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The Home Stretch

March 7th, 2014 Sears Homes 10 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was off to the races.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While supplies last.

:)

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Its certainly been a fun run.

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

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And yes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Americanized English” - The Sears Wilmore

January 16th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

“We have worked out an attractive exterior along the lines commonly known as ‘Americanized English.’”

So reads the text that accompanies the description of the pretty little Neo-Tudor, known as a “Wilmore.”

And better yet, “The kitchen is sure to make friends among housewives…”

That’s a dark day in womanhood when a woman’s best friend is a kitchen.

Thanks to Dale Wolicki and Rebecca Hunter for sharing their photos of Wilmores found in the Midwest!

To read my favorite blog about Sears biggest house, click here.

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The Wilmore

One of the optional extras for The Wilmore was a permanent staircase to the expandable attic (1938).

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Not a very big house, but a smart floor plan!

Not a very big house, but a smart floor plan!

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It is a real cutie-pie of a house.

It is a real cutie-pie of a house. Note the bellcast roof on the right rear.

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Heres a pretty little Wilmore that Dale found in West Peoria, IL.

Here's a pretty little Wilmore that Dale found in West Peoria, IL. Someone painted over the nine-lite window on the front door. Ugh! And then someone put up sea-shell shutters! (I wonder if Suzie sold them the sea-shell shutters?) Photo is copyright 2014 Dale Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Rebecca Hunter found this Wilmore in Mendota, IL.

Rebecca Hunter found this Wilmore in Mendota, IL. I love the vintage lawnchairs. Photo is copyright 2010 Rebecca Hunter and may not be used or reproduced without written permisison.

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Heres a Wilmore I found in the Staunton area,

Here's a Wilmore I found in the Staunton (Virginia) area, just across from the North River School. If someone can give me a better address than that, I'd be very grateful.

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And this is perhaps the most interesting Wilmore. Its a customized Wimore in Kirkwood, Missouri, and I visited the house in 2003, and authenticated it as The Real Deal. The house was turned sideways on the lot, and the front gable was extended to create a more spacious living room.

And this is perhaps the most interesting Wilmore. It's a customized Wilmore in Kirkwood, Missouri, and I visited the house in 2003, and authenticated it as The Real Deal. The floorplan is *flipped* (as compared to the catalog image) and turned 90 degrees on the lot. The front gable was extended to create a more spacious dining room. The front door was moved to the side of the gable, and a small window is on the smaller gable in place of a door. This angle really highlights that bellcast roof on the gable (left side of picture).

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

To visit Rebecca’s website, click here.

Dale’s website is here.

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New Information on Schoper, Illinois

December 31st, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

All ghost towns have a fascinating history, and Schoper, Illinois is no different.

Located about eight miles from Carlinville, the town of Schoper (also known as Standard City) was originally Thomas Schoper’s 500-acre family farm. In 1918, Standard Oil of Indiana bought the farm (literally) from Schoper, and sunk a 300-feet deep coal mine.

After a coal shortage in 1917, Standard Oil wanted a reliable supply of coal to call their own. The coal was used to fire the stills that refined crude oil and turned it into gasoline.

After the completion of several gelogocial surveys (commissioned by Standard Oil), it was discovered that there was a seven-foot tall seam of coal in the ground at Schoper. As an added bonus, Schoper was near The Chicago and Alton rail line, which was centrally located between the refineries in Wood River (near St. Louis) and Whiting, Indiana (near Chicago).

In 1918, Standard Oil placed a $1 million order (for 192 houses) with Sears Roebuck and Company for 192 Honor-Bilt homes. The houses were purchased for employees in CarlinvilleWood River and Schoper, Illinois. One hundred and fifty six of the houses were built in Carlinville, 12 were built in Schoper and 24 went to Wood River.

The 12 houses were built for the supervisors at the “Schoper Mine.” There were also boarding houses and dorms built at Schoper, for the miners.

By the mid-1920s, the boom at Schoper had gone bust. The price of coal dropped after The Great War (1918), and Standard Oil could now buy their coal cheaper from mines in Kentucky (which did not have unions) than they could mine it in Macoupin County.

