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Posts Tagged ‘sears homes in Carlinville’

New Information on Schoper, Illinois

December 31st, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

All ghost towns have a fascinating history, and Schoper, Illinois is no different.

Located about eight miles from Carlinville, the town of Schoper (also known as Standard City) was originally Thomas Schoper’s 500-acre family farm. In 1918, Standard Oil of Indiana bought the farm (literally) from Schoper, and sunk a 300-feet deep coal mine.

After a coal shortage in 1917, Standard Oil wanted a reliable supply of coal to call their own. The coal was used to fire the stills that refined crude oil and turned it into gasoline.

After the completion of several gelogocial surveys (commissioned by Standard Oil), it was discovered that there was a seven-foot tall seam of coal in the ground at Schoper. As an added bonus, Schoper was near The Chicago and Alton rail line, which was centrally located between the refineries in Wood River (near St. Louis) and Whiting, Indiana (near Chicago).

In 1918, Standard Oil placed a $1 million order (for 192 houses) with Sears Roebuck and Company for 192 Honor-Bilt homes. The houses were purchased for employees in CarlinvilleWood River and Schoper, Illinois. One hundred and fifty six of the houses were built in Carlinville, 12 were built in Schoper and 24 went to Wood River.

The 12 houses were built for the supervisors at the “Schoper Mine.” There were also boarding houses and dorms built at Schoper, for the miners.

By the mid-1920s, the boom at Schoper had gone bust. The price of coal dropped after The Great War (1918), and Standard Oil could now buy their coal cheaper from mines in Kentucky (which did not have unions) than they could mine it in Macoupin County.

In July 1925, a small column on the bottom page of the Macoupin County Enquirer sadly announced that the mine was closed for good.

Nine of the 12 little Sears Houses were painstakingly disassembled and left Schoper the same way they came in:  In pieces and loaded on a boxcar, headed off to destinations unknown.

Two of the Sears Homes were moved intact, to sites just outside of Standard City. The last Sears House at Schoper (The Sears Gladstone) was home to John McMillan and his wife, a supervisor with the mine. After the mine closed, he became a caretaker charged with myriad tasks, such as making sure the powerful fans down in the mine kept the methane down to acceptable levels.

McMillan’s little Gladstone eventually became rental property and burned down sometime in the mid-1990s.  The last remnant at the site was the Schoper Powerhouse and Mine Offices, a massive concrete Federalist structure which was torn down in Summer 2003.

And that was the whole story - until last month - when a reader sent me an email with new information. I’m not sure how he did it, but he found 1930s aerial maps of Schoper, which showed the footprints (and precise location) of the 12 little Sears Homes.

Scroll on down to enjoy the many photos, including the vintage aerial photo from 1937!

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Schoper

In the front pages of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog, this image was erroneously identified as a street view of the houses as "Schopper, Illinois." In fact, this was a picture of the 24 Sears Homes in Wood River. No pictures of Schoper appeared in the Sears Modern Homes catalogs.

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house house house

Picture of Schoper from the late 1910s. At the foot of the sidewalk is a 12-bay garage, shared by the occupants of the 12 Sears Homes. The Power House is shown in the background (near Schoper Lake). The Whitehall, Gladstone and Warrenton are shown in the foreground.

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house schoper house

Schoper was the site of a massive, modern colliery (1921 Stanolind Record). As a side note, I have no idea what this massive piece of equipment is. If a reader can identify this, please leave a comment below.

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Mine Road

And here's a bit of that vintage aerial map, showing the placement of those 12 Sears Homes in Schoper (outlined with a red square). The building circled in red is the Schoper Powerhouse.

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map map map 1937

Close-up of the aerial map (1937). The four white squares on each street represent the footprint where the 12 Schoper homes were located.

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house house house house house

And what Rachel Shoemaker discovered - which is nearly unbelievable - is that if you look at this modern aerial view, you can still see the outline of 12 squares, representing the placement of those 12 Schoper houses.

