Posts Tagged ‘sears houses’

The Amherst: All The Charms and Hominess of the Bungalow

April 20th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

…combined with the advantages of a two-story house!

So promised the advertising copy that accompanied the pictures in the 1914 Aladdin Homes catalog.

One week ago today, hubby (Wayne) and buddy (Milton) and I were wandering around Carney’s Point, NJ, admiring an entire neighborhood of Aladdin kit homes.

In Carney’s Point, I saw several models of Aladdin houses that I had never seen before.

The fun started along Shell Road (the main drag through town), where I found several Aladdin houses, many of which were in very good condition.

Since returning home, I’ve read through two books detailing the history of Carney’s Point, but neither book has so much as a mention about the fact that they’ve got a large neighborhood (more than 100 houses, I’d guess) of Aladdin kit homes.

Do they know?

If the do know, where’s the placard?

If they don’t, send them a link to this website! :D

Is your house a kit house? Click here to learn more about “The Nine Signs.”


In the 1916 Aladdin catalog, this promotion appeared. Mark Hardin and I have been wondering if Carneys Point is the town to which theyre referring.

In the 1916 Aladdin catalog, this promotion appeared. Mark Hardin and I have been wondering if Carney's Point (New Jersey) is the town to which they're referring.


The Amherst (shown here) appeared in the 1914 catalog. Apparently, it was not a big seller, but there are several in Carneys Point.

The Amherst appeared in the 1914 catalog. It was not a big seller, but there are several in Carney's Point.


Floor plan

Look at the size of that living room!


floor plan 2

All four bedrooms are good size, too.


Love the description, complete with the typo!

Love the description, complete with the typo!


Because it has so many unique features, it should be easy to identify!

Because it has so many unique features, it should be easy to identify!


This Amherst is on Shell Road in Carneys Point.

This Amherst is on Shell Road in Carney's Point.


Nice house

Wish I had the nerve to ask people to move their vehicles, but I don't.


An Amherst in the heart of the Aladdin Neighborhood.

An Amherst in the heart of the Aladdin Neighborhood.


Best feature is, original siding!

Best feature is, original siding (but replacement windows). Alas!


And its for sale!

And it's for sale!


Due to the small lots and mature vegetation, it was hard to get shots that were a good match to the catalog image.

Due to the small lots and mature vegetation, it was hard to get shots that were a good match to the catalog image. Well, let's say it was hard to get good shots and *not* get arrested. This is a good shot of the details down that bay-window side. That funky small window in the bay makes this house *easy* to identify in the wild.


Fortunately, I was able to get a good shot of this.

Fortunately, I was able to get a good shot of this. from an angle that matched the catalog, however... That front porch addition is a little "clunky."


What a fine match!

What a fine match!


And what came with your house?

And what came with your house?


To learn more about another DuPont town, click here.

To read about another town filled with Aladdin Homes, click here.


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The Grant: A Charm All Its Own

April 17th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

Recently, Wayne (hubby), Milton (buddy) and I traveled to the National Archives and Records Administration in Philadelphia to do research on Penniman. Along the way, we stopped at Carney’s Point, NJ to check out the houses in that neighborhood.

Carney’s Point, like Penniman, was the site of a World War 1 DuPont munitions plant.

In 1891, E. I. DuPont de Nemours bought the land, which had been owned by the descendant of an Irish immigrant named Thomas Carney. DuPont had purchased the 17 square mile tract so that they could build a plant and manufacture smokeless gunpowder.

When The European War began in July 1914, demand for smokeless gunpowder exploded (so to speak). (World War I began in Europe in July 1914, and was originally known as The European War.)

At Carney’s Point, the population swelled from 2,000 (pre-European War) to 25,000 (1917). In their great rush to provide industrial housing for all these people, DuPont turned to Aladdin to supply pre-cut houses. One of the houses that was built in the Aladdin neighborhood was The Grant.

This is one Aladdin model that I have never seen anywhere else, and yet there’s a surfeit of them in Carney’s Point.

Do you know of a “Grant” in another community? Please leave a comment below!

And please share this link on Facebook or with your old-house loving friends!


The Grant, as seen in the 1914 Aladdin catalog.

In the 1914 Aladdin catalog, it was called, "The Jackson."


People on prch

I just love the drawn-in people.


In 1916, it was renamed

In 1916, the little house was renamed The Grant.


Pretty basic floorplan

This first floor was 20 by 20 (400 square feet) and had a pretty basic floorplan.


