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Staunton, Virginia: More Amazing Finds

May 3rd, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

A couple days ago (May 1st),  I returned to Staunton to do a little more research on the kit homes in the city (in preparation for my talk on May 2nd), and this time, I was driven around by Frank Strassler, head of the Historic Staunton Foundation. It’s a lot easier to focus on kit homes when someone else is doing all the driving, and especially when that someone else knows where they’re going!

We found many kit homes that I’d not seen during a prior visit, and the most intriguing find was the four Harris Brothers kit homes we discovered. Frankly, I suspect there are more than four HB houses in Staunton, but I’m not that familiar with this company and, I have very few of their catalogs.

Harris Brothers (formerly the Chicago House Wrecking Company) was based in Chicago, Illinois. How did four Harris Brothers houses end up in Staunton? And three of them were in the same neighborhood (Sears Hill).

Hopefully, some of Staunton’s history loving residents will poke around a bit more, because I’m sure there are many more hidden architectural treasures just waiting to be found.

And, a little aside:   My favorite memory of the lecture on Thursday evening? I asked the crowd (128 attendees!), “Before there was a World War Two, does anyone know what we called World War One?”

To my utter delight and astonishment, a cacophony of voices replied, “The Great War.”

It was sheer bliss to realize that I was surrounded by so many history lovers. In all my travels, there’s typically a lone voice (or less), that correctly answers that question. The people of Staunton really do love their history, and better yet, they know their history, and that’s such a joy to behold.

To read the first blog I wrote about Staunton’s kit homes, click here.

OOOH, an update! Read about my newest find in Staunton here!

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First, my favorite find in Staunton.

First, my favorite find in Staunton. Shown above is Modern Home #2028 from the 1923 Harris Brothers catalog (courtesy of Dale Wolicki).

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Now thats a big house!

It looks like a massive house, but in fact, it's 22 feet wide and 29 feet deep.

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Originally, I snapped this photo just because it seemed like a good idea. Sometimes, something will trigger a memory, and I didnt consciously remember having seen this house, and yet...

Originally, I snapped this photo just because it seemed like a good idea. Sometimes, something will trigger a memory, and I didn't consciously remember having seen this house, and yet, when I got back to my hotel and started going through the old catalogs, I realized it was a perfect match to the Harris Brothers #2028!

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Pretty

And, as a nice bonus, I even managed to snap my one photo from the perfect angle! Though not easily seen in the photo above, the house in Staunton has the two bay windows, just as it should!

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The other three Harris Brothers homes were in one neighborhood: Sears Hill. Shown above is Modern Home #1017 from the 1923 Harris Brothers catalog (courtesy of Dale Wolicki).

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The HB 1017, as seen in 1923.

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And here's the 1017 in Staunton! Look at the unique window arrangement on the home's front. And check out those unique columns, and the bracketing under the eaves. It was tough to get a good photo, but the little attic window is also a spot-on match to the catalog page. The house is 24 feet' wide and 36 feet deep. The dimensions of this house (shown above) seem to be a good match! The line drawings (from the original catalogs) are sometimes a little bit off in scale and proportion.

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If you look down the side, youll see its a good match there, too.

If you look down the side, you'll see it's a good match there, too. BTW, Staunton is very hilly, and I learned that it's tough to get good house photos in hilly neighborhoods! And, the angle skews the proportions. Short of carrying a 20-foot stepladder around on top of the Camry, I'm not sure how to solve this.

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HB # 1025 was another "favorite" find for me, and yet another kit home that I'd never seen before. From the 1923 Harris Brothers catalog (courtesy of Dale Wolicki).

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HB # 1025 was another favorite find for me, and yet another kit home that Id never seen before.

HBClose-up of HB #1025. From the 1923 Harris Brothers catalog (courtesy of Dale Wolicki).

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At the lower right of that catalog page (seen above), is an actual photo of a HB #1025. This photo shows off those beautiful six casement windows on the front.

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Be still my heart!!! Heres a real life example

What a fine house! Here's a real life example of HB #1025. And look at those pretty casement windows! Were it not for those original windows, I'm not sure I would have recognized this 90-year-old kit home.

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Another view of those wonderful old casements. By the way, apparently this house is for sale. Someone should contact the owner and let them know - this is a kit house!

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Close-up of the porch columns.

Close-up of the porch columns. And this house still has its original gutters.

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HB #1007 was one of their more popular designs, however... It's also a house that has several "twins." Given that Staunton's #1007 is within three houses of the other two HB homes, I'm going to assume that the model in Staunton is indeed from Harris Brothers.

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Nice house, isnt it?

Nice house, isn't it? Love the rocking chairs!

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Stauntons own HB #1017.

Staunton's own HB #1017.

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While we were out driving around, I also spotted a Sears Woodland. The Woodland is an eye-catcher because it has those two full-sized windows flanking the front door.

