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Posts Tagged ‘Sears kit Homes’

Dogs and Cats - Living Together in West Virginia

June 22nd, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last year, I visited the Eighth Magnolia in northern West Virginia. The owners were kind enough to give me a full tour, from the basement to attic. What a happy day that was, to see that old house, faithfully restored to its former splendor!

My hubby and I spent two hours at the house, photographing it from every possible angle, and soaking in the happy ambiance of a gorgeous Sears Magnolia in beautiful condition. This 90-year-old Sears kit house sits majestically on several acres in the bucolic hinterlands of West Virginia.

I was floating on air when we drove away from The Beautiful Magnolia. When I came to the first intersection, I saw a very interesting house on the corner and snapped my head around to get a better view.

“Oh my gosh,” I said slowly, but happily.

“What is it?” my husband asked, hoping that it was not another kit house. It was already an hour past his lunch time and he was not happy about that.

“It’s another kit house,” I said absent-mindedly, as I stopped the car hastily and retrieved my digital camera.

You could hear a soft little “plop” as his heart sank in his chest.

“Oh,” he said apprehensively.

“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “I’m just getting a few pictures.”

Famous last words.

Fortunately, I was able to get several good shots in a hurry (I was hungry too), and we were back on our way in less than five minutes.

So what kind of house is living next door to The Beautiful Magnolia?

It is a *perfect* example of a Gordon Van Tine #612, a classic bungalow, and one of their finer houses. Gordon Van Tine, based in Davenport Iowa, was a significant kit home company and probably sold more than 50,000 kit homes. They were also the company that supplied kit homes for Montgomery Ward.

To read my favorite blog about the Magnolia, click here.

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

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Gordon Van Tine

The Gordon Van Tine #612 as it appeared in the 1924 catalog.

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Spacious too

Look at the size of that living room! The dining room is also quite large.

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house 1924

It really is a beauty.

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Be still my heart

Be still my heart. Wow, wow, WOW! What a fine-looking home!

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And its on a pretty lot

And it sits on a beautiful lot in West Virginia. Notice the short window in the dining room? It's likely that they had a built-in buffet in that bay window, necessitating the smaller window.

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house on lot

A better view of the house from the side.

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See that detail on brick

See that detail on chimney?

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nice match isnt it

Nice match, isn't it?

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Beautiful house in Vinton, VA

And here's a beautiful brick #612 that Dale found when we were in Vinton, VA (near Roanoke).

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Heres a not-so-beautiful GVT 612 on Pocohontas Street in Hampton, VA

Here's a not-so-beautiful GVT # 612 on Pocohontas Street in Hampton, VA. It's just outside of the Old Wythe section of Hampton, which has many kit homes. Heaven only knows why that extra roof piece was added between the two gables. My oh my.

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Yeah, it really is one.

Due to the many trees on the side, I could not get a good picture down the right side, but a visual inspection satisfied me that this really is a Gordon Van Tine #612 (or its Montgomery Ward counterpart). If you look down this side (shown above) and compare it with the floorplan, you'll see it's the real deal.

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And its all just around the corner from our Maggie!

And that Gordon Van Tine is just around the corner from our Maggie!

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To read my favorite blog about the Magnolia, click here.

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

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Modern Home #158: Did Anyone Love You Enough to Build You?

June 16th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

There are many models of Sears Homes that I have never seen “in the flesh,” and Sears Modern Home #158 is one of them. It was offered only a short time (about 1910 to 1913), and yet, it was an attractive home with a good floor plan.

I hadn’t though much about this particular model until recently, when Sarah in our “Sears House” Facebook group mentioned that she’d found a reference to #158 in a contemporary book.

“Flesh and Bone” (a novel, written by Jefferson Bass and published in 2007), has several lines on our beloved Sears Modern Home #158.

The excerpt reads,

You know one of my favorite things about this house? Guess who created it.”

“Let’s see,” I said. “Surely I can dredge up the name from my encyclopedic knowledge of Chattanooga architects of the early 1900s…”

“Wasn’t a Chattanooga architect,” she grinned.

“Sears.”

“Sears? Who Sears? From where - New York?”

“Not ‘Who Sears’: ‘Sears Who.’ Sears Roebuck, the department store,” she said, pointing to a wall.

There, she’d hung a framed page from the century-old Sears catalog, showing an ad for the house I was standing in. It bore the catchy name “Modern Home #158,” and a price tag of $1,548.

“Houses by mail order,” said Jess. “The house came into town on a freight car, in pieces. Probably four grand, all told, for the kit plus the caboodle.”

“I’m guessing it appreciated some since then.”

“Well, I appreciate it some,” she said.

I’d love to know why author Jefferson Bass picked #158. Does he know of one somewhere? Or did he pick it out of a book at random?

Is there a #158 in Chattanooga, TN (as is described in the story)?

