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“The Sears Home We Picked Out” (By Joseph Origer)

May 2nd, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

The Sears Home we picked out - the Hammond - had a kitchen that was 8 x 10 feet so I asked the salesman (at the Sears Modern Homes Sales Center in Chicago) if we could make the kitchen bigger. He suggested that we make the back of the house two feet wider, so the kitchen, dining room and a back bedroom would all be two feet wider.

This of course changed all the precut lumber and the original plans. They had to make a new set of blueprints and specially cut all the material.

My dad, who had accompanied us to Chicago, asked the salesman how much these changes would cost. We all held our breath while the salesman did the figuring and it seemed like it took him forever. Finally, he told us that the extra square footage would cost an additional $67. We went with the extra two feet.

Reminiscence of Joseph Origer (builder/owner of “The Hammond”).

In 2002, after the publication of my first book, I had the good fortune to talk with many people who’d built their own Sears kit home. One of my favorites was the story of Joseph Origer, who’d built a Sears Hammond on the family farm in 1940.

Joseph Origer was born in 1914 in a Sears Home, on a farm near North Judson, Indiana. His father had built the two-story kit house (Modern Home #101) a year earlier, in 1913. Twenty-six years later,  in the summer of 1940, Joseph and his new wife traveled to a Sears Modern Homes Sales Center in nearby Chicago to pick out another Sears kit home to build on the same farm.

The young couple chose The Hammond -  a 1000-square foot, five-room Honor-Bilt bungalow with casement windows. On July 4th, 1940, two weeks after placing the order, their home arrived in one boxcar at the train depot. Joseph Origer shared some precious memories and wonderful details about the building of these two Sears homes.

My dad built a Sears kit silo in 1911 and he was so impressed with the quality of the lumber (all cypress) that he decided to buy and build Sears Modern Home #101.


Our farm adjoined the old Pennsylvania Railroad. Dad was working in the field when he saw a train pass by with building materials piled high on open flat cars and thought, ‘I bet that’s my house!’ Dad went into the barn and hitched up the horses and went down to the depot to pick up his house. The story is that while Dad was at the depot unloading the building materials, the depot agent looked at the indoor plumbing fixtures and asked, ‘What are those things?’


I remember my father telling me the kit home was all number one lumber and material. All the building materials cost $879 and the total expense, including all carpenter labor, was less than $1500.I still have the itemized list of materials for that house!


When I decided to marry and stay on the farm, my parents suggested we go to Chicago and pick out another Sears home. Dad said, “you know the material will be good.”


It was 1940 when we bought the house. I think that was the last year they sold these homes. I had a 1939 Modern Homes catalog, so I sent for a 1940 catalog and found there had been a slight price increase. This was the time when Hitler was invading Poland and prices had gone up a little. I was excited about getting a house, but a friend of mine said, “Joe, you should wait a couple years until prices come down.” I’m glad I didn’t wait. It would have been a long wait.


We went to Chicago to look at Sears’ housing displays and get a little more definite information. The Sales Center had samples of inside doors and millwork that we could look at. They had different samples of the inside fixtures and millwork.


The home we picked out - the Hammond - had a kitchen that was 8 x 10 feet so I asked the salesman (at the Sears Modern Homes Sales Center in Chicago) if we could make the kitchen bigger. He suggested that we make the back of the house two feet wider, so the kitchen, dining room and a back bedroom would all be two feet wider.


This of course changed all the precut lumber and the original plans. They had to make a new set of blueprints and specially cut all the material. My dad asked how much these changes would cost. We all held our breath while the salesman did the figuring and it seemed like it took him forever. Finally, he told us that the extra square footage would cost an additional $67. We went with the extra two feet.


The salesman said if we had it all sent in one shipment, it’d be cheaper then having it sent in several shipments, which was another option. The second option was for people who didn’t have a place to store all the building materials. We went with one shipment to save a little money.


The house arrived about two weeks after we ordered it. The station agent called and said we had a carload of building material. We hauled it home on a truck and that took quite a few trips. Fortunately, we only had to travel 2 ½ miles. It all fit in one boxcar, but it was pretty tightly packed.


The plaster (for the walls) and cement (for the foundation) was included in the price that we paid. Sears placed the orders for those materials with a local lumber yard. I remember someone from the yard called me and asked, “when do you want your plaster and cement delivered?” I hadn’t been aware that Sears did it that way.


We built The Hammond  400 feet away from Modern Home #101. We hired a retired carpenter that lived in town to help us build it. He charged us 50 cents an hour. He said the material was excellent quality and that you could pick up any 2 x 4 and use it as a straight edge.


The house arrived on July 4th and we were living in it by winter. When the house was completed, the total cost of my house, including everything -  bathroom fixtures, plumbing, wiring, paint and varnish - was about $2,700. These 60-plus years The Hammond has been a wonderful house. I am glad I built it. This house has been well maintained inside and out, and it is still just as good as new.

Joseph Origer was born in 1914 in the Sears Modern Home #101. When I spoke with Mr. Origer in 2003, the original house was in very poor condition, due to its having been rental property for a very short period of time.

Joseph Origer was born in 1914 in the Sears Modern Home #101. When I spoke with Mr. Origer in 2003, the original house was in very poor condition, due to its having been rental property for a very short period of time. I'd love to know if this house is still standing.