While we were out driving around, I also spotted a Sears Woodland. The Woodland is an eye-catcher because it has those two full-sized windows flanking the front door. And it has an unusual window arrangement down the right side (as shown here). This image is from the 1919 catalog.

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The small attic dormer is missing but other than that, this is a great match. Due to landscaping, I was not able to get a good photo of that right side, but it does match the catalog image.

The small attic dormer is missing but other than that, this is a great match. Due to landscaping, I was not able to get a good photo of that right side, but it does match the catalog image. Was the house built sans dormer, or was it removed during a roofing job? Hard to know, but I'd guess that it was built this way. And, this house is next door to the big Harris Brothers foursquare (#2028).

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Another fun discovery on this most recent trip was the Sears Winona in Staunton.

Another fun discovery on this most recent trip was the Sears Winona in Staunton (1938 catalog).

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This house was offered in two floorplans (in 1938). The floorplan shown here is a match to the house in Staunton.

This house was offered in two floorplans (in 1938). The floorplan shown here is a match to the house in Staunton. It squeezes three bedrooms into 960 square feet.

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Close-up on the Winona.

A key feature in identifying this very simple house is the small space between those two windows in the gabled bay (dining room).

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What a nice match!

What a nice match!

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And the other side is a good match, too!

And the other side is a good match, too!

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Despite two days of driving around, we never did spot the Stanhope (Aladdin) purchased by Mr.

Despite two days of driving around, we never did spot the Stanhope (Aladdin) purchased by Mr. Linkenholer.

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As seen in the 1919 catalog, heres a picture of the Aladdin Stanhope.

As seen in the 1919 catalog, here's a picture of the Aladdin Stanhope. Where's Mr. Linkholer's Stanhope? I'd love to know!

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

To read more about the kit homes of Staunton, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

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The Crafton: Perhaps Sears Most Popular Kit Home

June 17th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

The Sears Crafton was possibly Sears best-selling kit home. It was offered for more than two decades in the Sears Modern Homes catalogs, and remained popular even during the Great Depression.

It was a very modest 600-800 square foot frame home, offered in four different floor plans (A, C, D or X). The price of The Crafton in the 1933 catalog was $911, $1013 and $1165, for the four room, five room or six room model. (Note:  This price did not include plumbing, electrical or heating equipment, and also did not include lot costs, excavation, masonry work, construction expense, etc. A $1013 Crafton could easily have cost $5000+ [inclusive of lot] when completed.)

Even so, considering that the economy was in the early years of a major contraction, the fact that Sears was still selling houses - even Craftons - by the hundreds was nothing short of astounding.

The very thing that made these Craftons so popular during the Depression is the very thing that makes them so difficult to identify today - their simplicity. And the fact that they were offered in four different floor plans doesn’t help either.

My house-hunting friends (Dale and Rebecca) and I have developed a complicated lexicon for describing the eclectic vernacular architecture that we often find whilst doing community surveys, and the modest little Crafton dances on the razor’s edge of falling into that category. It’s what we call a “CLH.”

Short for, “Common Little House.”

These simple front-gabled, single-story houses look like every other house in your typical early 20th Century working class neighborhood. There’s nothing fancy or unique about it, and after a few additions and porch enclosures, it’s next to impossible to figure out if it’s a Crafton. And yet we know that thousands of these homes were sold.

Is there a Crafton in YOUR neighborhood?  :)

To learn how to identify kit homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

Crafton, as seen in the 1925 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Crafton, as seen in the 1938 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Note the four floor plans.

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Close-up of the Crafton.

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Is it a Sears Crafton? Only the siding installer knows for sure! Actually, that's not true. Geography makes this a likely Sears Home. First, it is a good match to the Crafton and secondly, it's surrounded by Sears Homes on every side.

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This incredibly modest floor plan shows a house that is little more than 600 square feet. Pretty darn small.

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Floor plan D has a little more space.

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Not sure what happened to 3318 B.

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There is no floorplan for 3318x, but merely this explanation.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Of Houses and Hubbies

June 13th, 2011 Sears Homes 4 comments

I love Elkins, WV. It’s a beautiful place and a lovely city. And I love the people of Elkins, too. Especially this guy (pictured below), sitting on the rock.

His name is Wayne Ringer and he’s from Elkins, West Virginia.

He graduated from Davis and Elkins College in 1977, and Washington and Lee (School of Law) in 1980. Last summer, we drove from Norfolk to Elkins to attend his cousin’s 30th Wedding Anniversary party (part of the Skidmore clan). It was a happy, happy time. Surprisingly, I found quite a few Sears Homes. (Story continues below photo of cutie-pie husband)

Darling Hubby Wayne from Elkins

Darling Hubby Wayne from Elkins, poised atop a rock in the Cheat River

What is a Sears Home? These were true kits sold out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. The houses were shipped via rail and contained 30,000 pieces of house. Each kit came with a 75-page instruction manual and a promise that a “man of average abilities” could have one assembled and ready for occupancy in about 90 days. Today, there are about 70,000 Sears kit homes in America. Incredibly, about 90% of the people living in these homes don’t realize what they have! The purpose of this website is to help people learn more about this fascinating piece of America’s history.