And perhaps most interesting, no bath

And perhaps most interesting, it had no bathroom (as shown in 1916).


You can assemble it on youor next stay-cation.

Best of all, you can assemble it on your next "stay-cation" (last paragraph).



This one is easy to spot with the unique window arrangement and Arts & Crafts porch.


nice house and cheap

This front porch on this Grant is largely original, but covered in siding and screens. The Victorian screen door isn't a good look, but that's kind of off-set by the 1950s wrouught-iron railing.


unfortunate placement of ac

These folks went with vinyl siding instead of aluminum. Plus, it has a beam sticking out of its eye.


house house

And this darling little house (which also has its original front porch) is for sale for a mere $112,900, which seems like a pretty good deal (assuming that it has an inside bathroom).


my favorite

This was my favorite, because it's untouched by the ravages of roving home-improvement companies and vinyl-siding salesmen. I'd love to know if this is the original siding, or if it was added in later years. We do know that some of the DuPont designs were offered with "composite siding" which is a nice way of saying, "crappy asphalt roll siding" (which is what we're seeing here).



Oh yeah, baby! Original windows! I *love* it!


detail around porch

And nice detail around the front porch.


A view of Carneys Point in the late 1910s. .

A view of Carney's Point in the late 1910s/early 20s. This photo was taken in the 200-block of Broadway.


To learn more about Penniman, click here.

To read about another town filled with Aladdin Homes, click here.

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Levittown, Norfolk Virginia

March 29th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

“Rose, do you know what this thing is?”

That’s what my neighbor asked me Friday night, as we were standing in the front yard, enjoying the pleasant evening.

In the back of his truck, he showed me a 2×6 with a metal ring recessed into a matching groove. I closely examined the board and the ring and the groove. Then I had to admit, I didn’t have a clue.

“It came out of that house that they’re remodeling down the street,” he said. “It’s a roofing joist. I didn’t know what it was either, and I asked my nephew and he said it was a fastener. It had a square bolt that went through it, and that’s what held two pieces of wood together.”

“Like a nailing plate,” I said.

“Yeah, like a nailing plate.”

Back at home, we looked it up on the computer (using the patent number) and found it was a Teco Timber Ring.

Looking at this curiosity, I got to thinking it might help me solve another riddle. This Teco Ring came from “Bromley” (an adjacent neighborhood).

I’ve always wondered, why does Bromely have so many “Levittown houses”? We’ve got more than 75 “Jubilee” models, and they are identical to the houses built in Levittown (NY and PA).

Was there a connection between Bromley and Levitt’s assembly-line-method-of-house-building? Or did someone in Norfolk just “borrow” the Jubilee floorplan and build it en masse?

We know that William Levitt (creator and builder of Levittown) had a presence in Norfolk. In the early 1940s, he developed a tract of 750 homes in Norfolk known as “Oakdale Farms” (just off Little Creek Road).

According to Second Suburb: Levittown, Pennsylvania (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010), “Before Oakdale Farms, [the Levitts] undertook a detailed study of prefabrication techniques and erected several test houses. They saw the exigencies of war as ideal circumstances for adopting the practice for the construction mainstream” (p. 136).

On the following page, the Levitts pointed at Oakdale Farms as their “watershed that was crucial to their large-scale projects of the post-war years.”

William Levitt is quoted as saying that Norfolk “infected us with the fever of mass building…We saw house-building…with a tract of land as a factory, turning out low-cost houses as its product.”

Are our Norfolk “Jubilees” in Bromley a Levittown product?

The discovery of this Teco Timber Coupler adds some intrigue. The house where it came from is not the “Jubilee,” but it’s smack-dab in a neighborhood full of these Levittown-lookalikes.

Take a look and the pictures, and if anyone can shed any light on this new mystery, let me know!

Read more about the Teco Timber Ring here.

To read an excellent article on Levittown, click here.

A final thought: One of the sweetest parts about being the local “expert” is having friends who pull cool stuff out of trash piles and haul it home and show it to you.  ;)

*     *     *

This Teco Timber Ring was found in a house in Bromley (section of Norfolk).

This Teco Timber Ring was found in a house in Bromley (section of Norfolk).


It came out of a 1950s house thats been torn down to the studs and is being rebuilt. Curious thing is, its in a neighborhood full of Jubilee Levittown houses. Is there a connection?

It came out of a 1950s house that's been torn down to the studs and is being rebuilt. Curious thing is, it's in a neighborhood full of "Jubilee" Levittown houses. Is there a connection?


This iconic image from Life Magazine shows the Levittown NY neighborhood in the late 1950s.