In July 1925, a small column on the bottom page of the Macoupin County Enquirer sadly announced that the mine was closed for good.

Nine of the 12 little Sears Houses were painstakingly disassembled and left Schoper the same way they came in:  In pieces and loaded on a boxcar, headed off to destinations unknown.

Two of the Sears Homes were moved intact, to sites just outside of Standard City. The last Sears House at Schoper (The Sears Gladstone) was home to John McMillan and his wife, a supervisor with the mine. After the mine closed, he became a caretaker charged with myriad tasks, such as making sure the powerful fans down in the mine kept the methane down to acceptable levels.

McMillan’s little Gladstone eventually became rental property and burned down sometime in the mid-1990s.  The last remnant at the site was the Schoper Powerhouse and Mine Offices, a massive concrete Federalist structure which was torn down in Summer 2003.

And that was the whole story - until last month - when a reader sent me an email with new information. I’m not sure how he did it, but he found 1930s aerial maps of Schoper, which showed the footprints (and precise location) of the 12 little Sears Homes.

Scroll on down to enjoy the many photos, including the vintage aerial photo from 1937!

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Schoper

In the front pages of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog, this image was erroneously identified as a street view of the houses as "Schopper, Illinois." In fact, this was a picture of the 24 Sears Homes in Wood River. No pictures of Schoper appeared in the Sears Modern Homes catalogs.

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Picture of Schoper from the late 1910s. At the foot of the sidewalk is a 12-bay garage, shared by the occupants of the 12 Sears Homes. The Power House is shown in the background (near Schoper Lake). The Whitehall, Gladstone and Warrenton are shown in the foreground.

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house schoper house

Schoper was the site of a massive, modern colliery (1921 Stanolind Record). As a side note, I have no idea what this massive piece of equipment is. If a reader can identify this, please leave a comment below.

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Mine Road

And here's a bit of that vintage aerial map, showing the placement of those 12 Sears Homes in Schoper (outlined with a red square). The building circled in red is the Schoper Powerhouse.

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map map map 1937

Close-up of the aerial map (1937). The four white squares on each street represent the footprint where the 12 Schoper homes were located.

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And what Rachel Shoemaker discovered - which is nearly unbelievable - is that if you look at this modern aerial view, you can still see the outline of 12 squares, representing the placement of those 12 Schoper houses.

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Schoper rose

It was claimed that the ’s six dynamos in the Schoper Power House had the potential to create enough electricity to power the entire state of Illinois. The local papers said it was the most powerful steam-driven power plant in the world. The smokestack was 213 feet tall and was the second highest peak in Macoupin County, only a little shorter than the spire atop the Macoupin County Courthouse in Carlinville. The picture above was taken in 2002, about a year before it was torn down.

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schoper house

The Schoper Power House, as seen in the 1921 Stanolind Record. When completed in mid-1919, the Power House also brought electricity to those twelve Sears houses. They were the only "electrified" houses in Schoper. The rest of the community would not know the joys of electric lights until power lines from Carlinville made their way to Standard City in the 1930s.

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house schoper

For many years, that last remaining Sears house (John McMillan's Gladstone) stood alone on a plot that was rapidly reverting to its primitive status as farmland. After the mines closed, McMillan became the mine’s caretaker. It was his job to descend into the deserted coal mine several times a week, grease the water pumps and turn them on. Ground water, which seeped into the mine, had to be pumped out frequently. He was also responsible for turning on the powerful ventilating fans to remove any build-up of firedamp - highly explosive methane gas - which accumulates in coal mines. As of 2003 (when this photo was taken), all that was left of the 12 Schoper Houses was this slight indent in the field.

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Schoper Lake

When Schoper was created in the late 1910s, a creek alongside the powerhouse was damned up to create a seven-acre, 40-foot-deep lake. Underground pipes drafted water from the lake to the powerhouse for the steam engines.

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To see the original vintage map, click here.

To read more about Carlinville’s kit homes, click here.

