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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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A Rare Bird: The Sears Vallonia in Original Condition

April 9th, 2012 Sears Homes 2 comments

There’s a Sears Vallonia in Washington, DC that’s on the market - kind of - but according to local Realtors, they’re having a tough time getting inside the house to show it. I thought I’d help them out by providing a few interior photos of a *real* Vallonia!

These are amongst my favorite photos (slides, actually), because they show a 1928-built Sears Vallonia in original condition - as of 2001. That’s when Rebecca Hunter and I had a chance to tour the inside of this remarkable house in Columbia, Illinois.

As of 2001, one of the home’s original owners and builders (yep, that’s right), had passed on a couple years prior.

Sadly, I’ve forgotten the name of the original homeowner, but she and her husband built the house in 1928, and years after the husband passed on, his widow lived there until her death. When we saw the house, not only was it in original condition, but it was in beautiful shape - as the pictures will show.

So if those folks in DC want to know what their Vallonia looks like on the inside, they can just scroll on down to see the interior of the Vallonia in Columbia, Illinois.

If you want to buy a Sears Vallonia in DC (or any Sears House), click here.

To learn more about kit homes in DC, click here.

From the 1925 Sears Modern Homes Catalog: The Vallonia

From the 1925 Sears Modern Homes Catalog: The Vallonia

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Check out the interiors, as shown in the 1928 catalog.

Check out the interiors, as shown in the 1928 catalog.

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Close-up of the original Vallonia bathroom

Close-up of the original Vallonia bathroom

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And here it is, as of 2001. Notice the floor tile, which is probably original to the house.

And here it is, as of 2001. Notice the floor tile, which is probably original to the house. I wish I'd gotten a photo of that medicine chest! But these are the original plumbing fixtures. And see what a good match they are to the 1928 image above!!

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The bath

And the Vallonia bath tub

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The original

And the original "pedestal" tub.

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The kitchen, as seen in 1928.

The kitchen, as seen in 1928.

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And heres the kitchen in 2001.

And here's the kitchen in 2001. The sink is a spot-on match.

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The original dining room.

The original dining room.

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The dining room in the Columbia Vallonia

The dining room in the Columbia Vallonia

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And original light fixtures throughout.

And original light fixtures throughout.

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The bedroom

The living room - as seen in 1928.

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And the bedroom.

And the bedroom.

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The folks in Columbia loved their Sears Homes so much, they turned the risers and treads wrong-side-out, so people would always remember, theirs was a Sears kit home.

The folks in Columbia loved their Sears Homes so much, they turned the risers and treads wrong-side-out (with numbers exposed), so people would always remember, theirs was a Sears kit home. Each riser and tread - all the way up - showed the marked lumber.

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The Sears Vallonia

The Sears Vallonia

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And here it is in 2001.

And here it is in 2001.

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Side by side comparison

Side by side comparison

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To learn more about kit homes, click here.

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“The Betsy Ross,” by Sears

April 8th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

Of the 370 models that Sears offered, 107 Sears Homes were named after cities in Illinois. A few others were named after famous figures in American history, such as the Martha Washington and the Betsy Ross.

The Martha Washington was a massive two-story Dutch Colonial. The Betsy Ross was a diminutive bungalow with a single bedroom. Seems a little unfair for a widow woman who joined the “Fighting Quakers” and made our first flag during the American Revolutionary War.

In 1928, the Betsy Ross was an “Honor Bilt” home, but in prior years, it was a “Standard Bilt” house, meaning it not an especially sturdy house. To learn more about the differences between Honor-Bilt and Standard Bilt, click here.

The fact that it was offered for years as a Standard Bilt house may explain why it’s such a rare model. Standard Bilt homes were not likely to survive these many decades.

In my travels, I’ve only seen two examples of the Betsy Ross: One in Elgin (which Rebecca Hunter found), and one in Effingham, Illinois.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

1928 Betsy

The Betsy Ross was a pretty modest little house, and as built, had only one bedroom (with a closet-less dining room that could be used as a second bedroom).

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Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross had a fairly complicated floorplan for such a little house. The dining room is oddly positioned for a "dining room." As a second bedroom, it made much more sense.

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Notice the cut-out shutters (with clover leaf) and details on the front porch gable.

Elgin, IL

Rebecca Hunter has authenticated this Betsy Ross in Elgin, Illinois. Notice the "spokes" in the front porch gable. This porch has gable returns, while the original Betsy Ross does not, and yet this house (in Elgin) is most certainly the real deal. Notice also the original shutters and flower boxes.

