A Sears House from Montgomery Ward?
Yes, it’s true! But the sad news is, it’s slated for immediate demolition.
According to an article that appeared in the Toledo Blade, Bowling Green State University has decided that the house must go. A specific date hasn’t been given, but the school wants the building gone before classes begin on August 20th.
Not just because it’s an historically significant kit house, ordered out of a mail-order catalog and shipped in 12,000 pieces to the Bowling Green Train Depot and assembled by an old family of Bowling Green, using only a 75-page instruction book and 14 pages of blue prints, and not just because it’s a piece of irreplaceable American and a piece of our heritage and culture… (And yet, those should be enough reasons to save this house…)
This little Neo-Tudor in Bowling Green should be saved for two additional (and uniquely compelling) reasons.
1) The personal story about how this house came to be: This kit house was purchased from Montgomery Ward in late 1931 or very early 1932. The home’s buyer was Virgil Taylor, the son of Jasper and Mae Taylor. Jasper Taylor was the County Treasurer.
Virgil built this kit home on a lot that he’d been gifted by his parents. Imagine, hauling 12,000 pieces of house from the train depot in Bowling Green to the building lot. That, in and of itself, was a monumental task.
Virgil also obtained a mortgage from Montgomery Ward, so this means that the kit house had to “completed and ready for occupancy in four months.”
Virgil had to hustle.
In 1936, the Great Depression must have hit Virgil hard. He lost the house to foreclosure, and it went back to Montgomery Ward. For a short time, Montgomery Ward rented out the little house and then it was sold to the college in the late 1930s.
This is an amazing story because it’s an encapsulation of life during the the early 1930s. Dad wants to help son get a start in life. Dad gives son a free lot. Son buys a kit home, and working nights and weekends, he builds the house. As he builds it (probably working side-by-side with Dad), both men think about the security that “a home of his own” will give to young Virgil.
As he painstakingly drives in each of the many nails in this kit (about 750 pounds of nails), he thinks about growing old in this house, and maybe someday bringing a wife and child into his “home.” And then the Great Depression hits and Virgil loses everything, including his beloved home and the lot his parents gave him. And the happy memories of working with Dad. And the joy of building something with his own hands. And all the faith and hopeful expectation about his future, secure in a home of his own.
All of it gone, washed away by the economic tsunami of the 1930s.
Losing a house is hard. Losing a home that you built with your own two hands must be excruciating.
Now that’s a compelling story, but there’s yet another reason that this house has captured my fancy.
2) Virgil’s house is a Sears kit home (The Lewiston*) and yet it was ordered from Montgomery Ward.
Yeah, you read that right.
This is not unheard of, but it is pretty darn unusual. Apparently, Virgil fell in love with the Sears Lewiston and yet - for reasons we haven’t discovered yet - had an allegiance or connection to Montgomery Ward. Virgil apparently sent a photo of the house to Wards and asked them to build him this Sears House.
When I first heard that this was a Montgomery Ward house, I was a tiny bit incredulous. Dale Wolicki and I co-authored a book (”Mail-Order Homes of Montgomery Ward”), and I can tell you, they never offered a kit home that looked anything like the Lewiston.
And then Raymond I. Schuck sent me some photos (shown below). This house was ordered from Montgomery Ward. But it’s not a Ward’s house.
Our priority is saving this house, so please - before you gaze upon the awesome photos below - take a moment and sign this online petition. Please forward this link to every old house lover you know and ask them to do the same. Post the link on your Facebook page. Tweet this page. Spread the word.
* The persistent asterisk is because I’m not sure how to label this house. It’s a Sears Lewiston, ordered from Montgomery Ward.
Tomorrow, I’ll write a blog showcasing a few of the kit homes that Dale found in Bowling Green.