The above was excerpted from The Houses That Sears BuiltTo buy the book, click here.

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Permanent Furniture IV: Window Seats

December 9th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

This is my fourth series on “Permanent Furniture,” a term I’d not heard until Bill Inge lent me his 1927 “Builders’ Woodwork” catalog.

And what a wonderful term it is. It defines the “built-ins” that make early 20th Century American architecture so enchanting and beautiful and practical.

Unless otherwise indicated, all images below appeared in the 1927 Builders’ Woodwork catalog.

Many thanks to Bill Inge for sharing these fun old architecture books!!

To read Part I, click here.

Click here to read Part II and Part III.

As always, please leave a comment below!

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perm

"Window seats and bookcases are very often used in combination, adding comfort to convenience."

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window

"These niches are not intended to supplant bookcases..." In other words, we know that you're going to have a *lot* more books than this, because you're a typical intelligent American with an innate desire to learn and grow. Wow. If only they could have known that TV would soon arrive on the scene and turn us into a nation of marginally literate, non-reading, believe-anything-you-see-on-the-tv saps. (But I digress...)

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window seat

Check out the fountain in the backyard. Now *that's* a view! I also love the little writing desk.

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seat

See the item in front of the pen with a rounded bottom? Now, I'm sure most of my highly intelligent, history loving readers already know this, but it was a blotter, and on its underside, it had a piece of absorbent paper or cloth. After signing your documents with a quill pen, the blotter was used to soak up excess ink.

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perman

Since they don't have a fountain in the backyard, they put up some draperies. But they do have a fine-looking Dutch Colonial out back. This is my favorite nook. Can you imagine curling up on this soft cushion, literally surrounded by all your favorite books? That lamp is in the wrong place, though.

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Rather plain, but still a quaint idea.

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wsingod

If I still had a house with radiators, I'd install this design in a second. It's a radiator cover, plus window seat, plus book storage, plus drawer space. And it's not recessed (as many are).

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seats

Another pretty one, but still pretty. And good storage underneath that bench seat.

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seats seats

The simplest of designs, and yet there's a lot of storage space in those seats.

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This "permanent furniture" window seat and bookcase appeared in the 1927 Homebuilders' Catalog.

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1571 HB 1923

This, unlike the above, is an actual photo which appeared in the 1923 Harris Brothers (kit homes) catalog. The house shown is Harris Brothers' Modern Home #1571. In addition to the window seat, it has the bookcase colonnades, built-in buffet and gorgeous beamed ceiling.

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This was the only real-life example of a window seat I could find, and it's a poor example because it's really an "Inglenook" more than a window seat. And yet, it's still mighty pretty. The house shown is a Sears Magnolia, in northern West Virginia.

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To read more about the Sears Magnolia in West Virginia, click here.

Read all about phone niches by clicking here.

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Bob Beckel’s Christmas Crescent

December 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

Friday night, Milton and I turned on the television and saw “The Five” (talk show on Fox News, with five commentators, including Bob Beckel).  Within 30 seconds, the program showed a picture of Bob Beckel’s house, and I exclaimed to Milton, “Oh my goodness. It’s a Sears Crescent!”

Sure enough, after I got a close look, I saw it was a Christmas Crescent.

What is a Sears house? Sears homes were 12,000-piece kit houses, and each kit came with a a 75-page instruction book. Sears promised that “a man of average abilities” could have it assembled in 90 days. The instruction book offered this somber warning: “Do not take anyone’s advice on how this house should be assembled.” The framing members were marked with a letter and a three-digit-number to facilitate construction. Today, these marks can help authenticate that a house is a kit home.

Searching for these homes is like hunting for hidden treasure. From 1908-1940, about 70,000 Sears Homes were sold, but in the 1940s, during a corporate housecleaning, Sears destroyed all sales records. The only way to find these homes is literally one-by-one.