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Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross- the details

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To learn how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

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There’s a Reason They Were Called Sears MODERN Homes

September 17th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

In 1908, a little ad appeared on page 594 of the Sears general merchandise catalog. It read, “Let us be your architect, without cost to you.” Interested buyers were invited to write in and request the free catalog, “Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans.” The first houses ranged in price from $500 to $5000.

The mail-order homes were shipped by boxcar and came in 12,000 piece kits. Sears promised that a “man of average abilities” could have one assembled and ready for occupancy in 90 days. That was probably a little optimistic, but if you requested a Sears mortgage on your Sears kit home, there was a requirement that thee house be occupied within four months of purchase!

By the early 1910s, the specialty catalogs featuring these kit homes had a new title: “Sears Modern Homes.” And they really were modern homes.

In 1917, American Carpenter and Builder Magazine reported that “watertight roof, walls and floor are an essential feature of a modern city house.”

Remember Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books? She described life on the plains in soddies and tiny cabins in the 1870s ad 1880s.

The Midwesterners who built Sears kit homes in the early 1900s could have been raised in housing that would be considered extremely primitive by today’s standards.

Below is a picture of a soddie. These were very primitive and dark and dank; undoubtedly a fairly miserable way to spend the day, nine months out of the year. One look at these soddies (below) and you’ll fast understand why a pretty little Sears bungalow would be classified as a “Modern Home.”

To learn more about these Modern Homes, click here.

prim

Soddies were made of sod that had been cut into squares and stacked up. They were easy to heat, and they kept *most* of the rain off your head. Kinda.

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Close-up of Soddie Life.

Living aint easy in one of these

Living ain't easy in one of these.

Cover

Cover of the first Sears kit home catalog. Notice the art deco lamps!

Cover

In the 1908 catalog, Modern Home #106 was offered for $1145, which was an outstanding value. In today's dollars, that'd probably be about $15,000. There's no bathroom, but it's still a lot better than a soddie!

Boo

Incredibly, I found this photo on eBay years ago. It's a Modern Home #106 with the fam seated in front of it! You can see why this house would be such a vast improvement over a soddie. It's really a stark contrast to a house made of dirt.

house

The family seated in front of their "Modern Home." I'm sure they were very proud of their beautiful little house.

To learn  more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Elias Knows a Good Book When He Sees It!

July 27th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

And I know a cute boy when I see one!  :)

Elias and his mom were at the Borders in Champaign when they spotted my newest book on the shelf, and my daughter (Elias’ mom), snapped a nice picture for me.

The Sears Homes of Illinois” (printed late November 2010), has 250 color photos of Sears Homes, and of my eight books, this is one of my favorites.

And three-year-old Elias is - far and away - my #1 favorite grandson!  :)

Elias likes books.

Elias is my first (and currently only) grandchild! And it would seem that he has very good tastes in books! (Photo is copyright 2011 Anna Rose Carr and may not be reproduced without written permission.)

Elias gazing at the new book.

Elias gazing at the new book. (Photo is copyright 2011 Anna Rose Carr and may not be reproduced without written permission.)

The rear cover:

And a sample of an inside page.

To read an excerpt, click here.

To buy the book, click here or 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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And Who Says Sears Homes are Small and Boxy?

April 6th, 2011 Sears Homes 5 comments

On a recent trip to North Carolina, I found a Sears Elmhurst. And on a recent trip to my attic, I found a picture of a Sears Elmhurst somewhere in a Chicago suburb (first picture below). This was not an especially massive house, but it is an elegant home, and full of classic English Tudor features.

The Sears Elmhusrt - somehwere in the suburbs of Northern Illinois

The Sears Elmhusrt - somehwere in the suburbs of Northern Illinois

The Sears Elmhurst - a fine house!

The Sears Elmhurst - a fine house!

floorplan

The floorplan shows this is not a large house, but it sure is beautiful, and also has a first-floor half-bath.

Sears Elmhurst in Rocky Mount. This really is a beautiful match, and the only difference is, the house in Rocky Mount has had an addition put onto the side.

Sears Elmhurst in Rocky Mount. This really is a beautiful match, and the only difference is, the house in Rocky Mount has had an addition put onto the both sides.

To read more about the Sears Homes in Rocky Mount, click here.

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

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Built-ins and Sears Kit Homes

January 30th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Many times, I’ve seen less-than-informed sources report that if your home has built-ins, such as built-in ironing boards and breakfast nooks and telephone niches, it’s probably a kit home.

