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Posts Tagged ‘sears mail order homes’

Hopeless in Hopewell (Part 72)

September 24th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

“Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes during their 32 years in the kit house business,” I tell folks at my lectures, “but judging from my emails, you’d think that number was 70 million kit homes.”

Some people really, really, really want their house to be a kit house, but not every 1920s house is a kit house.

And if I were queen of the world (a title I aspire to), I’d make that Hopewell’s town motto.

When I visited Hopewell in 2003, I caused a stir when I proclaimed that 36 of the town’s 44 Sears Homes in Crescent Hills weren’t really Sears Homes. As you can imagine, that didn’t go over well.

And the fact is, I might have made a mistake.

Rachel Shoemaker and I have reviewed some of the photos, and we now believe that 38 of the town’s 44 Sears Homes may not be Sears Homes.

Still, that leaves six Sears Homes in Crescent Hills (Hopewell).

After the “stir” in 2003, I didn’t hear back from Hopewell. But then, several years ago, I offered to help Hopewell do a proper survey of their kit homes - for FREE!

The town never responded to my emails or letters.

Eight years later, when I returned to Hopewell in Spring 2011 (wearing a wig and a fake nose), I focused on the amazing collection of Aladdin kit homes in that city. While Hopewell has only a few Sears Homes in Crescent Hills, they have dozens and dozens of Aladdin kit homes near the downtown area. More on that here and here.

However, I couldn’t resist driving through Crescent Hills and photographing a few of the fake Sears Homes.

For instance, the city’s brochure states that the house at 201 Prince George Avenue is the Sears Van Jean.

Let’s make this simple.

It’s not.

It has a gambrel roof and a chimney and some windows, but that’s about it.

The photos below make that pretty clear.

Learn about the Aladdin homes in Hopewell here.

Read my favorite blog on Hopewell here.

Hopewell, if you’re listening, you can contact me by leaving a comment below!

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The Van Jean, as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Van Jean, as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Note

Notice the double windows centered on the 2nd floor, and the double windows on the first floor. Notice also the placement of the home's chimneys. These things do matter.

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Details matter. The Sears Van Jean has large cornice returns.

Details matter. The Sears Van Jean has large cornice returns.

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This Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a fine house but its not a Van Jean.

This Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a fine house but it's not a Van Jean. The 2nd floor windows are wrong, and the front porch is also not a match - for many reasons. The Van Jean has those oversized cornice returns. This house has none. I'd expect that the footprint for this house is also wrong. In short, it's *not* a Sears kit house.

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Close-up, comparing the porch.

The edges of Van Jean's porch roof are aligned with the primary roof. The Hopewell porch roof extends well beyond the roofline. The Sears House porch has a closed triangle, with a cross member at the bottom and then a fascia board below that. The Hopewell porch roof terminates at the cross member.

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Hopewells brochure explains the differences (ahem) between the Van Jean in Hopewell and the Sears Van Jean.

Hopewell's brochure explains the "differences" (ahem) between the Van Jean in Hopewell and the Sears Van Jean. Oopsie. They neglected a few details. And a few facts. And one big reality: This ain't no Van Jean.

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Will there ever be a day when someone in Hopewell exclaims, “Enough of this! Let’s call that gal in Norfolk and get this right - once and for all!!”?

I wonder.

In the meantime, Hopewell certainly does offer a lovely opportunity of how not to promote historic architecture.

To learn more about the real kit homes in Hopewell (and they’re not from Sears), click here.

To read about Sandston, click here.

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The Roseberry, by Sears

April 17th, 2012 Sears Homes 2 comments

When I was a little girl, my mother and I would often watch “Star Trek” together on television, and when the credits rolled at the end, the name “Gene Roddenberry” appeared (as creator, writer and producer). My mother would often tell me, “That’s the man you should marry: Gene Roddenberry. And then your name would be Rosemary Roddenberry. Plus, I bet that guy’s a lot of fun.”