I’d love to know!

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158 1910

In the 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog (shown here), Model #158 was priced at $1,533. In Mr. Bass' novel "Flesh and Bone," it's given a price of $1,548.

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He got the rice right.

In "Houses by Mail" (a 1985 field guide to Sears Homes - published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation), Sears Modern Home #158 is listed with a low price of $1,548. Seems likely that *this* was the source of Mr. Bass' info. The "four grand" is given as a total price, which is pretty close, and reflects the info shown here.

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Beautiful house, too

Modern Home #158 was a classic foursquare with some a sprinkling of Prairie-style thrown in.

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With servants quarters

Yes, a kit house with servant's quarters.

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FP1

This 2,200-square foot house was unusually spacious for a kit house. And check out the first-floor powder room! Another unusual feature for this era.

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FP2

Two sets of staircases, and lots of space on the second floor.

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And

Modern Home #158 was also shown on the cover of the 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog (far right).

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To join our Facebook group, click here.

A *Beautifully* Original Magnolia in South Bend - For Sale!

June 12th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

For many years, I’ve wondered what it would be like to see a Magnolia in original condition.

Now, I know.

The Sears Magnolia in South Bend was recently listed for sale, and the Realtor kindly sent me a few pictures.

It can be described in one word:  STUNNING.

Or maybe two:  Original!

These photos give us a rare opportunity to step back in time almost 100 years, and see what the Sears Magnolia looked like when built.

If I was queen of the world (and it shouldn’t be long now), I’d insist that the potential buyers of this rare, historically significant home be required to do a proper, thoughtful and historically sensitive restoration (which is radically different from a remodeling). I’d demand that they find a way to preserve the home’s original features.

As my buddy Bill Inge says, “The first commandment of preservation is, ‘Thou shalt not destroy good old work.’”

The 3,895-square foot home is listed at $320,000. Situated on 1/3 of an acre, it has four bedrooms, three full bathrooms and two half-baths. The listing says it was built in 1927, but we know that that’s not right. The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922.

This house is a rare treasure. I hope its next owners “catch” the vision and see what a remarkable property it really is.

Ready to see some photos? You should get ready to be dazzled!

To buy this fine old house, click here.

To learn more about the history of the Sears Magnolia kit home, click here.

Interested in reading more about how these homes were built? Click here.

All photos are copyright Steve Matz, 2014.

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The Sears Magnolia is now for sale in South Bend, IN.

The Sears Magnolia is now for sale in South Bend, IN.

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The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Mag

The Magnolia in South Bend is remarkable because it's in original condition.

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A view from the inside.

A view from the inside.

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house

This Magnolia still retains its original mouldings and trim but the inglenook and columns are not in place. It's possible that the house was built without these built-ins.

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house

I suspect that this is the fireplace in the den.

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house house

The den (right rear) was very small (only 8'9" deep). It's unusual to see the den in its original shape and size. It's also unusual to see a house from this vintage with a half-bath on the first floor (next to the den).

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house

The Realtor had the good sense to photograph the staircase from the same angle as the original catalog image!

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hfhfhf

Nice match, isn't it? Check out the French doors at the rear - both upper and lower level.

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house

Nice, huh? :D

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The best

There's something about these old nooks that just makes my heart skip a beat.

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house house house

This is the very best picture of all. And perhaps the home's finest feature: A built-in nook, completely untouched by time, with the original tile floor, white hexagonal tiles with a blue flower center. This pattern is a classic feature found in early 20th Century Sears Homes. You can see the three original wooden windows behind the nook.

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house

Fun comparison, isn't it? It's so rare to see these nooks still in place.

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Another incredible feature is that

Not only does this house have its original Butler's Pantry, but it has the original sink, wooden surround and fixture. This house is such a rare find, and to think that it's a Sears Magnolia!

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And it just gets better. Upstairs, just off the Master Bedroom, the dressing room, is the original sink, light fixtures and oak cabinetry - unpainted!

Upstairs, just off the Master Bedroom, is a surprisingly large dressing room. The fact that even the dressing room is original is a real testament to the home's prior owners, who had the wisdom to follow the #1 rule: "Thou shalt not destroy good old work." And this cabinetry was incredibly good work. In the corner, is the Magnolia's original sink, light fixtures and medicine chest - unpainted! If you look closely, you'll see the original cabinet pulls.

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house

It's true that I am nutty as a fruitcake, but seeing this century-old Magnolia - wholly untouched by time - sends me. Original sink, original fixtures, original medicine chest, and an original light fixture (porcelain sconce). Just incredible. I'm a big fan of old plumbing but I've never seen a three-sided sink before.

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house house

Close-up of the upstairs floorplan, showing that small sink in the dressing room.

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And the sunporch has its original wooden casement windows.

And the sunporch has its original wooden casement windows.

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A view from the upstairs 2nd floor balcony.