This is not true.

Built-ins were practical space-saving ideas that became very popular in the early 1900s, which was also the years when Sears kit homes became popular. And, built-ins were big sellers in hardware catalogs, too. In other words, you could add them to your house in later years.

Both Sears and Montgomery Ward offered these built-ins in their mail-order catalogs.

Pictured below are examples of the built-ins offered in the Sears Honor-Bilt Hardware catalog.

1933 Sears Building Materials catalog

1933 Sears Building Materials catalog. Note the Sears Mitchell on this catalog's cover. Note, these aren't just building materials, but HONOR BILT building materials!

Sears Ironing Board

For $5, you could purchase this dandy ironing board that was designed to fit within the studs.

Sears

For an extra $2.25, you could upgrade to an oak telephone cabinet. The phone shown here is a 1910s/20s candlestick phone. The vented panel on the lower portion held the "ringer." Old phones did not have individual ringers, but used a central bell located somewhere in the house.

Sears

For a mere $14.95 you could have this adorable "Colonial Breakfast Alcove" in your bungalow's kitchen.

To read more about breakfast nooks, click here.

To read about Sears Homes, click here.

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Sticks and Stones and All-Brick Sears Homes

January 28th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

From time to time, people write me and say, “I thought this was a Sears House, but it’s all brick, so I know it can’t be a kit home.”

Actually…

Sears Homes could be ordered with cypress or cedar shakes or clapboards, with stucco, or with masonry, such as cement block (not common), brick (very common) or stone (also not common). If you wanted wood siding, it was shipped from the Sears Mills in Cairo, Illinois, Newark, New Jersey or Norwood, Ohio. If you opted for masonry (block, stone or brick), you purchased it locally, to save on freight charges. Masonry weighs a lot.

sears

Inside rear cover of the 1940 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears

Small graphic that appeared in the 1933 Sears Modern Homes catalog, below the page featuring the Sears Lewiston.

Sears Homes

At a "small extra cost" you can add brick to your Sears Galewood.

Clifton

Sears Auburn in Clifton Forge Virginia with half brick and half wood. Most Auburns were all wood, so this is an interesting alteration. Note, it is solid brick and not just brick veneer.

brick

Close-up on the brick work of the Auburn in Clifton Forge.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read more about the Sears Homes in Clifton Forge, click here.

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That Rare and Elusive Bird: The Sears Magnolia

January 12th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

Visits to my website are steadily going up, which is a good thing. And with those extra visits, more inquires about Sears Magnolias are also on the rise! Oh, but if only a few of the many photos were actually the real deal!

Priced at about $6,000, the Sears Magnolia, offered from 1918-1922 was Sears most expensive house, and the biggest, too. Unfortunately, it was also the rarest, with only six known Magnolias sold in the entire country!

Right after WW1 (The Great War) ended, prices went sky high. Sears couldnt keep up with the volatility in the cost of building materials, so they started inserting price sheets into their catalog. This shows the profound reduction in cost, in the late 1920s.

Right after WW1 (The Great War) ended, prices went sky high. Sears couldn't keep up with the volatility in the cost of building materials, so they started inserting price sheets into their catalog. This shows the profound reduction in cost, in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Sears Magnolia was purposefully patterned after a popular housing style, The Southern Colonial. Here in Hampton Roads, there are Southern Colonial Revival styled homes in many of our turn-of-the-century neighborhoods. However, the Sears Magnolia - the real deal - has some unique features that’ll help differentiate it from other homes of that period.

Below are some images from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog, showing details around the roof and front porch. Take a moment and really study these images and you’ll see some of the unique architectural features. And if you want to see a real Sears Magnolia, click here and here and here.

Sears Magnolia from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Magnolia from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Magnolia

Sears Magnolia - first story floor plan.

Details on Sears Magnolias front porch

Details on the Sears Magnolia's front porch. The two-story columns are an eye-catching feature. Also notice the distinctive roof lines and unique details around the front porch. At its core, the Sears Magnolia is a classic foursquare with delusions of grandeur.

Maggy in Benson

Maggy in Benson

If you really think you’ve found a Sears kit home, look for stamped lumber in the basement, like this:

And in the flesh, it looks like this:

The mark appears on two places: The butt end and also on the tall face, about 2-6 inches from the end of the lumber.

The mark appears on two places: The butt end and also on the tall face, about 2-6 inches from the end of the lumber.