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Staunton, Virginia: More Amazing Finds

May 3rd, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

A couple days ago (May 1st),  I returned to Staunton to do a little more research on the kit homes in the city (in preparation for my talk on May 2nd), and this time, I was driven around by Frank Strassler, head of the Historic Staunton Foundation. It’s a lot easier to focus on kit homes when someone else is doing all the driving, and especially when that someone else knows where they’re going!

We found many kit homes that I’d not seen during a prior visit, and the most intriguing find was the four Harris Brothers kit homes we discovered. Frankly, I suspect there are more than four HB houses in Staunton, but I’m not that familiar with this company and, I have very few of their catalogs.

Harris Brothers (formerly the Chicago House Wrecking Company) was based in Chicago, Illinois. How did four Harris Brothers houses end up in Staunton? And three of them were in the same neighborhood (Sears Hill).

Hopefully, some of Staunton’s history loving residents will poke around a bit more, because I’m sure there are many more hidden architectural treasures just waiting to be found.

And, a little aside:   My favorite memory of the lecture on Thursday evening? I asked the crowd (128 attendees!), “Before there was a World War Two, does anyone know what we called World War One?”

To my utter delight and astonishment, a cacophony of voices replied, “The Great War.”

It was sheer bliss to realize that I was surrounded by so many history lovers. In all my travels, there’s typically a lone voice (or less), that correctly answers that question. The people of Staunton really do love their history, and better yet, they know their history, and that’s such a joy to behold.

To read the first blog I wrote about Staunton’s kit homes, click here.

OOOH, an update! Read about my newest find in Staunton here!

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First, my favorite find in Staunton.

First, my favorite find in Staunton. Shown above is Modern Home #2028 from the 1923 Harris Brothers catalog (courtesy of Dale Wolicki).

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Now thats a big house!

It looks like a massive house, but in fact, it's 22 feet wide and 29 feet deep.

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Originally, I snapped this photo just because it seemed like a good idea. Sometimes, something will trigger a memory, and I didnt consciously remember having seen this house, and yet...

Originally, I snapped this photo just because it seemed like a good idea. Sometimes, something will trigger a memory, and I didn't consciously remember having seen this house, and yet, when I got back to my hotel and started going through the old catalogs, I realized it was a perfect match to the Harris Brothers #2028!

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Pretty

And, as a nice bonus, I even managed to snap my one photo from the perfect angle! Though not easily seen in the photo above, the house in Staunton has the two bay windows, just as it should!

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The other three Harris Brothers homes were in one neighborhood: Sears Hill. Shown above is Modern Home #1017 from the 1923 Harris Brothers catalog (courtesy of Dale Wolicki).

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The HB 1017, as seen in 1923.

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And here's the 1017 in Staunton! Look at the unique window arrangement on the home's front. And check out those unique columns, and the bracketing under the eaves. It was tough to get a good photo, but the little attic window is also a spot-on match to the catalog page. The house is 24 feet' wide and 36 feet deep. The dimensions of this house (shown above) seem to be a good match! The line drawings (from the original catalogs) are sometimes a little bit off in scale and proportion.

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If you look down the side, youll see its a good match there, too.

If you look down the side, you'll see it's a good match there, too. BTW, Staunton is very hilly, and I learned that it's tough to get good house photos in hilly neighborhoods! And, the angle skews the proportions. Short of carrying a 20-foot stepladder around on top of the Camry, I'm not sure how to solve this.

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HB # 1025 was another "favorite" find for me, and yet another kit home that I'd never seen before. From the 1923 Harris Brothers catalog (courtesy of Dale Wolicki).

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HB # 1025 was another favorite find for me, and yet another kit home that Id never seen before.

HBClose-up of HB #1025. From the 1923 Harris Brothers catalog (courtesy of Dale Wolicki).

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At the lower right of that catalog page (seen above), is an actual photo of a HB #1025. This photo shows off those beautiful six casement windows on the front.

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Be still my heart!!! Heres a real life example

What a fine house! Here's a real life example of HB #1025. And look at those pretty casement windows! Were it not for those original windows, I'm not sure I would have recognized this 90-year-old kit home.