Here are a few of the houses I found within the city limits of Elkins, West Virginia.

The Sears Lynnhaven was one of Sears most popular kit homes.

The Sears Lynnhaven was one of Sears' most popular kit homes.

Sears Lynnhaven in Elkins, hidden behind a few trees.

Sears Lynnhaven in Elkins, hidden behind a few trees.

Sears Matoka, another popular Sears Homes

Sears Matoka, another popular Sears Homes

Sears Home or Wardway Home? Hard to know for sure. This house was offered (in identical floorplans) by both Sears and Mongtomery Wards. One things for sure: Its a beautiful old kit house!

Sears Home or Wardway Home? Hard to know for sure. This house was offered (in identical floorplans) by both Sears and Mongtomery Wards. One thing's for sure: It's a beautiful old kit house. It's in South Elkins.

Sears Hazleton high atop the hillside in Elkins

Sears Hazleton from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Unfortunately, I had to photograph this house from the opposite side shown in the catalog image, but this bungalow (high atop a hill in Elkins, WV) is unmistakeably a Sears Hazleton. Looking at the house from the right side, you can see that unusual bay window with six windows (four large, one small).

Unfortunately, I had to photograph this house from the opposite side shown in the catalog image, but this bungalow (high atop a hill in Elkins, WV) is unmistakeably a Sears Hazleton. If you looked at this house from the right side, you'd see that unusual bay window with six windows (four large, two small) on that left side. It's located in Wees Historic District.

Sears Cornell from the 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Cornell from the 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Cornell

Sears Cornell. Although this looks like just another foursquare, this Cornell has a goofy floorplan, with a tiny bathroom (and tiny window) on its left side. When you look on the home's left side, you'll see that the oddly-placed bathroom window is right where it should be. THe Cornell was a very popular house for Sears, and I'm confident that this house is a Sears Cornell.

Sears Marion/Lakecrest from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Marion/Lakecrest from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Is this a Sears Marion? Id say it is. Its a good match on all sides and has a raised roof in the back, which was probably added in later years.

Is this a Sears Marion? I'd say it is. It's a good match on all sides and all the windows are in their right place. One eye-catching feature is the swoop of the bellcast roof on the front of the house. The raised roof in the back was obviously added in later years.

Sears Glendale from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Glendale from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Glendale in Elkins, WV

Is this a Sears Glendale? It looks like it. However, it is not a spot-on match.

And there’s even a Lustron Prefabricated post-WW2 home in Elkins. Lustron Homes were made of 20-gage 2×2 metal tiles, covered with a porcelain enamel finish (just like the top of a high-dollar washing machines!). These houses were all metal - inside and out - and hanging a picture required sticking magnets to the walls! Nails and other fasteners would damage the porcelain enamel finish. Lustron was based in Columbus, Ohio and less than 3000 Lustron Homes were sold in this country. They were remarkable, strong and long-lasting houses - definitely ahead of their time. Finding this three-bedroom model in Elkins was a special treat, as the three-bedroom Lustrons were very rare.

Lustron Home in Elkins, WV

Lustron Home in Elkins, WV

Close-up of 2x2 metal tiles on Lustron Walls.

Close-up of 2x2 metal tiles on Lustron Walls.

To learn more about Lustrons, click here.

To read more about Sears Homes in West Virginia, click here.

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An Abundance of Sears Homes in Raleigh, NC

February 9th, 2011 Sears Homes 12 comments

In May 2012, I gave a talk on the Sears Homes in RaleighClick here to read more about that.

To my astonishment and delight, I found an impressive number of kit homes in this part of North Carolina, including Sears, Harris Brothers, Lewis Homes, Montgomery Ward, Gordon Van Tine and more!

Kit homes are historically significant for too many reasons to go into here, but in short, these homes were ordered from a mail-order catalog and were shipped in about 12,000 pieces, arriving via boxcar at the local train station. The kits came with 75-page instruction books and a promise that “a man of average abilities” could have one put together and ready for occupancy in 90 days!

Here are a few examples of the many pretties I found during my travels to Raleigh.

If you know of the location of a Sears Home, please leave a comment below.

Continue reading (Part II) here.

Read about what I found in Chapel Hill by clicking here!

Listen to Rose’s inteview on WUNC (with Frank Stasio) here.

Not surprisingly, the Mordecai Historic District has several kit homes, including an Aladdin Plaza!

