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Posts Tagged ‘sears mill’

The Sears Bandon: Neat, Practical And Modern

January 5th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

The Sears Bandon is a rare bird indeed. The only one I’ve ever found was in Pulaski, Illinois, not far from the Sears Lumber Mill in Cairo, Illinois. That mill was the site of a 40-acre mill where Sears created and produced up to 250 pre-cut kit homes per month. It was a tremendous operation with more than 100 employees at its peak, and 20 acres of outbuildings.

It was also the site of “The Experiment.” Click here to see the only remnant of the Sears Mill in Cairo.

In 2001, whilst doing research on  Sears Homes at the Cairo Public Library, I stumbled across a little item in their vertical file about a Sears Bandon built in nearby Pulaski. Later that day, I hopped into the car and drove out to Pulaski and found my Bandon on the main drag through town. It was perfect in every way.

In March 2010, when I traveled to Illinois to do research for my newest book (”The Sears Homes of Illinois“), I went back to Pulaski to get newer/better photos. While standing on this main drag in this tiny town, I had three people stop and ask me if I needed help.

Speaking as a former long-time resident of Illinois, I don’t miss those long, cold Illinois winters, but I surely do miss the kind, generous, hard-working folks of small-town Midwestern America. They’re truly the crème de la crème of our country.

Below is the information I found in the vertical files at the Cairo Public Library;

The house (identified specifically as the Sears Bandon) was built in 1921. According to this document, the lumber for this kit home was shipped from the Sears mill in Cairo. It gave the following costs:

Cost of The Bandon $2794.00
Plaster (extra)  $133.00
Material to finish attic rooms  $241.00
Complete hot water heating system  $403.66
Wire and light fixtures  $133.66
Labor for carpenter (including masonry work)  $1600.00

Total $5305.32

This document also stated that, in 1924, a Sears Cyclone Barn (shipped from Cairo, IL) was built on the property. The kit barn cost $943.00.

Is there a Sears Home in your neck of the woods? Please send photos to Magnolia2047@gmail.com.

Enjoy the photos!

The Sears Bandon was a beauty, but why wasnt it more popular? Ive only seen one - ever - and that was just outside of Cairo, Illinois.

The Sears Bandon was a beauty, but why wasn't it more popular? I've only seen one - ever - and that was just outside of Cairo, Illinois (image is from 1921 catalog).

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It had a very busy floor plan. Note

It had a very busy floor plan, and it's the only house I've ever seen with a "dining porch." This room - which jutted out from the rest of the house - had ventilation on three sides, and seven windows.

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Close

Close-up of the floorplan shows how busy this house is! Look at the kitchen! The ice box was in the staircase landing. And the kitchen was oh-so tiny!

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And it was a fine-looking house!

And it was a fine-looking house!

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And here is the real-life beauty in Pulaski!

And here is the real-life beauty in Pulaski!

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Nice, isnt it?  :)

Nice, isn't it? :)

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house

The 1921 catalog image included this thumbnail from straight--on.

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Pretty, pretty house!

Pretty, pretty house! While southern Illinois does have some of the nicest people, it also some of the worst, mean, loud and scary-looking dogs! These dogs never did stop barking!

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The  Sears Bandon is perfect in every way!

The Sears Bandon is perfect in every way!

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Its perfect! Down to the details!!

It's perfect! Down to the details!!

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And its in a beautiful, bucolic setting!

And it's in a beautiful, bucolic setting!

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From this angle, you can get a better view of the Dining Porch.

From this angle, you can get a better view of the Dining Porch.

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As a nice bonus, the old barn (built 1924) is still standing, and in beautiful condition.

As a nice bonus, the old barn (built 1924) is still standing, and in beautiful condition.

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The Cyclone Barn was a very popular item for Sears (shown here in the 1920 catalog).

The Cyclone Barn was a very popular item for Sears (shown here in the 1920 catalog).

