the Benson Magnolia. When the house was being prepared for shipment out of the mill in Cairo, Illinois, the model number was written on a few of the framing members. To the right is the name of the family that originally placed the order for this house.

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The Magnolia was offered with both Corinthian (as shown here) and Ionic columns. I havent figured out if this was an option, or if it was dependent on what year the house was ordered.

The Magnolia was offered with Ionic columns, but they're often replaced as they age. The Sears Magnolia's columns were wooden and hollow. Yet I've found that most "Southern Colonials" (with these two-story columns) have concrete columns. If you think you've found a Magnolia, go rap on the columns and if they're made of something other than hollow wood, then it is NOT a Magnolia.

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The entry hall of a Sears Magnolia in Irwin, PA.

The entry hall of a Sears Magnolia in Irwin, PA. The details matter. Notice over the door, there's an arched fan light. Many "look-alikes" have a square transom over the door. Learn how to pay attention to these many details.

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Noticee these very disctinctive windows on the Magnolia. Does the house youre looking at have these very samee windows? If not, its probably not a Sears Magnolia.

Notice these very distinctive windows on the Magnolia. Does the house you're looking at have these very same windows? If not, it's probably not a Sears Magnolia.

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If it dooesnt look like this, its not a Magnolia!  :0

If it doesn't look like this, it's not a Magnolia! :)

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Here's another example of a Magnolia (located in West Virginia).

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And another

And another beautiful Magnolia in Syracuase, NY. (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read another really awesome story on Sears Homes, click here.

My favorite blog (an interview with a man who built a Magnolia) is here.

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A Little Bit of Hollywood in Owaneco (Illinois)

November 25th, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

In February 2010, I traversed 2,500+ miles, driving throughout the Illinois hinterlands, seeking and finding Sears Homes.

I’m firmly convinced that we all entertain angels unawares (although sometimes, I suspect that it’s the angels that find me pretty entertaining). Before I start out on these jaunts, I always say a little prayer, asking for a bit of divine guidance.

Perhaps that’s how I came to land in Owaneco (a really tiny town). Turning onto the main drag (the only drag), I discovered this wonderful old Sears Hollywood. Yes, the house is a little tired but - the good news is - it’s in wonderfully original condition.

It’s been more than two years since I first posted these photos. Since then, the owners contacted me and said that they’re working hard to do a faithful restoration.

That’s always music to my ears!

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It was a gloomy day when I photographed this Sears Hollywood in Owaneco, but this is still one of my favorite photos from that trip.

It was a gloomy day when I photographed this Sears Hollywood in Owaneco, but this is still one of my favorite photos from that trip. This house is still solid and square and true.

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The original catalog image from 1919.

The original catalog image from 1919.

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This was a very spacious house.

This was a very spacious house. The living room alone was 406 square feet of living area. The house itself was almost 1,400 square feet. And it even had a sleeping porch on the back!

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The Hollywood was offered in two different styles.

The Hollywood was offered in two different styles. The house in Owaneco is the style shown in the lower right of the catalog page. I've reversed the image (as is shown directly underneath the home's actual photo). Sears plans could be "reversed" to take advantage of optimal lighting on the lot.

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Hol

According to the catalog, there are also Hollywoods in these cities!

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read another fascinating blog, click here.

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The Sears Avondale - and There’s One Hiding in Greeley, Colorado!

January 9th, 2012 Sears Homes 41 comments

Updated! To read the latest and see contemporary photos of the house, click here

There’s a Sears Avondale somewhere in Greeley, Colorado and that’s remarkable for two reasons.

One, Sears Homes aren’t that common in the “Far West” (as that area was known in the early 1900s), and two, of the 370 models offered by Sears Roebuck, the Avondale was one of their finest homes. The Avondale in Greeley was built by W. H. Senier, a member of one of the pioneer families of Greeley.

Scroll on down to see an actual photo (from 1916) of this Sears Avondale in Greeley.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Noothing like old photos

This photo first appeared in the 1912 Sears Modern Homes catalog. It's a great photo and you can see that - when built in 1910 or 1911, Mr. Senier's house had stained glass windows. This was an upgrade, and it's likely that the home's interior had some fancy upgrades as well.

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A clearer photo of the Avondale, from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

A clearer photo of the Avondale, from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

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This whouse

This "bungalow" was the Sears Avondale, replete with stained-glass windows.

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Nice inside, too.

Nice inside, too.

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And heres a real-life example in Effingham, IL.

And here's a real-life example in Effingham, IL.

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And one in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo is courtesy of Rachel Shoemaker, and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

And one in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo is courtesy of Rachel Shoemaker, and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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The best of both worlds: Large antenna mounted on Sears Avondale in Litchfield, Illinois

And a very fine Avondale in Litchfield, Illinois.

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And a two-story Avondale in Elmhurst, Illinois. This was built as an Avondale (one-story) and enlarged in later years.  Thanks to Rebecca Hunter for showing me this house. I couldnt have found it on a bet.

And a two-story Avondale in Elmhurst, Illinois. This was built as an Avondale (one-story) and enlarged in later years. Thanks to Dr. Rebecca Hunter for finding this house and showing it to me. I would have never have found it on my own.

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Catalog picture of the Sears Avondale

Catalog picture of the Sears Avondale from 1919.

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And the Avon

The Avondale was a popular house for years. It's shown here in the 1910 catalog.


If you’ve any idea where our Greeley Avondale might be lurking, please leave a comment!

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

To read about the results of Addie’s autopsy, click here. (Addie’s sister - Anna Hoyt Whitmore - lived in Denver for 50 years.)

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It’s Official: I’m Now A Ham!

