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Why I Love Ferguson, Missouri

October 5th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

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

Those were tough times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a lovely memory for so many different reasons.

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

Secondly, this was my rubicon.

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

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

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

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

That’s why I love Ferguson so much.

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

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

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

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

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And in the early 30s,

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

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Ferguson

Sears Walton as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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Ferguson

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

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Leanon

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

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Lebanon

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

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Marina

Sears Marina (1916)

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Marina

A perfect Marina in Ferguson.

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Lex

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

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Lexington

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

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compare

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

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Ferguson

Sears Barrington (1928).

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Pattern book

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

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Gordon Van Tine

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

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GVT

Very distinctive house!

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Ferguson House

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

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Spent years

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

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

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

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New Information on Schoper, Illinois

December 31st, 2013 Sears Homes 5 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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house house house

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

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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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house house house house house

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

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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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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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Carlinville and Schoper, Illinois

May 23rd, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

Update! This article was updated in 2013. To read the latest, click here!

I love ghost towns. All ghost towns have a fascinating history, and this one in Schoper, Illinois is no different. It’s the real deal - a boom town that went bust and literally disappeared off the map.

It started in 1918, when Standard Oil of Indiana placed a $1 million order with Sears Roebuck and Company for 192 Honor-Bilt homes. Standard Oil purchased the houses for their workers in Carlinville, Wood River and Schoper, Illinois. Of those 192 houses, 156 landed in Carlinville, 12 were built in Schoper and 24 went to Wood River.

Standard Oil was grateful for the dandy little houses, as is evidenced by this thank-you note that they wrote to Sears.

This thank you note graced the back pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs for many years.

This appeared on the back pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs for many years.

In Schoper, Illinois (about 8 miles from Carlinville), the 12 houses were built for the coal miners at a colliery that would become known as “Schoper Mine.”

Prior to the arrival of Standard Oil, this site had been a typical early 20th Century farm with one old house and a few outbuildings. By the late 1910s, more than 1000 people were living in “Schoper” and in 1920, the 500-acre farm was incorporated as a village and named Standard City.

Standard Oil needed a steady supply of coal to fuel the stills that refined the crude oil into gasoline. Carlinville and Schoper were ideal locations because of the seven-foot thick vein of coal, and also because of its location. The Chicago and Alton rail line ran between Standard Oil’s refineries in Wood River (near St. Louis) and Whiting, Indiana (near Chicago).

Providing homes to workers was a proven tact for creating a more stable workforce, and also attracted “family men,” who were more desirable employees for a plethora of reasons. And in these pre-OSHA days, it was a nice bonus. Mining was horribly dangerous, and an article in the Macoupin County Enquirer (dated September 19, 1923) said that 18 miners died that year in Macoupin County, which was in line with the national average of “one [miner] fatality per 279,354 tons of coal produced.”

Schoper was - at its peak - the largest coal mine in the state of Illinois, employing 650 men and hoisting up to 4,000 tones of coal each day. About 450 men worked at the Berry Mine (Carlinville), producing about 2,000 tons of coal per day.

Times were good. In the early 1920s, Schoper miners worked about 298 days per year, while nationwide, most coal miners were working about 200 days per year.

By the mid-1920s, the boom had gone bust. The price of coal dropped precipitously after The Great War (1918), and Standard Oil could now buy their coal from non-union Kentucky mines far cheaper than they could mine it in Macoupin County.

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

Nine of the 12 little Sears Houses went out the way they came in:  In pieces and loaded on a boxcar. They were disassembled (which must have been a massive project, but probably provided work for a few idle coal miners), and shipped by train 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 making sure the powerful fans 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 structure which was torn down in Summer 2003.

There’s something about this former boom town that is compelling and even haunting. Driving into Standard City, you turn onto Mine Road to reach the site of the old mine, or hang a left for Cinder Road (made from old cinders). And then there’s Pershing Street, undoubtedly named for General John “Black Jack” Pershing, WW1 hero and commander of the American Expeditionary Force. Another street is Rice Street, probably named for Charles Rice, who handled real estate acquisitions for Standard Oil.