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Want to contact Rose? Please leave a comment below.

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

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The Race is On! (To Build a Sears Rodessa)

October 23rd, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

Sometime in late 1918, Sears conducted a “race,” building two houses, a Sears Honor Built pre-cut kit home and an identical house with no pre-cut lumber. For their experiment, they chose the Sears Rodessa, a darling little bungalow with clipped gables and oversized  eaves.

The result of this race was thoroughly documented in the 1919 and subsequent Sears Modern Homes catalogs.

It’s a very interesting story with many interesting images.

The “race” was conducted at the Sears Mill in Cairo, Illinois (at the southern most part of Illinois).

Today, those two Rodessas are still standing side by side, and they are the last remnant of the  40-acre mill that was once a substantial manufacturing center, employing more than 100 men, and cutting enough lumber every day to build 10-12 kit homes. The Sears Mill had 20 acres of outbuildings, several sidings of railroad track, and a  massive berm, built to keep out the springtime flooding of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

The pre-cut Honor Bilt Rodessa was the easy winner in this race, with 231 hours to spare (compared to the stick-built house). To learn more about the specifics, read the captions on the photos below.

To learn more about the old Sears Mill in Cairo, click here.

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hosue

Two Rodessas were built side-by-side at the site of the old mill in Cairo.

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House being built Sears Rodessa (1921)

The house they chose to build was the Sears Rodessa (1921).

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Rodessa

Perhaps the Rodessa was chosen for this experiment because it was a "Pretty little home." After all, you probably wouldn't want to build a pretty BIG home for an experiment (1919).

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Comparison of the two building techniques

A thorough comparison of the two building techniques.

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And the ordinary way

In the "ordinary" way, the old hand saw is to blame. In fact, many carpenters would not have used a steam-powered saw at the building site, but would be stuck sawing all the wood "the old fashioned way." The electric saw didn't come into widespread use until 1925 (according to "American Carpenter and Builder" magazine).

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The full page showing the experimeent

The full page showing the experiment.

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Wow.

According to their experiment, a Sears pre-cut home could be built 231 hours faster than a stick-built version of the same house. And this was probably realistic, too. Pre-cut lumber did create a substantial savings of time and money.

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Really ture

Time and money saved - "the modern way."

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I love this. Theyre slouchers.

I love this image. Look at these guys. They're a pair of slackers. All their lumber is pre-cut and ready to use. They can take their time and start the work day with a rest break.

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But look at these poor saps.

But look at these poor saps. They have everything laid out and ready. They even have their saws stacked up against the massive piles of lumber, ready to go. In fact, it looks like they've already started! And there are three guys on this crew.

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The end result is strikingly similar

More than 230 hours AFTER the pre-cut Rodessa was finished, the stick-build Rodessa was finally done. Kinda of like being the very last soul to drag across the finish line at a 26K marathon. These folks are so pooped, they collapsed in exhaustion on the front porch. And the yard is still a mess, full of construction debris! They didn't have the time or energy to tidy things up. Why, they're sitting down before it's finished! The shame of it all!!

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These

Meanwhile, the pre-cut Rodessa was done 230 hours before the stick-built house, and the builders not only tidied up the yard but planted many fine-looking bushes! Pretty darn impressive. You think there's a little subtle message going on here? Looks like it to me! If you buy a pre-cut Sears House, you''ll have time and energy for pretty gardens!

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Sears House - The Rodessa - in Cairo.

Throughout the city of Cairo, you'll find several Rodessas, such as this one. I suspect that the folks at the Sears Mill had several "practice" sessions building the Rodessa before the timed experiment actually took place at the mill.

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Today, those two Rodessas sit side by side, the last remnant of the massive Sears Mill that sat on this site in the early 1900s (in Cairo, IL). I'm sorry to say that I don't know which Rodessa is pre-cut and which one is stick built. If the graphic above is accurate the pre-cut kit house has a stucco foundation and the stick-built has a brick foundation. Next time I'm in Cairo, I'll check that out. BTW, these homes are located on Sears Road.