A view from the upstairs 2nd floor balcony.

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To buy this fine old house, click here.

Interested in learning more about the Sears Magnolia? Click here.

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The Sears “Groot-Mokum” in Scranton

May 16th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

How fitting that Sears would name one of their finest Dutch Colonials “The Amsterdam.”

After all, Amsterdam is the capital of The Netherlands!

In Dutch, the word Amsterdam translates into “Groot-Mokum” - hence, the title of this blog.

I did a blog on The Dandy Amsterdam more than two years ago, but since then, I’ve come across another Amsterdam in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

I’m guessing that - due to cost and size - the Groot-Mokum was a pretty rare model for Sears. I’ve only seen one “in the flesh” and that was the model in Scranton. For reasons I’ve long since forgotten, I did not photograph the house in Scranton when I was there about 10 years ago, and just recently re-discovered these photos, sent by a Sears House Aficionado.

Unfortunately, the SHA did not include their name on the photos, so I don’t know who found this Amsterdam and/or who shot the photos. If it was you, please leave a comment below!  :D

BTW, if you have an Amsterdam in your neighborhood, take a photo and send it to me!

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At

At $3,578, the Groot-Mokum was a pricey affair (1928).

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Lots of room

The Groot Modum was a spacious house. Even had a Music Room!

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Four spacious bedroms

Love the four bedrooms, but not sure about the bathroom on the home's front.

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Beautiful house

The Amsterdam (1928)

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Whomever took this photo did a perfect job of getting it from the same angle as the catalog page.

Whomever took this photo did a stellar job of replicating the angle in the catalog page.

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The inscription on the back of the card is also very interesting!

The inscription on the back of the card is also very interesting! But who wrote it?

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Ooh

Side-by-side they're a nice match (minus the gabled porch add on).

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This Groot-Mokum is in

This Groot-Mokum is also in Pennsylvania, specifically Pittsburgh. (Photo is copyright 2011 Melody Snyder and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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

If you know who photographed the Scranton house, please leave a comment below!

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HUD: Destroying History One House At a Time?

May 7th, 2014 Sears Homes 9 comments

If HUD gets its way, a beautiful, mostly original Sears Alhambra  in Portsmouth, Virginia will soon be remuddled into a homogenized plasticine mess.

The old Sears kit home is in a historic district of Portsmouth (Cradock), and - speaking as an architectural historian - I can say with some authority that this is a one-of-a-kind house.

What makes this house special?

It’s a Sears Alhambra (one of Sears finest homes), and it’s 85-years-old, and it’s still in mostly original condition.

Inside, it has an original porcelain bathtub, original light fixtures, unpainted oak trim (a $160 upgrade!), vintage plaster, and original wood windows (some casement; some double-hung).

Through the decades, these beautiful old houses often get remuddled into an almost unrecognizable form.

The Alhambra in Cradock was spared that fate because it was owned by one family for 75 of its 85 years.

And if those 85-year-old walls could talk, they’d tell quite a story.

In 1929, Swedish immigrant Gustav Emil Liljegren picked up a Sears Roebuck catalog and ordered his Sears kit house, an Alhambra.

Price: $2,898.

The 12,000-piece kit arrived within six weeks later in Portsmouth, Virginia and a few weeks later, Gustav’s new home was ready for occupancy.

For years, Gustav Emil Liljegren had toiled and sacrificed and saved so that he could provide a fine home for his family (a wife and four children).

In April 1929, Gustav was anxiously awaiting the arrival of his kit house from Sears.

He had saved enough money to pay cash for the house. His wife was pregnant. He had a good job at the Proctor and Gamble plant in Portsmouth (near the Norfolk Naval Shipyard).

Only five years earlier, Gustav had immigrated from Malmö, Sweden, working as a steward to pay for his passage. It was on the ship - bound for America - that he’d met William Proctor (of Proctor and Gamble fame) who was so impressed with this young Swede that he promised him a job at the Portsmouth plant.

Within a year, Gustav was able to send for his wife and four children. And in 1929, it all fell apart.

His wife’s pregnancy ended in miscarriage. She contracted blood poisoning and died three weeks later, leaving Gustav with four little children. And 12,000 pieces of house coming to Portsmouth.

A short time later, the market crashed and Gustav lost his life savings.

But Gustav pulled it together and pushed on. He picked up the pieces of his life and the 12,000 pieces of his house and slogged through the hard days. Gustav, after all, was a survivor.

In 1937, he married his second wife. In 1954, Gustav retired from Jif and moved to Florida, and sold the Alhambra to Ingvar (Gustav’s son) for $8,000. In 2004, due to declining health, Ingvar Liljengren, (born in 1923) had to sell the house.

A few years later, the house went into foreclosure and that’s when it became a HUD house (in 2014). A long-time Portsmouth resident had always admired the house and put in a bid to buy it. Her bid was accepted.