This iconic image from Life Magazine shows the Levittown NY neighborhood in the late 1950s. Now take a good look at the houses in the background. Notice the long thin windows on the 2nd floor? This was the "Jubilee" model found in Levittown NY and PA.


Heres a picture of a Levittown Jubilee in New York.

Here's a picture of a Levittown Jubilee in New York. See photo credit directly below.

The photo above came from a blogger who wrote a terrific piece on Levittown. You can enjoy more of his wonderful images and photos by clicking here.


And heres one of our Jubilees in Norfolks Bromely neighborhood.

And here's one of our "Jubilees" in Norfolk's Bromley neighborhood. Notice, it even has the same attic vents (in the peak of the gable) as the NY Jubilee.


Ive not counted yet, but Id guess we have more than 75 of these models.

I've not counted yet, but I'd guess we have more than 75 of these models.


This Jubilee in Levittown, NY is for sale. Its on Vermillion Way.

This Jubilee in Levittown, NY (Vermillion Way) is for sale. I'm posting it here because it shows the back side of these houses. The house in the foreground has had some modifications. The white house next door is more original.


Just like its Levittown twin, the house in Norfolk has a bathroom dormer (on the rear) with an off-center window.

Just like its Levittown twin, the house in Norfolk has a bathroom dormer (on the rear) that comes off the peak with an off-center window.


werid angle

Another curious feature is the different angle on that garage roof. It's a different pitch than the primary roof. This house is in Levittown, Pennsylvania.


The mismatched roof pitch on the garage/carport is also a match.

Our Jubilees in Norfolk also have this feature (unusually pitched garage roof).



This Norfolk Jubilee has its original windows.


As does this one in Levittown, PA.

As does this one in Levittown, PA. And they're the same style of window that's present in the Norfolk homes.


Was Bill Levitt involved in creating our own mini-Levittown here in Norfolk?

I’d sure love to know.

One things for sure - the houses are a perfect match - down to the windows, vents, and other details.

You can read a fun little article about The Jubilee here.

More information on Levittown can be found here.

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The Home Stretch

March 7th, 2014 Sears Homes 10 comments

Twelve years ago, my life changed in so many ways and it all happened so fast.

January 2002, my beloved mother died suddenly. Less than 60 days later, my husband of 24 years asked for a divorce. Thirty days later, a close friend severed all ties with me. In 90 days, three of the most important people in my life were gone.

And yet a fresh green sprout of hope sprung up in the midst of those charred ashes of my life: My book on Sears Homes.

That book was a lifeline in too many ways to count, and it was an answer to so many prayers.

After the book was published (March 2002), I did some “back of the envelope ciphering” and figured I had enough cash on hand to survive 90 days. If my book had not “taken off” by then, I’d have to do something that scared the heck out of me: Get a real job.

Desperate to stretch my grocery budget, I ate very little and lost a lot of weight.

Sixty days out, I got a call from The New York Times. They were doing a feature story on Sears Homes and they’d heard I’d just written a book. A couple weeks later, my book and I hit the front page of the Real Estate Section. Next, I got a call from a producer at History Detectives. I appeared on the 2nd episode of the first season.

I was off to the races.

Since then, I’ve been featured on CBS Sunday Morning News, A&E’s Biography, MSNBC, BBC Radio, NPR Radio and more. In Summer 2004, my book was featured on Jeopardy!

In the last 12 years, I’ve given more than 200 lectures in 26 states. I’ve traveled many miles spreading the good news of this important and unique chapter in America’s architectural history. And I’ve met so many first-class folks along the way.

It’s truly been a big adventure and a whole lot of fun.

But, as the sophists say, all good things must come to an end.

The last three years, this business venture has not been profitable. The cost of everything keeps going up, and the profit margins keep going down. Three months ago, the last printing of The Houses That Sears Built came off the presses. When those books are gone, that’ll be the end.

In three or four months, the inventory at will be gone, and probably a few months after that, the stock of books I keep here at the house (sold through this website) will be exhausted.

I imagine I’ll never stop looking for kit homes, and I’ll keep writing at this website. Heck, when I’m in my 80s, I’ll probably still be yelling, “STOP THE CAR” to whomever is driving me around.

But the days of printing these books - an important chapter in my life - has come to a close.

If you’d like to purchase my books, they’re available at this website.

While supplies last.



Its certainly been a fun run.

It's certainly been a fun run. The book on the right (first edition) has been out of print for 10 years, but the book on the left is now - as of January 2014 - out of print. Amazon has some inventory to sell off, and I have a few boxes here at the hoouse from the last printing. That's the last of the lot.