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To read more about Sears and Roebuck Road, click here.

To read more about the history of the Sears Mill, click here.

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The Niota: 1200 Square Feet For $942

April 12th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

Not a bad deal to buy 1,200 square feet of kit house for less than $1,000, even in 1916!

The Sears Niota - despite its being a good value and a cute house - was not a popular model for Sears.  And yet, according to a small promotional ad that appeared in the 1916 catalog, the Niota had been built in Elmhurst, IN, Westerville, Ohio, Indianapolis, IN, Napleton, MN and Springfield, MO.

And in Wood River, Illinois, too.

The house was offered in StoneKote, which was Sears own stucco-type covering. As with most of the kit homes, buyers could opt for stucco, block, brick, stone or wood. Today, way too many of these homes are now covered with substitute sidings (such as aluminum or vinyl), which makes identification even more difficult.

To read more about the many Sears Homes in Wood River (and Amoco), click here.

Niota

One might hope that those columns are a unique feature to help in identifying the Sears Niota, and yet sometimes, they get removed (1916 catalog).

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Niota catalog 1916

The kitchen was so small you'd have to step out to the porch to change your mind. Lots of rooms on this first floor, and they're all pretty modest.

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niota fp

At least the bedrooms have closets. That's a plus.

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niota

Close-up of the Sears Niota.

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niota wood river

And here it is, in Wood River, Illinois. Notice that those unique columns have been chopped off at the roofline and also covered in that hideous house-hiding PVC material, known as "vinyl siding." The original columns - poking through the porch ceiling as they did - were probably prone to roof leaks and all manner of maintenance problems.

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Niota more

Niotas were built in several places in the Midwest. It'd be fun to see pictures of these Niotas.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn more about my Aunt Addie, click here.

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Cairo, Illinois: Can This City Be Saved?

May 2nd, 2011 Sears Homes 1 comment

Despite a last-minute plea from desperate Missourians, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the plan to flood 132,000 acres of prime Missouri farmland will go forward. Flooding the farms will spare the tiny town of Cairo, Illinois, population - 2,800.

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that as of yesterday (Saturday, April 30th), floodwaters in Cairo crested at 59.2 feet, and have now reached 59.8 feet (as of 3:40 pm, EST). If the levees in Cairo give way, the town will be flooded. Opening up levees on the farmland in Missouri will spare Cairo, and ruin the farmland for years.

The Chicago Tribune is also reporting that crops have already been planted on some of the farms that will be inundated with this “man-made tsunami,” destroying the crops and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage to the local farmers. In addition, about 100 homes would be lost.

Cairo is an interesting little town, and was full of history, but much of their historically significant architecture is gone, and the remnant is in poor condition. A few grand old manses remain, but they’re the exception. Most of the businesses and all of the industry left long ago. Cairo’s downtown is a ghost town, and a virtual trip back in time to the 1960s. To learn more about Cairo’s history, click here.

We’ve got to protect our farms. With the rising costs of food, it’s time to start showing a little respect to the few family farms we have left in this country, many of which are in Missouri.

This time, it might be best to let Cairo be the sacrificial lamb, rather than lose our farmland.

Pictures of Cairo are below.

Entrance to Cairo
Entrance to Cairo. The old flood gates are no longer in working, but the old rivers still work really, really well.

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Part of the charm of the downtown is it really is a step back in time. Notice the vintage cat in the foreground.

down

Downtown Cairo. The barricade is presumably there to protect citizens from collapsing buildings. You'll notice the building on the far right has mostly fallen in on itself. This photo was taken about 11 am in the morning. This is the morning rush hour in downtown Cairo.

Spearmint “Pepsin Gum” surely got their money’s worth out of this old advertisement.

Hospital in Cairo

Is there a doctor in the house?

School

School's out for summer. And for the rest of time.