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Schoper rose

It was claimed that the ’s six dynamos in the Schoper Power House had the potential to create enough electricity to power the entire state of Illinois. The local papers said it was the most powerful steam-driven power plant in the world. The smokestack was 213 feet tall and was the second highest peak in Macoupin County, only a little shorter than the spire atop the Macoupin County Courthouse in Carlinville. The picture above was taken in 2002, about a year before it was torn down.

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schoper house

The Schoper Power House, as seen in the 1921 Stanolind Record. When completed in mid-1919, the Power House also brought electricity to those twelve Sears houses. They were the only "electrified" houses in Schoper. The rest of the community would not know the joys of electric lights until power lines from Carlinville made their way to Standard City in the 1930s.

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house schoper

For many years, that last remaining Sears house (John McMillan's Gladstone) stood alone on a plot that was rapidly reverting to its primitive status as farmland. After the mines closed, McMillan became the mine’s caretaker. It was his job to descend into the deserted coal mine several times a week, grease the water pumps and turn them on. Ground water, which seeped into the mine, had to be pumped out frequently. He was also responsible for turning on the powerful ventilating fans to remove any build-up of firedamp - highly explosive methane gas - which accumulates in coal mines. As of 2003 (when this photo was taken), all that was left of the 12 Schoper Houses was this slight indent in the field.

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Schoper Lake

When Schoper was created in the late 1910s, a creek alongside the powerhouse was damned up to create a seven-acre, 40-foot-deep lake. Underground pipes drafted water from the lake to the powerhouse for the steam engines.

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To see the original vintage map, click here.

To read more about Carlinville’s kit homes, click here.

The above was excerpted from The Houses That Sears BuiltTo buy the book, click here.

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A Sad Story That Needs a Good Ending: Carlinville’s “Standard Addition”

September 26th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

In the early years of the 1900s,

About 1918, Standard Oil purchased 192 kit homes from Sears & Roebuck. Carlinville ended up with 156 of these homes (offered in eight models). The 12-block area where these homes were built (in an old wheat field) came to be known as Standard Addition. Sears proudly touted this sale to Standard Oil as "the largest order ever placed," and pictures of Carlinville appeared in the front pages of the Modern Homes catalog for many years. This letter (shown above) appeared on the back page of the catalog until 1929.

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House

Standard Addition's homes - some of which were not wholly finished - appeared in the 1919 and 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Of the 192 houses sold to Standard Oil, 156 ended up in Carlinville, 24 were sent to Wood River (where Standard Oil had a large refinery) and 12 ended up in Schoper, IL (site of a large coal mine). Pictured above is the Warrenton model (left) and the Whitehall (right).

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In 1921, images of the completed neighborhood first appeared in the Searsm Modern Homes catalog.

In 1921, images of the completed neighborhood appeared in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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house house house 1921

Close-up of the "birdseye view" from the 1921 catalog. From left to right is the Gladstone, Roseberry, Warrenton, and Whitehall. And look at that darling little building behind the Whitehall. Is it still there?

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House

These homes were occasionally featured in "The Stanolind Record," an employee newsletter put out by Standard Oil. This image appeared with the caption, "Carlinville is coming out of the mud," which simply meant that streets would soon be laid, replacing the muddy roads.

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All of which brings me to the point of this blog. Standard Addition is at great risk of being lost.

And all the photos above bring me to the point of this blog. Standard Addition - this unique, historic and one-of-a-kind community - is at great risk. This "Roseberry" on Johnson Street caught fire in early 2013 and has not been razed yet. Derelict houses (such as this) contribute heavily to blight, and once blight takes root in a neighborhood, reversal can take decades. At best, this house poses a threat to public health and safety. At worst, it's an anchor that's dragging this historic neighborhood further into the muck. Would you want to live next door to this? How many months before this house gets torn down?

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Last month

Last month, a suspected meth lab was discovered in the 1000-block of Johnson Street, in the heart of Standard Addition. Once a house is used for "cooking" meth, making it suitable again for habitation can be expensive.

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Full story here: http://www.sj-r.com/breaking/x1367241203/Two-suspected-meth-labs-found-in-Carlinville

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And theres also the problem on insensitive remodeling.

And there's also the problem of insensitive remodeling. And it is quite a problem.

