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Posts Tagged ‘sears kit homes in missouri’

In the Beginning, It Was Dearly Loved…

August 9th, 2015 Sears Homes 7 comments

Sometime in the early 1910s, William Eathen Davison of Elkland, Missouri sat down with a Sears Modern Homes catalog and studied the kit homes offered within its pages. Ultimately, Mr. Davison settled on “Modern Home #113,” a spacious home with 2,200 square feet, four good-sized bedrooms, an indoor bathroom, two bay windows and a gambrel roof.

The best part was the price: $1,270 or about $29,000 in today’s money. Building an entire house from a kit was a novel idea, and Sears had just started their “Modern Homes” department a few  years earlier, in 1908.

But perhaps Mr. Davison realized that this was a sound value, and by building his own home, he’d save more than 30%, compared to traditional construction techniques. His kit would have arrived about six weeks after he placed the order. One can only imagine the excitement and anticipation that such an event would occasion!

Finally, there came a day when he received word that his boxcar had arrived at the Lebanon Train Depot. He probably gathered up a few friends (and their wagons) and hustled down to the depot to pick up his house. If Mr. Davison was typical, he would spend the next six months building his kit home. There were 12,000 pieces, detailed blue prints (designed for the novice homebuilder) and a 75-page instruction book. Mr. Davison had quite a project on his hands.

Born in 1888, Mr. Davison was probably in his mid-to-late 20s when he built this house, and leaned on friends and family to get the house closed-in and buttoned up before the bitter-cold Missouri winds came sweeping through the open farmland.

I can only imagine the joy and deep abiding sense of satisfaction Mr. Davison felt when the house was completed and ready for occupancy.

After the house was finished, he wrote Sears a letter and said, “It’s a lovely residence and is admired by all the country around…I am highly pleased.”

Through the years, I’ve interviewed several people who built their own homes, and one consistent theme I’ve heard is this:  The Mr. Davisons of the world would often tell their children, “This is our home now. My home, and your home, and long after we’re gone, this house will still be here. It’s a good house, and I built it myself. When I’m gone, this house will be yours. Tell your children that their grandfather built this home for you, and for them.”

But something happened to Mr. Davison’s dream house along the way. We know that Mr. Davison had the house finished by 1914 (when his testimony appeared in the Sears Modern Homes catalog), but we don’t know how long he lived there. Mr. Davison died in Los Angeles in 1941 (age 63).

Recently on Facebook, Sandy Fowler Maness posted a picture of a Sears Modern Home #113, and I found Mr. Davison’s testimonial in the 1914 catalog. I’m saddened to report that it’s a troubling picture, for Mr. Davison’s home is now in collapse.

Scroll on down for the pictures, but be forewarned, the house is in pitiable condition.

If Mr. Davison could see his house now, the house that was built with such care and forethought, I wonder what he’d say.

To read more about the “homes built with love,” click here.

Many thanks to Dixie Dill for granting permission to use her photo, and thanks to historian and writer Marilyn Smith for finding this house!

Thanks also to Sandy Fowler Maness for sharing this information.

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House

Modern Home #113 was mighty popular for a house that was so short-lived. It was offered from 1912-1915.

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Virgils house arrived from the train station in a boxcar. These early 20th Century boxcars were massive and were loaded to the ceiling with buillinger materials.

Mr. Davison's house arrived at the train station in a boxcar containing about 12,000 pieces. Loaded with much care and forethought, these massive boxcars were packed to the ceiling with building materials. Most likely, the building materials were shipped from a massive Sears mill in Cairo, Illinois.

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House

After the house was finished, Sears asked homeowners to send a snapshot of their new home, together with a short testimonial. Here's Mr. Davison's testimonial. It tells quite a story (1914 catalog).

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Others

S. B. Walters of Uniontown also built a #113.

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House

At 2,200 square feet, it was quite spacious for its time.

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FP2

The indoor plumbing was also progressive for the early 1910s. In Sears first catalog (1908), about half of the houses were offered with indoor bathrooms.

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Jpse

We can only hope that the houses in Dwight, IL, Springfield, MA, Dunbar, and Harrisburg, PA are in good condition.

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House house

It was a fine-looking house with two porches. And lots of windows.

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Serfe

Sadly, today, Mr. Davison's 100-year-old house in Elkland is on the cusp of collapse. In 1914, Mr. Davison described it as being "in an open prairie" and it still sits out in the country, about one mile west of the Elkland Post Office. Photo is copyright 2015 Dixie Dill and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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House

It does sadden me to think about how Mr. Davison's dream home started with such promise.