More views

Capt'n Wades appears to be the only viable business in the whole of downtown. However, this photo was taken in 2003, and when I was there in 2010, this building was collapsing.

Another view

Another store in downtown Cairo, complete with a 1960s Maytag sign.

views

Another view of downtown Cairo. All these stores back up to the Ohio River, and they're all now empty, waiting for nothing fancier than time to take them down. Visiting downtown Cairo really is like taking a step back to another time. Cairo was abandoned - in a hurry in the mid 1960s - when race riots decimated the city. The city went from a population of 13,000+ to 2,800 (current) in a very short time. The business owners and captains of industry are the ones who fled the city, taking their businesses with them.

Throughout the city, there are many such houses, burned out and left to fall down. Note, this shot shows three houses in a row.

Throughout the city, there are many such houses, burned out and left to fall down. Note, this shot shows three burned out houses in a row.

What remain in Cairo, Illinois are many Sears Homes. Most are in marginal condition.

What remain in Cairo, Illinois are many Sears Homes. Many of these Sears Homes are no longer "pretty little homes."

Sears House - The Rodessa - in Cairo.

Sears House - The Rodessa - in Cairo.

An old Sears Homart (prefab house) sits on the edges of the city, not far from the Sears Mill in Cairo, IL

An old Sears Homart (prefab house) sits on the edges of the city, not far from the Sears Mill in Cairo, IL. Homart Homes were post-WW2 Sears Homes that were shipped out in sections, which were then bolted together at the building site. These were radically different from "Sears Modern Homes" which were pre-cut kit homes.

Sears

A glorious billboard at the city's entrance offers such promise.

To learn more about Cairo, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Modern Maggy Wanna-Be: Not!

August 17th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

The Sears Magnolia was the biggest, fanciest and prettiest home. According to legend, there were only a few Magnolias built in the country, and heretofore, only six have been found (Benson, NC., South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana). The sixth was in Nebraska, and has since been torn down.

Everyone loves Sears kit homes. People are enchanted and intrigued by the idea that you could order a kit home out of a mail-order catalog and have it shipped (via train) to your building site. These were true kits, arriving in 12,000-piece kits (including a 75-page instruction book). Sears promised that a man of average abilities could have one assembled in 90 days.

But there’s another reason we love these homes: They’re beautiful. They’re well-designed and thoughtfully arranged, with nice profiles and proportions and lines.

Recently I was driving through a 1990s neighborhood and spotted this house (second photo below - with beige vinyl siding). If the Sears Magnolia were built today, it might look something like this. However, in my humble opinion, this is not an attractive home. It lacks those nice profiles and proportions and lines. It is, to be blunt, uninspiring and boring.

Then again, I’m just biding my time here until they figure out this time travel so I can get back to where I belong: The 1920s.

A Sears Magnolia in Benson:
maggy_benson_nc

Contemporary Magnolia Maybe Sorta Kinda

Modern house in modern area

Modern house in modern area

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

The Prettiest Little Sears Mitchell That You Ever Did See…

August 12th, 2010 Sears Homes 7 comments

In Fall 2005, I traveled with a dear friend to the New River Gorge in West Virginia. Along the way, we passed five little Sears Homes in a row. It was late in the day and the sun was setting, and I thought I’d never forget where those little houses were. I meant to make a note of it as soon as we arrived at our destination - and I completely forgot.

In 2008 and 2009,  I went back to West Virginia several times to give talks in Beckley, Lewisburg and Charleston. Each time, Ersela, Sandy and I (a kit home triumvirate) drove countless hours trying to find those five Sears Homes in a row. I finally gave up.

And then on my last day in Lewisburg, Skip Deegan asked me to take a ride with him through Rainelle, WV. Finally, after years of wondering, I rediscovered not five, but 10 Sears Homes on one street in greater downtown Rainelle. What a bonus! Below is one of my favorite finds of that trip. A perfect little Sears Mitchell, right on the main drag through town.