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Another view of those wonderful old casements. By the way, apparently this house is for sale. Someone should contact the owner and let them know - this is a kit house!

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Close-up of the porch columns.

Close-up of the porch columns. And this house still has its original gutters.

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HB #1007 was one of their more popular designs, however... It's also a house that has several "twins." Given that Staunton's #1007 is within three houses of the other two HB homes, I'm going to assume that the model in Staunton is indeed from Harris Brothers.

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Nice house, isnt it?

Nice house, isn't it? Love the rocking chairs!

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Stauntons own HB #1017.

Staunton's own HB #1017.

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While we were out driving around, I also spotted a Sears Woodland. The Woodland is an eye-catcher because it has those two full-sized windows flanking the front door.

While we were out driving around, I also spotted a Sears Woodland. The Woodland is an eye-catcher because it has those two full-sized windows flanking the front door. And it has an unusual window arrangement down the right side (as shown here). This image is from the 1919 catalog.

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The small attic dormer is missing but other than that, this is a great match. Due to landscaping, I was not able to get a good photo of that right side, but it does match the catalog image.

The small attic dormer is missing but other than that, this is a great match. Due to landscaping, I was not able to get a good photo of that right side, but it does match the catalog image. Was the house built sans dormer, or was it removed during a roofing job? Hard to know, but I'd guess that it was built this way. And, this house is next door to the big Harris Brothers foursquare (#2028).

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Another fun discovery on this most recent trip was the Sears Winona in Staunton.

Another fun discovery on this most recent trip was the Sears Winona in Staunton (1938 catalog).

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This house was offered in two floorplans (in 1938). The floorplan shown here is a match to the house in Staunton.

This house was offered in two floorplans (in 1938). The floorplan shown here is a match to the house in Staunton. It squeezes three bedrooms into 960 square feet.

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Close-up on the Winona.

A key feature in identifying this very simple house is the small space between those two windows in the gabled bay (dining room).

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What a nice match!

What a nice match!

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And the other side is a good match, too!

And the other side is a good match, too!

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Despite two days of driving around, we never did spot the Stanhope (Aladdin) purchased by Mr.

Despite two days of driving around, we never did spot the Stanhope (Aladdin) purchased by Mr. Linkenholer.

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As seen in the 1919 catalog, heres a picture of the Aladdin Stanhope.

As seen in the 1919 catalog, here's a picture of the Aladdin Stanhope. Where's Mr. Linkholer's Stanhope? I'd love to know!

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To learn more about how to identify kit homes, click here.

To read more about the kit homes of Staunton, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

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The Ferndale: A Charming English Bungalow

April 21st, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

There are many ways to find a Sears House, but Andrew and Wendy Mutch found a very rare Sears House in Ann Arbor using a technique I had never thought about before: Reading the obituaries.

They discovered an obituary for an elderly woman that mentioned the building of a Sears House.  Seems that Helen Bethke and her husband Emil Bethke had built a kit home in 1931, and after enjoying 64 years of wedding bliss, Emil passed on (in 1995).

Andrew and Wendy were able to figure out Mrs. Bethke’s address, but couldn’t readily identify the model. In fact, when I first saw their photos, it took me a few minutes to figure it out.

And that’s because, it’s a model I’ve never seen before.

Now that’s a thrill!  :)

And frankly, the only reason I was able to identify this darling little house was because it was in mostly original condition. Had this beauty been slathered in vinyl siding and aluminum trim, I’d still be scratching my head and wondering.

Fortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Bethke did a fine, fine job keeping their Sears Fernwood in first-class shape. Let’s hope the home’s next owners follow their worthy example.

Mrs. Bethke’s obit:  On Aug. 31, 1930, Helen married Emil Carl Bethke, and after 64 years of marriage, he preceded her in death in June of 1995. They built their Sears kit home in 1931, and raised their children in that old West Side home on Koch Street.

To learn more about the kit homes in Ann Arbor, click here.

On May 2nd, come to Rose’s lecture in Staunton, Virginia!

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Charming

The Ferndale was only offered for two years, 1929 and 1933. It's shown here in the 1929 catalog.

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Those dark shutters are not only pleasing, but functional!

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Ferndale

It tickles me that the tub on the Ferndale juts out in this floorplan.

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It is indeed a "charming" little house.

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And thanks to Mrs. Bethke, it's still in mostly original condition, looking much like it did when built in 1931. Will the new owners take good care of it, and preserve the original windows, siding and shutters? We can only hope. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Check out the detail around the front porch (1929 catalog).

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Picture perfect! Looks just like the catalog. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Now it's for sale, but 80 years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Bethke bought it as a 12,000-piece kit from Sears and Reobuck, and then built their own home. Very impressive. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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side

A view of our darling Fernwood from the other side. If you look at the floorplan above, you'll see it's a perfect match. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To learn more about the kit homes in Ann Arbor, click here.

On May 2nd, come to Rose’s lecture in Staunton, Virginia!

Want to learn a lot about Sears Homes in a hurry? Join us on Facebook!

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Staunton, Virginia - Here I Come! (May 2nd)

April 17th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

Thanks the Historic Staunton Foundation, I’ll be returning to Staunton on May 2nd to give a talk on the kit homes of Staunton!

As mentioned in a prior blog, Staunton has an interesting array of kit homes of all sizes, shapes and from several companies. And at 7 pm (Thursday evening), I’ll give a powerpoint presentation, featuring the kit homes I’ve discovered in the city.

It’ll be a lot of fun, comparing and contrasting original vintage images from the old catalogs with contemporary photos. And I’ll also talk about how to identify kit homes. A “windshield survey” is a good start, but even with a thorough street-by-street visual inspection, it’s still possible to overlook a few kit homes.

There are ways to identify a kit house from inside, including marked lumber, hidden blueprints, grease-pencil marks and shipping labels often found in unsuspecting places. We’ll talk about that on May 2nd.

Staunton has kit homes from Sears (the best known of the mail-order kit house companies), and Aladdin (the largest of the companies), Gordon Van Tine and Montgomery Ward.

And how did Staunton end up with so many kit homes? We’ll talk about that on May 2nd!

For a sneak preview of the beauties we’ve found in Staunton, scroll on down!

To learn more, visit the website for the Historic Staunton Foundation.

To read the first blog I wrote about Staunton’s kit homes, click here. (BTW, that first blog has been viewed more than 2,500 times!)

Many thanks to Leslie Hayes and Linda Ramsey for not only providing the wonderful photos shown below, but in some cases, finding these Sears Homes!

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The Berwyn as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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Berwyne

And here's a perfect Berwyn (in stucco) on Noon Street. Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Maytown was -- as the ad promised - a big seller.

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The Maytown in Staunton overlooks Gypsy Hill Park.

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first, a mystery

The Wilmont was not a popular house (shown here in the 1920 catalog).

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And yet, is this a Wilmont in Staunton? I've puzzled over this house for close to an hour, and I'm still undecided. That dormer window on the side is pretty distinctive. I'd love to see the inside of this house. That would help me figure it out once and for all!

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The Wardway Cordova is another very distinctive house.

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And here's one in Staunton. Yes, it's a little rough around the edges, but it's still standing! Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Sussex 1929

The Sussex was offered by Gordon Van Tine (based in Davenport, Iowa). The image above is from the 1929 Gordon Van Tine catalog.

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Sussex GVT

And here it is, looking picture perfect! What a fine-looking Sussex it is, too! Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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My faavorite match!

My oh my, that's a sweet match!

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Gordon Van Tine

The Gordon Van Tine "Roberts" (shown above) was a hugely popular house.

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Roberts

And here's a perfect Roberts on North Augusta (Staunton). Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Plymouth

The Aladdin Plymouth was a classic Dutch Colonial.

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house Plymouth

And here's a beautiful example of the Aladdin Plymouth.

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Mayfield planbook

In addition to kit homes, Staunton has a few "Plan Book" houses. Plan book homes were different from ktt homes, because with a plan book house, you purchased the blueprints and a detailed inventory that showed you precisely how much lumber you'd need to order for your house. With kit homes, the lumber was included. Plan book houses were quite common in the 1920s and 1930s. This model was "The Mayfield," (offered in a plan book titled, "Harris, McHenry and Baker").

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planbook Leslie

It's hiding behind that tree, but you can still see this is a Mayfield. Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Plan book

Both of Staunton's Mayfields are painted the same color.

