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Sears Catalog House, or Something Like it (Part II)

July 27th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

In my most recent blog, I talked about the fact that Hopewell’s “Collection of Sears Homes” (and I use that term loosely) was in the local news again.

At the end of that blog, I offered to help Hopewell sort through their historical chaff and find the wheat.

The fact is, at this point I’d be willing to donate my services (gratis), to help this small town (just outside of Richmond) get their Sears-home story straight. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this enticing offer may not be accepted.

A few years ago, I wrote a couple of letters and emails (yes, both) to some folks in Hopewell, making this same offer. I never heard a peep. Not a “Thanks, but no,” not a “we’re not interested,” or even a “Go to hell, Rosemary Thornton.”

Honestly, I would have preferred to hear something, rather than nothing.

In case anyone from Hopewell is reading this, I can tell you, I know a little something about Sears Homes. Here’s a short bio I use with the media:

Rose is the author of several books on early 20th Century kit homes. Rose and her work have been featured on PBS History Detectives, A&E’s Biography, CBS Sunday Morning News, MSNBC, NPR’s All Things Considered and BBC Radio. In print media, her story has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, L. A. Times, Dallas Morning News, Christian Science Monitor and more.

Sounds darn good, doesn’t it?

So what can I do to help Hopewell correct their boo-boos?

I don’t know.

In the meantime, below is the “re-do” of a blog that was a personal favorite of mine. The idea was the brainstorm of Rachel Shoemaker, who loves both music and kit homes, and found a delightful way to blend the two topics.

You can read Rachel’s wonderful blog here.

Here’s the ditty that will  help you learn more about correctly identifying houses.

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Ses

Here's a screen-shot of the Sesame Street ditty that tell us, "One of these things is not like the other." Its intent is to teach youngsters how to spot differences in similar items. Learning how to distinguish subtle differences in physical objects can be tough. Ever more so if you live in the small towns around Richmond (apparently).

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houses

Let's try it with houses now.

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One of the houses above is different from the others.

If you guessed the brick house with the metal casement windows, you’re right!

For some time, Hopewell was promoting a brochure (showcasing a driving tour of alleged kit homes in Crescent Hills neighborhood) that identified this brick house as a Sears Dover.

But oh noes!! That’s not a Sears Dover!

The other three houses (the three that look just alike) are the Sears Dover.

More recently, Hopewell has modified this statement and now claims that this brick house is a Sears Maplewood.

Let’s see how that works.

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Blue

Oh noes - AGAIN! One of these homes just doesn't belong! Which one is it? If you guessed the brick house, you're right! The other three homes are the Sears Maplewood.

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There's also the fact that the Sears Maplewood and Dover were never ever offered with metal casement windows. There's also the fact that this house was probably built after WW2. But hey, why let something like "historical fact" get in the way of a good story!

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maple

Here's a Sears Maplewood (1930 catalog).

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If you really think that the brick house above looks like a Sears Dover, I highly recommend the Sesame Street "Not like the other" series. It's helped many a lost soul find their way through the thickets of misidentified kit homes.

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Meanwhile, in Hopewell, they have a cache of rare and unusual Aladdin Homes (like the one above) and what is being done to promote those houses? Nothing. Unbelievable.

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To learn more about how to distinguish differences in certain objects, click here.

Thanks to Rebecca Hunter for the use of her photograph above (the blue Maplewood). You can visit Rebecca’s website here.

Visit Rachel’s website here.

Read about the bonanza of kit homes we found in Richmond!

If you’re from Hopewell, and you’d like to take up Rose on her offer, please leave a comment below.

If you’re not from Hopewell and you THINK they should take up Rose on her offer, please leave a comment below.

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Sears Catalog House or Something Like It (Hopewell, VA)

July 25th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

Last week, Hopewell was in the local news again, touting their Sears Homes. I’m not going to post a link to the article that appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch, because it was rife with errors.

I’m somewhat incredulous that a paper as prestigious as the Richmond Times Dispatch didn’t do some fact-checking before publishing this story.

The recording and publishing of history is such a sacred trust, and writers have a solemn charge to get the facts right, before sending this information into perpetuity.

And there’s this: I’ve been sought out and interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, BBC Radio, All Things Considered (PBS)  and more. I’ve been featured on PBS History Detectives, CBS Sunday Morning News, A&E’s Biography, and MSNBC.

It’s disheartening to know that a newspaper so close to home ran this article without seeking me out for a quote, or even asking me to help with the fact checking (which I would have gladly done).

