For about a dozen years, I lived in Alton, Illinois. In fact, that’s where I researched and wrote The Houses That Sears Built.
Last week, I returned to Alton to visit family.
Of course, I couldn’t resist driving around my old stomping grounds a bit and looking at the old houses. I left the area in Spring 2006. Since then, I’ve acquired many “new” old catalogs and learned a great deal. While in the Riverbend area last week, I made many “fresh” discoveries.
One of the more interesting finds was this Sterling “Chilton” in nearby Wood River, Illinois
Sterling was based in Bay City, Michigan, and was one of six national companies that sold kit homes in the early 20th Century through mail-order catalogs.
They started out life as International Mill and Timber Company, and in 1915, they launched their own line of pre-cut kit homes, and re-named their company, “Sterling Homes.”
Sterling Homes offered construction services for developers and one of their largest clients turned out to be General Motors, which paid for 1,000 houses to be built in Flint Michigan (for GM workers). Their last catalog was printed in 1974. Total sales during their 59 years in business were about 45,000 homes. (Thanks to Dale Wolicki for the stats and facts on Sterling!)
Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for providing me with the scanned images from the 1917 Sterling Homes catalog!
Learn more about the history of Sterling Homes by clicking here.
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The Sterling Chilton, from the 1917 Sterling Homes catalog.
Sterling Homes was based in Bay City, Michigan. During their 59 years in business, they sold about 45,000 pre-cut kit homes. Shown here is the cover of the 1916 Sterling Homes catalog.
I just love these graphics. And notice the political commentary that was written in by some anonymous soul. Charles Evans Hughes ran against Woodrow Wilson in 1916. He put in a good showing and lost by a mere 594,000 votes. If Hughes had won California, we wouldn't have nearly so many high schools named after Woodrow Wilson.
The Chilton had an oversized living room and dining room, and two small bedrooms, one of which had a cedar closet. Notice the "Jack and Jill" bathroom.
The base of the columns on that Chilton are what make it really stand out! There's been some debate in our Facebook group as to the purpose of those projections on those stuccoed columns. Rachel suggested it was to have a safe place for your beer while you were out mowing the yard. Sounds pretty smart to me.
While not a spot-on match to the catalog image, I am confident that this house in Wood River is a Sterling Chilton. The front door is easy enough to move, and this is a common alteration. Plus, the house has replacement windows, aluminum siding (ick) and aluminum trim (sigh), so it's possible that it's been subjected to many "improvements."
View from the other side. Three windows have been added to the front gable, but the rest of the details on the home's front are very good, including the five brackets and their placement, the broad piece of fascia across the front and the size and shape of the porch wall.
While the house in Wood River has a few details that are a bit off, this column is a spot-on match, and it's such a unique architectural feature, that I'm willing to bet money that this is indeed the Sterling Chilton.
The reason for my return to the St. Louis area: My daughter will soon be married to this fine gent. They're sitting in front of the gazebo, gazing at the very spot where their wedding will take place.
As a final note, sometime in 1999, my (then) husband and I went to an open house in Upper Alton, IL (near Edwards Street) where we saw this house for sale. Last month, I was looking through the 1953 Aladdin catalog and re-discovered this house. It's an Aladdin Magnolia, and as soon as I saw the image, I remembered seeing this very same house in 1999. When I was in Alton last week, I drove more than 80 miles, criss-crossing every street in the city, looking for this house but could not find it. If you know where this house is, please leave a comment below. I'll be returning to Alton later for my daughter's wedding and would love to get a photo of this house. Thanks!!
To join our “Sears Homes” group on Facebook, click here.
To read more about the Aladdin Magnolia, click here.
If you know where that Aladdin Magnolia is, please leave a comment below! And please share this link with your Riverbend Friends!
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