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Another

As built, these homes were very small (less than 1,100 square feet) but there are ways to increase square footage without diminishing the historicity of these unique homes.

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In short, it’s time for the state legislature and/or city council to step in and figure out what legislation is needed to protect this one-of-a-kind historic collection of Sears Homes in Carlinville. I’ve remained “astonished* that there is no signage, no billboards, no announcements of any kind welcoming the flat-lander tourist to come visit “Standard Addition.”

At the very least, there should be billboards in St. Louis, Alton (by the casino), Edwardsville and other “hot spots” inviting people to come see this fun collection of kit homes. There should be a website, self-guided driving brochures, maps, etc, promoting the area.

But there is nothing,

In my 14 years of experience in this niche field of America’s architectural history, I’ve never come across another collection of Sears kit homes quite like Standard Addition.

One week ago today, I drove through Standard Addition, admiring the pretty houses and dismayed by the blighted ones, and I glimpsed, more now than ever, something must be done to preserve and protect this neighborhood.

Before it’s too late.

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To learn more about the eight models in Standard Addition, click here.

To learn more about the building of Standard Addition (and the female supervisor of the project), click here.

In 2003, CBS Sunday Morning News came to Standard Addition.

To read about Illinois’ own ghost town (Schoper, IL), click right here.

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The Homey Homewood

July 17th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

Some models of Sears Homes were wildly popular. Some were not.

The Homewood falls into the second category.

And yet, it’s a puzzle as to why this attractive two-story bungalow was not a big seller for Sears.

With 784 square feet on each floor (about 1,600 square feet total), it was spacious with good-sized rooms and a thoughtful floorplan. And the price ($2,535 in 1928) was about average for the time period.

This house was only offered for a handful of years. Perhaps that’s why we don’t see more models of The Sears Homewood.

The Sears Homewood (1928 catalog)

The Sears Homewood (1928 catalog)

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Nice floorplan, and about 784 square feet per floor.

Nice floorplan, and about 784 square feet per floor.

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Second

All of the bedrooms have a nice-sized closet. What a bonus!

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The Homewood was a fine-looking bungalow!

The Homewood was a fine-looking bungalow!

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Heres one in Elmhurst, Illinois. Thanks to Rebecca Hunter for finding this house, and then driving me over there to Elmhurst so I could get a good photo!

Here's one in Elmhurst, Illinois. Thanks to Rebecca Hunter for finding this house, and then driving me over there to Elmhurst so I could get a good photo! This model did not have a fireplace. Not all that unusual in Sears Homes. Fireplaces were optional.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read about the other Sears Homes in Northern Illinois, click here.

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The Berwyn: Monotony Relieved!

July 2nd, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

The Sears Berwyn (named for a city in Northern Illinois) was one of their most popular houses, and it’s a cutie-pie of a house, too!

The double-arched front porch makes it easy to identify.

The Berwyn as seen in the 1929 catalog.

The Berwyn as seen in the 1929 catalog.

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The text in the 1929 ad promises that monotony is relieved.

The text in the 1929 catalog promises that monotony is relieved in the Berwyn.

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Small house, but thoughtful floor plan.

Small house, but thoughtful floor plan.

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By 1938, the Berwyn hadnt changed much.

By 1938, the Berwyn hadn't changed much, but it had a new name.

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This Berwyn

This long thin vent on the front gable is a distinctive feature on the Berwyn. The cement-based siding was probably added in the 1950s. This snowy house is in Elgin, IL.

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This Berwyne is in Kirkwood, MO and some not-so-thoughtful vinyl siding installing wreaked havoc with that double-arched opening.

This Berwyne is in Kirkwood, MO and some not-so-thoughtful vinyl siding installing wreaked havoc with that double-arched opening.

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SJe

Another Berwyn with the cement-based siding (White Sulphur Springs, VA).

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This house in Rock Falls, Missouri is also

This house in Rock Falls, Missouri is clad in aluminum siding.

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And this Berwyn is in my neck of the woods, Hampton, Virginia.

And this Berwyn is in my neck of the woods, Hampton, Virginia. The wrought-iron post is not a good idea.