Notice the beautiful mountains in the background!

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

Sears Mitchell from an early 1930s catalog

Sears Mitchell from an early 1930s catalog

Sears Mitchell in Rainelle, WV

Sears Mitchell in Rainelle, WV

The Lost Sears Homes of Atlantic City, NJ

August 12th, 2010 Sears Homes 7 comments

A few days ago, I was looking through the pages of my 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog when I happened upon this page (see below). According to this little graphic, there were four Sears homes built in a row somewhere in a 1920s neighborhood in Atlantic City, NJ. I’d imagine there are many other Sears Homes in the area, too.

I live in Norfolk, Virginia and as soon as I can locate the general area of these little pretties (with a little help from my friends hopefully), it’s my intention to drive up there and check out the rest of the city.

There was a massive Sears Mill in Newark, NJ, so I’m confident that there are many Sears Homes in and around the New Jersey area.

In posting this info, I’m hoping and praying some kind soul that’s familiar with the area will drop me a note and tell me where to find these four little Marinas in Atlantic City, NJ. Simply post your response in the comments section (below) and leave an email address and you’ll hear from me pretty quickly.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

The Little Marinas of Atlantic City, NJ

The Little Marinas of Atlantic City, NJ

This is a Sears Marina. This is a close-up of the house Im looking for in Atlantic City, NJ

This is a Sears Marina. This is a close-up of the house I'm looking for in Atlantic City, NJ

Close-up of the other Marina with a shed (flat) former. Theres one of these in this grouping in Atlantic City, NJ

Close-up of the "other" Marina with a shed (flat) former. There's one of these in this grouping in Atlantic City, NJ

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Everything I know about the Sears Homes in Atlantic City, I learned from this paragraph in the 1923 Modern Homes catalog.

Everything I know about the Sears Homes in Atlantic City, I learned from this paragraph in the 1923 Modern Homes catalog.

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Cover of the 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Cover of the 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Closing the Doors at Jim Walters Homes

August 10th, 2010 Sears Homes 1 comment

When I was first married in 1978, my then-husband and I started looking at kit homes from Aladdin, Lowes and Jim Walters. It was so fun to sit down and really study the 75-page catalogs that had arrived in our mailbox. We’d dream and scheme and talk about building a home of our own. Alas, it never happened for us, and we ended up buying a 650-square foot cinder block house. It’d actually been a two-car garage and had been converted into a tiny little two-bedroom house.

Through the years, we continued to dream about building a kit home of our own but it never happened. And then in 1999, I wrote my first article on Sears kit homes, and that article led to me writing, The Houses That Sears Built.

Today, one of the questions I’m most frequently asked is, “Does anyone offer kit homes today?”

In 1981, Aladdin closed their kit home company. A few years later, Lowes stopped offering kit homes. And then in 2009, Jim Walters Homes closed their business. The last companies offering kit homes (that I know of) are selling log homes. Not quite the same thing as a little bungalow from Sears or Wards.

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Cairo, Illinois: A Trip Back in Time

August 5th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

The first time I saw downtown Cairo, I stopped my car in the middle of the street and stared in disbelief. The entire business district, which comprised several blocks of brick streets in beautiful condition, was empty - deserted and devoid of all movement. Had it not been for a piece of trash blowing down the middle of the street, the scene could have been a still-frame.

The stillness, the quiet, the absence of any sign of life was fascinating, yet also left me wondering if the next sound I heard would be the theme from The Twilight Zone with a voice-over by Rod Serling.

Looking at the stunning late-1800s commercial architecture - most of which was in original condition and all of which had been abandoned - my intuitive sense told me that folks had left this place in a hurry. And as I began researching the area, I learned my hunch was on mark.