Standing on the plat land beside the abandoned, vandalized powerhouse, gazing out at Schoper Lake, you can close your eyes and almost hear the steam whistle signaling the end of a shift. Listen, really listen, and maybe you’ll hear the metal cables of the hoist groan and creak as a steel cage raises three dozen coal-blackened minders from 440 feet below grade.

Einstein said, “To those of us who are committed physicists, the  past, present and future are only illusion, however persistent.”

Nowhere in my experiences have I intuitively felt that this illusion of time is more fragile and ethereal than at the site of Schoper Mine. And you if you’re not a romantic/tangential/historical fanatic dream (as I am), but just someone who enjoys visiting towns that boomed and busted, it’s still worth the trip.

Just don’t speed and don’t litter and don’t tromp on the crops. Standard City is still home to about 100 folks, and they (rightfully so) love their community.

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

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

To read about a fascinating ghost town in Virginia, click here.

Enjoy the photos below!

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One of the only known photos of the Sears Homes in Schoper, Illinois.

One of the only known photos of the Sears Homes in Schoper, Illinois. Note that the Sears Homes shown here have tar-paper roofs. After Schoper closed down, the houses were "wrecked" (deconstructed) and put back in railroad cars and shipped on down the line. Two of the houses were moved intact to other locations.

Picture of Mine 1 at Schoper, taken from the 1921 Stanolind Record

Picture of Mine 1 at Schoper, taken from the 1921 Stanolind Record

Vintage picture of the Schoper Powerhouse, also from the 1921 Stanolind Record

Vintage picture of the Schoper Powerhouse, also from the 1921 Stanolind Record. The Schoper powerhouse consumed more than 60 tons of coal per day. The smokestack was 213 feet tall and was the second highest point in all of Macoupin County. The highest point was the spire atop the Macoupin County courthouse.

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This picture appeared in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog, promoting their wonderful little kit homes. It was labeled "Schopper" (sic) but in fact, it's a street view of the 24 Sears Homes in Wood River. The houses in Schoper were laid out on three streets in groups of four houses per street. Further, Sears didn't seem to know how to spell "Schoper."

The Schoper Powerhouse, photographed in 2002, about a year before it was torn down. This building also houses offices for the Schoper Mine.

The Schoper Powerhouse, photographed in 2002, about a year before it was torn down. This building also houses offices for the Schoper Mine.

Another view of the Schoper Powerhouse

Another view of the Schoper Powerhouse. When completed in 1919, this powerhouse supplied electricity to the 12 Sears Homes (just across the street). In November 1919, the city of Carlinville authorized spending $2,056 to run underground electrical lines from the Schoper powerhouse to Berry Mine in Carlinville, electrifying that mine as well.

When Schoper was created in the late 1910s, a creek that ran through an area beside the powerhouse was damned to create a seven-acre, 40-foot-deep lake - which became known as Schoper Lake. Underground pipes drafted water from the lake to the powerhouse for the steam engines. It was claimed that the six dynamos in this powerhouse had the potential to create enough electricity for the entire state of Illinois.

When Schoper was created in the late 1910s, a creek that ran through an area beside the powerhouse was damned to create a seven-acre, 40-foot-deep lake - which became known as Schoper Lake. Underground pipes drafted water from the lake to the powerhouse for the steam engines. It was claimed that the six dynamos in this powerhouse had the potential to create enough electricity for the entire state of Illinois.

This photo was taken in 2002, and it shows that all the remains of John McMillans Gladstone is a little dip in the soil and a short piece of driveway.

This photo was taken in 2002, and it shows that all the remains of John McMillan's Gladstone is a little dip in the soil and a short piece of driveway.

To read more about the largest order in the history of Sears homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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The Kit Homes of Colonial Place (Norfolk, Virginia)

February 19th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

From 2002-2006, I gave about 200 lectures in 24 states and the #1 most frequently asked question I received was, “Do you live in a Sears Home?

No, I don’t, but I do live amongst them.  :)

In January 2007, I was married to a Norfolk resident and in February 2007, we moved into a 1925 center-hallway Colonial Revival in Colonial Place.