But that’s where it went off the rails.

After inspecting the house, HUD demanded that the following repairs be completed.

1)  All existing wooden windows were to be replaced with new windows.

2)  Due to the suspected presence of lead, all interior woodwork had to be painted (encapsulated). Yes, all that solid oak, varnished, stunningly beautiful woodwork must be painted.

3)  Due to the suspected presence of lead, the plaster walls had to be covered with sheetrock.

In other words, HUD wants the new buyer to destroy the home’s historic significance (prior to moving in).

I’ve never dealt with HUD but I suspect it’s a massive bureaucracy awash in red tape. I suspect that the local HUD representative doesn’t understand that this house is in a historic district within a very historic city (Portsmouth, Virgina).

I suspect he/she has never read the Secretary of Interior’s preservation briefs on the importance of saving a home’s original features.

I suspect he/she doesn’t understand what they’re asking of a woman who purchased an old house because she fell in love with its inherent unique historical characteristics and charms.

That’s what I suspect.

I hope this is just a massive misunderstanding.

Because if it’s not, our old houses are surely doomed.

If you’ve any ideas how to stop this, please leave a comment below.

Gustav and I thank you.

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The Alhambra was first offered in 1918.

The Sears Alhambra was first offered in 1919.

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In the 1919 catalog, it was featured in a two-page spread.

In the 1919 catalog, it was featured in a two-page spread.

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And it was a very beautiful home.

And it was a very beautiful home.

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Dining

The dining room featured a built-in buffet (shown above).

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But who doesnt love a sun porch!

But who doesn't love a sun porch - and with a chaise!

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One of Gustavs hobbys was wrought iron work, so he did a little embellishing of the homes exterior railings.

Gustav ordered the Alhambra in Spring 1929. Inside, the house retains many of its original features, such as an oversized porcelain tub, varnished oak trim, original light fixtures and more. This Sears House is now 85 years old, but is still a real jewel. However, if HUD has its way...

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One of the homes best features is its original windows, such as this small casement window on the second floor.

One of the home's best features is its original windows, such as this small casement window on the second floor. BTW, one of Gustav's hobbies was wrought iron work. He added the wrought iron railings when he built the house in 1929. In 2002, I was given a full tour of the home's interior, and I was blown away. It is a real beauty, and has been tenderly cared for through the many decades. It's truly a gem.

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It truly saddens me to think that HUD wont be happy until our Alhambra in Portsmouth looks like this lost soul in Wisconsin.

It truly saddens me to think that HUD won't be happy until our Alhambra in Portsmouth looks like this lost soul in Wisconsin. And yes, that's an Alhambra, all dressed up for the 21st Century.

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Please leave a comment below. I’m feeling mighty sad these days about the future of these old houses.

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Sweet Home, Alabama (Sears Magnolia)

April 26th, 2014 Sears Homes 6 comments

Sometime in 2005, the new owner of the Sears Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama sent me several dozen photos of the house. Recently, I rediscovered the CDs. Those photos reminded me that I also had a 1984 newspaper article about that Magnolia.

Unfortunately, I do not have any record of whose photos these are, so they appear below without attribution. I’m hoping someone reading this might help me figure out who took those pictures!

Below are the photos, and the 1984 article from The Anniston Star.

Piedmont boasts a Sears Catalog Mansion (November 1, 1984)

by Viveca Novak

Piedmont - When the late doctor Fain Webb and his wife filled out the order form Magnolia, the catalog description likened the Magnolia to the “famous residence at Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the poet Longfellow composed his immortal works.”

The Magnolia rolled into Piedmont in 1921 on a box car one day. Accompanying instructions told the dentist and his school-teacher wife how to assemble everythnig into the configuration of a dwelling.

“Everyone in Piedmont thought it was the prettiest house in town,” remembers Piedmont native Louise Golden. “Little did my mother dream that we would ever own the house.”

It was one day in 1964 that Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Woolf, Mrs. Golden’s parents, got a call from the Webb’s daughter who offered to sell them the homestead for the unbelievably low sum of $12,500.

At the time, Mrs. Woolf was 60 and her husband was 80, retired from years in the Inn business that included running the Piedmont Hotel in the late 1920s. With the help of a $20,000 loan from the Small Business Administration, the Woolfs made the necessary adjustments to complete their dream.

On January 1965, the Colonial Inn opened its doors for supper.

Four bedrooms upstairs were rented to help repay the loan, “but they were very careful about who they rented to, ” says Mrs. Golden, who returned to Piedmont to help her parents run the new venture.

The $2 Sunday smorgasboards attracted upwards of 100 people each week.

“We had Miss Alabama and Miss Poultry Queen for our Christmas Parade one year,” recalls Theresa Kaisor, city historian and asst school board superintendent. “We carried them over there to eat dinner.”