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Gennessee

The Genessee was another plan book house found in the Harris, McHenry and Baker planbook.

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Straith

And here's a picture perfect Genessee on Straith Street in Staunton. Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Dover is one of my favorite Sears Homes. Cute, practical and easy to identify!

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Dover in Weyers Cave

Sadly, I did not visit nearby communities in Staunton during my visit there in mid-February, but I found this house while I was driving via Google Maps. Only a tiny part of Weyer's Cave is mapped (with street views on Google), and this Dover is on the main drag. Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Gladstone was one of Sears "Top Ten" most popular homes (1916 catalog).

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It's been added onto, and yet I'm wholly confident that this is a Gladstone in Weyer's Cave. It's within 1/4 mile of the Dover shown above. Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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In all my travels, I've never seen a Sears Rosita (from the 1919 catalog).

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ramsey Deerfield

Linda Ramsey discovered this Sears Rosita in Deerfield, Virginia (near Staunton), and it's in original condition - a very rare find! Rositas were "Strong and Graceful" (sort of), but they were very simple and modest homes, which makes them difficult to identify and very prone to extensive and insensitive remodeling. To find this 94-year-old house in such pristine condition - and looking just like the old catalog page - is a real treat! Photo is copyright 2013 Linda Ramsey and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Sears Crescent was a very popular house for Sears (1928 catalog).

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Vertona Rammsey

Linda Ramsey also discovered this picture-perfect Crescent in Verona (also near Staunton). And what a perfect match it is! Photo is copyright 2013 Linda Ramsey and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Wherefor art thou, little Stanhope in Staunton?

And according to Aladdin literature, there's an Aladdin Stanhope in Staunton, but where?

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Heres a

Here's a perfect Aladdin Stanhope in Scotland Neck, NC (near Roanoke Rapids). Where is the Stanhope in Staunton? If you've seen it, please leave a comment below!

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Please do join us on May 2nd for  my talk on Sears Homes. Having given more than 250 talks in 27 states, the top three comments I hear are:

“Oh my gosh, I had no idea that a talk on history could be so much fun!”

“I didn’t want it to end. I could have listened to you all night!”

“Your passion for this topic really shines through!”

And - as a nice bonus - it’s very educational evening, and I promise, it’ll forever change the way you see the houses in your city!

:)

Click here to learn more about how to get tickets.

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Be there or be square!

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To learn more about identifying kit homes, click here.

To read the first blog I wrote about Staunton’s kit homes, click here.

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Updated Photos of the GVT Sussex

March 4th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

As mentioned in Saturday’s blog, I was finally able to identify this kit home in Staunton, thanks to Cindy Catanzaro. After days of plowing through old dusty catalogs and books, I’d not been able to match this house, but Cindy found it quietly lurking in a 1929 Gordon Van Tine catalog!

In Saturday’s blog, I discussed this more fully, but the purpose of this blog was to show the new photos that Leslie Hayes got for me! This new photo really shows off the wonderful details of this house.

Do you know of any other kit homes in Staunton? If so, please leave a comment below!

To read more about kit homes in Staunton, click here.

To learn more about this wonderful old house in Staunton, click here.

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As mentioned, Gordon Van Tine (like Sears) also sold kit homes through mail order. While Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes, GVT sold about 50,000. Many thanks to Dale Wolicki for supplying the numbers of GVT sales!

As mentioned, Gordon Van Tine (like Sears) also sold kit homes through mail order. While Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes, GVT sold about 50,000. Many thanks to co-author and dear friend Dale Wolicki for supplying the numbers of GVT sales!

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The Sussex, as seen in the 1929 catalog.

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The house!

What a fine-looking house that is!!

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And heres my little pretty! The Sussex is also currently for sale! How exciting is that!

And here's my little pretty! The Sussex is also currently for sale! How exciting is that! Even the attic window is a spot-on match to the catalog page! Photo is copyright 2013 Leslie M. Hayes and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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This comparison really shows

This comparison really shows what a perfect match this house is to the 1929 catalog image.

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Thanks to Leslie for providing these wonderful photos!

To learn more about the kit homes I found in Staunton, click here.