Hopewell and I have a history.

When I visited Hopewell in 2003 (to give a talk), I was shown a small brochure touting 44 Sears Homes in Crescent Hills.

As mentioned in several other blogs (click here), Hopewell is mighty mixed up about what is, and what is not a kit house.

Of those 44 purported “Sears Homes” in Crescent Hills, only eight are the real deal, and frankly, it may not be eight. Some of those eight could well be plan book homes.

On that “list of 44,” this house (see below) was featured.

To read more about Hopewell, click here.

Many thanks to Rachel Shoemaker who successfully identified this house!

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Nice House

The brochure promoting the Hopewell Sears Homes stated that this was a Sears "Newbury." Ooh, nice try and thanks for playing. We have some lovely parting gifts for you.

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Ruh

The Hopewell brochure states that it looks JUST LIKE a Newbury, except for the "sloping roof, full width dormer, extra windows and round columns." Good grief, if that's our criteria I could say that my dog Teddy looks like just like a Sears Magnolia.

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House

Except for the absence of a hip roof, full width windows, round columns and cypress wood, these two dwelling places are stunningly similar. You'll note that the subject on the right also does not have ears or fur, but both of these items could have easily been removed during an earlier remodeling.

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Newbury

Sears Newbury, from the 1936 catalog.

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compare

Wow, look at this! The house on the left is in Illinois and it actually LOOKS like a Newbury!

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compare

Ruh Roh. These don't look anything alike!

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Monticello

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker, we now know that this house in Hopewell came from "Standard Homes Plans" (1923, 1928 and 1929). You may notice that THIS looks a lot like the house in Hopewell!

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Montie

In fact, "The Monticello" is on the cover of the catalog! What a beauty!

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Wow

And lookie here. It is a very fine match!

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Big and fancy

Did anyone from Hopewell ever go into this house and compare the interior layout? If so, I hope the homeowner gave their seeing-eye dog a tasty biscuit. The floor plan for the Monticello is radically different from the Sears Newbury (shown directly below). And the Monticello is 50% bigger. These details matter.

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What

The Newbury is a modest, simple house (1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

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If you dont love this house, theres something wrong with you!

According to the text in the ad, if you don't love the Monticello, there's something seriously wrong with you!

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It’d really be swell if Hopewell would invite me back to do a thorough and proper survey. I would be more than happy to get the facts right and help them create a new brochure.

In fact, I really wish they’d give it a go. It’s time to make this right.

To learn more about Hopewell, click here.

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

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A *Beautifully* Original Magnolia in South Bend - For Sale!

June 12th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

For many years, I’ve wondered what it would be like to see a Magnolia in original condition.

Now, I know.

The Sears Magnolia in South Bend was recently listed for sale, and the Realtor kindly sent me a few pictures.

It can be described in one word:  STUNNING.

Or maybe two:  Original!

These photos give us a rare opportunity to step back in time almost 100 years, and see what the Sears Magnolia looked like when built.

If I was queen of the world (and it shouldn’t be long now), I’d insist that the potential buyers of this rare, historically significant home be required to do a proper, thoughtful and historically sensitive restoration (which is radically different from a remodeling). I’d demand that they find a way to preserve the home’s original features.

As my buddy Bill Inge says, “The first commandment of preservation is, ‘Thou shalt not destroy good old work.’”

The 3,895-square foot home is listed at $320,000. Situated on 1/3 of an acre, it has four bedrooms, three full bathrooms and two half-baths. The listing says it was built in 1927, but we know that that’s not right. The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922.

This house is a rare treasure. I hope its next owners “catch” the vision and see what a remarkable property it really is.

Ready to see some photos? You should get ready to be dazzled!

To buy this fine old house, click here.

To learn more about the history of the Sears Magnolia kit home, click here.

Interested in reading more about how these homes were built? Click here.

All photos are copyright Steve Matz, 2014.

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The Sears Magnolia is now for sale in South Bend, IN.

The Sears Magnolia is now for sale in South Bend, IN.

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The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Mag

The Magnolia in South Bend is remarkable because it's in original condition.

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A view from the inside.

A view from the inside.

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house

This Magnolia still retains its original mouldings and trim but the inglenook and columns are not in place. It's possible that the house was built without these built-ins.

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I suspect that this is the fireplace in the den.

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The den (right rear) was very small (only 8'9" deep). It's unusual to see the den in its original shape and size. It's also unusual to see a house from this vintage with a half-bath on the first floor (next to the den).