The Inn’s reputation spread far and wide and travelers of all kinds made the necessary detours to stop a night in Piedmont.

Two years later, Piedmont was mourning the closing of the inn, following the death of Mrs. Woolf. Though Mrs. Golden was urged to keep the inn open, it was a task she declined.

In 1970, the house underwent another rebirth with its sale - for $19,000 - to Calvin and Patricia Wingo, two history professors at Jacksonville State University who have a penchant for restoring old houses to their original grandeur.

The Wingos tore up the carpeting and refinished the hardwood floors, replaced the roof and wiring, repaired the bases of some of the columns and painted the whole house. Their son was born soon after they moved in.

Two families occupied the house between 1974, when the Wingos sold it, and 1980. It’s more recent history causes residents to shake their heads sadly. Under the ownership of Charles Grissom, from 1980 to this year, the house burned twice, destroying most of the interior on the first floor and the basement.

It has gone unoccupied for many months.

But the new owner, Winford Kines, hopes it will be a dream house once again, despite the fire damage and theft of one of the mantle pieces and an old pedestal sink.

Kines has begun cleaning out the burned basement and the yard in the initial stages of his project. It may take me a few years, but I hope to live in it someday, Kines said. He has already won a community for lifting the house above the status of neighborhood eyesore.

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My #1 favorite Magnolia story here. It’s well worth the read!

What is it about Magnolias and restaurants? Read about another Magnolia restaurant here.

What is it about Magnolias and fire?

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The Sears Magnolia was quite a house (1922 catalog).

The Sears Magnolia was quite a house (1922 catalog).

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In 2008 I visited the Sears Magnolia in Piedmont. Unfortunately, no one was home.

In 2008 I visited the Sears Magnolia in Piedmont. Unfortunately, no one was home.

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I helped myself to a few good photos while I was in the neighborhood.

I helped myself to a few good photos while I was in the neighborhood.

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This Magnolia

And walked around a bit.

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And went up on the front porch.

And went up on the front porch.

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Youll notice the dormer on this house is quite different than the dormer on the other Magnolias.

You'll notice the dormer on this house is quite different than the dormer on the other Magnolias. I've no idea how that came to be. It appears that the house has its original siding, so we can't blame this on the siding salesmen.

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Some features of the house

Some features of the house remain intact, such as these oak columns in front of the living room fireplace. The inglenook window and built-in bench are missing.

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Did you read the whole article before scrolling down to look at the photos? If so, youd know that someone broke into the house and stole a fireplace mantle. Im guessing this is the mantle.

Did you read the whole article before scrolling down to look at the photos? If so, you'd know that someone broke into the house and stole a fireplace mantle. I'm guessing this is the scene of the crime. However, what they're missing in mantles, they make up for in vacuum cleaners.

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Bear

Incredibly, the windows and trim on the sunporch are all still original. Then again, all of these photos were snapped more than nine years ago. The antique oak filing cabinets are a nice touch, too, but they obstruct the windows a bit.

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Another view of the sunporch windows.

Another view of the sunporch windows.

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living room

This appears to be the dining room, in use as a parlor or den.

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living room also

From the dining room, looking into the living room.

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Looking

Remember reading about that fire? Apparently the staircase took a hit.

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A really bad hit.

A really bad hit.

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Definitely

The balustrade in the Magnolia was quite beautiful but sadly, in the Piedmont Magnolia, it's all gone. Here, it's been replaced them with 2x4s (gasp) and a planter stand (eek).

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nebraska up

As a contrast, here's a picture of a Magnolia in Nebraska that is no longer with us. You can see that it had a beautiful balustrade. This house was razed about the same time the newspaper article above was written - mid 1980s. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Second floor sunporch.

It's nice to see the original doors are in place, even if the hardware didn't survive. This is the second floor bedroom (master bedroom).

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Side

It's incredible that these original paneled newel posts survive (with balls on top), and yet the house has obviously been through some hard times. I know that the house sold recently. Perhaps now it will be restored.

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My #1 favorite Magnolia story here. It’s well worth the read!

What is it about Magnolias and restaurants? Read about another Magnolia restaurant here.

What is it about Magnolias and fire?

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What Exactly Did You Have in Mind, Mr. Dozier?

April 24th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

It was Mr. J. M. Dozier of Lee Hall, VA that purchased Penniman after World War I ended.

Thursday, after spending many hours at the York County Courthouse, I learned that Mr. Dozier bought Penniman from DuPont in April 1926, after the U. S. Army left.

J. M. Dozier and his wife Annie paid $84,375 for the whole kit and caboodle, which included 2,600 acres, and all tenements, hereditaments and appurtenances.

DuPont even financed the sale for Mr. Dozier with no money down.

The first payment of $28,125 was due in April 1927, the second payment due one year after that, and the third (and final payment) due in April 1929.

It was a pretty sweet deal.