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The Berwyn was one of a handful of houses that made it into the very last Sears Modern Homes catalog (1940).

The Berwyn was one of a handful of houses that made it into the very last Sears Modern Homes catalog (1940). In this catalog, it was renamed the Mayfield.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read about Teddy the Wonder Dog, click here.

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The Magnificent Milton - And There’s One In New York City!

May 30th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

In Spring 2010, my friend Rebecca sent me a note, asking if I knew about the Sears Milton in Stanley, Virginia. Four months later (August 2010), Hubby and I were standing in the front yard of the Sears Milton.

At the time, the 1,932-square foot house was being used as a Bed and Breakfast. The Milton House Inn website has now been taken down, so apparently, it’s a private residence again.

The house is located on the main drag, and it is an imposing structure in this beautiful (and tiny) town, nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. (Stanley is about seven miles south of Luray, Virginia and about five hours west of Norfolk.)

The Milton did not appear in the 1912 catalog (or prior years), but I found it in the 1916 catalog. It last appeared in 1919, so its reign was brief. If you’d purchased a Milton in 1916, the price was $1,619 and by 1919, the price had jumped to $2,491, a shocking 54% increase. And, it was not offered as a pre-cut house.

When I was putting together this blog, I was surprised to find (according to an old testimonial) a Milton had also been built in New York City. This is a massive and impressive house, not far behind the Sears Magnolia in terms of grandeur. Its many unique features would certainly make it hard to miss.

Is the Sears Milton still standing in New York City? Boy, I sure would love to know.

What about the Miltons that were built in Fayette, Ohio and Somerville, NJ?  Are they still standing?

In 2008, someone sent me a newspaper article that claimed that the Sears Milton had been built (and torn down) in Carlinville, Illinois. I shared the photo with Rebecca Hunter, and she and I concur: The house in Carlinville (on Route 4) did not appear to have been a Sears Milton.

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

To read about the Sears Homes in Carlinville’s Standard Addition, click here.

The Sears Milton is a distinctive and unusually large house. Identifying this gem is easier than shooting slow-moving fishies in a wee-tiny barrel.

The Sears Milton is a distinctive and unusually large house. Identifying this gem is easier than shooting slow-moving fishies in a wee-tiny barrel. (1916 catalog)

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Spacious and awesome

That bay window (dining room) is quite large and is one of many identifying characteristics of the Sears Milton. The small windows on the side (flanking the fireplace) are another unique feature, asis the second floor porch with its unusual window placement.

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And as of 1916, several had been built, including one in New York City!

And as of 1916, several had been built, including one in New York City! Pics please?? :)

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Close-up of the house (1916).

Close-up of the house (1916). As mentioned, this house has many unique features, such as the dentil molding, massive eave brackets, tiny attic window set in those deep gables, pergolas, and that massive two-story bay window. That second-story porch (with small windows on either side of the balcony door is also pretty distinctive.

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Here in the flesh

Landscaping prevented a shot that's more akin to the catalog image (as seen above), but there's no doubt about it: This is a Sears Milton. Note the dentil molding atop the columns.

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Straight on

My oh my, that's a fine-looking house! Note the two-story bays on the right!

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Another view

Another view of this wonderful old house.

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From the side

From this angle, you can see those two small windows flanking the chimney.

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Remnants of the rafter tails.

Underneath the flat porch roof are remnants of the old pergola. Note the unique cuts on the rafter tails.

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stanley wow

A view of the Magnificent Milton's front porch.

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Details around the second-story porch.

Details around the second-story porch.

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Comparison

Comparison of the catalog image and the house in Stanley, Virginia.

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To learn more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

Interested in seeing more photos of Sears Homes in the Blue Ridge Mountains? Click here.

The Miltons in New York, New Jersey and Ohio were built between 1913 -1916. Please leave a comment if you have any clue where these homes might be!

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The Beaumont: Extra Convenience

May 29th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

When Rebecca and I were reviewing and comparing our Life Lists, Rebecca identified the Sears Beaumont as one of the Sears Homes that she’d never seen.