My beloved mother passed on before my first books on Sears Homes were published, but had she been aware of these little houses, I suspect she would have told me, “You should change your last name to Roddenberry, and then buy a Sears Roseberry, and then you’d be Rosemary Roddenberry living in a Roseberry.”

She sure was a lot of fun.

The Sears Roseberry is a cute little house, but apparently, it wasn’t too popular. I’ve only seen one Sears Roseberry outside of Carlinville, IL (which has a large collection of Sears Homes, built by Standard Oil), and that lone Roseberry was in the Milton section of Alton, Illinois.

Sears Roseberry as seen in the 1916 catalog.

Sears Roseberry as seen in the 1916 catalog.

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Five years later (1921), the Roseberrys ad had changed very little. .

Five years later (1921), the Roseberry's price had doubled.

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As you can see from the floorplan, it is pretty small.

As you can see from the floorplan, it's not a big house.

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This vintage photo of Carlinville (1920) shows a Roseberry

This vintage photo of Carlinville (1920) shows a Roseberry under construction.

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Rose

One of 150 Sears Homes in a 12-block area, this Roseberry sits in Carlinville. There were eight models built by Standard Oil (for their employees), and the Roseberry is one of them.

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Some of the Roseberrys in Carlinville are in a little bit of pain, and need a little love.

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And some of them are in a lot of pain...

And some of them are in a lot of pain, and need a lot of love.

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The Roseberrys in Carlinville have two large windows in that gabled dormer, whereas the Roseberrys in the catalog image have one big window flanked by two smaller windows.  None of the houses in Carlinville are a perfect match to the catalog image. Perhaps Standard Oil didnt want the houses to look just like the catalog, so they made this one change on the Roseberry.

The Roseberrys in Carlinville have two large windows in that gabled dormer, whereas the Roseberrys in the catalog image have one big window flanked by two smaller windows. None of the Roseberrys in Carlinville are a perfect match to the catalog image. Perhaps Standard Oil didn't want the houses to look "just like the catalog," so they made this one change on the Roseberry.

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To learn more about Carlinville and Standard Oil, click here.

To see more vintage pictures of Carlinville, click here.

The Sears Castleton: A Four-Bedroom Four-Square

April 6th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

The Sears Castleton is fairly easy to identify because it has a number of distinctive features. The most distinctive feature is that “hanging bay window” on the side, which extends up to the roofline. That’s something you don’t see too often.

On the red Sears Castleton (shown below), it has the classic Castleton dormer with three windows, and the hipped dormer comes right off the ridge of the primary roofline. That’s also a unique feature.

Sears

Sears Castleton as seen in the 1916 catalog.

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Sears Cat

This Castleton in Peoria, Illinois does not have the Castelton porch columns, but rather has the traditional Sears porch columns found on the Sears Woodland.

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This Castleton had the tradition Castleton columns, but has a different dormer! (Aurora, IL)

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As is typical of four-squares, it has four rooms on the four corners of the house, but look at the size of the "den"!

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Sears

The front bedroom is a mere 7'7" wide. Pretty darn tiny.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn more about Wardway Homes, click here.

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The Maytown Twins in Marlentin, WV

August 16th, 2011 Sears Homes 1 comment

Several months ago, a friend called and told me that there was a Sears House in Marlentin, and that it housed the local insurance company. While visiting my husband’s family in Elkins, we made a side trip to Marlentin (which as about a 90-minute trip - one way!) to check out the purported Sears House.

As is often the case, the alleged Sears House was not a kit house from Sears, or Aladdin, or Gordon Van Tine or Lewis Manufacturing, or any other company with which I am familiar. However, while we were driving the streets of Marlentin, I found these Maytown Twins, about three blocks apart!

The Sears Maytown as seen in the 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog

The Sears Maytown as seen in the 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog

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Close-up of the Sears Maytown

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Sears Maytown in Marlentin, WV.

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Sears Maytown #2 in Marlentin, WV. And it's for rent, too!