February 26th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

In the mid-1980s, I saw the movie Testament, starring Jane Alexander and William Devane. The story is set in a fictitious town of Hamlin (near San Francisco), and tells the story of an average American family in a Norman Rockwell town. One moment, the kids are watching an afternoon show, waiting for Dad to get home so they can eat dinner. In the next moment, Mom and the kids see an emergency message pop up on the TV, warning of incoming ICBMs and a nuclear attack. There’s a flash of blinding light, and then the electricity and phone go dead.

“Testament” is a remarkable movie because there are no fireballs and no mushroom clouds in Hamlin. Neither people nor houses are damaged by the blast. Terrified neighbors pour out of their stately homes and into the street, trying to figure out what has just happened.  The people of Hamlin are cut off from the world, knowing nothing, except that a nuclear device has exploded - somewhere far away.

Before the sun sets on that first awful, post-nuclear day, the real hero of the story emerges. It’s the old man down the street, Henry Abhart, who has both a Ham radio and a small generator. In the gloaming, neighbors in the upper-middle class burg gather at his house. As they walk up the steps to his magnificent bungalow, we hear Henry in the background.

“CQ, CQ, CQ,” he says with in a voice that’s steady but urgent. “This is Whiskey Six Delta November calling. No, there’s no damage here, except all our transformers are knocked out.”

After a little more time at his Ham radio, Henry reports back to his anxious neighbors now cloistered in his living room.

Looking pensive, he reports, “Well, folks, so far I can’t raise Seattle, Portland, Sacramento or Southern California. San Francisco is silent. The entire Bay Area. North of us, now, they’re okay.”

“What about Chicago?” someone asks.

With great solemnity in his voice he replies, “So far, I can’t raise anything east of Keokuk, lowa.”

After a few more comments he adds, “We may be crippled, but we’re not cut off and we’re not dead.”

I’ve always remembered that scene. Thanks to an old man ensconced in a homemade Ham Shack in the corner of a California bungalow, people are not cut off from the rest of the world. It’s a powerful image.

The take-away message I gleaned from this powerful scene is this: Ham Radio Operators are the helpers. They’re the ones that have both the skills and the tools to keep us going when all the more modern and more complex (and more delicate) systems have failed. I believe that - in my lifetime - our country won’t suffer a nuclear event, but we may face natural disasters and severe storms and other communications-interrupting events. And when we do, the ability to communicate (which has the same root as the word “community”) will be an urgent need.

Saturday, February 26th, I sat for my “Technician’s” Ham Radio license, and to my delight (and incredulity), I passed the test, getting 33 out of 35 answers right.

It feels good to accomplish a long-cherished dream. It feels wonderful to learn a new skill. I look forward to learning how to “play” with a new-fangled, 21st Century Ham Radio. But it also feels mighty good to know that if there ever were an urgent need in my neck of the woods, I’m equipped and empowered to be “one of the helpers.”

To learn more about Ham Radio, click here.

To learn about Sears Homes, click here.

Updated!  To read more about my experiences with Ham Radio, check out Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V of this series.

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In the movie, Testament, the old Ham Radio operator Henry Abhart is the real hero of the show. I highly recommend this movie. Its now available on Amazon.

In the movie, "Testament," the old Ham Radio operator Henry Abhart is the real hero of the show. I highly recommend this movie. It's now available on Amazon.

The best of both worlds: Large antenna mounted on Sears Avondale in Litchfield, Illinois

The best of both worlds: Ham radio antenna mounted on Sears Avondale in Litchfield, Illinois. Nice house, too.

Catalog picture of the Sears Avondale

Catalog picture of the Sears Avondale

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Make Blocks For Fun and Profit with The Wizard Block-Making Machine

January 24th, 2011 Sears Homes 12 comments

In the first years of the 20th Century, cement was all the rage. And the idea of making your own cinder blocks (for fun and profit) apparently also became quite popular. In the early 1900s, the pages of American Carpenter and Builder (a building magazine from that era) were filled with advertisements for block-making machines and cement-stirring machines.

Sears offered the Wizard Block Making machine which retailed for $57.50 (a bargain at twice the price!). And Sears suggested that a man could save a lot of money on building a new home if he made his own blocks. Now if a man devoted himself to making nothing but blocks and if a man had someone else preparing the cement for pouring, he could make about one every two minutes. To do this, the poured cement was loaded into a form, pressed down, and then removed. The form was not removed until the concrete had hardened a bit. That meant if you were serious about making blocks, you had to have several forms on hand.

The ad below suggests that the block could be removed immediately from the form. I’d love to know if that was accurate. Having never made a block in the Sears Roebuck Wizard Block Making Machine, I can’t say for sure.

Sears estimated that 1,300 blocks were needed for the basement of The Chelsea (one of their kit homes). The Chelsea was a modest foursquare on a short cellar. If you devoted yourself to the creation of those blocks and really hustled, you’d need about five eight-hour days to do nothing but work like a dog making blocks. And that’s if he had someone else preparing the cement. That’s a lot of work.

When I give talks on Sears Homes, I get a surprising number of questions about the Wizard Block Making Machine. Apparently this labor-intensive, cinder-block maker was quite a popular item for Sears.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

The Wizard

The Wizard

The catalog extols the many virtures of The Wizard

The catalog extols the many virtures of The Wizard

More info on the many benefits of The Wizard

More info on the many benefits of The Wizard

In what looks like a backwards evolution graphic, a man demonstrates how to use the easy-to-use Wizard block-making machine.

In what looks like a backwards evolution graphic, a man demonstrates how to use the "easy-to-use" Wizard block-making machine.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn more about Rose’s book on Sears Homes, click here.

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