In the mid-1960s, racial unrest and riots were a sad part of the American landscape, but in Cairo, things went especially badly. African-Americans, weary of Jim Crow laws and disparate treatment, threatened to boycott businesses that employed only whites. White business owners responded by closing their stores. Large numbers of families - white and black - left the area and never returned. The population plummeted. Today, downtown Cairo is a ghost town - an incredible time capsule - frozen in the 1960s. The city that once boasted of 14,000 citizens now has about 3000 people living within its borders.

In the early 1900s, Cairo was the site of a 40-acre Sears Mill, where Sears kit homes were milled and shipped out to all 48 states. It was a busy, industrial town and the Sears Mill was one of several businesses there.

I’ve returned to Cairo several times since that first visit in 2002, and each time, I make a point to drive through that incredible downtown area. I park my car and stare. I stare at the old buildings which are in fair to decent condition and still look much like they did when built 100+ years ago. I look at the store fronts whose doorways have not been darkened by a customer in many years. I study the two movie theatres that look much like they did when built in the 1920s and 30s. I take in the long view and look at the streetscapes, devoid of movement or activity.

Just behind those fantastic old commercial buildings lies a seawall and the Ohio River. I do believe that the city could build a fantastic tourism industry off this downtown area alone. I’ve never seen a sight like it.

Apparently, word is getting out, because on my last visit, I saw two tourists taking a plethora of photos of this eerie but fascinating downtown. However, if you decide to visit - come prepared. Cairo has no public bathrooms, no fast-food joints and no public water fountains. About 15 minutes away, just across the Ohio River, is Wickliffe, Kentucky - site of the nearest public restroom. The nearest Burger Doodle is 30 miles southwest in Cape Girardeau.

One thing Cairo does have is plenty of vacant lots, such as 1501 Commercial Avenue. This corner lot is a few blocks from the downtown area and according to the 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog, it was the site of a beautiful “Elsmore” (Honor-Bilt home). The testimonial on page 111 of the catalog reads, “Built by R. P. Fitzjearl, 1501 Commercial Avenue, Cairo, IL. He says, ‘Already-cut lumber saves one-third of time. Plans as simple as reading a book.’”

When I drive through Cairo, I look at all those empty lots and try not to think about how many Sears homes have been torn down in the intervening years. Several? Dozens? Or worse?

Thus far, I’ve identified about 30 Sears homes in Cairo. Many are in poor condition and a few more may be torn down before the city awakens to its architecture treasures. The addresses of these Sears homes are at the Cairo Public Library on Washington Street and make for a fun driving tour. Learn more about Sears Homes here.

Entrance to Cairo

Entrance to Cairo

This was once an architectural gem: An 1860s building with Mansard roof and round windows.

This was once an architectural gem: An 1860s building with Mansard roof and round windows.

The last remnant of the Sears Mill are two little Sears Modern Homes (The Rodessas) built side by side to prove the superiority of pre-cut kit homes to traditional stick built lumber.

The last remnant of the Sears Mill in Cairo, Illinois are two little Sears Modern Homes (The Rodessas) built side by side to prove the superiority of pre-cut kit homes to traditional stick built lumber. They were built in 1919, and are now surrounded by acres and acres of farmland. The Sears Mill closed in 1940, and the buildings (mills and storage sheds) disappeared sometime later.

Original catalog image featuring the little Sears Rodessa

Original catalog image featuring the little Sears Rodessa

Sears Modern Homes and The Mill in Cairo, Illinois

August 2nd, 2010 Sears Homes 3 comments

In May 1911, Sears opened up a mill in Cairo, Illinois. Cairo’s location at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers made it a natural for shipping and distribution. At the turn of the last century, Cairo (pronounced “Care-Roe”) could boast of having four major rail lines, enabling it to become a centralized shipping point for lumber harvested from the South and sent to the North.

The Sears Roebuck Mill, also known as the Illinois Lumber Company, got its start when Sears Roebuck paid $12,500 for a 40-acre tract in North Cairo.

On May 21, 1911, The Chicago Tribune reported that Sears intended to build a $250,000 plant. A few weeks later, The Cairo Evening Citizen had doubled that figure and reported “Half a million to be cost of new Sears Roebuck Plant” (July 29, 1911).

In November 1911, Sears ran a two-page advertisement in American Carpenter and Builder Magazine headlined “Great News for Builders.” The advertisement (see below) said,

Shipments have begun from our second and newest great lumber plant in Illinois. We can deliver you bright, fresh, clean lumber at manufacturer’s prices almost as quickly as you can haul makeshift sizes and weatherworn stock from a high priced neighboring lumber yard. Our mill work is sheltered from rain, sun, soot and wind. Our new Illinois plant is located on two of the largest and fastest railroads in the North with direct connections to over 20 different railroads. (Weatherworn stock was a reference to the fact that, unlike Sears, many mills did not keep their lumber under roof.)

In March 1912, F. E. Van Alstine, Superintendent of the Sears mill was quoted in The Cairo Evening Citizen as saying that Sears had chosen Cairo because of “their low freight rates, superior shipping facilities and other natural and commercial advantages, (which) made the city more desirable than St. Louis, East St. Louis, Paducah (Kentucky) or Memphis” (Tennessee).

But later that month, the rains came and the floodwaters rose, nearly destroying the brand new mill in Northern Cairo. On April 5th, The Cairo Evening Citizen reported that the “main building of the new Sears Roebuck factory was hurled off its foundation and is leaning toward the east. Just what damage was done to these buildings could not be ascertained, as there was no way to reach them except by skiff.”

In mid-April, the paper said that all seven lumber sheds had been torn from their foundations and much of the lumber inside the sheds had simply floated away.

By August, The Cairo Evening Citizen happily reported that despite the hard times and high waters, Sears Roebuck had decided to remain in Cairo. It also reported that about half the lumber sheds had been rebuilt and some of that floating lumber had been recovered. The same article reported that the folks at Sears corporate headquarters in Chicago were so pleased with Van Alstine’s post-flood restoration work that they presented him with a brand new automobile.

The mill produced everything for the Ready-Cut (precut) Sears homes except for millwork. The Sears mill located in Norwood, Ohio, supplied millwork; windows, doors and interior trim and moldings.

By the early 1930s, sales of Ready-Cut homes had plummeted and the mill began looking for other ways to generate income. They began building crating material for tractors and other large equipment, including Frigidaire refrigerators and appliances sold by Sears. In the late 30s, the mill produced prefabricated buildings for the camps which housed workers in the Civilian Conservation Corps. Wheeler relates that a typical CCC camp (which included several different buildings) required 400,000 feet of lumber and about 35 of these camps were milled and shipped by the Cairo plant.

In 1940, Sears closed the plant and sold it to the employees. Shortly after the employees purchased the plant, they obtained a contract to build massive crates for shipping B-17 and B-29 bombers overseas for the war effort.

After World War II ended, the former Sears Mill - now called Illinois Lumber Company - drafted and published their own book of house plans and tried to sell Ready-Cut homes again, but without success. The Cairo Evening Citizen relates that the plant was liquidated and closed in November 1955. The article adds this interesting aside: “Like several other Cairo lumber industries, it slowly died because the wood articles it manufactured were supplanted by iron and steel.”

All that remains today at the site of the Cairo mill are two Sears kit homes - two Rodessas - which were built as part of an experiment in 1921, to prove the superiority of Ready-Cut homes over traditional stick built homes.

Not surprisingly, Cairo has a significant collection of Sears Homes, such as this “Hollywood” (see below).

From the 1919 catalog, a Sears Hollywood

From the 1919 catalog, a Sears Hollywood

Sears Hollywood in Cairo, Illinois

Sears Hollywood in Cairo, Illinois

Below is an advertisement from the 1911 American Carpenter and Builder Magazine.

To see pictures of Cairo today, click here.

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