According to an article that appeared in the January 1926 Virginia Gazette, Mr. Dozier had big plans for Penniman.

“The development of [Penniman] will entail the expenditure of a considerable sum,” said the article in the Virginia Gazette (January 15, 1926).

And yet, it never happened.

In 1926, $84,375 was a tremendous sum of money. Surely Mr. Dozier had plans to develop this 2,600-acre tract on the York River. Did something go wrong?

Did they discover that the land was uninhabitable for some reason? Or did they find a few too many buried live shells, left over from the U. S. Army?

What happened?

After 1926, Penniman disappeared from the pages of the daily papers until 1938, when Dick Velz with the Richmond Times Dispatch did a retrospective piece on this “Ghost City,” which had been left largely undisturbed since the U. S. Army cleared out in the early 1920s.

Penniman is a fascinating piece of Virginia’s history but there are days (like today) when the mysteries pile up so high and so deep that I fear I may never figure out enough of its story to write a worthy tome.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

If you have a theory as to what happened to Mr. Dozier’s big plans, please leave a comment.

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January 16, 1926

Sounds like these two "outstanding Peninsula business men" had big plans for Penniman. ("Virginia Gazette," January 16, 1926).

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Richmond

What happened after Mr. Dozier paid $84,375 for 2,600 acres of choice real estate on the York River? Did something go terribly wrong? Did they learn that the land was unsuitable for residential development? (This appeared in June 1938 in the "Richmond Times Dispatch.")

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Penniman

Amongst the piles of papers I have collected on Penniman is this treasure asking Dr. Goodwin if he's interested in buying Penniman on the York River. And look at the date. It was after Mr. Dozier had paid off his note to DuPont.

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Penniman

Penniman was situated between Kings Creek and Queens Creek, on the York River, and during WW1, it was home to about 15,000 people. It was probably one of York County's finest pieces of land. This map shows the village of Penniman as it looked in Spring 1918. Map is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Little Piece of DuPont History For Sale

April 10th, 2014 Sears Homes 5 comments

And it’s right on the Delaware River.

The 97-year-old beauty is located in Carney’s Point, New Jersey, home to one of DuPont’s many WW1 munitions plants. This most certainly would have been a house for the upper management at the Carney’s Point facility. It’s a huge house (three full stories and a basement), and it sits on a beautiful lot, facing out to the Delaware River.

We’re coming around to thinking that these houses were probably designed by Aladdin (a kit house company based in Bay City, Michigan), and they were probably built with materials supplied by Aladdin.

For now, that’s mostly speculation, but based on what we’ve learned heretofore, it seems very plausible.

The listing says that this house was built in 1917. That’s believable. We entered “The Great War” in April 1917, and that’s when we went crazy building munitions plants throughout the country. Interestingly, Great Britain credited DuPont and their munitions production with being largely responsible for their victory in The Great War.

To see the more modest housing provided to munitions workers, click here.

To learn more about how we got started on this topic, click here.

Pieceo of history

It's a beautiful house and appears to be in good condition. It was probably designed by Aladdin and built with materials supplied by Aladdin. Probably. We don't know for sure - yet. Photo is courtesy Patricia Siedle Shorter.

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house

This house was also built at Old Hickory, TN (another DuPont munitions plant). This page came from a 1920 catalog featuring the houses of Old Hickory.

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hosue

The floor plan is rather simple. That pantry is a real mystery.

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house

The "half story" is the third floor, and it appears to be quite spacious.

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house

The Bay Tree, up close and person. That gate on the side porch is a curiosity.

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house

And here's our Bay Tree, 97 years old. Photo is courtesy Patricia Siedle Shorter.

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And its also a pretty house

Do the owners know of its unique history? Photo is courtesy Patricia Siedle Shorter.

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And its also a beautiful house.

I'm a sucker for sunporches. Very nice! Photo is courtesy Patricia Siedle Shorter.

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house house house

This ad appeared in the September 1918 DuPont magazine. We know that DuPont had a long-term working relationship with Aladdin, and turned to Aladdin to supply worker housing at several plants, including Hopewell, Virginia, and Carney's Point, NJ. We're trying to figure out if DuPont turned to Aladdin to supply houses in Penniman, Virginia.

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To learn about how we got started on this DuPont project, you have to read about Penniman, Virginia’s own “Ghost City.”

To see the original real estate listing, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

“Perhaps You’d Like to See Our Tombstone Catalog…”

March 27th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

According to “Sears, Roebuck, USA: The Great American Catalog Store and How It Grew,” a Sears customer wrote the Chicago Mail-order giant and asked if she could return several bottles of patent medicine that she’d purchased the month before.

In her letter, she explained that the medicine had been intended for her husband and after ingesting the first bottle, he’d quickly passed on.

The clerk who received the inquiry responded quickly, with an assurance that certainly, she could return the unopened bottles, and by the way, would she like to see a copy of Sears’ Tombstone Catalog?