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The Realtor had the good sense to photograph the staircase from the same angle as the original catalog image!

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hfhfhf

Nice match, isn't it? Check out the French doors at the rear - both upper and lower level.

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Nice, huh? :D

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The best

There's something about these old nooks that just makes my heart skip a beat.

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This is the very best picture of all. And perhaps the home's finest feature: A built-in nook, completely untouched by time, with the original tile floor, white hexagonal tiles with a blue flower center. This pattern is a classic feature found in early 20th Century Sears Homes. You can see the three original wooden windows behind the nook.

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Fun comparison, isn't it? It's so rare to see these nooks still in place.

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Another incredible feature is that

Not only does this house have its original Butler's Pantry, but it has the original sink, wooden surround and fixture. This house is such a rare find, and to think that it's a Sears Magnolia!

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And it just gets better. Upstairs, just off the Master Bedroom, the dressing room, is the original sink, light fixtures and oak cabinetry - unpainted!

Upstairs, just off the Master Bedroom, is a surprisingly large dressing room. The fact that even the dressing room is original is a real testament to the home's prior owners, who had the wisdom to follow the #1 rule: "Thou shalt not destroy good old work." And this cabinetry was incredibly good work. In the corner, is the Magnolia's original sink, light fixtures and medicine chest - unpainted! If you look closely, you'll see the original cabinet pulls.

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house

It's true that I am nutty as a fruitcake, but seeing this century-old Magnolia - wholly untouched by time - sends me. Original sink, original fixtures, original medicine chest, and an original light fixture (porcelain sconce). Just incredible. I'm a big fan of old plumbing but I've never seen a three-sided sink before.

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Close-up of the upstairs floorplan, showing that small sink in the dressing room.

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And the sunporch has its original wooden casement windows.

And the sunporch has its original wooden casement windows.

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A view from the upstairs 2nd floor balcony.

A view from the upstairs 2nd floor balcony.

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To buy this fine old house, click here.

Interested in learning more about the Sears Magnolia? Click here.

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The True Origins of the Sears Magnolia

February 10th, 2014 Sears Homes 5 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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Belfast, Bucksport, and Bad Information

January 6th, 2014 Sears Homes 12 comments

Generally speaking, I’m a lukewarm fan of Wikipedia but when it comes to kit houses, I really have grown weary of this online “encyclopedia.” So much of the information is just not accurate, and yet it’s trusted by too many people as a rock-solid resource.

Frustrating!

One ongoing disappointment Wikipedia is the information on the “neighborhood of Sears Homes” in Bucksport, Maine.  According to this page, “The entire town site of Bucksport consists of Sears Homes in the Belfast Model.”

Oh dear.

I actually feel sorry for the poor soul who penned that. And I wish there was a way to correct such egregious information, but I’ve washed my hands of Wikipedia. Everytime I log in to make corrections to the wiki site, it’s edited away within hours by some “expert” who thinks he/she knows better.

So, scroll on down and take a look for yourself at one of these so-called “Belfast Models” in Bucksport.

Oh, and by the way, the build date for the “Belfasts” in that neighborhood is 1930. Ding, ding, ding: The Belfast was not offered for sale until 1934.

That single fact right there is pretty compelling evidence.

Secondly, the houses in Bucksport look nothing like the Belfast model. But hey - why let facts get in the way of a good story?  :)

How is it that this is such a common mistake? Click here to see the answer.

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

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The Belfast was not offered until 1934. The houses in Bucksport were built in 1930.

The Belfast was not offered until 1934. The houses in Bucksport were built in 1930.

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Darling little house

Darling little house with a good floor plan, too.

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Upstairs, it had three

Upstairs, it had three bedrooms and one teeny tiny bath.

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I love

Maybe this is where that nutty rumor started? A bit of The Belfast was patterend after The Perkins House, built in Costine, Maine in 1769 (second parargraph in text above).

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When comparing houses, the details are vital. I cant stress this enough. Sears was not an innovated in anything, most of all, housing design. They looked at what was popular and copied those housing styles.

When comparing houses, the details are vital. I can't stress this enough. Sears was not an innovated in anything, most of all, housing design. They looked at what was popular and copied those housing styles.

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Heres a real life Belfast in Elkins, West Virginia.

Here's a real life Belfast in Elkins, West Virginia. It's been through some major renovations including new windows, aluminum siding and those pediments added to the top of the door and windows, but the proportions are spot on. I've not been inside this house, but I'd say there's a 98% chance that this is a Sears Belfast.