It’s not a kit house, but there are several here in Colonial Place and Park Place (and one in Riverview). Most of the kit homes in Norfolk are not from Sears, but Aladdin. Based in Bay City, Michigan, this was another mail-order kit house company. They had a large mill in Wilmington, North Carolina, so it’s not surprising to find so many Aladdin kit homes in our area.

Enjoy the photos!

Aladdin Virginia from the 1919 Aladdin catalog.

Aladdin Virginia from the 1919 Aladdin catalog.

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Aladdin Virginia on Virginia Avenue in the state of Virginia!

Aladdin Virginia on Virginia Avenue in the state of Virginia! This is one of my favorite kit homes - ever. It's in wonderful condition and it's a spot-on match to the original catalog image! Part of what makes this house such a treasure is that it's in original condition.

Wow.

Wow.

Wow

What a beauty.

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Aladdin Plaza

Aladdin Plaza as seen in the 1919 catalog.

An interesting aside: The Pungo Grill in Virginia Beach is also an Aladdin Plaza. Click here to learn more.

Perfect Aladdin Plaza. Just perfect.

Perfect Aladdin Plaza. Just perfect.

The Pomona (named after the city in California) was a classic Arts & Crafts bungalow.

The Pomona (named after the city in California) was a classic Arts & Crafts bungalow.

This Pomona has seen some changes in its many decades of life, but still retains its classic lines.

This Pomona has seen some changes in its many decades of life, but still retains its classic lines. Notice the eave brackets, and compare them to the original catalog picture.

The Aladdin Venus was one of their most popular houses.

The Aladdin Venus was one of their most popular houses.

Close-up of the Aladdin Venus

Close-up of the Aladdin Venus

Looking a little rough around the edges, this Aladdin Venus still retains many original features.

It's had siding added and original railings removed, but this Aladdin Venus still retains many original features. There's a second Aladdin Venus in Park Place on 35th Street.

Notice the original wooden casement windows are still in place, now hidden behind double-hung aluminum storm windows.

Notice the original wooden casement windows are still in place, now hidden behind double-hung aluminum storm windows.

Aladdin Sheffield

Aladdin Sheffield

Despite the fact that the front porch on this house is quite different from the Aladdin Sheffield (pictured above), Im still quite certain this house is an Aladdin kit home. The Sheffield has a number of quirky details that are unusual, and the subject house has each and every one of those quirks.

Despite the fact that the front porch on this house is quite different from the Aladdin Sheffield (pictured above), I'm still quite certain this house is an Aladdin kit home. The Sheffield has a number of quirky details that are unusual, and the subject house has each and every one of those quirks. Unfortunately, this is not a great photo, and the angle is wrong. One of the funny features of the Sheffield is the fireplace chimney on the other side. It cuts right through the eaves of the second-floor dormer window (as does this Sheffield in CP).

Aladdin Lamberton

Aladdin Lamberton

Its done up pretty in brick, and its had many modifications, but Im 97.736% certain that this is an Aladdin Lamberton.

It's done up pretty in brick, and it's had many modifications, but I'm 97.736% certain that this is an Aladdin Lamberton.

This is the only Wardway House I know of in Colonial Place. Like Sears, Montgomery Ward also sold kit homes. To learn more about Wardway Homes, click here.

Sears sold about 70,000 houses during their 32 years in the kit home business. Montgomery Ward sold about 25,000 homes. Not surprisingly, there are very few Wardway Homes in Hampton Roads area.

This is the only Wardway House I know of in Colonial Place. Like Sears, Montgomery Ward also sold kit homes. To learn more about Wardway Homes, click here.

Seems like this house should be located on Michigan Avenue, since it is the Wardway Michigan. Ive always wondered how we ended up with a Michigan Avenue in a neighborhood named after the 13 original colonies.

Seems like this house should be located on Michigan Avenue, since it is the Wardway Michigan. I've always wondered how we ended up with a Michigan Avenue in a neighborhood named after the 13 original colonies.