Funny story, but the sobering fact is, traditional, elaborate Victorian funerals were expensive. Tradition dictated that certain rituals and procedures be done, and a middle-class family might endure shame and scorn if they couldn’t afford a decent marker for their loved one. And what about the poor? Often, they had to quietly and stoically endure the humiliation of seeing their loved one placed in a pauper’s grave.

(An aside:  There’s a 1920s pauper’s grave in Williamsburg where 35+ bodies (many of whom are children) are buried. The only “markers” at the site were small granite stones - the remnants of tombstones - that were provided by the undertaker. These markers outlined the individual graves. With the passage of time, those graves were forgotten and now  there’s a condo built on top of part of that cemetery.)

After Aunt Addie’s exhumation made the headlines, several people shared “old family legends” about a time when a young child died, and the family - unable to afford a real burial and/or pay burial fees - surreptitiously stole into the city graveyard in the dark of night, and buried their little one in a make-shift coffin.

By contrast, such stories make a pauper’s grave seem like a mercy.

I have no pictures of Sears tombstones, but with all these testimonials, they shouldn’t be too hard to find. Plus, they were made from Vermont Slate, which as a distinctive color and veining.

If you look up Sears Tombstones on the internet, you’ll find there are folks claiming that Sears tombstones were hollow, zinc markers (metal) but this is one of those apocryphal stories. Not sure where it started, but it’s not true.

To learn more about Victorian burial customs, click here.

To read about early 1900s burial rituals, click here.

To learn more about Addie, click here.

Verse 1904 Thomb

The Tombstone Catalog from 1904.

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people loved them

Does anyone in Plain City, Ohio want to get me a picture of the Frazell tombstone? I would love to see one of these. And there's the Chitty tombstone in Rapid City, SD. That's also a fairly unusual name.

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freight costs might seem

You'd think freight costs would be prohibitive, but Sears had it all worked out.

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Lettering

Inscription cost six cents per letter, unless it's a verse, and then its 2-1/2 cents per letter, unless it's on the upper base and then it's 15 cents per two-inch letter.

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here lies mary

Mark Hardin observed that most of these images in the 1904 catalog depict young people. In the late 1800s, one out of five children passed on before they reached adulthood. In early 1900s America, there would have been very few families whose lives hadn't been touched by the death of a child.

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Mary again

When I was researching the life and death of my Aunt Addie (died in 1901), I came across one story in the 1893 Lake Mills Leader that I will never forget. It was the height of a diphtheria epidemic, and the diphtheria was present in many counties in Wisconsin. In southern Wisconsin, a family had lost seven of their eight children to that single epidemic. The paper reported that the "eighth child had also contracted the diphtheria" and was not doing well. The article said that the children apparently had "weak blood." Today, we'd call it a genetic predisposition .

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another one

The epitaphs mostly depict a young child.

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house tombstone

When my beloved mother died suddenly in 2002, she was cremated and her ashes were scattered. In retrospect, I now more fully understand the comfort that a marker such as this can provide to greiving families.

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another

For a poor family desperate to have their loved one remembered, the economical "Sears option" may have been a God-send. It provided an option to an unmarked pauper's grave.

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icky

"Verse inscription ideas - at no extra cost to you, our loyal customer."

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Whoa

I sincerely hope that no one chose this verse.

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house

This is not a Sears Tombstone, but I find the last line quite interesting. My daughter Crystal found this in an old graveyard near Hartwell, Georgia. Photo is copyright 2010 Crystal Thornton and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To read about Penniman’s poor flu victims that were buried in a forgotten grave, click here.

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The True Origins of the Sears Magnolia

February 10th, 2014 Sears Homes 5 comments

The Sears Magnolia, offered from 1918-1922, seems to be a source of a much misinformation and confusion.

Yesterday, someone sent me a link to another purported “Magnolia” in Watseka, IL (719 South Fourth Street). And then a member in our “Sears Homes” Facebook group showcased a quote from author Daniel Reiff (Houses from Books) stating that even though the house in Watseka is not a Sears Magnolia, it may have been an inspiration for the Sears architects.

Built models might have also been an influence [for the Sears Magnolia]. Only one hundred miles from Chicago, in Watseka, IL is an impressive Colonial Revival built in 1903 with many features in common with the Magnolia (Houses from Books, p. 194).

I’d say there are a few other houses that have “many features in common with the Magnolia” - as in thousands.

The Magnolia would be best described as a Colonial Revival, which was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Sears was not an innovator in anything, most of all, architectural design. They looked at what was popular and created their housing designs accordingly.

Judging from the photos in Houses from Books, much of Reiff’s research was centered in the Northeast, specifically the New York area. Mr. Reiff should have traveled down to the South, because we’re loaded with examples of what is commonly known as the Colonial Revival.