“I’ve only seen one,” I told her, “and it was in Carlinville, Illinois.”

Rebecca laughed out loud and said, “I might have driven right past it and not noticed it!”

Me, too.

In 2004, I gave a talk in Carlinville on Sears Homes.

The event was organized by Beth Kaburick, Head Librarian at the Carlinville Public Library.  I was so impressed with her professionalism and her passion for Carlinville’s history. I had first met Beth in 1999, when I spent countless hours at her library, researching Sears Homes, first for an article, and then later for my books.

Beth went out of her way to help me with my research. In 2004, when I gave the talk in Carlinville, it was well publicized and well attended, thanks wholly to Beth. (Sadly, Beth died in June 2007 in a tragic car accident.)

It was after that talk that someone told me about a Sears Home outside of Standard Addition (where 150 Sears Homes are located). The gentleman gave me the street name but wasn’t sure of the specific address.

Immediately after the talk, I drove up and down that street - in the dark - trying to figure out which Sears House I’d missed! As the author of several books on kit homes, I’d driven on that street too many times to count, and had never seen any Sears Homes.

And there in the dark, I saw an interesting Colonial Revival/Bungalowish-type house with a familiar-looking attic window. I grabbed my dog-eared copy of Houses by Mail and hastily thumbed through it and found my match:  The house I’d found in the dark - thanks to a kind stranger at a lecture - was a Sears Beaumont.

That was eight years ago, and it was (and remains) the only Beaumont I’ve ever seen.

To see vintage pictures of Carlinville and Schoper, click here.

To read about the woman who supervised the construction of Standard Addition, click here.

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1919

In the 1919 catalog, the heading proclaimed that the Beaumont had "Extra convenience." Unfortunately, the text in the body offers no clue as to what they're talking about.

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1921

In 1921, the price on the Beaumont increased $500 or about 26%. Pretty steep increase for two year's time. And apparently what it gained in price it lost in "convenience." Now the heading had changed from the dramatic ("Extra convenience") to the pedestrian ("Six rooms and bath").

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floorplan 1921

The Beaumont's floorplan (1921 catalog).

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2004 or so

The Beaumont, as it looked in 2004.

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house

In February 2010, I traveled to Carlinville to do more research for my book, "The Sears Homes of Illinois." That's when this photograph was taken. Notice, a plague of vinyl siding salesmen had descended upon the house since the last photo in 2004.

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house also

Another view of the Beaumont.

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The attic window that caught my eye

That night, when I first saw the Beaumont, it was the attic window that caught my eye.

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Attic window again

Nice match to the catalog picture!

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To learn more about the 150 Sears Homes in Carlinville, click here or here.

To buy Rose’s newest book, click here.

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The Roseberry, by Sears

April 17th, 2012 Sears Homes 2 comments

When I was a little girl, my mother and I would often watch “Star Trek” together on television, and when the credits rolled at the end, the name “Gene Roddenberry” appeared (as creator, writer and producer). My mother would often tell me, “That’s the man you should marry: Gene Roddenberry. And then your name would be Rosemary Roddenberry. Plus, I bet that guy’s a lot of fun.”

My beloved mother passed on before my first books on Sears Homes were published, but had she been aware of these little houses, I suspect she would have told me, “You should change your last name to Roddenberry, and then buy a Sears Roseberry, and then you’d be Rosemary Roddenberry living in a Roseberry.”

She sure was a lot of fun.

The Sears Roseberry is a cute little house, but apparently, it wasn’t too popular. I’ve only seen one Sears Roseberry outside of Carlinville, IL (which has a large collection of Sears Homes, built by Standard Oil), and that lone Roseberry was in the Milton section of Alton, Illinois.

Sears Roseberry as seen in the 1916 catalog.

Sears Roseberry as seen in the 1916 catalog.

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Five years later (1921), the Roseberrys ad had changed very little. .

Five years later (1921), the Roseberry's price had doubled.

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As you can see from the floorplan, it is pretty small.

As you can see from the floorplan, it's not a big house.

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This vintage photo of Carlinville (1920) shows a Roseberry

This vintage photo of Carlinville (1920) shows a Roseberry under construction.