Sears

This Maytown has been turned into a duplex, but it's still a fine-looking house!

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s books, click here.

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Is Your Neighbor’s House a Sears Kit House?

July 8th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Next time your neighbor invites you over for high tea, take that opportunity to go into their basement and inspect his/her framing members for marks.  More than 90% of the people living in these homes don’t realize what they have. Incredibly, most of these Sears Homeowners tell me - after learning about the unique history of their house - that they’d “never noticed all those numbers” on their floor joists! Or, they saw them and had no idea what they meant.

Below are pictures of marked lumber in Sears Homes!

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This mark - so bold and pretty - was invisible to the eye of the homeowner. She'd lived in this house for 20 years and was totally surprised to see this mark on *all* of her floor joists. This is a typical mark found in a Sears Home. It's a letter and a three-digit number. A is for 2x4, B is 2x6, C is 2x8 and D is 2x10. The numbers - together with detailed blueprints and a 75-page instruction book - told the novice home builder how all those pieces and parts went together.

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Another 2x10 in another Midwestern basement. The number is typically found 2-6" inches from the end of the joist, and can also be found on the butt end of the lumber.

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Sometimes, the marks are easy to spot - if you know where to look.

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Sometimes, they're not so easy to see. This is a 2x4 on the underside of a staircase in a Sears Sunbeam in Beckley, WV. The mark is very faint. Look at the wide part of the 2x4 and you'll see "A 105" directly below the large nail.

Mark

See it now?

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Close-up of the mark (also enhanced).

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At this Sears Vallonia in Columbia, Illinois, the builder was so proud of his Sears House, he turned the treads and risers wrong-side out, so everyone could see those marks.

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The floor joist on this Sears Magnolia in Benson, NC says "2089" and has a family name written beside it. When the lumber was bundled up and prepared for shipment in Cairo, IL, the model number and buyer's name was scribbled in blue grease pencil. Finding a model number in blue grease pencil on a joist is also an effective means of authenticating a Sears Home.

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Those 12,000 pieces of house were shipped via boxcar, and the shipping crates were wooden, and were marked with the homeowner's name. Oftimes, the old crates were re-used to build coal bins or basement walls. This plank was salvaged from an old shipping crate and nailed to a basement wall in an Osborn in Sidney, IL.

Sears

This is a mark found on a newer (post-1934) Sears Home.

S

Shipping labels can also provide proof that you have a Sears kit home. Often, the words "Sears and Roebuck" do not appear anywhere on the label, but contain only Sears address: 925 Homan Avenue, Chicago, IL. Shipping labels are often found on the back of millwork.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Hopewell’s Historic Sears Homes! Well, sort. (Part 6)

April 9th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

When I last visited Hopewell in 2003, many good things happened, and I was treated kindly.  Sadly, I discovered that many of Hopewell’s “Sears Homes” were not really Sears Homes at all. There were some folks in Hopewell that were pretty unhappy about that.

Eight years later, when I returned to Hopewell in Spring 2011, I focused on the amazing collection of Aladdin kit homes in that city. While Hopewell has only EIGHT Sears Homes in Crescent Hills, they have dozens and dozens of Aladdin kit homes near the downtown area. More on that here, here, and here.

However, I couldn’t resist driving through Crescent Hills and photographing these almost-kinda-but-not-really Sears Homes. For instance, the city’s brochure states that the house at 201 Prince George Avenue is the Sears Van Jean.

Hmmm.  Let’s compare the house on Prince George with a catalog picture of the Sears Van Jean.

The alleged Van Jean in Hopewell

The alleged Van Jean in Hopewell, Virginia

The Sears Van Jean

The Sears Van Jean

It’s true that these are both Dutch Colonial homes, but that’s not enough. Sears patterned their houses after the popular housing styles of the day.  In fact, Sears offered several Dutch Colonial kit homes. So you can not say: “I see a Dutch Colonial. Sears offered a Dutch Colonial; ergo this Dutch Colonial must have come from Sears.”