In addition to kit homes, we also have pattern book houses in CPRV, such as this Regent from a 1926 pattern book. Interested homebuyers would order blueprints from a pattern book. Typically, your purchase price would also include a detailed inventory of all the building materials youd need for your new home.

In addition to kit homes, we also have "pattern book houses" in CPRV, such as this "Regent" from a 1926 pattern book. Interested homebuyers would order blueprints from a pattern book. Typically, your purchase price would also include a detailed inventory of all the building materials you'd need for your new home.

This Regent is a perfect match to the pattern book page (above). THeres another Regent in Larchmont.

This "Regent" is a perfect match to the pattern book page (above). THere's another "Regent" in Larchmont.

In addition to Sears, Aladdin and Wardway, there was also Lewis Manufacturing. Heres a Lewis Manufacturing kit home, The San Fernando. BTW the bungalow craze started (in the early 1900s) in California, hence all the Californian names for these bungalows!

In addition to Sears, Aladdin and Wardway, there was also Lewis Manufacturing. Here's a Lewis Manufacturing kit home, The San Fernando. BTW the bungalow craze started (in the early 1900s) in California, hence all the Californian names for these bungalows!

Is this a Lewis San Fernando? Hard to tell for sure, but it sure looks like it. However, this is precisely why its so difficult to identify kit homes. Closeness does not count. Precision does.

Is this a Lewis San Fernando? Hard to tell for sure, but it sure looks like it. However, this is precisely why it's so difficult to identify kit homes. Closeness does not count. Precision does.

And onto the kit homes in Park Place…

Like Colonial Place, Park Place also has several kit homes. This house (see picture below) was from Gordon Van Tine, a kit home company based in Davenport, Iowa. As you can see from the original catalog picture, it was a fine and spacious home.

Park Place

The ad promises that this is an "exceptionally well planned" home!

Is this a Gordon Van Tine #703? Again, without inspecting the homes interior, its hard to be sure.

Is this a Gordon Van Tine #703? Again, without inspecting the home's interior, it's hard to be sure.

Another spacious foursquare is the Aladdin Wenonah.

Another spacious foursquare is the Aladdin Wenonah.

The Wenonah was an unusual home and this is the only one Ive seen in my many travels. Its in Park Place.

The Wenonah was an unusual home and this is the only one I've seen in my many travels. It's in Park Place.

Whitehall

Sears Whitehall, as seen in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Whitehall

Whitehall in the flesh on 26th Street.

Sears Lebanon. Note the flowerbox in front of the second floor windows.

Sears Lebanon. Note the flowerbox in front of the second floor windows.

Lebanon in Park Place area

Sears Lebanon on 26th Street. This Lebanon is missing its flower box, but still has the wooden support brackets jutting out from the wall.

Sears Americus

Sears Americus

Americus in nearby Park Place

This Sears Americus still retains so many of the unique features that make it so distinctive. Notice how the front porch roof extends well beyond the home's width? And the second floor juts out a bit (on the right) but the first floor is flat across the front. Unfortunately, those eave brackets have been covered in great gobs of aluminum. Ick. This house has been converted into a duplex (sigh) and is on a main drag in Park Place.

My pretty pretty house on Gosnold

My pretty pretty house on Gosnold is not a Sears House.

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

To read about the Sears Homes in Hampton Roads, click here.

To buy Rose’s book (and get it inscribed!), click here.

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“Coming Out of the Mud”

January 26th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

If you could spend a day in the early 1900s, you might have a little trouble understanding what people were saying! Some words had radically different meanings.

For instance, there’s the word “slacker.”  A slacker was any able-bodied young man who did not volunteer to serve in the military (and subsequently become part of the American Expeditionary Force).

Wanting to learn more about this time period in American history, I also studied World War 1. It wasn’t called WW1 until the late 1930s, when WW2 broke out. In the late 1910s, it was known as “The Great War.” It’s other name was also a political promise that we - the American people - were given sold to engender our support. We were told it was “The War to End All Wars.”

One of the most chilling definitions I learned was the true meaning of “basket-case.” During the The Great War, when a soldier lost his limbs in battle, a wicker basket was used to carry the limbless figure off the battlefield. One can only imagine the mental state of such a soldier. The fellow soldiers described him as “a real basketcase.”