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The Day I Saw My First Fairy!

February 8th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

About 14 years ago, I excitedly dashed into the living room of our old house in Alton, Illinois and exclaimed to the husband, “I just saw my first Fairy!”

Unfazed, he didn’t even look up from his desk, but merely asked, “And what kind of fairy was it?”

“It was a Sears House,” I replied. “A very small kit home, the Sears ‘Fairy’”!

As I recall, he shook his head slightly and offered no further commentary.

Nonetheless, it was an exciting day for me.

The Sears Fairy was one of their smaller homes (only 616 square feet), and it was cute and well-designed and low-priced. As of 1929, it was a mere $993 which (even then) was a solid value.

According to Houses by Mail, the Fairy was first offered in 1925, but I’ve since found it in a catalog from Fall 1923.

In 1933, the Fairy was renamed “The Culver” and given a little face lift. The front door and living room window were transposed, and the front porch was changed from a pergola to a gabled roof. The floorplan was precisely the same in the two houses.

By 1934, it was gone and never reappeared in any of the subsequent catalogs.

Interestingly, “culver” comes from the old English word “culfre” which means dove. I wonder if the wordsmiths at Sears knew the correlation between the two words, fairy and culver.

I’m betting they did.

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In 1929, the Fairy was priced at just under $1,000.

In 1929, the Fairy was priced at just under $1,000.

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Tiny house

The Fairy had about 600 square feet of living space.

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But housewives love it...

But housewives love it...

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And for the

Not a bad-looking house for under $1,000.

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Heres one in Elgin, IL

Here's one in Elgin, IL.

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And heres one

And here's one in Evanston, Illinois. Photo is courtesy Jaimie Brunet, copyright 2013 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another

Jaimie loves her "Fairy" and in a recent email she said, "It's been the perfect house for us!" Photo is courtesy Jaimie Brunet, copyright 2013 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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remnant

If you take a good look at this edge of the porch, you can see the remnant of the original pergola frame and porch columns. The gabled porch is a nice addition, and in keeping with The Culver (shown below). Photo is courtesy Jaimie Brunet, copyright 2013 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Culver

In 1933, the Fairy was given a little facelift and renamed "The Culver."

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identical

Prices are no longer given, but the payments were $25 a month (15 year mortgage, 6%).

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identical

Compare the two floorplans and you'll see that the Fairy (left) and Culver (right) are identical. Well, except that the Culver has more bushes around it.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read another fascinating blog, click here.

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The Homey Homewood

July 17th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

Some models of Sears Homes were wildly popular. Some were not.

The Homewood falls into the second category.

And yet, it’s a puzzle as to why this attractive two-story bungalow was not a big seller for Sears.

With 784 square feet on each floor (about 1,600 square feet total), it was spacious with good-sized rooms and a thoughtful floorplan. And the price ($2,535 in 1928) was about average for the time period.

This house was only offered for a handful of years. Perhaps that’s why we don’t see more models of The Sears Homewood.

The Sears Homewood (1928 catalog)

The Sears Homewood (1928 catalog)

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Nice floorplan, and about 784 square feet per floor.

Nice floorplan, and about 784 square feet per floor.

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Second

All of the bedrooms have a nice-sized closet. What a bonus!

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The Homewood was a fine-looking bungalow!

The Homewood was a fine-looking bungalow!

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Heres one in Elmhurst, Illinois. Thanks to Rebecca Hunter for finding this house, and then driving me over there to Elmhurst so I could get a good photo!

Here's one in Elmhurst, Illinois. Thanks to Rebecca Hunter for finding this house, and then driving me over there to Elmhurst so I could get a good photo! This model did not have a fireplace. Not all that unusual in Sears Homes. Fireplaces were optional.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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

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

May 30th, 2012 Sears Homes 7 comments

In Spring 2010, my friend Rebecca sent me a note, asking if I knew about the Sears Milton in Stanley, Virginia. Four months later (August 2010), Hubby and I were standing in the front yard of the Sears Milton.

At the time, the 1,932-square foot house was being used as a Bed and Breakfast. The Milton House Inn website has now been taken down, so apparently, it’s a private residence again.