Not surprisingly, the Mordecai Historic District has several kit homes, including an Aladdin Plaza! This image is from the 1919 Aladdin catalog.

This Aladdin Plaza sits high on a hill in Mordecai (Raleigh)

This Aladdin Plaza sits high on a hill in Mordecai (Raleigh)

Another favorite house (of mine) and a popular house for Sears: The Crescent.

Another favorite house (of mine) and a popular house for Sears: The Crescent.

Sears Crescent (also in the Mordecai area)

Sears Crescent (also in the Mordecai area)

Sears Whitehall, as seen in the 1925 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Whitehall, as seen in the 1925 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Whitehall, also located in the Mordecai area of Raleigh

Sears Whitehall, also located in the Mordecai area of Raleigh

Mordecai has several Sears Homes, including this Sears Sunbeam. Note how the rear roof is much shorter than the front side of the roof. Also note how the large shed dormer comes off the ridge of the roof.

Mordecai has several Sears Homes, including this Sears Sunbeam. Note how the rear roof is much shorter than the front side of the roof. Also note how the large shed dormer comes off the ridge of the roof.

This Sears Sunbeam is a lovely example and in original condition.

This Sears Sunbeam is a lovely example and in original condition. The tin roof is a very nice touch.

The Sears Sunbeam was offered in two versions: One had the open sleeping porch and one had a glassed-in porch. Below is a catalog picture of the house with the enclosed porch, which is more similar to the house pictured above.

The Sears Sunbeam was offered in two versions: One had the open sleeping porch and one had a glassed-in porch. Above is a catalog picture of the house with the enclosed porch, which is more similar to the house in Mordecai.

Sears Argyle, from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Note the big bold columns on the homes front, and the faux beams around the eaves.

Sears Argyle, from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Note the big bold columns on the homes front, and the faux beams around the eaves. Also note how the porch overhangs on one side, extending beyond the home's exterior wall.

The Sears Argyle, near the downtown area.

The Sears Argyle, near the downtown area.Classic and beautiful!

Harris Brothers

This is the Harris Brothers Ardmore, and it's not hard to spot this house with that unusual second floor poking up out of that roofline! (Vintage catalog image supplied by Dan Becker.)

Here it is: THe Harris Brothers kit home, the Ardmore. Id bet money that the owners have no idea that they have a kit home from a small, Chicago-based company.

Here it is: THe Harris Brothers' kit home, the Ardmore. I recently learned that the owner knows all about the home's unique origins!

Aladdin Sheffield, as seen in the 1919 Aladdin catalog. This is an interesting house with its dramatic oversized eaves and hooded dormers.

Aladdin Sheffield, as seen in the 1919 Aladdin catalog. This is an interesting house with its dramatic oversized eaves and hooded dormers.

Aladdin Sheffield in Raleigh

Aladdin Sheffield in Raleigh. This house is in wonderfully original condition.

Wardway (Montgomery Ward) Mt. Vernon, a very popular house

Wardway (Montgomery Ward) Mt. Vernon, a very popular house

Wardway Mt. Vernon - in the flesh!

Wardway Mt. Vernon - in the flesh!

And one of my favorite Sears Homes, The Kilborne.

And one of my favorite Sears Homes, The Kilborne.

I wonder if theyd sell me this house for $2,499?

I wonder if they'd sell me this house for $2,499?

Sears Alhambra from 1923 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Alhambra from 1923 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Alhambra in Raleigh!

Sears Alhambra in Raleigh!

The Sears Winona, as featured in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The house in Raleigh (see below) is just a spot-on match, a rarity in a house of this age!

The Sears Winona, as featured in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The house in Raleigh (see below) is just a spot-on match, a rarity in a house of this age!

Sears Winona in downtown area (Raleigh, NC)

Sears Westly from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Westly from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog

It may not look like a Westly to you at first glance but youll have to trust me on this. It is! The small porch on the dormer has been enclosed to create more space in an upstairs bedroom. This is a common modification, as these areas often leak.

It may not look like a Westly to you at first glance but you'll have to trust me on this. It is! The small porch on the dormer has been enclosed to create more space in an upstairs bedroom. This is a common modification, as these Westlys often leak around that porch area upstairs.

From this angle

From this angle, you can see a bit of that truncated roof on the rear, identifying it as the Sears Westly. Well, it's one of many key identifying features.

Most likely, this really is the tip of the iceberg. In fact, this is about half of the photos I took whilst in Raleigh.

Please share this link with others, and/or contact a local historical organization in Raleigh and urge them to do something to preserve this amazing piece of Raleigh’s history.

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

To buy Rose’s book (and get it inscribed!), click here.

To contact Rose, leave a comment below.

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PS.  And I found several kit homes in Hillsboro, too. I’ll try to post those on another blog entry later.

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