“Smut” was another interesting term. It was a disease of the wheat crop, and in the early 1900s, smut damaged so much wheat that it caused a nation-wide shortage of wheat.

An article in the 1920 Stanolind Record (employee newsletter of Standard Oil) said that soon Carlinville residents would be “coming out of the mud.” (Carlinville’s “Standard Addition” neighborhood has 152 Sears Homes in a 12-block area. Carlinville is in central Illinois.)  For several months, I asked every smart person I knew what this meant. No one had a guess. Finally, I found a clipping that said a neighborhood had just “come out of the mud.” It showed freshly paved streets and sidewalks. “Coming out of the mud” meant the subdivision now had proper sidewalks and city streets.

yyrr

Vintage photo of Carlinville's Standard Addition before they "came out of the mud." This photo was taken sometime in 1919.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book on Sears Homes, click here.

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Beyond Standard Addition (Carlinville’s OTHER Kit Homes)

January 20th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

I get lots of interesting notes from lots of interesting people. Unfortunately I find that amongst those many emails and letters, there are a lot of common misconceptions about Sears Homes.  One of the more persistent myths is that Carlinville has the largest collection of Sears Homes in the country. This is not true. Elgin (in Illinois) has the largest known collection (with more than 210 Sears Homes), and that word “known” is an especially important one.

Is it possible that some community has more than 210 Sears Homes? Absolutely!!  I am personally acquainted with three serious researchers who have devoted themselves to this work:  Dale Wolicki (Bay City, Michigan), Dr. Rebecca Hunter (Elgin, Illinois), and myself (Norfolk, Virginia). We’ve traveled tens of thousands of miles visiting towns throughout the country. We’ve literally traveled from sea to shining sea looking for these kit homes. Personally, I’ve been from Chicago to Baton Rouge and Boston to Los Angeles on research trips.

My point is, in all our travels, we have not discovered any city that can beat Elgin’s 210 Sears Homes. But we haven’t been to every city in America. In fact, I’d guess that the three of us together have seen fewer than 10% of all the kit homes in America.

With that as a backdrop, let’s go back to Carlinville, Illinois. Interestingly, there are a handful of Sears Homes outside of Standard Addition (the 12-block area with 152 Sears Homes). And there’s a Gordon Van Tine house in Carlinville! (Click here to learn more about Gordon Van Tine.)

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

Heres a Gordon Van Tine Roberts in Carlinville. GVT was another kit home company that (like Sears) sold entire houses from a mail-order catalog. GVT was based in Davenport, Iowa.

Here's a Gordon Van Tine "Roberts" in Carlinville. GVT was another kit home company that (like Sears) sold entire houses from a mail-order catalog. GVT was based in Davenport, Iowa.

Gordon Van Tine home in Carlinville, not far from the Standard Addition neighborhood.

Pictured above is a Gordon Van Tine home in Carlinville, not far from the Standard Addition neighborhood. This was a popular home for GVT and was known as "The Roberts."

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Sears Beaumont in Carlinville, Illinois

Sears Beaumont in Carlinville, Illinois, and it's a beauty! I didn't know about this Sears house until early 2003, when someone attended a lecture I gave in Carlinville and told me that there was a Sears Beaumont "near the college"!

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Sears Sunbeam, as shown in the 1919 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Sunbeam, as shown in the 1919 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Sunbeam in Carlinville.

Sears Sunbeam in Carlinville.

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Sears Lebanon from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Lebanon from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

This little Sears Lebanon is outside of Standard Addition, but the Lebanon was one of eight models found in Standard Addition. The other houses were the Roseberry, the Warrenton, the Roanoke, the Langston, the Gladstone, the Whitehall and the Madelia.

This little Sears Lebanon is outside of Standard Addition, but the Lebanon was one of eight models found in Standard Addition. The other houses were the Roseberry, the Warrenton, the Roanoke, the Langston, the Gladstone, the Whitehall and the Madelia. This house is one of two Lebanons outside of Standard Addition.

To learn more about Standard Addition, click here.

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