And yes

When the last of the books are gone, it'll be nice to have this space free again.


In 2005, I visited Lorain, Ohio and it was quite a thrill to see my name on the theater marquis!

In 2005, I visited Lorain, Ohio and it was quite a thrill to see my name on the theater marquis!


If you took a stroll down the hallway of my home, youd see how much I enjoyed being The Author of this fun little niche topic.

If you took a stroll down the hallway of my home here in Norfolk, you'd see some of the mementos from my travels.


In Raleigh, NC, they made this big movie poster for my talk.

In Raleigh, NC, they made this big movie poster for my talk. For my birthday, my husband had it framed.


In November 2010, my last book (The Sears Homes of Illinois) was published, and I did a book tour throughout Illinois.

In November 2010, my last book ("The Sears Homes of Illinois") was published, and I did a book tour throughout Illinois. That was also a good time, but wearying.



A personal favorite. In 2004, I was invited to give a talk at The Smithsonian Museum (Postal Museum). That was such a thrill for me. The day I gave that talk, I felt like I had finally proven myself to be a "legitimate" author!


And this was also a special lecture for me. I was at this lecture when I

And this was also a special lecture for me. I was at this lecture in Jefferson City when Wayne Ringer called me the very first time. Ninety days later, we were engaged to be married.


Sometimes, unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game (from the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun).

"Sometimes, unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game" (from the movie, "Under the Tuscan Sun").


If you’d like to purchase my books, they’re available at this website.

*     *   *

It’s a Mystery

February 14th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Take a guess what this item is (shown below).


Looks kind of hairy and gross, doesn't it?


Does this help?

I'll give you a hint. It was found inside a 1920s home.


This should help you figure it out.

This should help you figure it out.


This pretty well gives it away.

This pretty well gives it away.


In fact, its a chunk of plaster that was cut out of a wall.

In fact, it's a chunk of plaster that was cut out of a wall to add a new outlet.


Up until sheetrock became widely accepted, a home’s interior walls were finished with plaster. Today, the word “plaster” is used loosely to describe any gypsum-based wall covering, but in fact, plaster is fairly unusual in post-WW2 homes and quite rare in post-1980s homes.

If you look at an old Sears catalog, you’ll find that while kit houses did not include plaster (due to shipping weight), your 12,000-piece kit house did come with good quality lath. In fact, the “Chelsea” (a 2,000-square-foot foursquare) came with 840 square yards of wooden lath. Sears estimated that a plasterer would charge you $200, which included nailing up all those thin strips of lath and applying three coats of plaster (1916).

Often, people talk about “old-fashioned horse-hair plaster,” but the binding agent in old plaster walls was more commonly cattle hair.

Plastering is fast becoming a lost art, and things have changed a bit in the last many decades. Today, a wire mesh is used in place of wooden lath. And I’m not sure what the contemporary binding agent is, but I seriously doubt it involves shaving dead cattle. However, you can still find good recipes online for making historically appropriate plaster to restore or repair the walls in your old house.

Old plaster walls ahve three coats: The scratch coat, the brown coat and the finish coat.

The scratch coat gets its name from the fact that it is scored so that the surface has a rough texture. This rough texture gives the brown coat (which contains a lot of sand) something to grip.

It’s the sand in the brown coat that helps the finish coat (which is about 1/8″) bond tightly to the walls.

According to the smart people, the scratch coat and brown coat are about 3/8″ thick, but the image shown above (from the 1920s house) tells a slightly different story. Making and applying plaster was a little bit like baking a cake: A lot depended on the cook, and his preferences and practices.

Plus, sometimes the “cook” was sober as a judge and sometimes the “cook” was so plastered (perhaps the source of the term?) that he couldn’t walk a straight line. Weather, humidity and quality of ingredients were other variables that affected the final product as well.

As always, if you have any thoughts to share, please leave a comment below!

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.



This promotion, which appeared in a 1916 Sears Building Materials catalog, gives a pretty good explanation of how plaster was applied. I can't imagine how long it took to nail up all those lath boards (which were typically 1-inch wide). And the smudge pots were used to keep the temperature and humidity at a certain level while the plaster dried. Making and applying plaster was a slow, arduous process with many variables (1916 Sears Building Materials).