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To read more about the “homes built with love,” click here.

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Why I Love Ferguson, Missouri

October 5th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

In Fall 2002, I was broke, depressed, lonely and very worried about the future. Months earlier, my beloved mother had died unexpectedly and my marriage of 24 years had ended in divorce.

Those were tough times.

I had one thing going for me: My newly published book, The Houses That Sears Built.

Working 100-hour weeks, I did nothing but promote that book and send out free copies to local media outlets. I slept and I worked. There wasn’t time or money for anything else.

If the book didn’t start selling fast, I’d have to do something I dreaded: Get a real job, and jobs in Alton, Illinois were tough to find.

Sometime in late 2002, I drove around Ferguson, Missouri and found a few Sears Homes. I’m sorry to say I’ve forgotten how it unfolded from there, but I hooked up with a local architect and history lover named Alan. He put me in touch with a couple folks from the city of Ferguson. In time, I was hired to do a survey of the kit homes in the city of Ferguson.

Alan drove me around to the different neighborhoods and it was great fun. Most of what I knew about architecture came from reading books. Alan graciously answered my many simple questions about architecture. I will always remember his kindness and patience.

After I’d identified a few kit homes,  the city had a lovely ceremony, and each Sears Home owner was presented with a beautiful plaque. I was invited to be part of the presentation ceremony.

It was a lovely memory for so many different reasons.

First and foremost, the folks in Ferguson - homeowners, Alan the Architect, city officials and employees  - showed me so much kindness and respect.

Secondly, this was my rubicon.

My divorce had been heart-breaking, but this experience in Ferguson showed me that my work had value and my life had purpose, and that there were people in the world who shared my passion for these old houses.

Some time later, the kit homes in Ferguson were featured on “Show Me St. Louis” (a popular TV show),  and that also warmed the cockles of my heart, and gave me new hope that I could make a career out of this vocation.

In subsequent years, my book and I have been featured on PBS History Detectives, CBS Sunday Morning News, A&E’s Biography, MSNBC, NPR, BBC Radio, and many more. I’ve traveled to 25 states doing surveys and giving talks.

But it all started with the grace and kindess of the many fine folks in Ferguson.

That’s why I love Ferguson so much.

BTW, if you know the addresses of these homes or even street names, please send me a note or leave a comment.  When I did this survey, I didn’t know much about the other kit home companies. I’d love to come back and do a more thorough survey.

Lastly, these images are from 12-year-old slides. The colors are off and the images are grainy.

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One of the reasons there are so many kit homes in St. Louis is because there was a Sears Modern Homes sales center in St. Louis. There were only 40 of these in the country, and these were only placed in areas where sales had been strong. And once a Modern Homes sales center opened, sales were even stronger!

One of the reasons there are so many kit homes in the St. Louis area is because there was a Sears Modern Homes sales center in St. Louis. There were only 40 of these in the country.

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And in the early 30s,

Sears only placed these "Sales Centers" in communities where sales were strong.

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Ferguson

Sears Walton as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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Ferguson

I remember the homeowner here was just THRILLED to learn she had a Sears House!

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Leanon

The Lebanon was a popular house for Sears (1921 catalog).

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Lebanon

Lovely Lebanon in Ferguson. Notice the placement of the door next to the one window.

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Marina

Sears Marina (1916)

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Marina

A perfect Marina in Ferguson.

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Lex

The Sears Lexington was one of their biggest and most expensive homes.

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Lexington

Initially, I'd missed this stately Lexington hiding behind the hedge, but this IS a Lexington!

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compare

Nice comparison of the Lexington entryway. Although it's somewhat obscured, you can see the fan light in the 1928 image. The details on the porch are spot on!

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Ferguson

Sears Barrington (1928).

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Pattern book

Although I initially identified this as a Barrington, I'm starting to wonder if it is a pattern book house. These many years later, I do not remember if we went inside this house.

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Gordon Van Tine

In addition to Sears Homes, I also found a Gordon Van Tine home in Ferguson.

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GVT

Very distinctive house!

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Ferguson House

The porch has been enclosed, but this is a lovely GVT #605 in Ferguson.

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Spent years

I have spent many years trying to identify this house. I've yet to find it in any pattern books, kit house catalogs or magazines. But hey - it's only been 12 years. I'm still looking!

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To read about the kit homes I found in Kirkwood, click here.

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

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