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Rose

One of 150 Sears Homes in a 12-block area, this Roseberry sits in Carlinville. There were eight models built by Standard Oil (for their employees), and the Roseberry is one of them.

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Some of the Roseberrys in Carlinville are in a little bit of pain, and need a little love.

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And some of them are in a lot of pain...

And some of them are in a lot of pain, and need a lot of love.

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The Roseberrys in Carlinville have two large windows in that gabled dormer, whereas the Roseberrys in the catalog image have one big window flanked by two smaller windows.  None of the houses in Carlinville are a perfect match to the catalog image. Perhaps Standard Oil didnt want the houses to look just like the catalog, so they made this one change on the Roseberry.

The Roseberrys in Carlinville have two large windows in that gabled dormer, whereas the Roseberrys in the catalog image have one big window flanked by two smaller windows. None of the Roseberrys in Carlinville are a perfect match to the catalog image. Perhaps Standard Oil didn't want the houses to look "just like the catalog," so they made this one change on the Roseberry.

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To learn more about Carlinville and Standard Oil, click here.

To see more vintage pictures of Carlinville, click here.

Sears Modern Home #163: Elusive *and* Odd-looking!

September 27th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

In all my travels, I’ve only seen two examples of Sears Modern Home Model #163.

The first was in Taylorville, Illinois, and the second was in Raleigh, NC.

In talking with my dear friend Rebecca Hunter, I learned that she’d never seen one either. In other words, this is a very rare model. The one in  Taylorville, is a victim of insensitive remodeling and the one in Raleigh is in splendiferous condition!

To learn more about the Sears Homes of Illinois, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

Now whod think that this is a Sears kit home? Strangely enough, it is.

Now who'd think that this is a Sears kit home? Strangely enough, it is.

house

Mega House

here

Looking much like the day it was built is this Modern Home #163 in Raleigh. Every detail is perfect. And the best part - it retains its original siding, windows and rafter tails.

Another view

A view from the front of the house. Every detail is perfect. May God bless those pesky vinyl siding salesmen - and keep them FAR AWAY from this house!

Sears Modern Home #163 in Taylorville, Illinois.

Sears Modern Home #163 in Taylorville, Illinois. This one is in sad, sad shape.

Modern Home #163 from the Sears Modern Homes catalog

Modern Home #163 from the Sears Modern Homes catalog

To read another blog about Sears Homes, click here.

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When CBS Sunday Morning News Came to Carlinville, Illinois

June 19th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

The Houses That Sears Built came out at just about the same time that my long-term marriage had a surprise ending. Doing a little back of the envelope ciphering, I figured I had enough money to last for about 60 days, and then I’d be flat busted broke. And I’d only make it to 60 days if I stopped buying groceries and lived very simply. If my book wasn’t supporting me by then, I’d have to do something I’d never done before: Get a real job.

The very idea scared me half out of my wits.

I did a lot of praying and a lot of scrambling. And I ate a lot of meals at friends’ houses.

Six weeks after the book hit the streets, I had a call from a reporter at the New York Times. They were doing a feature story on Sears Homes and they wanted to interview me. The story ran on the front page of the Real Estate section. Next came a phone call from a producer who was putting together a new history show for PBS. He’d seen the piece in the New York Times and wanted to know if I could appear on one of their first episodes.

The show, he told me, was tentatively titled, “History Detectives.”

Next I heard from CBS. They wanted to do a piece on the Sears Homes in Carlinville. We arranged a date and met at the town square. Russ Mitchell was the reporter, and he’d been raised in nearby St. Louis, so this was a great assignment for him.

We tooled around the town and I talked about the Sears Homes of Carlinville, explaining that this was not the largest collection of Sears Homes (Elgin has that honor), but it was the largest contiguous collection, with 152 Sears Homes in a 12-block area. As we drove along, I rattled off the names of the eight models of Sears Homes featured in Carlinville.

It was a wonderful day, and as a result of that show, I was then invited to appear on A&E’s Biography.

It was nine years ago (almost to the day), that we filmed that show for CBS Sunday Morning News. I went on to write five more books, and turns out, I made it past those first 60 days, with a little money left over!