Or one television show at a time.  :)

At some point, the classic Crescent windows in Mr. Beckel’s house were discarded and replaced (and that’s a real pity) but the house does have its original cypress clapboards. The small shed dormer was probably added later, but it *might* have been original to the house. There was some usable space on the 2nd floor, and dormers are a frequent addition to the Sears Crescent.

Mr. Beckel, did you know you have a Sears house? If you’re like 90% of Americans, you did NOT know - until now!

To read more about the Sears Crescent, click here.

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Bob Beckels house, all decked out for the holidays.

Bob Beckel's house, all decked out for the holidays. Although it's barely visible in this photo, at the top of the porch's arch, you can see a faint triangle there. This is one of the classic signs of a Sears Crescent.

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Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Judging by the placement of the fireplace, Mr. Beckels house is a

This photo shows that triangle on the porch's peak more clearly. And notice the three large columns on the corners of the porch. All classic Crescent features. And it has its original siding!

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Flippped

The Crescent was offered from 1918-1928. Image above is from the 1928 catalog. Note the unusual windows, the triangle in the porch's peak, and the three columns. That massive porch is its most distinctive feature.

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RaleighThe dormers were original to this Crescent in Raleigh, NC.

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A darling

A darling little Crescent in Wheeling, WV, sitting like a jewel atop the hill.

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One of my favorite Crescents in Bloomington, IL.

One of my favorite Crescents in Bloomington, IL. It still has the original lattice work, as shown in the catalog images. And like Mr. Beckel's house, it has the optional fireplace.

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In 1928

In 1928, the "super-sized Crescent" (as Mr. Beckel has) was a mere $2,195. The larger floorplan is shown in the upper right. The 2nd floor layout is on the lower right.

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This testimonial

Jerome Kelly from an unnamed city really loves his little Crescent.

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To learn more about the Sears Crescent (with interior views), click here.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.

Are there more kit homes in Beckel’s neighborhood of Brookmont? Without a doubt. There was a Sears Modern Homes Sales Center nearby, and these were only placed in communities where sales were already strong. Plus, sales went way up after one of these retail stores was opened in the area.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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Permanent Furniture III: Bookcase Colonnades

December 4th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

In the early 1980s, my husband and I looked at an Aladdin Shadowlawn for sale in Chesapeake, Virginia. We both fell head-over-heels in love with the solid-oak bookcase colonnades between the living room and dining room.

It was just last week that I learned that, in the early 1900s, these enchanting built-ins were known as “Permanent Furniture.”

“Permanent furniture” (built-in cabinetry) was a brilliant concept. The more “permanent furniture” present in a house, the less “temporary furniture” the new homeowners would need to purchase. And all these built-ins really did make best-possible use of small spaces.

To read more about permanent furniture, click here or here.

As always, thanks to Norfolk historian and librarian Bill Inge for sharing his wonderful old architecture books with moi!

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House

More than 30 years ago, we looked in the windows of this Aladdin Shadowlawn in Chesapeake, Virginia (near Chesapeake Square Mall) and caught a glimpse of the solid oak built-in bookcase colonnades and fell hopelessly in love. There's something about "permanent furniture" in old houses that still makes me swoon.

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The Aladdin Shadowlawn had beautiful built-in bookcase colonnades.

The Aladdin Shadowlawn came with beautiful built-in bookcase colonnades (1919 catalog).

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These colonnades appeared in the Sears Roebuck Building Materials catalog (1921).

These colonnades appeared in the Sears Roebuck "Building Materials" catalog (1921). Pretty basic and very plain and no shelving or bookcases. And who's Carlton? My guess is that he's someone that wasn't well liked at Sears. Maybe it started out as a practical joke. "Let's name those really boring colonnades after that boring guy, Carlton who never does anything but stand around and look goofy," and before they knew it, the $34 colonnades were listed in the Sears catalog as "Carlton Colonnades."

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1921

For $82.50, you could buy a colonnade that actually had a practical purpose (unlike Carlton).

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The

The Sears Osborn featured these bookcase colonnades with either wooden muntins or leaded glass doors (1919).

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No sooner had I returned Bill Inges 1927 Builders Woodworking catalog than he loaned me this little treasure. It was full of - colonnades!