By 1916,

By 1916, "Sheet Plaster" had already gained a toe-hold in the market, but it wasn't until after WW2 that it really became popular. And yet even in modern custom-built homes, plaster walls are considered an upgrade (and they're mighty expensive, too). My 1962-built ranch has sheetrock walls and plaster ceilings, which seems an odd combination (photo is from 1916 Sears Building Materials).



As shown in this 1916 Building Materials catalog, "Sheet Plaster" was much easier to install.


To read a *fascinating* article about the benefits of old plaster walls (and how it was made), click here.

Bob Vila drives me to hard liquor, but his writers did put together a nice piece on plaster. You can read it here.

*     *      *

The Laurel: A Degree of Character and Distinction

February 11th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

The Laurel is a model of Sears House that I have never seen in person, so it was pretty exciting to meet Valerie, who found our Facebook Group (“Sears Homes”) and immediately shared photos of her own Laurel.

I asked Valerie to send me a little background on how she came to fall in love with “Laurel,” and her email was so enchanting, I’m publishing it here!

She wrote,

I wanted to buy a home in Phoenixville, PA since it is an up-and-coming town and full of creative stores and music. It’s also the town where the movie house featured in the movie “The Blob” was filmed.

We have an annual Blob Fest where people re-enact the original event once a year, and run screaming out of the theater.

Our town is full of history. I also wanted to live near the Schuylkill Canal Lock 60.  The Schuylkill Canal Association has painstakingly restored 2.5 miles of the canal. Originally constructed in 1827, it was part of a historic 108-mile waterway linking Philadelphia to Port Carbon. It was built to serve the anthracite coal fields or the Coal Region of Pottsville.

That historic waterway is about 75 feet in front of my “Laurel.”

When the “Laurel” came on the market, the real estate listing said it was an “authentic Sears home,” but I didn’t know what that meant, and honestly, it didn’t really affect my decision to  buy the house.

I fell in love with this home the moment I walked inside, even with its less-than-attractive kitchen, painted florescent yellow and bright blue. Throughout the house, someone had painted the woodwork “Colonial Blue” and yellow.

The bathroom was also pretty beat-up looking.

The gorgeous archways in the living room, the many windows, the solid floors and charming character made me feel at home. I knew most of the things I didn’t like were just cosmetic, and the house was yelling for TLC.

I bought Lora (the pet name I gave the house) in Sept. 2008.

All my doors retain their original varnish (never painted) and have their original Sears hardware.

I think the exterior front lamps are original, and the hand rail on my steps is original. Of the 19 windows, seven of them are original to the house.  The floors were covered with purgo (why I’ll never know). From what I’ve seen, the original floors underneath were in fine condition. I had the floors done two years and they came out BEAUTIFUL!!

The day after I moved in, an old man in a small pickup truck caught my attention and yelled, “”You the new owner?”

I said, “Yes, as of yesterday!”

He told me that his dad had built this house and that it came in boxes off the train. (There’s still have a single train track in my back yard but there hasn’t been a train on that line in many years.)

Of course I invited him in. I could sense his mind was working at the memories of this house.

He told me that they enclosed the porch for his grandmother to live in who was very sick and his parents took care of her. He told me the back room (mudroom) was added for the ice deliveries. He said if they needed ice, they’d flip an ice sign (which was left hanging in a side window), and then the ice truck would know to stop and deliver ice!

Down in the basement, he showed me where the coal chute was. and s He shared the back bedroom with his brother, and his parents were in the front room. He talked about sliding downstairs in his pajamas, and listening to him talk, you could tell that the house brought back a lot of great memories!

I will never forget that visit. I regret not getting his contact info but he said he had some pictures of the house and promised to bring them by if he could find them. I have not heard from him since.

Soon after I moved in to Lora, my very kind neighbors told me I live in a Sears home! They said that two owners ago, an owner had the home’s original instruction manual (for building the house from a kit), but took it with him.

My neighbor Jim, who also lives in a kit home, told me he found a receipt for his house in the ceiling of his kitchen.

After these conversations I did some homework about Sears homes.

I discovered that my Laurel was built about 1932 (although the year is conflicting on county book it says 1932 but on my mortgage and other docs its 1933). The staircase landings have the square blocks (known as plinth blocks), and I found a shipping label while redoing my bathroom.

My bathtub has an “R” in the lower right corner. (Imagine how excited I was when I found that one!! It’s the only original plumbing fixture.)

I did not find any stamping on the framing members but I understand they always didn’t do that. Now I have the Sear’s kit home bug. I am searching for original documents and anything Sear’s home related.

I’m sorry this is so long I can go on and on. Ask anyone that knows me once they get me started on my house they can’t get away.

