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

May 30th, 2012 Sears Homes 7 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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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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“Coming Out of the Mud”

January 26th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

If you could spend a day in the early 1900s, you might have a little trouble understanding what people were saying! Some words had radically different meanings.

For instance, there’s the word “slacker.”  A slacker was any able-bodied young man who did not volunteer to serve in the military (and subsequently become part of the American Expeditionary Force).

Wanting to learn more about this time period in American history, I also studied World War 1. It wasn’t called WW1 until the late 1930s, when WW2 broke out. In the late 1910s, it was known as “The Great War.” It’s other name was also a political promise that we - the American people - were given sold to engender our support. We were told it was “The War to End All Wars.”

One of the most chilling definitions I learned was the true meaning of “basket-case.” During the The Great War, when a soldier lost his limbs in battle, a wicker basket was used to carry the limbless figure off the battlefield. One can only imagine the mental state of such a soldier. The fellow soldiers described him as “a real basketcase.”

“Smut” was another interesting term. It was a disease of the wheat crop, and in the early 1900s, smut damaged so much wheat that it caused a nation-wide shortage of wheat.

An article in the 1920 Stanolind Record (employee newsletter of Standard Oil) said that soon Carlinville residents would be “coming out of the mud.” (Carlinville’s “Standard Addition” neighborhood has 152 Sears Homes in a 12-block area. Carlinville is in central Illinois.)  For several months, I asked every smart person I knew what this meant. No one had a guess. Finally, I found a clipping that said a neighborhood had just “come out of the mud.” It showed freshly paved streets and sidewalks. “Coming out of the mud” meant the subdivision now had proper sidewalks and city streets.

yyrr

Vintage photo of Carlinville's Standard Addition before they "came out of the mud." This photo was taken sometime in 1919.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book on Sears Homes, click here.

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Eight Little Models in Carlinville’s Standard Addition

January 24th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Carlinville, Illinois has 152 Sears Homes in a 12-block area. The neighborhood with all these Sears Homes is known as Standard Addition. To read more about the history of this enclave of kit homes, click here. Part of a $1 million order placed by Standard Oil of Indiana, Standard Addition features eight designs of Sears Homes. (An aside: Carlinville does not have the largest collection of Sears Homes, as is often reported. That honor goes to Elgin, Illinois - with 210 Sears Homes.)

Interestingly, the houses in Standard Addtion are all two-story homes and they’re all modest homes, averaging about 1000 square feet (and less). The eight models are:

1)  The Warrenton

2) The Roseberry

3) The Whitehall

4) The Lebanon

5) The Langston

6) The Windsor

7) The Madelia

8 ) The Gladstone

Below, I’ve posted pictures of the original catalog page, followed by extant houses in Carlinville.

Sears Warrenton

Sears Warrenton as seen in the 1919 Sears catalog.

Sears Warrenton

Sears Warrenton in Standard Addition. I like the pink bottom, and I like the fact that this house retains its original sidings, but the lattice work around the porch is a little distracting.

Sears Roseberry

Sears Roseberry from the 1920 Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Roseberry in Standard Addition

Sears Roseberry in Standard Addition

Sears Whitehall

Sears Whitehall

Sears Whitehall

This Sears Whitehall is in originally wonderful condition!

Sears Lebanon

Sears Lebanon

Lebanon

The windows on the porch of the Sears Lebanon were probably added soon after the house was built, or in the 1930s. Very nicely done.

Gladstone/Langston

Gladstone/Langston. As you'll see below, there's very little difference between the Sears Gladstone and the Langston.

Langston

The salt-treated porch railings, foundation lattice work, and satellite dish are probably not original.

Carlin

The heading reads, "For Better Class Workers." I'm happy to report that Sears did not offer a house for "Lesser Class Workers."

Carlin

Desperate to remain in contact with the outside world after losing its front windows, this clever little Carlin erected a Ham Radio antenna.

Madelia

Madelia

Madelia

The railings and lattice work on this Sears Madelia are not original, but they are nicely done. A most attractive little house!

Gladstone

Gladstone

Gladstone

The spacious porch on this Gladstone was closed in, but the remodeling was done in a sensitive manner. You can still see the unique porch columns with their flared blocks at the top. This Sears House. The fireplace is a rarity among Standard Addition's homes. It was probably added later.

Sears

Vintage photo of Standard Addition, shortly after the houses were built.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Beyond Standard Addition (Carlinville’s OTHER Kit Homes)

January 20th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

I get lots of interesting notes from lots of interesting people. Unfortunately I find that amongst those many emails and letters, there are a lot of common misconceptions about Sears Homes.  One of the more persistent myths is that Carlinville has the largest collection of Sears Homes in the country. This is not true. Elgin (in Illinois) has the largest known collection (with more than 210 Sears Homes), and that word “known” is an especially important one.

Is it possible that some community has more than 210 Sears Homes? Absolutely!!  I am personally acquainted with three serious researchers who have devoted themselves to this work:  Dale Wolicki (Bay City, Michigan), Dr. Rebecca Hunter (Elgin, Illinois), and myself (Norfolk, Virginia). We’ve traveled tens of thousands of miles visiting towns throughout the country. We’ve literally traveled from sea to shining sea looking for these kit homes. Personally, I’ve been from Chicago to Baton Rouge and Boston to Los Angeles on research trips.

My point is, in all our travels, we have not discovered any city that can beat Elgin’s 210 Sears Homes. But we haven’t been to every city in America. In fact, I’d guess that the three of us together have seen fewer than 10% of all the kit homes in America.

With that as a backdrop, let’s go back to Carlinville, Illinois. Interestingly, there are a handful of Sears Homes outside of Standard Addition (the 12-block area with 152 Sears Homes). And there’s a Gordon Van Tine house in Carlinville! (Click here to learn more about Gordon Van Tine.)

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

Heres a Gordon Van Tine Roberts in Carlinville. GVT was another kit home company that (like Sears) sold entire houses from a mail-order catalog. GVT was based in Davenport, Iowa.

Here's a Gordon Van Tine "Roberts" in Carlinville. GVT was another kit home company that (like Sears) sold entire houses from a mail-order catalog. GVT was based in Davenport, Iowa.

Gordon Van Tine home in Carlinville, not far from the Standard Addition neighborhood.

Pictured above is a Gordon Van Tine home in Carlinville, not far from the Standard Addition neighborhood. This was a popular home for GVT and was known as "The Roberts."

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Sears Beaumont in Carlinville, Illinois

Sears Beaumont in Carlinville, Illinois, and it's a beauty! I didn't know about this Sears house until early 2003, when someone attended a lecture I gave in Carlinville and told me that there was a Sears Beaumont "near the college"!

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Sears Sunbeam, as shown in the 1919 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Sunbeam, as shown in the 1919 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Sunbeam in Carlinville.

Sears Sunbeam in Carlinville.

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Sears Lebanon from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Lebanon from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

This little Sears Lebanon is outside of Standard Addition, but the Lebanon was one of eight models found in Standard Addition. The other houses were the Roseberry, the Warrenton, the Roanoke, the Langston, the Gladstone, the Whitehall and the Madelia.

This little Sears Lebanon is outside of Standard Addition, but the Lebanon was one of eight models found in Standard Addition. The other houses were the Roseberry, the Warrenton, the Roanoke, the Langston, the Gladstone, the Whitehall and the Madelia. This house is one of two Lebanons outside of Standard Addition.

To learn more about Standard Addition, click here.

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