No sooner had I returned Bill Inge's 1927 Builders' Woodworking catalog than he loaned me this little treasure, "Building With Assurance; Morgan Millwork." It was full of - colonnades! It was published in 1923.

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And the first page of the Colonnade Chapter offered some interesting insights as to why we love colonnades.

And the first page of the Colonnade Chapter offered some interesting insights as to why we love colonnades: "It's an imitation of nature itself." BTW, check out the lovebird logo.

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Nice

Nice way to dress up a doorway!

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house

These colonnades are simple, but quite attractive. That rug looks like a trip hazard, though. The dining room furniture looks like it came out of a dollhouse. The proportions are skewed.

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Aon d

Apparently Morgan had their own line of Carlton Colonnades.

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test

Much more ornate, and bigger bookcases, too. The original caption reads, "This Morgan standardized design offers a fine opportunity for tasty decoration with jardinieres, statuary, bric-a-brac, etc." I had to look up "jardinieres," because I've read a lot of books in my life but I have never seen that word. Turns out, "jardinieres" is a female gardener, allegedly. I'm not sure that even the most progressive 1920s housewife would be too keen on the idea of using built-in bookcases to store female gardeners.

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This one's my favorite: Rugged, sturdy, spacious and a built-in desk, too.

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That desk is pretty cool, even if he does have a lot of bills hidden inside of it.

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Another beautiful colonnade, but in use as a china hutch!

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A real-life bookcase colonnade in a Sears Hazelton in Oklahoma. Photo is copyright 2010 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

A real-life bookcase colonnade in a Sears Hazelton in Oklahoma. (Photo is copyright 2010 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. No foolin'.)

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To read about the Sears Magnolia we found in West Virginia, click here.

To read more about built-ins, click here.

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A Sad Story That Needs a Good Ending: Carlinville’s “Standard Addition”

September 26th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

In the early years of the 1900s,

About 1918, Standard Oil purchased 192 kit homes from Sears & Roebuck. Carlinville ended up with 156 of these homes (offered in eight models). The 12-block area where these homes were built (in an old wheat field) came to be known as Standard Addition. Sears proudly touted this sale to Standard Oil as "the largest order ever placed," and pictures of Carlinville appeared in the front pages of the Modern Homes catalog for many years. This letter (shown above) appeared on the back page of the catalog until 1929.

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House

Standard Addition's homes - some of which were not wholly finished - appeared in the 1919 and 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Of the 192 houses sold to Standard Oil, 156 ended up in Carlinville, 24 were sent to Wood River (where Standard Oil had a large refinery) and 12 ended up in Schoper, IL (site of a large coal mine). Pictured above is the Warrenton model (left) and the Whitehall (right).

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In 1921, images of the completed neighborhood first appeared in the Searsm Modern Homes catalog.

In 1921, images of the completed neighborhood appeared in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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house house house 1921

Close-up of the "birdseye view" from the 1921 catalog. From left to right is the Gladstone, Roseberry, Warrenton, and Whitehall. And look at that darling little building behind the Whitehall. Is it still there?

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House

These homes were occasionally featured in "The Stanolind Record," an employee newsletter put out by Standard Oil. This image appeared with the caption, "Carlinville is coming out of the mud," which simply meant that streets would soon be laid, replacing the muddy roads.

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All of which brings me to the point of this blog. Standard Addition is at great risk of being lost.

And all the photos above bring me to the point of this blog. Standard Addition - this unique, historic and one-of-a-kind community - is at great risk. This "Roseberry" on Johnson Street caught fire in early 2013 and has not been razed yet. Derelict houses (such as this) contribute heavily to blight, and once blight takes root in a neighborhood, reversal can take decades. At best, this house poses a threat to public health and safety. At worst, it's an anchor that's dragging this historic neighborhood further into the muck. Would you want to live next door to this? How many months before this house gets torn down?

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Last month

Last month, a suspected meth lab was discovered in the 1000-block of Johnson Street, in the heart of Standard Addition. Once a house is used for "cooking" meth, making it suitable again for habitation can be expensive.