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The Sears Hammond, as shown in the 1940 catalog.

The Sears Hammond, as shown in the 1940 catalog. The 1940 was the last catalog that was issued by the Sears Modern Homes department. It was a reprint of the 1939 catalog, and the entire Sears Modern Homes department was permanently shut down in 1940.

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The

The Hammond, as seen in the 1938 catalog.

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A Hammond in Sterling, Illinois. Unfortunately, I dont have a picture of Mr. Origers Hammond. In my many travels, Ive only seen this one Hammond.

And it's all brick! This Sears Hammond is in Sterling, Illinois (northern Illinois). Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of Mr. Origer's Hammond in Indiana. In my many travels, I've only seen this one Hammond. A very distinctive feature of the Sears Hammond is the flared flooples on both sides of the front gable.

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Flared

It was Dale Wolicki who first taught me about Flared Flooples, and he pointed out that even more rare than "Flared Flooples" are the Flying French Flared Flooples. I'm still waiting for Dale to send me a picture of a house that's sporting the Flying French Flared Flooples. The red arrows above highlight this distinctive feature on the Sears Hammond.

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To learn more about Dale Wolicki, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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

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Modern Home #194: Brighton, Illinois

April 11th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

When I started giving lectures in southwestern Illinois, several people approached me after the talks and said, “You know, there’s a Sears Home on East Center Street in Brighton.”

So many times I drove the length of East Center Street and never saw anything that looked remotely like a Sears House. And so many times I went home and studied Houses by Mail trying desperately to figure out if any of the houses in that field guide matched any houses on East Center Street.

I’ve since learned that 80%, people who think they have a Sears kit home are wrong. Often it turns out to be a kit home from another company, but in 2002, when I was still memorizing the 370 designs offered by Sears, I wasn’t equipped or prepared to figure out if this was something OTHER than a Sears House.

Finally, one day someone gave me a specific address. That helped - a whole lot.

I snapped a photo of the house form several angles and then sat down with my pictures and Houses by Mail and this time, I was not going to give up until I figured this out.

Lo and behold, I found my house. It was a modest little thing, but there it was: Sears Modern Home #194. It had been altered and added onto, but there was no doubt that this was a Sears kit home.

Once I discover and identify a Sears House “in the flesh,” I’ll never miss another one. Seeing these houses in 3-D helps me remember all their architectural nuances. And yet, despite that, I have never seen another #194, or  its close cousins, #193 and #196.

To read about the Sears Kit Homes of Ohio, click here.

To read about the Sears homes I found in Raleigh, NC click here.

To see a short video about my sweet aunt that was killed by her not-so-sweet husband, click here.

Sears Modern Home #193, 194 and 195 (1912)

Sears Modern Home #193, 194 and 195 (1912)

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Floor plan

This house is so small they don't even have room to spell out the word "pantry" on the floor plan. Maybe it's an abbreviation for the word "paltry"?

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Flor plan 2

The second floor shows the smallest bath in the world.

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house

Not a bad-looking little house.

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house

It's been added onto (quite a bit) and someone placed an exterior door to the cellar stairs (which is a good idea anyway), and it's been clad in the ugly garb of vinyl siding, but this is unmistakeably Modern Home #194.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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The Calumet: 20 Rooms in 12!

March 30th, 2012 Sears Homes 2 comments

Sears always had an interesting way of ciphering. The Calumet was a four-apartment kit “house” with 12 rooms. The “20 rooms in 12″ was a little misleading.

The eight mystery rooms were “bedrooms” which were really teeny-tiny closets. Inside those eight tiny closets were eight fold-away beds (Murphy beds). The “bedroom in a closet” idea was heralded as a great space-saving device and a money-saving device too. After all, there’s no need to buy rugs and pictures and chairs and night stands when you sleep in a closet.

Who needs a bedroom anyway?

I’ve only seen one Calumet and that was in Bloomington, IL and it had been greatly altered.

The typical Sears Home was a 12,000 piece kit that was bundled and shipped in one boxcar. The Calumet was probably a bit more than 12,000 pieces. It was 2,800+ square feet, but it also had four kitchens and four bathrooms and a lot of steps, railings and porches. And a lot of doors.

And eight beds.

And all for a mere $3,073.

To learn more about Murphy Beds, click here.

Twenty rooms in 12 promised the header on this page.

"Twenty rooms in 12" promised the header on this page.

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The beds came with this kit apartment.

The built-in wall beds came with the Sears Calumet. They were hidden behind nice-looking French doors! I wonder how long these primitive metal-framed beds survived in these old four-plexes?

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house

Only three rooms per apartment, but they are fairly spacious. And note the small windows in the "bedroom" (closet).

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And

Close-up on those wall beds in the dining room and living room.

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The Cinderella was another Sears House that promoted use of stowaway beds. Note the

The "Cinderella" was another Sears House that promoted use of stowaway beds. Note the text at the bottom of this page: "You are saved the expense of two extra bedrooms in your house, as well as the additional expense of rugs and furniture..."

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And what exactly do you get for $3,073?

And what exactly do you get for $3,073?

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Close-up of the Calumet as shown in the 1918 catalog.

Close-up of the Calumet as shown in the 1918 catalog.

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Sears Calumet in Bloomington, IL.

Sears Calumet in Bloomington, IL.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn more about multi-family Sears kit apartments, click here.

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