Best of all, I never had to get a “real job.”

:)

Filming

CBS film crew starts shooting the Sears Homes from the top of their specially modified Chevy Suburban.

filming

Wish I could remember this fellow's name. He was incredibly polite and a whole lot of fun.

They also shot footage in St. Louis (Kirkwood), where there are several Sears Homes.

They also shot footage in St. Louis (Kirkwood), where there are several Sears Homes.

Producer and Russ review some details for the next shot.

Producer and Russ review some details for the next shot.

To learn more about Sears Homes in Carlinville, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Carlinville and Schoper, Illinois

May 23rd, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

Update! This article was updated in 2013. To read the latest, click here!

I love ghost towns. All ghost towns have a fascinating history, and this one in Schoper, Illinois is no different. It’s the real deal - a boom town that went bust and literally disappeared off the map.

It started in 1918, when Standard Oil of Indiana placed a $1 million order with Sears Roebuck and Company for 192 Honor-Bilt homes. Standard Oil purchased the houses for their workers in Carlinville, Wood River and Schoper, Illinois. Of those 192 houses, 156 landed in Carlinville, 12 were built in Schoper and 24 went to Wood River.

Standard Oil was grateful for the dandy little houses, as is evidenced by this thank-you note that they wrote to Sears.

This thank you note graced the back pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs for many years.

This appeared on the back pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs for many years.

In Schoper, Illinois (about 8 miles from Carlinville), the 12 houses were built for the coal miners at a colliery that would become known as “Schoper Mine.”

Prior to the arrival of Standard Oil, this site had been a typical early 20th Century farm with one old house and a few outbuildings. By the late 1910s, more than 1000 people were living in “Schoper” and in 1920, the 500-acre farm was incorporated as a village and named Standard City.

Standard Oil needed a steady supply of coal to fuel the stills that refined the crude oil into gasoline. Carlinville and Schoper were ideal locations because of the seven-foot thick vein of coal, and also because of its location. The Chicago and Alton rail line ran between Standard Oil’s refineries in Wood River (near St. Louis) and Whiting, Indiana (near Chicago).

Providing homes to workers was a proven tact for creating a more stable workforce, and also attracted “family men,” who were more desirable employees for a plethora of reasons. And in these pre-OSHA days, it was a nice bonus. Mining was horribly dangerous, and an article in the Macoupin County Enquirer (dated September 19, 1923) said that 18 miners died that year in Macoupin County, which was in line with the national average of “one [miner] fatality per 279,354 tons of coal produced.”

Schoper was - at its peak - the largest coal mine in the state of Illinois, employing 650 men and hoisting up to 4,000 tones of coal each day. About 450 men worked at the Berry Mine (Carlinville), producing about 2,000 tons of coal per day.

Times were good. In the early 1920s, Schoper miners worked about 298 days per year, while nationwide, most coal miners were working about 200 days per year.

By the mid-1920s, the boom had gone bust. The price of coal dropped precipitously after The Great War (1918), and Standard Oil could now buy their coal from non-union Kentucky mines far cheaper than they could mine it in Macoupin County.

In July 1925, a small column on the bottom page of the Macoupin County Enquirer said the mine was closed for good.

Nine of the 12 little Sears Houses went out the way they came in:  In pieces and loaded on a boxcar. They were disassembled (which must have been a massive project, but probably provided work for a few idle coal miners), and shipped by train to destinations unknown. Two of the Sears Homes were moved intact, to sites just outside of Standard City. The last Sears House at Schoper (The Sears Gladstone) was home to John McMillan and his wife, a supervisor with the mine. After the mine closed, he became a caretaker making sure the powerful fans kept the methane down to acceptable levels.

McMillan’s little Gladstone eventually became rental property and burned down sometime in the mid-1990s.  The last remnant at the site was the Schoper Powerhouse and Mine Offices, a massive concrete structure which was torn down in Summer 2003.