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Full story here: http://www.sj-r.com/breaking/x1367241203/Two-suspected-meth-labs-found-in-Carlinville

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And theres also the problem on insensitive remodeling.

And there's also the problem of insensitive remodeling. And it is quite a problem.

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Another

As built, these homes were very small (less than 1,100 square feet) but there are ways to increase square footage without diminishing the historicity of these unique homes.

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In short, it’s time for the state legislature and/or city council to step in and figure out what legislation is needed to protect this one-of-a-kind historic collection of Sears Homes in Carlinville. I’ve remained “astonished* that there is no signage, no billboards, no announcements of any kind welcoming the flat-lander tourist to come visit “Standard Addition.”

At the very least, there should be billboards in St. Louis, Alton (by the casino), Edwardsville and other “hot spots” inviting people to come see this fun collection of kit homes. There should be a website, self-guided driving brochures, maps, etc, promoting the area.

But there is nothing,

In my 14 years of experience in this niche field of America’s architectural history, I’ve never come across another collection of Sears kit homes quite like Standard Addition.

One week ago today, I drove through Standard Addition, admiring the pretty houses and dismayed by the blighted ones, and I glimpsed, more now than ever, something must be done to preserve and protect this neighborhood.

Before it’s too late.

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To learn more about the eight models in Standard Addition, click here.

To learn more about the building of Standard Addition (and the female supervisor of the project), click here.

In 2003, CBS Sunday Morning News came to Standard Addition.

To read about Illinois’ own ghost town (Schoper, IL), click right here.

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The Historic (Kit) Homes of Concord, Massachusetts!

June 11th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

My husband and I recently returned from the Boston area, where we visited my daughter. For Sunday lunch, we landed in Concord, Massachusetts and on the way out of town, I spotted an Aladdin kit home - The Plaza.

And what a beautiful Plaza it is!

Much to my chagrin, I was not able to get a photo of this fine home because it’s located on a busy street, and the traffic on that narrow road was unbelievably horrific!

And now, I’m wondering, how many more kit homes are there in this historic Revolutionary town?

If you’re new to this site, you may be wondering, what IS a Sears kit home?

In the early 1900s, you could buy an entire house out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. These were not prefab houses, but real “kits” (with about 12,000 pieces of building materials!). The lumber came pre-cut and numbered to help facilitate construction. Those numbers, together with a 75-page instruction book, and blueprints designed for a novice, enabled a “man of average abilities” to build their own home.

Sears promised that you could have a house assembled and ready for occupancy in 90 days!

When Sears closed their “Modern Homes” department in 1940, all sales records were destroyed, so the only way to find these homes in one by one. In fact, based on my 12 years of experience, more than 90% of the people living in these homes didn’t realize what they had until I knocked on their door and told them.

In the early 1900s, there were six national companies selling these mail-order kit homes. Aladdin was one of those six companies, and it was in business longer than Sears (and sold more houses), but is not as well know.

How many more kit homes are in Concord? I’d love to know!

To learn more about Aladdin, click here.

To read about the Sears house I found in Needham, click here.

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Aladdin was a bigger company than Sears (in terms of selling kit homes) but was not as well known. This image is from Aladdins 1914 catalog.

Aladdin was a bigger company than Sears (in terms of selling kit homes) but was not as well known. This image is from Aladdin's 1914 catalog.

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Roanoke Rapids, NC is an example of a town built by Aladdin.

Roanoke Rapids, NC is an example of a town built by Aladdin.

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The Plaza was a classic bungalow and a popular house for Aladdin.

The Plaza was a classic bungalow and a popular house for Aladdin.

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Aladdin Plaza

The accompanying text pointed to the Aladdin Plaza as a "woman's reward for thrift."

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Plaza

Plaza, as seen in the 1919 Aladdin catalog.