And that’s apparently what’s happened with this pretty Dutch Colonial in Hopewell. Someone made a boo boo.

When you look a little closer at the details between these two homes, you see several differences in these two details. And it’s the details that make or break comparisons such as this.

First, look at the front porches.

Porch

Hopewell house.

porch also

The Van Jean

comparison

This detail may seem insignificant, but in fact, it's the very kind of detail that is so very important. The peak of the porch roof on the Van Jean goes up to the top of that first-floor roofline. The Hopewell house does not. Accordingly, the bottom of the porch roofline on the Van Jean is aligned with the bottom of the first-floor roofline, where the Hopewell house drops down several inches *below* that roofline. Also, the gabled porch on the Hopewell house is configured differently from the Sears House. The Sears House porch has a closed triangle, with a cross member at the bottom and then a fascia board below that. The Hopewell house terminates at the cross member. That detail carries around the side.

Another important detail are the cornice returns. Again - in my book (and I’ve written lots of ‘em), cornice returns are very important details that can not be overlooked or discounted, because details are the very thing that’ll distinguish a Sears Van Jean from your average (but lovely) Dutch Colonial.

Cornice

Notice the serious cornice returns on this Van Jean. They're an important detail!

Cornice

Strike TWO! The Hopewell house has no cornice returns!

The third big hard strike against this being a Sears Van Jean is the placement of the furnace chimney. Houses may undergo significant remodeling, but chimneys don’t get moved around! The only exception might be a missing chimney. Today, modern, high-efficiency boilers and furnaces use pvc “snorkels” for exhausting combustion gases, and that paves the way to discard and remove old crumbling chimneys. But a chimney in the wrong place - well that in and of itself can be a deal killer.  (The Van Jean shows the furnace chimney on the end of the house. The Hopewell house has its furnace chimney more toward the center.)

The fourth and final strike for the Hopeful Hopewell House is the fenestration. Gosh I love that word. Unless the Hopeful Hopewell House underwent some transmogrification (I love that word too), the fenestration (window arrangement) is wrong.

windows

The front door has no sidelights. And judging by the width of the porch roof, it never did have sidelights. That's not good! On the second floor, we have two windows (bedroom), one window (bath) and two windows (bedroom).

housie

On the Van Jean we have sidelights, and a porch that spans the width of the door plus sidelights. Plus, we have one bedroom window, paired bathroom windows and another single window. ****BUZZ***** Doesn't match the house above!

In conclusion, the Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a real beauty, and fine-looking home but it is not the Sears Van Jean.

To read more about Hopewell’s Aladdin homes, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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North Carolina’s Prettiest House: The Sears Magnolia

January 18th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

Thanks to a FOSH (Friend of Sears Homes), I found the 5th known Sears Magnolia in the country. In March 2010, “Joy” sent me a link last week to a news story on a Sears Home in Benson, NC (just outside of Raleigh).  When I clicked on the link, I had no idea the show would be featuring a Sears Magnolia - the Creme de la creme of Sears Homes!

As soon as possible, I left my house in Norfolk, Virginia to make the drive to Benson. Soon, I was parked in front of the Sears Magnolia, staring at her with majestic glee.

The happy owners of the Magnolia allowed me to tour the inside of the house, where I found proof that it was indeed a Sears Magnolia (as if there were any doubt). Click on this link to read more about that.

This was the second Magnolia that I’ve been inside. The first was in Canton, Ohio. In 2002, PBS’s History Detectives did a segment on Sears Homes, and invited me to be part of the program.  After hours of filming, I took a nap inside the house, and that was one of the happiest naps of my life!

There are also Sears Magnolias in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Alabama.

Below is the Sears Magnolia in North Carolina.

To read more about the Sears Homes in Raleigh, click here.

maggy_benson_nc

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Right after WW1 (The Great War) ended, prices went sky high. Sears couldnt keep up with the volatility in the cost of building materials, so they started inserting price sheets into their catalog. This shows the profound reduction in cost, in the late 1920s.