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This house in Bucksport is NOT a Sears Belfast.

This house in Bucksport is NOT a Sears Belfast. The Belfast is a mere 24-feet wide. This house is probably 32-feet wide (or more). The proportions are also way off. And look at the space between the 2nd floor windows and the first floor windows. This house probably has nine or ten foot first floor ceilings. The Belfast has eight foot ceilings. The Sears Belfast and the Bucksport Houses are wildly different from one another.

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To learn more about the many Sears Homes in Elkins, West Virginia, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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There Are Some Things Better Than Sears Homes…

December 27th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

This Christmas, my newlywed daughter came to Virginia for a visit, and as a lovely bonus, she brought along her new husband (Levi) and her four-year-old stepson, “Ollie.”

Ollie is a darling little boy and while they were here, our house saw more activity and busy-ness than I think it’s ever seen before.

And I loved every minute of it.

When they pulled into our driveway at 2:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, Levi opened the back door of the Family Truxter and there was little Ollie, sitting patiently in his car seat. He caught a glimpse of me standing in the driveway and in the sweetest little voice, he exclaimed, “There’s Gwandma Wose!”

It brought tears to my eyes.

Cleaning up the house today has been tough, and I’ve felt myself tear up a few times. Under the couch, I found a handful of sea shells that we gathered during our walk by the seashore, and on a desk in the living room, I found the little stuffed dog that Auntie Crystal gave him. I put away the books “Pop” read to him and I discovered a toy left behind in the bathtub.

I can’t face the spare bedroom yet, where I tucked him into bed Monday night and read him several books.

There in the semi-dark room, between stories, he reached out and held my hand and said, “I love you, Grandma Rose.” I told him, “I love you more,” and he replied, “I love you more, too.”

I was falling asleep by the fifth book when he said (in a very serious voice), “I think you should go get into your own bed.”

The little family packed up their little car and returned to St. Louis Thursday and the house is so quiet that it is unnerving.

As my wise friend Janet LaMonica told me last month when my daughter got married, “Rosemary, years ago I learned, there is no such thing as ’step-grandchildren.”

Janet was right.

It may take a few days before I’m ready to write about old houses again. Somehow, they just don’t seem as important right now.

And now it’s time to check out those airfares to St. Louis…

:)

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Christmas this year was an extra-important time, b

Christmas this year was extra special, because it was to be Ollie's first Christmas with us.

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And Ollie loved his little car!

And Ollie loved his little electric car!

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Ollie

The little car has a little horn which works well in these situations. Father is trying to protect Pop's big truck from an accident caused by a little driver. BTW, those little headlights light up.

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none

Corey and Auntie Crystal watch from a safe distance. The family Truxter sits in the driveway. When Ollie rode past us, we all paid special attention to our toes! That little car is heavy!

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There were also dogs involved. Ollie loves dogs even more than he loves cars! He ran up on the front porch trying to catch Roxey (our neighbors labradoodle). Roxey saw him coming and made a run for it.

There were also dogs involved. Ollie loves dogs even more than he loves cars! He ran up on the front porch trying to catch "Roxey" (our neighbor's labradoodle). Roxey saw him coming and made a run for it.

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The Family Truxter all packed up and headed back to the Alton area.

The Family Truxter all packed up and headed back to the Alton area.

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To read one of my favorite blogs, click here.

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Bob Beckel’s Christmas Crescent

December 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

Friday night, Milton and I turned on the television and saw “The Five” (talk show on Fox News, with five commentators, including Bob Beckel).  Within 30 seconds, the program showed a picture of Bob Beckel’s house, and I exclaimed to Milton, “Oh my goodness. It’s a Sears Crescent!”

Sure enough, after I got a close look, I saw it was a Christmas Crescent.

What is a Sears house? Sears homes were 12,000-piece kit houses, and each kit came with a a 75-page instruction book. Sears promised that “a man of average abilities” could have it assembled in 90 days. The instruction book offered this somber warning: “Do not take anyone’s advice on how this house should be assembled.” The framing members were marked with a letter and a three-digit-number to facilitate construction. Today, these marks can help authenticate that a house is a kit home.

Searching for these homes is like hunting for hidden treasure. From 1908-1940, about 70,000 Sears Homes were sold, but in the 1940s, during a corporate housecleaning, Sears destroyed all sales records. The only way to find these homes is literally one-by-one.