To learn more about how to identify Sears Homes (and those plinth blocks mentioned above), click here.

Want to join our “Sears Homes” group at Facebook? Click here.

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The Laurel is one of those models Ive never seen before.

The Laurel was a darling house and a good price, too (1928 catalog).


house 1928

It was also a narrow house, and could fit on a 25-foot lot. Plus, the front porch will be appreciated by all members of the household, so there's that.


house house

The house was a mere 19' wide, which made it ideal for small lots.


house house house

Unlike so many kit homes of this time, the Laurel had two spacious bedrooms.


house ext

It really is a darling house, and I love the cut-out shutters.


house house house

And here's Valerie's real-life Laurel in Phoenixville. What a gem! And it's in brick! Photo is copyright 2014 Valerie Chochla and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.



Pictured side-by-side, you can see what a good match it is!


house house house

"Lora" looks very happy, doesn't it? And it warms the cockles of my heart to know that someone will love and appreciate this fine old house. Photo is copyright 2014 Valerie Chochla and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.


To learn more about why these old houses are so valuable (and irreplaceable), click here.

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Thou Shalt Not Steal, Part II

January 31st, 2014 Sears Homes 9 comments

Who owns this pre-1923 image from an old Sears catalog?

Who owns this photo?

Shown above is a Wizard block-making machine. These were hugely popular for Sears and now they're in great demand as collectors' items. Apparently, they were well made and worked as promised. All for a mere $57.50!


I sure don’t want my wonderful fun-laden website to turn into an on-going tutorial on copyright issues, but several times in the last few years, people have asked me, “Isn’t an image from an old catalog the property of the creator of that catalog?”

With the blog I published on January 29th, that question has arisen again.

With a caveat that the following is *my* understanding of the vagaries and complexities of intellectual property as it relates to pre-1923 images, I’ll give this a shot, but bear in mind…

I am just a lowly writer. My husband is the smarty-pants lawyer, but even he is reluctant to render an opinion on intellectual property issues because these laws are intricate, complicated and forever changing.

With that in mind, here goes.

The image shown above is pre-1923, which means it is in the public domain (and therefore, no longer has copyright protection). The image originally appeared in a 1910s Sears Concrete Block catalog. After scanning the image, I also cleaned it up a bit, cropping it down and removing spots and crease marks.

Practically speaking, anyone who knows how to use “copy and paste” can lift that image from my site and run with it (as many people have). However, there needs to be some consideration as to what was involved in my acquiring that image.

1)  Research. How many people even know that Sears offered these block-making machines? How many people are aware that Sears had a specialty catalog devoted to block-making?

2) Expense. Through the years, I’ve spent countless thousands of dollars on research materials and old catalogs. And the expense of acquiring these materials doesn’t even touch on the time I’ve spent on the road, giving lectures and listening to people’s stories after the lectures. Because of this, I’ve learned so much from people of all ages, throughout the country. Such education is invaluable and irreplaceable, but it does not come cheap.

3)  Time. I don’t have the emotional courage to add up how many hours I’ve spent researching architectural history, but I’ve written six books on this topic and that alone has required thousands of hours. And scanning a 100+page catalog can take HOURS.

4)  Expertise, which, honestly, combines all of the above.

And then there’s the labor involved.

In most cases, the process of scanning a 90-year-old catalog destroys the binding. You’re left with an abundance of brittle pages that must be stored in an acid-free envelope or folder. And after the scanning is done, there’s the long, slow process of cleaning up each and every image.

Back to my original question: Who owns the image?

The following comes from Wikipedia:

In Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. (1999), the New York District Court held that “a photograph which is no more than a copy of a work of another as exact as science and technology permits lacks originality. That is not to say that such a feat is trivial, simply not original”.

In spite of the effort and labor involved in creating professional-quality slides from the original works of art, the Court held that copyright did not subsist as they were simply slavish copies of the works of art represented.

Although that case related to photographs rather than scans, it would be reasonable to say that by analogy the US courts would not grant copyright to a scan which has been enhanced - even manually - with a view to creating an image which is as similar as possible to the original.

Where the enhancement has gone beyond that, for example in bringing out selected details or colors not easily visible in the original, Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. may be less persuasive, and such cases should be considered on their own facts.

Seems that even for the courts, these are murky waters.

From my reading of Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., the act of scanning does not in and of itself constitute the creation of a “new” image that can be protected by copyright (which does not bode well for all the poor saps who scan pre-1923 catalogs and sell the CDs on eBay).