If I felt compelled to connect a specific house to the architect’s creation of the Sears Magnolia, I’d put my money on a 1910-built house in Blacksburg, SC (photos below).

The South Carolina “Magnolia” was built in 1910, and based on the home’s interior moldings, mantels, staircase and some other clues, I’d say that the 1910 build-date is pretty accurate. And although this is a wild guess, I suspect that it MAY BE a pattern book house.

This “SCFM” (”South Carolina Faux Maggy”) is four feet wider and four feet longer than the Sears Magnolia.

When Sears “borrowed” patterns from other sources, they’d change the dimensions a bit, and in the case of the SCFM, it was a bit too big for Sears purposes, so shrinking the footprint made sense.

One more interesting detail: The underside of the front porch (eaves) shows that there are ten brackets across the front of the Magnolia. The SCFM has eight brackets. The Magnolia’s dormer has four of these eave brackets. The SCFM has three. These are the kind of details that matter.

Mr. Reiff also identified a Sears Magnolia in Dunkirk, NY.


A second example of a brick Magnolia can be found in Dunkirk NY, Despite the lack of side wings because of the narrow lot, the similarities to the Sears model are still striking, but the house is much narrower than its model. In fact, although the 93 West Fourth Street is the same depth as the Magnolia (36′1 vs. 36), it is a full ten feet narrower (29.10 vs. 40.0)
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All of which are deal killers. Dimensions matter - a lot. However, Mr. Reiff pulls it out of the fire at the end with this:

The plan of the Dunkirk house is considerably different. Instead of the formal central hallway with staircase and rooms on either side, here the plan is far more compact; One enters the living room which runs across the front of the house in the middle of its long side; the stairs are at one end…Here we almost certainly have an instance of a local builder who studied the illustration in the Sears catalog and created his own version of it, without ordering the plans or, in all likelihood, any of the materials from Sears (p. 196).


Besides, if you were going to name a house “The Magnolia,” would your inspiration come from the frozen North?

I think not.

Now, where is that 9th Magnolia?

To see pictures of all eight Sears Magnolias, click here.

To read more about the “fake” Magnolia in SC, click here.

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If I was going to pick a house to have been a model for the Magnolia, Id pick this house in Blacksburg, SC!!

If I were going to pick a house to have been a "model" for the Magnolia, I'd pick this house in Blacksburg, South Carolina After all, this actually looks like a Magnolia!

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The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 and is shown here on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 and is shown here on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog. Some may describe it as a Colonial Revival, but really, it's a foursquare with delusions of grandeur.

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The Magnolia (1920 Modern Homes catalog).

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This house in Blacksburg, SC was built in 1910. You want to talk about a model for the Magnolia? This would be it. The house was wider and deeper than the Magnolia, but it would have been easy work to cut it down to size for a kit house catalog.

This house in Blacksburg, SC was built in 1910. You want to talk about a "model" for the Magnolia? This would be it. The house was wider and deeper than the Magnolia, but it would have been easy work to "cut it down to size" for inclusion in a kit house catalog. There are 15 small lites over the large windows on the first floor - just like the Magnolia. And, it's in South Carolina, just where you'd expect to find a "Magnolia"!

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The other big difference are the columns.

The other big difference is the columns. The real Magnolia has hollow wooden columns (made of poplar). The house in Blacksburg had columns made of concrete. Try shipping *that* from Chicago!

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The details around the eaves are also a little bit off.

The details around the eaves are also a little bit "off." The eave brackets on the SC house are more ornate (photo on right). The underside of the front porch (eaves) shows that there are ten brackets on the Sears Magnolia. The Blacksburg house has eight brackets. The Magnolia's dormer has four of these eave brackets. The Blacksburg house has three. These are the kind of details that really do matter. (The house on the left is a Magnolia in Nebraska which has since been torn down. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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But boy oh boy, its a close one!!

But boy oh boy, it's a close one!!

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Has those 15 lites over the window, too!

Has those 15 lites over the window, too!

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Even the interior floorplan was a good match!

However, the interior floorplan was not quite right, and that's a big deal, too.

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Heres the real deal in Northern West Virginia.

Here's the real deal in Northern West Virginia.

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And here are

In June 2012, I traveled to Anderson, SC and found these two Colonial Revivals within a block of each other. In the South, this house style is very popular and can be found in almost every old neighborhood. In fact, these houses might just be real Colonials (as opposed to a post-Civil war "Revival").

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The Colonial Revival was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To learn more about this style, I heartily recommend this book. Why, its just *FULL* of Sears Magnolias!!!  (Not)

The Colonial Revival was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To learn more about this style, I heartily recommend this book. Why, it's just *FULL* of Sears Magnolias!!! (Not)

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

Better yet, if you’d like to buy a copy or Rose’s book, click here.

To read about the now-deceased Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska, click here.

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