Or one television show at a time.  :)

At some point, the classic Crescent windows in Mr. Beckel’s house were discarded and replaced (and that’s a real pity) but the house does have its original cypress clapboards. The small shed dormer was probably added later, but it *might* have been original to the house. There was some usable space on the 2nd floor, and dormers are a frequent addition to the Sears Crescent.

Mr. Beckel, did you know you have a Sears house? If you’re like 90% of Americans, you did NOT know - until now!

To read more about the Sears Crescent, click here.

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Bob Beckels house, all decked out for the holidays.

Bob Beckel's house, all decked out for the holidays. Although it's barely visible in this photo, at the top of the porch's arch, you can see a faint triangle there. This is one of the classic signs of a Sears Crescent.

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Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Judging by the placement of the fireplace, Mr. Beckels house is a

This photo shows that triangle on the porch's peak more clearly. And notice the three large columns on the corners of the porch. All classic Crescent features. And it has its original siding!

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Flippped

The Crescent was offered from 1918-1928. Image above is from the 1928 catalog. Note the unusual windows, the triangle in the porch's peak, and the three columns. That massive porch is its most distinctive feature.

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RaleighThe dormers were original to this Crescent in Raleigh, NC.

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A darling

A darling little Crescent in Wheeling, WV, sitting like a jewel atop the hill.

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One of my favorite Crescents in Bloomington, IL.

One of my favorite Crescents in Bloomington, IL. It still has the original lattice work, as shown in the catalog images. And like Mr. Beckel's house, it has the optional fireplace.

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In 1928

In 1928, the "super-sized Crescent" (as Mr. Beckel has) was a mere $2,195. The larger floorplan is shown in the upper right. The 2nd floor layout is on the lower right.

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This testimonial

Jerome Kelly from an unnamed city really loves his little Crescent.

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To learn more about the Sears Crescent (with interior views), click here.

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

Are there more kit homes in Beckel’s neighborhood of Brookmont? Without a doubt. There was a Sears Modern Homes Sales Center nearby, and these were only placed in communities where sales were already strong. Plus, sales went way up after one of these retail stores was opened in the area.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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The Eighth Magnolia - and - It’s In West Virginia (Part II)

August 25th, 2013 Sears Homes 8 comments

Yesterday, I blogged about the beautiful Sears Magnolia in West Virginia. And it is a beauty. (Read about it here.)

Today, I’d like to show off the interior of this wonderful old house.

First, a little history. The home’s owner believes - based on his research - that the house was built in late 1924 or early 1925. A reminiscence from a former neighbor puts the build date in the same time period. This jibes with the county tax record as well (which shows 1925), but tax records are notoriously unreliable on construction dates.

To be honest, when I first heard that this house was built in 1924, I was a little incredulous. The Sears Magnolia was first offered in the 1918 Sears Modern Home catalog, and its last appearance was in the 1922 catalog.

Was it really possible that this Magnolia was purchased in 1924 or later?

In the basement of this glorious Eighth Magnolia, the owner showed me an old pedestal sink in the family bathroom (second floor). On its underside was a casting date of November 6, 1923. If this is the original sink (and based on what I saw, it probably is), then this kit house was shipped to West Virginia sometime after January 1924.

These “Modern Homes” catalogs that Sears distributed far and wide did not automatically self-destruct when the year ended. It’s altogether possible that the Magnolia’s original owner had been studying a 1918-1922 catalog for some time, and took a fancy to the Magnolia. He may not have realized that this model wasn’t offered after 1922.

Other than some post-war hyperinflation, the prices for building materials in the first three decades of 20th Century were relatively stable.

According to the neighbor’s reminiscence, the Magnolia cost $7,000 to purchase and another $7,000 to build.

It’s entirely plausible that the Magnolia sold for “about” $7,000 in 1924, especially with the upgrades that were offered with this house. (See price sheet further down this page.)

And if Sears Roebuck had a few old Magnolias hanging around the warehouse, I’m sure they would have been thrilled to unload them in 1924 or even beyond. And if they had most of one Magnolia ready to go, but it was missing a few parts, they could have easily milled those pieces to complete the kit.

In fact, if they did not do any milling or cutting until after an order was placed, it would also been fairly simple for Sears to fulfill an order from a two-year-old catalog.

In conclusion, is it possible this Magnolia wasn’t ordered until 1924 or 1925?

In a word, yes!

Enjoy the photos below! And if you know of a Sears Magnolia, send me a note!

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The Magnolia appeared on the cover of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog. These specialty catalogs were pricey to create, publish and ship, shipped to customers on request, and were not discarded when the year passed.