Conversely, when it comes to my contemporay photographs, those are most certainly protected by modern copyright laws.

However, even if my “scanned and enhanced pre-1923 images” are not protected by copyright laws (and it appears they may not be), the fact remains that from a literary standpoint, the ethical and professional thing to do is to give attribution and credit when materials are taken from another source.

And as Rachel has pointed out, it’s also the smart thing to do. This website gets 1,200+ visitors every day. Sharing some “Link love” is a sure-fire way to boost visitors at your own website.

In conclusion, if you wish to use any images from my site, please - oh please - just put my name with the image. Something like, “This image is used courtesy Rosemary Thornton,” or, “Image is courtesy”

It’s just the right thing to do.

And now, back to happy things.

To read about my beautiful “Atomic Kitchen,” click here.

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This is one of the happiest pictures I could find. Its my brother Eddie, licking the beaters after Mother had made some wonderful dessert.

This is one of the happiest pictures I could find. It's my brother Eddie, licking the beaters after Mother had made some wonderful dessert (about 1958). He stands in front of our home's fine-looking metal cabinets that were in our 1925 Colonial Revival house in Portsmouth. Check out the round handles on the cabinet's front. And to the left is a top-loading portable dishwasher, which we used to store dishes. It had a glass top, and some plumber told Mother that if she ever hooked it up to the sink, our entire plumbing system would explode and we'd have to have new lines installed, all the way from the city reservoir system to our sink. Or something like that. One night, when my parents went out, my brothers hooked up the dishwasher and let it run through a cycle. We were all relieved and pleased when nothing exploded. Lastly, check out Eddie's flannel-lined pants. So very cool!


Another happy picture is me,

Here's a happy picture of moi, studying the intricacies of our beautiful wooden staircase (just out of view). I always loved that staircase with its solid walnut banister, terminating with a winding volute. I spent my hours wondering how it was all assembled. Mother is jiggling the crib in an effort to distract me (about 1960). To this day, a soft jiggle is still thoroughly distracting.


To read about Frank’s beautiful Strathmore in Waldwick, NJ, click here.

Interested in the Sears Wizard? Click here!

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Thou Shalt Not Steal.

January 29th, 2014 Sears Homes 13 comments

There are more than 800 blogs at this site, and many thousands of photos. THOUSANDS of photos.

I love these old kit homes and I love this piece of our history, but I’m getting mighty disheartened and discouraged.

Today, I have discovered (for the umpteenth time) that my work - my photos - have been lifted en masse from my site and placed on someone else’s website without a speck of attribution or credit. In this lengthy essay, my name does not appear.

Photos yes - name NO.

The person (or people) who lifted my photos didn’t even bother to edit out some of the flaws in my photos, but simply copied and pasted them.


With few exceptions, each and every photo is the result of a great deal of personal expense and effort. And that doesn’t even touch on the amount of time (years, actually) it took to learn and memorize hundreds and hundreds of kit house designs. But, as I’ve said before, this is a labor of love and for the most part, folks seem genuinely grateful to be learning more about this piece of American architectural history.

Heaven knows, I don’t make enough money from this gig to keep body and soul together. In fact, I frequently have to throw my own money at this venture to keep it going.

How is it that people can think it’s okay to take someone’s work but not give credit? Did no one ever tell them that it’s wrong to take things without asking? When they were in school, did no one ever tell them that it’s wrong to copy the answers from someone else’s test? Have they never heard of the Ten Commandments?

Or do they simply lack the sophistication to understand that violation of intellectual property is just as wrong as stealing lawn furniture or bicycles or televisions? Or maybe they don’t realize that the laws governing intellectual property apply to internet content as well?

Tomorrow, I’ll return to happy, happy posts, but today, I’m so very disheartened and disappointed by these so-called historians who take other people’s work, and don’t put a single word of credit or attribution with their posts.

It’s enough to make a person abandon historical research altogether.

To read Part II, click here.

*Images from pre-1923 publications are now in the public domain, which means they can be reprinted without permission. And there is a difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement. Copyright infringement is taking copyright-protected intellectual property without permission (such as is now happening regularly with my photos). Even if a work is out of copyright (public domain), it can still be plagiarized. If I copied every word from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1910 best-seller, “The Secret Garden,” and published it under my own name, that would be plagiarism. If I copied every word from Orson Scott Card’s 1980 best-seller “Ender’s Game,” that would be plagiarism and copyright infringement.