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The Aladdin Plaza in Concord has had a couple minor changes, but it’s still mighty close to the original catalog image. And, be still my little heart, it still has its original porch railing! Does the owner know that they live in a historically significant kit house? I’d love to know! Photo is from the assessor’s website, and I’m hoping that assessor is a friendly fellow, and doesn’t mind the fact that his lovely photo was “borrowed” for such a historical purpose.

Heres another perfect Aladdin Plaza, and this one is in Roanoke Rapids. Like the house shown above, this one also has its original porch railings.

Here's another perfect Aladdin Plaza, and this one is in Roanoke Rapids. Like the house shown above, this one also has its original porch railings.

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And heres an Aladdin Plaza in my home town, Norfolk.

And here's an Aladdin Plaza in my home town, Norfolk.

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Do you know of any kit homes in Concord? Please leave a comment below!

To learn more about Aladdin, click here.

Where Are the Rest of the Sears Homes in Charlotte?

June 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

Last year, I spent several hours driving around in Charlotte, NC searching for Sears Homes, and found only a handful.

And then a few days ago, Sears House Hunter Andrew Mutch sent me a link to a Sears Corona that was for sale in Charlotte. My oh my, that was a beautiful house. You can read all about it here.

In fact, I am geographically challenged and there’s a fair chance that I spent most of my time in one neighborhood (reflected by the photos below). I’d love to know where the rest of the Sears Homes are!

What did I miss?

Further, I found two “reproduction” Sears Homes, and that’s a puzzler as well. Someone in Charlotte loves Sears Homes enough to create MODERN versions of these old bungalows and foursquares!

Who are they? And why haven’t they contacted me?  :)

If you know who built these reproduction Sears Homes, please leave a comment below.

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There are two Sears Crescents in Charlotte.

There are two Sears Crescents in Charlotte.

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Heres one

A perfect Sears Crescent in Charlotte. I circled the block about 4,873 times waiting for the woman on the cell phone to hang up and go back in the house. Eventually, I gave up and just tried to get a photo of her not facing the camera. The things we do for love. Sigh.

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It's a lovely Sears Crescent in good condition, and it's not too far from its sister Crescent (above). The American flag is a lovely touch but not so much the upholstered furniture. At this point, I was just grateful there wasn't someone sitting in the upholstered furniture, talking on the cell phone.

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And the surprise was finding this Corona

The Sears Corona was a beautiful, classic bungalow, and I was so surprised to find that there is one in Charlotte! Notice how the dormer is centered on the roof, and the offset front porch (1918 catalog).

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Wow, wow, WOW! What a house!

Wow, wow, WOW! What a house!

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The Maywood was a beautiful, spacious kit home offered by Sears in the late 1920s.

The Maywood was a beautiful, spacious kit home offered by Sears in the late 1920s.

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Is this a Maywood in Charlotte?

Is this a Maywood in Charlotte? It might be, or it may be a plan book house. Plan book homes were similar to kit homes, in that potential buyers browsed the pages, picked out a house they liked and sent in their payment. With a plan book, they'd receive a list of building materials needed to build their dream home, and also the blueprints, but no building materials.

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Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker, I recently discovered this little plan book house, The Carmen. This house is ubiquitous in North Carolina. Ive found it in Rocky Mount, Elizabeth City, several in Raleigh and now Charlotte.

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker, I recently discovered this little plan book house, "The Carmen." This house is ubiquitous in North Carolina. I've found it in Rocky Mount, Elizabeth City, Durham, several in Raleigh and now Charlotte.

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And here is The Carmen in Charlotte.

And here is The Carmen in Charlotte.

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As mentioned above, another surprise was finding a Modern Sears Westly in Charlotte. Whos building these homes? Id love to know!

As mentioned above, another surprise was finding a "Modern" Sears Westly in Charlotte. Who's building these homes? I'd love to know!

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Wow

Sure is a nice house, but I'm quite certain that this is a new house. And it's in a neighborhood of new houses, that were all built to look like old bungalows.

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Just around the block from the Westly (shown above), I found a Sears Cornell.

Just around the block from the Westly (shown above), I found a Sears Cornell.