The Magnolia appeared on the cover of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog. These specialty catalogs were expensive to create, publish and ship. Sears did not send out new catalogs each year to last years' customers. (There was a lot less waste in the world a scant 80 years ago.) These catalogs were shipped out upon request. And they were not automatically discarded when the year passed. In fact, 90+ years later, many of these catalogs are still kicking around (as is evidenced by activity at eBay).

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house

Lisa Tabor (owner of the Magnolia in Syracuse, NY) graciously shared this image with me. She has the original blueprints for her Magnolia, framed and hanging in the entry foyer. This picture shows that her blueprints were drawn on March 25, 1921 for the home's buyer, Mr. Edward Knapp. This is for a house that was first offered in the Spring of 1918. If the blueprints were individually drafted for every Magnolia, it would be very easy for Sears to offer the Magnolia in later years. Photo is is copyright 2013 Lisa Tabor and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house house price

I've taken this price sheet (1921 catalog) and sliced the horizontal info into two segments so the print won't be so tiny. The hot water heating plant alone would add $921 to the price. Add in some plumbing ($622) and oil shades ($106) and that's another $738. In 1922, the Magnolia was offered for $5,849. That, plus the heat, plumbing and shades takes you to $7,498.

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house house house

Here's your chance to peak in the windows of the Magnolia! (Image is from the Ladies' Home Journal, 2/1911.)

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Reception Hall

As mentioned, everything in this house is picture-perfect. Every room is gorgeous and well-appointed and beautifully decorated. The entry hall is flanked by french doors leading to the living room (right) and dining room (left). The oak floors were replaced several years prior. Pulling off a floor vent, I found four layers: The original diagonal planking (subfloor), original tongue and groove oak floors, a layer of 3/8" plywood and it was topped with tongue and groove white oak floors. That's more than 2" of solid flooring. This house could double as a bomb shelter.

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house house house house

The fan lite over the front door has lead muntins, not wooden, but they're probably original. The catalog image for the Magnolia shows wooden muntins (all four years), and yet the Magnolias in Canton, Ohio and Lincoln, Nebraska have the lead muntins. Was this an optional upgrade? Or a clue to when it was built? I'd love to know!

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Living Room

The living room fireplace doesn't match the fireplace mantel shown in the catalog, and yet it's a perfect match to the mantel shown in the pictures of the Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska.

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Close-up on the fireplace. The marble (surrounding the opening) was added. The hearth is also marble and not original. When built, it had a brick hearth and brick flanking the opening.

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living room view

These french doors lead to a spacious sunporch. Note the many sconces.

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Detail of the "ingleneuk" (or "inglenook") as we Americans are wont to say). Cozy, practical AND historic!

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house living room

As mentioned earlier, every corner of this house looks like something out of glossy magazine. The french doors and hardware are either original or an accurate reproduction.

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beautiful LF

Another view of the Magnolia's living room.

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fake transom

A common feature found throughout the Magnolia is what I call, "the fake transom." I've never seen anything like this in any other Sears House. At first blush, you'd think this was a transom that had been filled in, but in fact, the house was built this way by design.

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house house house

A view from the living room into the foyer and dining room.

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Dining Room

There are a lot of windows in this dining room. In fact, I had a time getting the lighting right.

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Wayne Ringer admires

Hubby admires the beautiful windows in the dining room. God bless the folks who restored this house several years ago - they saved the original wooden windows!

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dining room

Close-up of the intricate moldings and millwork.

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chance to peak in the windows

A view from the dining room.

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A view from the landing. When built, those spindles were stained with varnish to match the banister.

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In the floorplan, a pair of french doors lead out to a small balcony on the home's rear. It seems likely this house was built with the windows in place of the french doors.

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Laundry

The original door to the third floor (attic) was in the home's main hallway, but was moved around the corner to the small hallway that leads to the family bathroom. This was another very smart move, as it took out a landing and a tight 90-degree turn on that narrow attic staircase. Shown above is the doorway to the linen closet (next to the family bathroom). In the 1950s, a small shower stall was added to the bathroom, and that took out 90% of the depth in this linen closet, leaving only the small space you see above. This was turned into a laundry chute , which is also a thoughtful design. If you study the floorplan (shown further down), this all becomes clear.

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house house house house

The floorplan shows these built-in cabinets in the master bedroom dressing room. Inside these cabinets are a "special shelf" for hats. In 1924 (or 25), there was a small cast-iron pedestal sink in the corner.