Right after WW1 ended, (also known as "The Great War"), prices went sky high. Sears couldn't keep up with the volatility in the cost of building materials, so they started inserting price sheets into their catalog. This shows the profound reduction in cost, in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Post-war hyperinflation is not uncommon.

Honor Bilt, Econo Built, Standard Built and Angry Moosies

January 15th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Sears offered three grades in all their lines: Good, better and best. In the 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog, the housing lines were known as Honor-Bilt, Econo Built (later known as “Standard Built) and Lighter Built.

Honor-Bilt homes (their best grade and most popular line) utilized traditional construction standards, such as double headers over the doors and windows, double floors (primary floors over subfloors), exterior sheathing under clapboard or cedar shingles and wall studs on 16-inch centers.

“Standard Built” houses had wall studs on 24-inch centers, single headers, no subfloor and no underlying exterior sheathing. They were pretty modest housing.

Lighter Built was what we’d (today) describe as a hunting shack, best suited for areas with warm weather, calm winds and serene wildlife. One angry moose could do a lot of damage to your  “Lighter Built” shack/house. In later years, Econo Built was renamed to “Standard Built.” The cheapest grade of Sears homes (known as “Lighter Built” in 1922) was eventually dropped.

There was also another line of houses known as Simplex Sectional Houses. See this link for more information on these tiny cottages.

The Hudson

The Hudson was a "Standard Built" house. The phrase - Standard Built - appears immediately underneath the home's name in this 1921 catalog.

Hudson in Alton

Live and in color, here's a Sears "Standard Built" Hudson in Alton. The porch has been enclosed in an effort to add a few square feet to this tiny structure. The bedrooms are only 9' by 9'. Today, we call that a small closet.

House

Also from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog, this shows some detail about the quality of construction to be found in a Standard Built Sears Home.

home is far superior. “]Honor

By contrast, the Honor Bilt [sic

House

Another contrast and comparison of Honor Bilt and Standard Built.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

Santa at the Kroger’s

December 25th, 2010 Sears Homes 1 comment

Christmas Eve, my husband (Wayne) walked into the grocery store to pick up a few last minute items for our big Christmas dinner. As he walked into the store, he saw a little boy staring at him and grinning broadly. My husband smiled back. As the little boy and his mother walked on, Wayne heard the little boy excitedly tell his mother, “Did you see him? That was Santa!”

My very own Santa

My very own Santa

To read about the Sears Homes in Norfolk, click here.

To learn more about rain barrels, click here.

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The Sears Magnolia - in Benson, NC

August 3rd, 2010 Sears Homes 7 comments

Thanks to a FOSH (Friend of Sears Homes), I found the 5th known Sears Magnolia in the country. Joy sent me a link last week to a story on a Sears Home just outside of Raleigh. When I clicked on the link, I had no idea the show would be featuring a Sears Magnolia - the Creme de la creme of Sears Homes!

Monday afternoon, I returned from Illinois (where I spent three weeks doing research on a new book on Sears Homes), and Tuesday morning (yes, the next day), I left my house at 6:00 in the morning to make the drive to Benson. By 10:00 am, I was sitting in front of the Sears Magnolia.

The happy owners of the Magnolia allowed me to tour the inside of the house, where I found proof that it was indeed a Sears Magnolia (as if there were any doubt). Click on this link to read more about that.

This was the second Magnolia that I’ve been inside. The first was in Canton, Ohio. In 2002, PBS’s History Detectives did a segment on Sears Homes, and invited me to be part of the program. That was one of the best days of my life. After hours of filming, I took a nap inside the house, and that was one of the happiest naps of my life!

There are also Sears Magnolias in Indiana, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

Read more about the Magnolia by clicking here!

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Magnolia in Benson, NC looking absolutely perfect!

Magnolia in Benson, NC looking absolutely perfect!

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog