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Eight Pretty Maggies in a Row

August 29th, 2013 Sears Homes 9 comments

As of last month, we’ve found eight Sears Magnolias. There are probably more, but where are they?

The last three Magnolias that were discovered (in North Carolina, New York and West Virginia) were found thanks to the readers of this blog.

So where’s Number Nine?  :)

If you know, please leave a comment below!

Below are pictures of the eight Magnolias.

Enjoy!

The Sears Magnolia was featured on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog.

The Sears Magnolia was featured on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog.

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When first offered

When first offered in 1918, the Magnolia was also offered as a "plan" (blueprints only) for $10.

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The Magnolia in Benson, NC was discovered when a faithful reader of the blog sent me a note and reported that shed seen a Magnolia featured on the news. She even sent me a link to the news story, so I was able to conform it was a Magnolia before I traveld five hours south to Benson.

The Magnolia in Benson, NC was discovered when a faithful reader of the blog sent me a note and reported that she'd seen a Magnolia featured on the news. She even sent me a link to the news story, so I was able to conform it was a Magnolia before I traveled five hours south to Benson. This Magnolia has been in constant use as a funeral home since the early 1940s. The interior has been pretty well gutted and rebuilt, but at least it's still standing.

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Canton, Ohio

The Magnolia in Canton, Ohio was almost lost in the 1980s. The roof had collapsed into the second floor, but the house was purchased by someone who truly loved old houses, and they did a thorough restoration of the home. In 2002, I visited this house when filming a segment for PBS's "History Detectives." Photo is courtesy Janet LaMonica and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Located in the hills of West Virginia, this beautiful Magnolia also passed through its own shadow of death in the early 2000s. In 2003, it was purchased and lovingly restored.

Located in the hills of West Virginia, this beautiful Magnolia also passed through its own "shadow of death" in the early 2000s. In 2003, it was purchased and lovingly restored.

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In 1985, this Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska was in pitiful shape (when these photos were taken). In late 1985, the house suffered additional damage when it caught fire. It was razed sometime in 1985.

In 1985, this Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska was in pitiful shape (when these photos were taken). In late 1985, the house suffered additional damage when it caught fire. It was razed sometime in 1985. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Syracuse

The Seventh Magnolia (in Syracuse, NY) was also discovered thanks to a faithful reader of this blog. It was built by Edward Knapp for his two sisters sometime between 1918-1921. In the 1990s, it was purchased and restored by someone who loved the house and appreciated its unique history. Photo is courtesy Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Magnolia in South Bend, Indiana is now going through its own trying time. If you look at the underside of the front porch ceiling, you'll see moisture damage. The aluminum trim around the eaves and soffit is also falling away. Hopefully, this wonderful old house will be spared the fate of the Maggy in Nebraska. These photos are more than a year old, so perhaps good things are now happening for this house. Photo is courtesy James Layne and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama is also needing a little love.

The Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama is also needing a little love. It's sold three times in the last six years and when I was there in September 2010, it was looking a little ragged around the edges. However, it sold very recently (less than six months ago) and hopefully the new owners will return it to its former glory.

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Last but not least is this Magnolia in Irwin, Pennsylvania. It was built as a brick house, and the floorplan was altered a bit when the house was built. Construction began in 1922 and was not completed until 1927.

Last but not least is this Magnolia in Irwin, Pennsylvania. The brick exterior is original to the house and the floorplan was altered a bit when the house was built. Construction began in 1922 and was not completed until 1927. Photo is courtesy Bob Keeling and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And in Blacksburg, SC

This "almost-a-Magnolia" was discovered in Blacksburg, SC. According to the homeowner (and tax records) the house was built in 1910, and based on millwork and other design elements, that seems like a good date. The classic "widow's walk" (flat top) on the hipped roof is not in place (as with a traditional Magnolia). And see those tall columns? They're solid concrete. No kit house would have concrete two-story columns due to the tremendous weight. These homes were designed with the expectation that a "man of average abilities" could build them in 90 days - or less! I suspect that this house in Blacksburg was purchased from a planbook or architectural magazine, and then Sears "borrowed" the design, shaved a few feet off the footprint and the Sears Magnolia was born.

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The Magnolia was also known as Sears Modern Home #2089. I found this marking in the basement of the Magnolia in Benson, NC. When these framing members were shipped out of Cairo, Illinois, one of the mill workers grabbed a blue grease pencil and marked the top beam in the pile of lumber that was about to be loaded onto a train for Benson. Today, this faint mark can be used to authenticate that this is indeed a Sears kit home.

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marked lumber

Years ago, I talked to an elder gent who remembered helping Mom and Dad build a Sears kit home. The father, standing on the building site, would yell out, "I need a G 503!" and the kids would scramble over the massive piles of framing members to find a beam marked G 503. The floor joist shown above was found in the Magnolia in WV.

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Now, about that 9th Magnolia…

Where is it?  :)

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

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The Eighth Magnolia - and - It’s In West Virginia!

August 24th, 2013 Sears Homes 13 comments

For years and years, it was believed that only six Magnolias had been sold by Sears and Roebuck, but their locations were unknown.

As the years passed, the six Magnolias were discovered in Benson, North Carolina, South Bend, Indiana, Irwin, Pennsylvania, Canton, Ohio and a fifth in Piedmont, Alabama. A sixth Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska was lost in 1985 when it burned down.

And that was that.

Six Magnolias. All accounted for.

Five alive.  One dead (and cremated).

And then two years ago, one of my faithful readers reported that there was a Sears Magnolia in Syracuse, NY.

Turned out, they were right. The discovery made the local papers, and it was all pretty exciting.  Click here to read the article from May 2011.

All of which brings me to this newest discovery of an 8th Magnolia.

In June 2013, someone left me a comment saying, that many years ago, he’d lived in a small town in West Virginia, and there was a Sears Magnolia just across the street from his home.

According to his reminiscence, the Magnolia was ordered from the Sears & Roebuck catalog in 1924, and the price was $7,000. The homeowner then paid a local builder another $7,000 to build the house. Rachel Shoemaker and I stayed up most of one night trying to figure out if this house was the real deal. About 4:00 am, we came to the conclusion that it was.

I contacted the homeowner (who was gracious enough to write back!) and asked if we could visit his wonderful Magnolia when we visited Elkins, later in the summer.

He said yes.

“Thrilled” doesn’t begin to describe my feelings about this elegant home in West Virginia.

For one, this Maggy has been painstakingly and thoroughly restored. In the world of architectural preservation, there’s a massive difference between “remodeling” and “restoring.”

This Magnolia has truly been restored.

I’m a tough cookie with an eye for detail and a penchant for perfection and a passion for historicity, and I’m happy to report that the work done on this old house was absolutely first-class. This West Virginia “Maggy” is truly a wonder to behold. As the pictures will show, the house is a gem and every room looks like something out of a fancy architectural magazine. It really is that beautiful.

Secondly, I was so pleased to see that the house is in good hands. The home’s current owners love this house with their whole heart, and they genuinely appreciate their home’s unique history. They’re “caretakers” in the truest sense of the word, and they really do “get it.”

An interesting aside, my husband toured the house with me, and he was also smitten (and he’s not even a big architecture guy). When we returned to our car, he said quietly, “That really is a beautiful place they’ve got there.”

Enough words. Just wait until you see these pictures. You’ll fall in love with this house, just like I did.

To read Part II of this blog, click here.

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The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922. It's shown here in the 1921 catalog

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The description shows it was fancy.

The description of the Magnolia gives some wonderful detail on the home's fine qualities (1921).

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price

A price list from the 1921 catalog shows detail on the optional extras for the Magnolia.

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What a fine-looking house!

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This magnificent Magnolia is now 88 years old, and still retains all its original stateliness, beauty and grandeur. Beginning in 2003, the house underwent a major, three-year-long restoration that saved this historically significant home.

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beautiful

The house sits on several acres on a beautifully landscaped lot in a small West Virginia town about two hours from my husband's ancestral home in Elkins, WV. The previous owners (who did the major three-year restoration) planted the two Magnolia trees at the front of the house. The house is even more beautiful "in person" than it is in these photos. It's stunning. Just stunning.

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This house has no bad sides. It is beautiful from every angle.

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Just imagine bobbing about in the pool on an August afternoon, sipping on a cool soda and gazing upward at a majestic Magnolia. Bliss! On a more architectural note, the 40' wide addition across the back added quite a bit of square footage and also expanded the size of the small den and kitchen.

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The floorplan for the first floor (shown here) shows how the addition to the rear of the house increased the square footage, expanded the den and the kitchen and did not diminish the home's original beauty. Major kudos to the architect who came up with this plan! Brilliant!

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And from the back of the house, you can get a good view of that distinctive Magnolia dormer.

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A view of the front yard from the second-floor balcony. West Virginia is a state filled with beautiful views, and this house is located in an unusually beautiful spot in West Virginia.

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When I first contacted the homes owner, he told me that this Magnolia was in unusually original condition. After spending two hours examining this lovely home, I can affirm - he was right!

When I first contacted the home's owner, he told me that this Magnolia was in unusually original condition. After spending two hours examining this lovely home, I can affirm - he was right!

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Beautiful house. Just beautiful.

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And much praise is due to the folks who did the restoration on the Maggy. Every window in this old house was restored and preserved.

And much praise is due to the folks who restored the Maggy. Every window in this old house was restored and preserved. These windows - with a little love and care - will last for generations.

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On

It's claimed that the Sears Magnolia was the only kit that was required two boxcars (as opposed to one) for shipment. I suspect the six two-story columns were part of the reason for the second boxcar. When shipped, these columns were in pieces (length-wise) which were to be assembled on site. The bases on these columns were recently replaced.

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The porch floor on the other Magnolias I've seen is poured concrete. On the West Virginia Magnolia, the terrace is tiled, with several floor drains. I've read that they get lots of snow in WV so maybe the floor drains help with that.

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And in the basement, we found

And in the basement, we found marked lumber!

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My next blog

Return to this blog tomorrow, and come inside for a tour of this beautiful home. You're in for a treat!

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To read Part II of this blog (and see interior photos) click here.
Is there a Sears Magnolia in your neighborhood?

Of the eight Sears Magnolias that have been discovered, three of them were found thanks to the loyal readers of this blog. If you know of a Magnolia, please leave a comment below!

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The Beaumont: Extra Convenience

May 29th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

When Rebecca and I were reviewing and comparing our Life Lists, Rebecca identified the Sears Beaumont as one of the Sears Homes that she’d never seen.

“I’ve only seen one,” I told her, “and it was in Carlinville, Illinois.”

Rebecca laughed out loud and said, “I might have driven right past it and not noticed it!”

Me, too.

In 2004, I gave a talk in Carlinville on Sears Homes.

The event was organized by Beth Kaburick, Head Librarian at the Carlinville Public Library.  I was so impressed with her professionalism and her passion for Carlinville’s history. I had first met Beth in 1999, when I spent countless hours at her library, researching Sears Homes, first for an article, and then later for my books.

Beth went out of her way to help me with my research. In 2004, when I gave the talk in Carlinville, it was well publicized and well attended, thanks wholly to Beth. (Sadly, Beth died in June 2007 in a tragic car accident.)

It was after that talk that someone told me about a Sears Home outside of Standard Addition (where 150 Sears Homes are located). The gentleman gave me the street name but wasn’t sure of the specific address.

Immediately after the talk, I drove up and down that street - in the dark - trying to figure out which Sears House I’d missed! As the author of several books on kit homes, I’d driven on that street too many times to count, and had never seen any Sears Homes.

And there in the dark, I saw an interesting Colonial Revival/Bungalowish-type house with a familiar-looking attic window. I grabbed my dog-eared copy of Houses by Mail and hastily thumbed through it and found my match:  The house I’d found in the dark - thanks to a kind stranger at a lecture - was a Sears Beaumont.

That was eight years ago, and it was (and remains) the only Beaumont I’ve ever seen.

To see vintage pictures of Carlinville and Schoper, click here.

To read about the woman who supervised the construction of Standard Addition, click here.

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1919

In the 1919 catalog, the heading proclaimed that the Beaumont had "Extra convenience." Unfortunately, the text in the body offers no clue as to what they're talking about.

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1921

In 1921, the price on the Beaumont increased $500 or about 26%. Pretty steep increase for two year's time. And apparently what it gained in price it lost in "convenience." Now the heading had changed from the dramatic ("Extra convenience") to the pedestrian ("Six rooms and bath").

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floorplan 1921

The Beaumont's floorplan (1921 catalog).

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2004 or so

The Beaumont, as it looked in 2004.

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house

In February 2010, I traveled to Carlinville to do more research for my book, "The Sears Homes of Illinois." That's when this photograph was taken. Notice, a plague of vinyl siding salesmen had descended upon the house since the last photo in 2004.

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Another view of the Beaumont.

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The attic window that caught my eye

That night, when I first saw the Beaumont, it was the attic window that caught my eye.

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Attic window again

Nice match to the catalog picture!

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To learn more about the 150 Sears Homes in Carlinville, click here or here.

To buy Rose’s newest book, click here.

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94-year-old Builder Explains How He Began Construction on the Sears Magnolia in Ohio

November 22nd, 2011 Sears Homes 1 comment

In September 2002, I was invited to appear on a brand new show called PBS History Detectives. It was my first appearance on national television and it was a very exciting time. One of the houses featured in that show was the Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio. I’d be appearing on their second episode (first season), to do a story on the alleged Sears Homes in Firestone Park. The filming started at the Sears Magnolia in Canton. Filming the 15-minute segment took eight days.

Sometime around 1990, Canton writer T. E. Prather wrote a short piece about the building of the Sears Magnolia there in Canton, Ohio. The title was “Magnolia: Neo Classic Revival Revived!”

What’s remarkable about this article is that it quotes the 94-year-old builder who helped build the Magnolia in 1923.

Clarence Swallow was the builder of nearly 300 homes in this area, and in 1923, he was a 27-year-old carpenter. He was hired by Canton Attorney Leroy Contie, Sr., to supervise the total construction of Contie’s Magnolia.

The catalog price of this pre-cut house was $5,140. With the price of the Ridgewood lot, plastering, electrical work, plumbing, plus other extras, te total cost of the home was approximately $18,000.

Swallow explains how the crates of numbered, top-quality, pre-cut lumber and supplies were brought to the building site by horse-drawn wagons. Swallow and his two-man crew sorted through the giant jig-saw puzzle of packages and began construction in the summer of 1923. The framing went up on the pre-formed concrete foundation through the summer and autumn. By the first snowfall, the Magnolia was under roof. Then Ennon Plumbing, Eclipse Electric, and several plasterers worked through the winter as Swallow and crew completed the interior trim work.

The six fluted yellow poplar Corinthian porch columns were precisely set in place to support the two-story front portico. The side lights [flanking] the front entrance and an elliptical fanlight under a second floor balcony were the center focus of the main entry.

The original elegance of this early 1920s Magnolia has yielded a small bit to being unoccupied over the past couple years. Yet it has been featured in the Smithsonian (November 1985) and was the featured home of Ohio Historical Society’s publication , Timeline in early 1989.

To learn more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

Sears Magnolia from the 1922 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Magnolia from the 1922 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

Close-up of the columns. In some models, the Magnolia had Corinthian columns, and in others, they were Ionic.

Close-up of the columns. In some models, the Magnolia had Corinthian columns, and in others, they were Ionic.

And in this Magnolia, theres a Magnolia room!

And in this Magnolia, there's a Magnolia room!

This Magnolia is in Benson, NC and the photo dates back to the late 1940s. This house has been in use as a funeral home for many decades.

This Magnolia is in Benson, NC and the photo dates back to the late 1940s. This house has been in use as a funeral home for many decades. I'm sorry I do not have the name of the original photographer, for I'd prefer to give proper photo credit here.

But you have to love the name of this funeral home (in the 40s).

But you have to love the name of this funeral home (in the 40s).

These unique windows are an important identifying feature for the Sears Magnolia. Theyre pretty unique!

These unique windows are an important identifying feature for the Sears Magnolia. They're pretty unique! Notice the 9/1 windows on the side, and the smaller lites above the larger windows. People send me a lot of photos of purported Magnolias. If they'd stop and examine the windows, that'd answer their questions right then and there!

Sears Magnolia - as seen in the 1922 catalog.

Sears Magnolia - as seen in the 1922 catalog.

Entry Hall of the grand house

Entry Hall of the grand house

The Living Room

The Living Room

Note the breakfast nook in the Magnolias kitchen

Note the breakfast nook in the Magnolia's kitchen

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn more about early 20th Century breakfast nooks, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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The Sears Homes of the Blue Ridge Mountains

November 17th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

I’ve always dreamt of living in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and one day, I’ll get there.  In the meantime, there’s no prettier place on earth to go hunting for Sears kit homes.

What is a Sears House? These were kit homes, sold right out of the pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog. From 1908-1940, you could order one of 370 designs, and your 12,000-piece kit would be shipped by rail to the train depot of your choice. Each kit came with a 75-page instruction book, and a promise that “a man of average abilities” could have one of these kits built in 90 days. Click here for more info on Sears kit homes.

Here are a few of the Sears kit homes I’ve found so far. First, my favorite find in Shenandoah, Virginia.

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

Original image from 1916 catalog

Original image from 1916 catalog

Sears Maytown - original catalog image

Sears Maytown - original catalog image

Sears Home in Shenandoah, Virginia

Sears Home in Shenandoah, Virginia

This next house is currently in use as a B&B. It’s the only Sears Milton I’ve ever seen, and it’s in Stanley, Virginia. It’s quite a magnificent house! Note the tall columns and flanking pergola on the front porch. The Milton was one of Sears’ biggest and best homes. Probably the only house that was fancier was the Sears Magnolia.

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Sears Vallonia, from the 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog. This was a very popular house.

Sears Vallonia, from the 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog. This was a very popular house.

A beautiful Sears Vallonia in Lewisburg, WV

A beautiful Sears Vallonia in Lewisburg, WV

Sears Altona from the Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Altona from the Sears Modern Home's catalog

Sears Altona in the tiny town of Ronceverte.

Sears Altona in the tiny town of Ronceverte, West Virginia.

Sears Lynnhaven, as seen in the 1929 catalog

Sears Lynnhaven, as seen in the 1929 catalog

Sears Lynnhaven in Rainelle, WV

Sears Lynnhaven in Rainelle, WV

Sears Marina, Model #2024

Sears Marina, Model #2024

Although significantly remodeled, this is clearly a Sears Marina, #2024

Although significantly remodeled, this is clearly a Sears Marina, #2024. This house is in Lewisburg, WV. Note how the shed dormer still retains its three little windows.

Aladdin was another prominent kit home company, with a large lumberyard and mill in Greensboro, NC. There were many Aladdin Kit Homes in WV, too.

Aladdin was another prominent kit home company, with a large lumberyard and mill in Greensboro, NC. There were many Aladdin Kit Homes in WV, too. Here, you can see the Aladdin Genie going back into his bottle (presumably on the back porch) after building a house for his master in a day (I'm guessing here).

The Aladdin Pasadena was one of Aladdins most popular homes.

The Aladdin Pasadena was one of Aladdin's most popular homes.

As a point of comparison, this is a PERFECT Pasadena in Lynchburg, Virginia. Note, the side porch is still in original condition.

As a point of comparison, this is a PERFECT Pasadena in Lynchburg, Virginia. Note, the side porch is still in original condition.

An Aladdin Pasadena in a small town just outside of Rainelle, WV. Sometimes, its hard to identify these kit homes because of surrounding landscaping. This house called my name from the highway, and once you hear the sound of an Aladdin Pasadena, you never forget it.  :)

Here's a nice Aladdin Pasadena in a small town just outside of Rainelle, WV. To the uninformed, this may look like a grove of trees, but there is an Aladdin House there. Sometimes, it's hard to identify these kit homes because of surrounding landscaping. This house called my name from the highway, and once you hear the sound of an Aladdin Pasadena, you never forget it. :)

Aladdin Virginia from the 1919 Aladdin catalog

Aladdin Virginia from the 1919 Aladdin catalog

An Aladdin Virginian in White Sulphur Springs, not too far from the famous hotel, The Greenbriar.

An Aladdin Virginian in White Sulphur Springs, not too far from the famous hotel, The Greenbriar.

Gordon Van Tine was yet another popular kit home company of the early 1900s. Heres the GVT Durant, a fairly popular little bungalow.

Gordon Van Tine was yet another popular kit home company of the early 1900s. Here's the GVT "Durant," a fairly popular little bungalow.

The Durant, in Lewisburg, WV.

The Durant, in Lewisburg, WV.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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The Best Thing That Happened Today…

March 19th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

The best thing that happened today was seeing a little Sears House that I’d never seen before. After traveling to about 500 towns and seeing thousands of Sears Homes, this is becoming an increasingly rare event! This afternoon in Crewe, Virginia (off Route 460, about an hour from Lynchburg), I saw this Sears Lucerne.

It’s a real cute house, and a perfect match to the original catalog image.

Crewe, Virginia is a big railroad town, and I found many kit homes within the city limits. (More on that in a subsequent blog.) The town also has a very cool train museum, with many interesting items on display, such as an old coal-fired steam locomotive and a more modern diesel electric locomotive. But my favorite find was this little $867 Sears House!

To read another blog about the abundance of Sears Homes in Crewe, click here.

From the 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog

From the 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Lucerne in Crewe, Virginia

Lucerne in Crewe, Virginia

This view shows that little funny staircase window on the left side. See floorplan for details.

This view shows that little funny staircase window on the left side. See floorplan for details.

Comparison of the two houses

Comparison of the two houses

One of the trains on display at the train museum in Crewe.

One of the trains on display at the train museum in Crewe.

Another view of the choo choo at Crewe-Crewe.

Another view of the choo choo at Crewe-Crewe.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy one of Rose’s splendiferous books, click here.

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The Venerable, Vintage Villas of Vinton, Virginia

February 21st, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

In April 2008, my husband and I traveled to Roanoke for a vacation. While he rested at the hotel, I drove out to Vinton to hunt for Sears Homes. This was a quickie drive through, so I suspect I missed a few.

And it turns out, I was right.

About a year later, I drove through the same area with Dale Wolicki. He immediately spotted this kit home (see below) that I had missed. The Wardway Sheridan. It’s a real beauty, too.

The Wardway Sheridan, as shown in the Wardway catalog

Wardway Sheridan in Vinton, Virginia (just outside of Roanoke)

And here’s another unique house: The Harris Brother’s Ardmore. Once you’ve seen this house, it’s not hard to remember it - and find it elsewhere! Note the unique details around the front porch. Very distinctive home.

This is from the Harris Brothers catalog. Its the Ardmore, and its not hard to spot with that odd second floor sticking up out of the bungalows roofline!

This is the Harris Brothers Ardmore, and it's not hard to spot with that odd second floor sticking up out of the bungalow's roofline!

HB

This Ardmore is in Vinton, Virginia, a small town just outside of Roanoke.

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In Vinton, I also found an Aladdin Marsden.

Aladdin Marsden from the 1919 catalog.

Aladdin Marsden from the 1919 catalog.

Aladdin Marsden in Vinton

Aladdin Marsden in Vinton

The Sears Sunbeam was one of their most popular kit homes.

The Sears Sunbeam was one of their most popular kit homes.

Dressed up in brick, this Sears Sunbeam is in very good condition.

Dressed up in brick, this Sears Sunbeam is in very good condition.

To read about the kit homes in Roanoke, click here.

To learn how to identify a kit home, click here.

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

Sears and The Wizard Block-Making Machine

August 11th, 2010 Sears Homes 1 comment

In the early years of the 20th Century, cement was all the rage. And the idea of making your own cinder blocks (for fun and profit) apparently also became quite popular. The back pages of the 1905 issues of American Carpenter and Builder (a building magazine from that era) were filled with advertisements for block-making machines and cement-stirring machines.

Sears offered the Wizard Block Making machine which retailed for $57.50 (a bargain at twice the price!). And Sears suggested that a man could save a lot of money on building a new home if he made his own blocks. Now if a man devoted himself to making nothing but blocks and if a man had someone else preparing the cement for pouring, he could make about one every two minutes. To do this, the poured cement was loaded into a form, pressed down in this contraption and then removed. The form was not removed until the concrete had hardened a bit. That meant if you were serious about making blocks, you had to have several forms on hand.

The ad below suggests that the block could be removed immediately from the form. I’d love to know if that was accurate. Having never made a block in the Sears Roebuck Wizard Block Making Machine, I can’t say for sure.

Sears estimated that 1,300 blocks were needed for the basement of The Chelsea (one of their kit homes). The Chelsea was a modest foursquare on a short cellar. It’d be safe to assume that a Chelsea made of nothing but block would require more than 4,000 blocks. If you devoted yourself to the creation of those blocks and really hustled, you’d need about 17 eight-hour days to do nothing but work like a dog making blocks and setting forms in the sun and breaking open the forms and placing the forms back into the machine. And that’s if he had someone else preparing the cement. That’s a lot of work.

When I give talks on Sears Homes, I get a surprising number of questions about the Wizard Block Making Machine. Apparently this labor-intensive, cinder-block maker was quite a popular item for Sears.

Close-up of The Wizard

Close-up of The Wizard


The Wizard Block Making Machine from an early 1900s Sears specialty catalogue

In what looks like a backwards evolution graphic, a man demonstrates how to use the easy-to-use Wizard block-making machine.

In what looks like a backwards evolution graphic, a man demonstrates how to use the "easy-to-use" Wizard block-making machine.

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