The house is located on the main drag, and it is an imposing structure in this beautiful (and tiny) town, nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. (Stanley is about seven miles south of Luray, Virginia and about five hours west of Norfolk.)

The Milton did not appear in the 1912 catalog (or prior years), but I found it in the 1916 catalog. It last appeared in 1919, so its reign was brief. If you’d purchased a Milton in 1916, the price was $1,619 and by 1919, the price had jumped to $2,491, a shocking 54% increase. And, it was not offered as a pre-cut house.

When I was putting together this blog, I was surprised to find (according to an old testimonial) a Milton had also been built in New York City. This is a massive and impressive house, not far behind the Sears Magnolia in terms of grandeur. Its many unique features would certainly make it hard to miss.

Is the Sears Milton still standing in New York City? Boy, I sure would love to know.

What about the Miltons that were built in Fayette, Ohio and Somerville, NJ?  Are they still standing?

In 2008, someone sent me a newspaper article that claimed that the Sears Milton had been built (and torn down) in Carlinville, Illinois. I shared the photo with Rebecca Hunter, and she and I concur: The house in Carlinville (on Route 4) did not appear to have been a Sears Milton.

To learn more about how to identify kit homes, click here.

To read about the Sears Homes in Carlinville’s Standard Addition, click here.

The Sears Milton is a distinctive and unusually large house. Identifying this gem is easier than shooting slow-moving fishies in a wee-tiny barrel.

The Sears Milton is a distinctive and unusually large house. Identifying this gem is easier than shooting slow-moving fishies in a wee-tiny barrel. (1916 catalog)

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Spacious and awesome

That bay window (dining room) is quite large and is one of many identifying characteristics of the Sears Milton. The small windows on the side (flanking the fireplace) are another unique feature, asis the second floor porch with its unusual window placement.

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And as of 1916, several had been built, including one in New York City!

And as of 1916, several had been built, including one in New York City! Pics please?? :)

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Close-up of the house (1916).

Close-up of the house (1916). As mentioned, this house has many unique features, such as the dentil molding, massive eave brackets, tiny attic window set in those deep gables, pergolas, and that massive two-story bay window. That second-story porch (with small windows on either side of the balcony door is also pretty distinctive.

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Here in the flesh

Landscaping prevented a shot that's more akin to the catalog image (as seen above), but there's no doubt about it: This is a Sears Milton. Note the dentil molding atop the columns.

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Straight on

My oh my, that's a fine-looking house! Note the two-story bays on the right!

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Another view

Another view of this wonderful old house.

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From the side

From this angle, you can see those two small windows flanking the chimney.

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Remnants of the rafter tails.

Underneath the flat porch roof are remnants of the old pergola. Note the unique cuts on the rafter tails.

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stanley wow

A view of the Magnificent Milton's front porch.

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Details around the second-story porch.

Details around the second-story porch.

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Comparison

Comparison of the catalog image and the house in Stanley, Virginia.

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To learn more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

Interested in seeing more photos of Sears Homes in the Blue Ridge Mountains? Click here.

The Miltons in New York, New Jersey and Ohio were built between 1913 -1916. Please leave a comment if you have any clue where these homes might be!

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Speaking of Sears Homes in Georgia…

May 20th, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

Eleven months ago, I wrote about Sears Home #119 in Martinez, Georgia. It was built by R. Lyle and it was also one of Sears largest kit homes.

Some time later, a reader named Stacey tracked down an old plat map that showed the location of the R. Lyle property near Martinez. Unfortunately, I’m geographically challenged and I’m not sure what this plat is telling me.

Are you good with maps? If so, maybe you can help me figure out just where in Martinez this house is located. Please leave a comment below if you have any information.

Somewhere in Martinez, there’s a Sears Modern Home #119 in hiding!

To see photos of another extraordinary Sears House in Georgia, click here.

To read the original piece about the Sears House in Martinez, click here.

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Ive circled the spot where the Lyle farm is located, but where *is* this?

I've circled the spot where the Lyle farm is located, but where *is* this?

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House

Close-up of map, showing R. T. Lyle parcel, but where is it - exactly?

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Mr. Lyles house in 1915.

Mr. Lyle's house in 1915.