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The Cornell

The Cornell, but it's new! Note the attention to detail. Even the belt-course is exactly where it should be, and the upper portion is shingle and the lower is clapboard. So who's building new kit homes?

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If you know of any other Sears Homes in Charlotte, or you know who’s building these “new old houses,”  please leave a comment below.

I’d love to come back to Charlotte and do a proper survey! If you know how to make that happen, please contact me!

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To see interior photos of the Sears Corona in Charlotte, click here.

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So Many Kit Homes in Charleston, South Carolina!

May 31st, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

Several weeks ago, Charleston resident and Sears House aficionado Kevin Eberle contacted me and said that there were several kit homes in Charleston, SC.

Oh sure. I’d heard that one before.

Actually, what I typically hear is, “Why, this town is just FULL of Sears Homes! As far as the eye can see!”

But Kevin wasn’t making that claim. He was saying that he’d found several kit homes in Charleston.

Did I dare to hope?

And then, when I saw the photos, I did a little happy dance.

Kevin really had found an abundance of kit homes in Charleston and most of them are in beautiful condition.

Does Charleston have even more kit homes than is shown below?

It’s possible! If you know of a kit home in Charleston, please leave me a comment!

Many thanks to Kevin for supplying *all* of the photos in this blog. I posted the pictures (below), but Kevin did all the research and legwork.

To learn more about kit homes in South Carolina, click here.

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Roanoke 1921

The Sears Roanoke as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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The Roanoke in Charleston is in picture perfect condition. Photo is copyright 2012 Kevin Eberle and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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At least 80% of the time, these 90-year-old houses are missing that wooden awning over the front windows. However both of the Roanokes in Charleston still have that awning. Photo is copyright 2012 Kevin Eberle and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house house 1920

The Sears Belmont is a classic 1920s bungalows (1920 catalog).

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And there's a stunning example of a Sears Belmont in Charleston, SC. This is only the 2nd Belmont I've seen "in the flesh." Photo is copyright 2012 Kevin Eberle and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house house 1921

The Saratoga was one of their larger homes. The floorplan shows a living room that is 14' wide and 29' feet long. Both living room and dining room have beamed ceilings.

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Saratoga

This is a fine-looking Saratoga in Charleston and in mostly original condition. Photo is copyright 2012 Kevin Eberle and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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This Saratoga's good looks have been somewhat diminished by the substitute siding, but at least, it's still standing. Photo is copyright 2012 Kevin Eberle and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Comparison of the orginal catalog image and the house in Charleston. Unfortunately, they show two different sides, but it's most certainly a Saratoga. Photo is copyright 2012 Kevin Eberle and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Aladdin 1933

The Capitol, as seen in the Aladdin catalog (1933).

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Kevin even found this Aladdin Capitol, despite the fact that it was built sideways on the lot! Photo is copyright 2012 Kevin Eberle and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Aladdin Villa 1919

Aladdin Villa, as seen in the 1919 catalog.

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Aladdin Villa maybe

Is this an Aladdin Villa? I'm honestly not sure, but it'd be fun to find out! Photo is copyright 2012 Kevin Eberle and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house Roberts 192f

The Gordon Van Tine Roberts (1924 catalog).

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The Gordon Van Tine Roberts is easy to identify because it's such a unique house and (as far as I know) this particular design was never replicated by other companies. Photo is copyright 2012 Kevin Eberle and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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GVT 534

The Gordon Van Tine 534 was a very popular house (1919 catalog).

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GVT 2003

Kevin found this GVT #534 in Charleston. This photo was taken in 2003. The house has been remodeled since this photo was taken. Photo is copyright 2012 Kevin Eberle and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Sterling Sentinel, as seen in the 1916 catalog.

The Sterling Sentinel, as seen in the 1916 catalog.

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house house Charleston

This was my favorite of the whole bunch. It's just a spot-on match to the Sterling "Sentinel"! Photo is copyright 2012 Kevin Eberle and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house compare

Comparison of the two houses. What a perfect match!

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Thanks again to Kevin Eberle for sharing all these wonderful photos!

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