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Heres an example of one my photos that was borrowed with no attribution from my website. Thing is, its easy enough to find these photos in

Here's an example of one my photos that was "borrowed" with no attribution from my website. Thing is, it's easy enough to find these photos in an old Sears catalog. BTW, this is an advertisement for the Wizard Block Maker. I loved it because it looks like a mirror image of the famous evolution graphic, where man goes from being stooped over to upright. Then again, I'm pretty easily entertained.



The Wizard Block Maker was hugely popular and it's easy to find pictures of it in early Sears catalogs. I guess it's much easier to just lift it from my website?


This is another image that has been borrowed time and time again with no attribution. Let me tell you about this image.

This is another image that has been "borrowed" time and time again with no attribution. Let me tell you about this image. It also appears in my book, "The Sears Homes of Illinois." To get this photo, I left my home in Norfolk, VA and traveled 1,000 miles to Illinois where I spent three weeks driving from Chicago to Cairo doing research and photographing houses. This photo (above) came from a Sears house near Champaign, IL. And that's the thing - there's a story of work and effort behind almost every photo I've published here. I have reconciled myself to the fact that people will use these photos without first asking permission, but at least put MY NAME with MY PHOTOS!! Please!


And thats why, with my new book on Penniman, Ill be putting my website name on each and every photo that I post online.

And that's why, as I do research on Penniman, I'll be putting my website name on each and every photo that I post online. BTW, these are the "Ethels" in Penniman about 1918. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)


Because, this really does take the fun out of the thing.

And I'm on the cusp of resorting to this, but it really does take the fun out of the thing.


To read about the kit homes in Clifton Forge, click here.

To read a happy, happy post about my “Atomic Kitchen,” click here.

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Belfast, Bucksport, and Bad Information

January 6th, 2014 Sears Homes 12 comments

Generally speaking, I’m a lukewarm fan of Wikipedia but when it comes to kit houses, I really have grown weary of this online “encyclopedia.” So much of the information is just not accurate, and yet it’s trusted by too many people as a rock-solid resource.


One ongoing disappointment Wikipedia is the information on the “neighborhood of Sears Homes” in Bucksport, Maine.  According to this page, “The entire town site of Bucksport consists of Sears Homes in the Belfast Model.”

Oh dear.

I actually feel sorry for the poor soul who penned that. And I wish there was a way to correct such egregious information, but I’ve washed my hands of Wikipedia. Everytime I log in to make corrections to the wiki site, it’s edited away within hours by some “expert” who thinks he/she knows better.

So, scroll on down and take a look for yourself at one of these so-called “Belfast Models” in Bucksport.

Oh, and by the way, the build date for the “Belfasts” in that neighborhood is 1930. Ding, ding, ding: The Belfast was not offered for sale until 1934.

That single fact right there is pretty compelling evidence.

Secondly, the houses in Bucksport look nothing like the Belfast model. But hey - why let facts get in the way of a good story?  :)

How is it that this is such a common mistake? Click here to see the answer.

To read more about how to identify Sears Homes, click here.


The Belfast was not offered until 1934. The houses in Bucksport were built in 1930.

The Belfast was not offered until 1934. The houses in Bucksport were built in 1930.


Darling little house

Darling little house with a good floor plan, too.


Upstairs, it had three

Upstairs, it had three bedrooms and one teeny tiny bath.


I love

Maybe this is where that nutty rumor started? A bit of The Belfast was patterend after The Perkins House, built in Costine, Maine in 1769 (second parargraph in text above).


When comparing houses, the details are vital. I cant stress this enough. Sears was not an innovated in anything, most of all, housing design. They looked at what was popular and copied those housing styles.

When comparing houses, the details are vital. I can't stress this enough. Sears was not an innovated in anything, most of all, housing design. They looked at what was popular and copied those housing styles.


Heres a real life Belfast in Elkins, West Virginia.

Here's a real life Belfast in Elkins, West Virginia. It's been through some major renovations including new windows, aluminum siding and those pediments added to the top of the door and windows, but the proportions are spot on. I've not been inside this house, but I'd say there's a 98% chance that this is a Sears Belfast.


This house in Bucksport is NOT a Sears Belfast.

This house in Bucksport is NOT a Sears Belfast. The Belfast is a mere 24-feet wide. This house is probably 32-feet wide (or more). The proportions are also way off. And look at the space between the 2nd floor windows and the first floor windows. This house probably has nine or ten foot first floor ceilings. The Belfast has eight foot ceilings. The Sears Belfast and the Bucksport Houses are wildly different from one another.


To learn more about the many Sears Homes in Elkins, West Virginia, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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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!



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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