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Testimonial

These cities also have a Sears Modern Home #119.

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Original catalog page

Original catalog page from 19116.

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To learn more, click here.

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The Back Story of “The Houses That Sears Built”

January 26th, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

In February 2012, it will have been 10 years since I published my book, The Houses That Sears Built. Writing that book was a labor of love, but it was also an incredibly intense experience.  By Christmas 2001, I had nearly finished the manuscript.

For our Christmas vacation that year, our family (my husband and three daughters) had planned to fly to Portsmouth, Virginia to visit our families. (We were living in the St. Louis area at the time.)

About three weeks before the holidays, I decided to cancel my plans and stay home and finish up the manuscript. I was on a roll, and after two years, it was time to put my nose to the grindstone and get it done. But one of those “little voices” told me that this was an important trip, and that I needed to stick with the plan and spend Christmas in Portsmouth.

On Christmas Eve, we had dinner with my mother.  We were so happy to see her, and spend time with her. And I had a surprise. I’d just had a big article published in a national magazine.  She was so proud of me, and asked me to read the article out loud to her, which I did. My dear mother looked at me and just beamed.

“My beautiful daughter,” she said with a big smile. “My beautiful famous daughter. I’m so proud of you.”

And at that moment, I almost slipped and told her my secret: My new book was going to be dedicated to her, Betty B. Fuller. The inscription would read, All that I am or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother. I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always clung to me.

It was a quote from Abraham Lincoln and it described exactly how I felt.

Throughout my life, my mother’s prayers had been such a blessing and support. She was always my #1 cheerleader and my dearest friend.

That night, when we left her house, I told her that we’d be back in just a few hours - on Christmas morning!  She hugged me tight and started swaying side to side a little bit, while whispering in my ear, “My beautiful daughter. I love you so much.”

The next morning, she didn’t answer the door and she didn’t answer the phone. I used my key to get into the house and that’s when we found her - still in bed - ashen and barely breathing.  She never regained consciousness, and died a short time later.

Twelve days later, I returned home, hardly able to think about that book of mine. Suddenly, it seemed so completely unimportant.  However, I eventually pulled myself together enough to finish it and take the manuscript to the printer.

That was February 2002. Later that month, my husband of 24 years told me that he now understood Paul in the Bible, and that like Paul, he realized he was not the marrying kind. He asked for a divorce. And so ended a relationship that had begun in 1968. I’d met Tom when I was in third grade.

I moved out of the family home, and into a low-rent singles’ apartment and tried desperately to start a new life.

The Houses That Sears Built - was more than just a book. It became my raison d’être, literally.  The book - and the career that came with it  - gave me a sense of purpose and pride and unspeakable joy. Less than 60 days after its publication, I was interviewed for a feature article in the New York Times. That was a wonderful break.

Next, I was invited to appear in a new show being developed for PBS, tentatively titled, The History Detectives. From there, I ended up on A&E’s Biography, CBS Sunday Morning News and more. In July 2004, my book made it to Jeopardy!

By Summer 2006, I’d done more than 500 interviews and had appeared in almost every national newspaper in America, including, Christian Science Monitor, Dallas Morning News, Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. In June 2006, my story appeared in the Wall Street Journal - front page - and above the fold! That was the coup of my career.

And in Summer 2006, I met Wayne Ringer. Six months later, we were married.

I’ve always believed in God’s timing, and the timing of this book’s publication and the start of my new life could not have possibly been any better.

And it was FUN. I traveled all over the country and was a featured speaker at countless venues and seminars and preservation conferences and I was treated like a queen. I really liked being treated like a queen!

The book - and the career that followed - restored my soul and healed my shattered self-esteem. Divorce is tough.

In 2004, I traveled to a small town in the Midwest, and stayed at a Marriott Hotel. The organizers of the event had made all the arrangements for me, and that was always much appreciated. When I checked in at the desk, the clerk looked up from her computer screen, smiled at me and said, “You’re Rosemary Thornton?”

I said, “Yes,” and she reached her hand across the counter and said, “Can I shake your hand? I’ve always wanted to meet a real author.”

It was (and still is) one of the best memories of my career.

And it all started with one little self-published tome on Sears Kit Homes.  Ten years ago, this month.