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house on sink on dressing room

The walls on the dressing room have this faux subway tile. In fact, it's plaster that's been etched with lines and topped with a piece of trim. This was commonly used in bathrooms of the late 1910s and early 20s. I'm not sure why they used it in the dressing area.

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much discussed sink

If you look at the floorplan, you'll see that this corner of the dressing room shows a small sink. Seems like an odd spot for a sink! To the left of the picture, you'll see door trim, which is the right edge of the door that leads out to the second-floor balcony (on the front). Curious placement!

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In the other dressing room

If you had x-ray vision, you could look through this wall (shown above) and see the exact same sink on the other side of the wall. With all the plumbing (supply lines and drain) just inside the wall, adding another sink on the other side was pretty easy. This sink (shown above) is underneath one of the little windows that flanks the second-floor balcony on the home's front. It sits inside a spacious walk-in closet in the other front bedroom. This sink has been added, and the medicine chest shown here was originally on the OTHER side of the wall. It was moved here for reasons I can't begin to understand.

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Attic is

As per the original floor plan, there is a permanent staircase to the attic, behind a door off the second-floor hallway. This attic was finished off and (like the rest of the house) is in beautiful condition. This dormer window is on the front of the house, and you can see a piece of the porch balcony (on the roof) through the small window.

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kitchen

The original kitchen stopped at the end of that tall cabinet in the right of the picture. The entire 40-foot expanse of the back of the Magnolia was enlarged by about 10-feet, which dramatically increased the floor space of the kitchen. In addition. the interior staircase (which lead from the kitchen to the servant's quarters) was also removed which added about four feet of width to the Magnolia's kitchen.

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more kitchen

The kitchen, as seen from the Butler's pantry.

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den fireplace

The den in the Magnolia was a mere eight feet deep. Pretty miserable. The 40-foot wide addition across the back of the Magnolia opened up the den quite a bit, too. The original fireplace was replaced with a new masonry fireplace which was added on to the existing firebox. Notice the depth of the wall beside the fireplace.

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butler pantry original

Incredibly, the butler's pantry is mostly original.

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Butler Pantry 2

Base cabinets in the butler's pantry.

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FP2

Study this floorplan for a bit and you'll soon figure out all the changes that were made to the West Virginia Magnolia.

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two

The second floor is pretty darn busy. Check out the sink in the dressing room and you'll see how easy it'd be add another sink to the closet in the other front bedroom.

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finding marked lumber in the basement wasnt easy. most of it was covered. dark with coal dust.

Finding marked lumber in the basement proved a bit difficult. Most of the basement was finished, and there were only a few places were framing members were accessible, such as this space above the old coal bin. Secondly, the basement has a ceiling height of nine feet, so we were looking way over our heads! Looking at this piece, I thought I saw a number, but the wood was so dark it was tough to be sure. Do you see the number?

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Wiped it down

The homeowner had two great ideas. One, he fetched us a small step ladder so we could get a little closer to the lumber. He also suggested we take a rag and wipe off the coal dust. Voilà! Now we're trying to figure out if that's a "C" or a "G"! We know that the Magnolia was also offered as a "plan," so finding these marked beams was a nice affirmation that this was "the whole kit and caboodle".

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Attic markings

In the knee walls of the attic, I also spotted a mark!

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attic markings close

It appears to say "A 155."

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Maggy in the snow

The Magnolia's owner sent me a photo of his beautiful house, taken last year during a West Virginia snow storm. It's almost too perfect to be real. For my next birthday, I think I'd like a cake done up to look just like this.

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The Magnolia as it appeared in the 1922 catalog.

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Beautiful from every angle.

Many thanks to the homeowner for allowing me to spend two glorious hours at his beautiful home, examining it from top to bottom. If a mother was allowed to have favorites, this would be one of my favorite homes. :)

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Of the eight known Magnolias in the country, three of them were discovered via comments left at this blog. That’s 37% of the Maggies being discovered thanks wholly to the readers (”bird dogs”) reporting on their finds.

So the most important question of the day is, where’s the ninth Magnolia?

Do tell!

To contact Rose, leave a comment below.

To read Part I of this blog, click here.

To read a fascinating story about a 94-year-old man that recalled building a Magnolia in Canton, click here.

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The Sears Magnolia in “The Notebook” (Sheesh!)

July 8th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

Some rumors just never die.

There’s a persistent (and false) rumor making the rounds that beautiful Neo-Classical Revival home featured in “The Notebook,” is a Sears Magnolia.

Nope.

Not even close.

Not even close.

Let’s go right to the photos.