There’s something about this former boom town that is compelling and even haunting. Driving into Standard City, you turn onto Mine Road to reach the site of the old mine, or hang a left for Cinder Road (made from old cinders). And then there’s Pershing Street, undoubtedly named for General John “Black Jack” Pershing, WW1 hero and commander of the American Expeditionary Force. Another street is Rice Street, probably named for Charles Rice, who handled real estate acquisitions for Standard Oil.

Standing on the plat land beside the abandoned, vandalized powerhouse, gazing out at Schoper Lake, you can close your eyes and almost hear the steam whistle signaling the end of a shift. Listen, really listen, and maybe you’ll hear the metal cables of the hoist groan and creak as a steel cage raises three dozen coal-blackened minders from 440 feet below grade.

Einstein said, “To those of us who are committed physicists, the  past, present and future are only illusion, however persistent.”

Nowhere in my experiences have I intuitively felt that this illusion of time is more fragile and ethereal than at the site of Schoper Mine. And you if you’re not a romantic/tangential/historical fanatic dream (as I am), but just someone who enjoys visiting towns that boomed and busted, it’s still worth the trip.

Just don’t speed and don’t litter and don’t tromp on the crops. Standard City is still home to about 100 folks, and they (rightfully so) love their community.

To read more about Carlinville’s kit homes, click here.

The above was excerpted from The Houses That Sears Built. To buy the book, click here.

To read about a fascinating ghost town in Virginia, click here.

Enjoy the photos below!

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One of the only known photos of the Sears Homes in Schoper, Illinois.

One of the only known photos of the Sears Homes in Schoper, Illinois. Note that the Sears Homes shown here have tar-paper roofs. After Schoper closed down, the houses were "wrecked" (deconstructed) and put back in railroad cars and shipped on down the line. Two of the houses were moved intact to other locations.

Picture of Mine 1 at Schoper, taken from the 1921 Stanolind Record

Picture of Mine 1 at Schoper, taken from the 1921 Stanolind Record

Vintage picture of the Schoper Powerhouse, also from the 1921 Stanolind Record

Vintage picture of the Schoper Powerhouse, also from the 1921 Stanolind Record. The Schoper powerhouse consumed more than 60 tons of coal per day. The smokestack was 213 feet tall and was the second highest point in all of Macoupin County. The highest point was the spire atop the Macoupin County courthouse.

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This picture appeared in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog, promoting their wonderful little kit homes. It was labeled "Schopper" (sic) but in fact, it's a street view of the 24 Sears Homes in Wood River. The houses in Schoper were laid out on three streets in groups of four houses per street. Further, Sears didn't seem to know how to spell "Schoper."

The Schoper Powerhouse, photographed in 2002, about a year before it was torn down. This building also houses offices for the Schoper Mine.

The Schoper Powerhouse, photographed in 2002, about a year before it was torn down. This building also houses offices for the Schoper Mine.

Another view of the Schoper Powerhouse

Another view of the Schoper Powerhouse. When completed in 1919, this powerhouse supplied electricity to the 12 Sears Homes (just across the street). In November 1919, the city of Carlinville authorized spending $2,056 to run underground electrical lines from the Schoper powerhouse to Berry Mine in Carlinville, electrifying that mine as well.

When Schoper was created in the late 1910s, a creek that ran through an area beside the powerhouse was damned to create a seven-acre, 40-foot-deep lake - which became known as Schoper Lake. Underground pipes drafted water from the lake to the powerhouse for the steam engines. It was claimed that the six dynamos in this powerhouse had the potential to create enough electricity for the entire state of Illinois.

When Schoper was created in the late 1910s, a creek that ran through an area beside the powerhouse was damned to create a seven-acre, 40-foot-deep lake - which became known as Schoper Lake. Underground pipes drafted water from the lake to the powerhouse for the steam engines. It was claimed that the six dynamos in this powerhouse had the potential to create enough electricity for the entire state of Illinois.

This photo was taken in 2002, and it shows that all the remains of John McMillans Gladstone is a little dip in the soil and a short piece of driveway.

This photo was taken in 2002, and it shows that all the remains of John McMillan's Gladstone is a little dip in the soil and a short piece of driveway.

To read more about the largest order in the history of Sears homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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