Only 3,000 copies of this first edition were sold, and by then, Id written an updated version, which has sold almost 15,000 copies now.  The first edition now fetches a handsome price.

Only 3,000 copies of this "first edition" were sold, and by then, I'd written an updated version, which has been in print since February 2004. The first edition (now out of print) fetches a handsome price.

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In May 2006, I gave a talk here.

In May 2006, I gave a talk in Jefferson City, Missouri. While in Jefferson City, I had my first telephone conversation with Wayne, the man who'd become my husband.

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In 2010, The History Press contacted me and asked if Id be interested in writing a coffee-table book on Sears Homes. The Sears Homes of Illinois was the result, and this was - without any doubts - my last book on kit homes.

In 2010, "The History Press" contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in writing a coffee-table book on Sears Homes. "The Sears Homes of Illinois" was the result, and this was - without any doubts - my last book on kit homes.

To learn more about kit homes, click here.

To see the kit homes of Norfolk, click here.

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Married By Commerce; Divorced By The Interstate

January 15th, 2012 Sears Homes 2 comments

In the early 1900s, the Sears Mill at Cairo, Illinois was an impressive operation, covering 40 acres and employing about 80 full-time workers. About 20 acres were “under roof.” In other words, the site had 20 acres of buildings.

That’s a lot of buildings.

Each day, the railroad cars brought enormous quantities of yellow pine and cypress into the mill, right out of the virgin forests in Louisiana and Mississippi. The 80 employees turned those logs into 10-12 kit homes per day, and each pre-cut home had 12,000 pieces of lumber. That’s a lot of lumber and a lot of work.

The mill (actually in a tiny town just outside of Cairo) was in Urbandale, Illinois. It was located on “Sears and Roebuck Road.” When the interstate came through in the 1970s, it cut a wide swath right through Sears and Roebuck Road, creating two stretches of dead end street on either side of I-57.

On one side, it’s now known as Sears Road. On the other, it’s Roebuck Road.

And on Roebuck Road, there’s another bonus: The Sears Wexford.

A Sears House on Roebuck Road. Or maybe it’s a Roebuck house on Roebuck Road?

Either way, Garmin apparently never got the memo that Sears Roebuck Road had been sliced into two pieces.

And to hear the song that inspired blog’s title, click here:  Married By The Bible, Divorced By The Law.

Special thanks to long-time Cairo resident Richard Kearney, who gave up a day of his life to be my tour guide throughout this area.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

Garmin never got the memo about the divorce of Sears and Roebuck Road.

Garmin never got the memo about the divorce of Sears and Roebuck Road.

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Sears

Sears Road is right off of State Highway 37 in Urbandale, IL.

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And Roebuck Road is on the other side, accessible by Seven Mile Road. Note the little Sears Wexford, waving merrily from the background!

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Close up of the Sears Wexford (also known as the Bridgeford) on Roebuck Road.

Close up of the Sears Wexford (also known as the "Bridgeford) on "Roebuck Road."

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Original catalog image of the Sears (and Roebuck) Wexford (from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

Original catalog image of the Sears (and Roebuck) Wexford (from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog). The house in Urbandale is a spot-on match!

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Comparison of the two houses.

Comparison of the two images.

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This item appeared in the February 1912 issue of American Carpenter and Builder, annoucing the opening of the new mill at Cairo.

This item appeared in the February 1912 issue of American Carpenter and Builder, announcing the opening of the new mill at Cairo.

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Close up of the text.

Close up of the text.

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The only thing that remains at the site of the old Sears Mill are these two Rodessas, built about 1918, to demonstrate the superiority of Sears pre-cut homes. One house was built using traditional methods (stick built, with all pieces cut by hand), and the other Rodessa was a pre-cut Sears Home.

The only remnant of the old 40-acre Sears Mill in Cairo/Urbandale are these two Rodessas, built in 1918, to demonstrate the superiority of Sears pre-cut homes. One house was built using traditional methods (stick built, with all pieces cut by hand), and the other Rodessa was a pre-cut Sears Home.

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The Rodessa, as seen in the 1919 catalog.

The Rodessa, as seen in the 1919 catalog.

To read about Addie Hoyt, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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