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Black River

The house featured in "The Notebook" is the Black River Plantation House in Georgetown County (South Carolina). It is a beauty, but it's not a Sears House. And yes, I'm 100% certain. :) The photo above is from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History (Black River Plantation House, front elevation).

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Benson

Here's the real deal: A Sears Magnolia in Benson, NC.

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Comparison

Now let's compare them side-by-side. At first glance, both homes have four walls, a roof, two-story columns and some windows. But that's where it stops. The Black River Plantation (on the left) has that massive front-gable atop that porch. The window arrangement on the non-Magnolia house is also quite different. And Black River Plantation is much larger than the Sears Magnolia. And look at how tall the Black River Plantation is! Notice how much space exists between those second-floor windows and the roofline. Those are important details. If you still think these houses are identical, drop me a note and I'll send some biscuits for your seeing-eye dog. The photo on the left is from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History (Black River Plantation House, front elevation).

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Heres a catalog picture of the Sears Magnolia (1920).

Here's a catalog picture of the Sears Magnolia (1920).

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Heres the authenticated Magnolia in Benson, NC.

Here's the authenticated Magnolia in Benson, NC.

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Heres a color photo of the Black River Plantation.

Here's a color photo of the Black River Plantation. Again, notice how much space there is between the first and second floors, and the second and third floors. It is a stunningly beautiful house, isn't it? (Photo is copyright 2008 Brandon Coffey and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Oh my!

Oh my! The Black River Plantation doesn't look like this, does it?

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Where did this nutty rumor get started? Apparently, here (see below). In 1994, the Black River Plantation was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Note the highlighted text below.

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In 1994,

The author wrote that it's possible that Waddell "utilized one of these sources" (kit homes or plan book home). Well, I can't rule out plan books, but I can rule out "kit house." The Black River Plantation is most assuredly not a kit house. Of that, I am sure. At least they admitted that it was definitely NOT a kit home from Montgomery Ward.

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And don’t get me started on the “Honor Built Homes marketed…during the late 19th Century…”

Whew boy!

In all fairness, not as much was known then (in 1994) as is known now about Sears kit homes. However, this pernicious rumor - that the house featured in The Notebook is a Sears Magnolia - seems to have taken on a life of its own.

On a happier note, look at some pictures of real Magnolias here.

And if you know of any REAL Magnolias, please leave a comment.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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The Fulton: A Thoroughbred

February 28th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

The Fulton appeared only in the 1939 and 1940 Sears Modern Homes catalog (which were identical). Sears Homes offered in the 1930s are hard to find, and Sears Homes offered only in the late 1930s are well-nigh impossible to find, and yet, one of the faithful readers of this blog found what appears to be a Sears Fulton in Massachusetts!

Now that’s remarkable!

And, 1940 was the last year of the Sears Modern Homes program. It was shut down once and for all (after a temporary closure in 1935), and all sales records were destroyed, as was the other ephemera (catalogs, blueprints, manuals, etc).

The Fulton was an elegant home, and yet it was a mere 1,250 square feet. The enclosed front porch looks almost like an afterthought, but in fact, it was original to the home. Have you seen a Fulton in your neck of the woods? If so, please send me a photo!

Sadly, amongst the 50,000 photos on my computer, I neglected to note the name of the wonderful and kind soul who sent this photo along, so if you’re the person who so graciously supplied this photo, please drop me a note and give me your name?

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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The Fulton was offered only in the 1939/1940 Sears Modern Homes catalogs, which were identical.

The Fulton was offered only in the 1939/1940 Sears Modern Homes catalogs.

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Interesting house

Fortunately, the Fulton has many distinctive features, such as this oversized center chimney, modest cornice returns on the house, and a shed roof on the foyer. The details around the foyer would be the first thing to catch my eye.

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Are they describing Secretariat or a house?

Are they describing Secretariat or a house?

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The first floor

The first floor shows a very simple floorplan.

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2nd

2nd floor has two teeny tiny bedrooms, one good size bedroom and one bath.

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house

The Fulton, as seen in the 1939/1940 catalog.

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My notes say that this house is in Massachusetts, but I neglected to retain the name of the kind soul who sent me this photo. Please contact me if that was YOU, as Id like to give proper attribution.

My notes say that this house is in Massachusetts, but I neglected to retain the name of the kind soul who sent me this photo. Please contact me if that was YOU, as I'd like to give proper attribution. BEAUTIFUL photo, by the way!!

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Details around the front porch

Details around the front foyer make this house easy to identify.

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

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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