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Number One Most Frequently Asked Question: How Do You Identify Sears Homes?

April 4th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

The number one question I’m asked again and again - How do you identify a Sears Kit Home?

First, begin by eliminating the obvious. Sears sold these homes between 1908-1940. If your home was built outside of that time frame, it can not be a Sears catalog home. Period. Exclamation mark!

The nine easy signs follow:

1) Look for stamped lumber in the basement or attic. Sears Modern Homes were kit homes and the framing members were stamped with a letter and a number to help facilitate construction. Today, those marks can help prove that you have a kit home.

2) Look for shipping labels. These are often found on the back of millwork (baseboard molding, door and window trim, etc).

3) Check house design using a book with good quality photos and original catalog images. For Sears, I recommend, “The Sears Homes of Illinois” (all color photos). For Wardway, there’s “The Mail-Order Homes of Montgomery Ward.”

4) Look in the attic and basement for any paperwork (original blueprints, letters, etc). that might reveal that you have a Sears home.

5) Courthouse records. From 1911 to 1933, Sears offered home mortgages. Using grantor records, you may find a few Sears mortgages and thus, a few Sears homes.

6) Hardware fixtures. Sears homes built during the 1930s often have a small circled “SR” cast into the bathtub in the lower corner (furthest from the tub spout and near the floor) and on the underside of the kitchen or bathroom sink.

7) Goodwall sheet plaster. This was an early quasi-sheetrock product offered by Sears, and can be a clue that you have a kit home.

8 ) Unique column arrangement on front porch and five-piece eave brackets (see pictures below).

9) Original building permits. In cities that have retained original building permits, you’ll often find “Sears” listed as the home’s original architect.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To read another article, click here.

Lumber was numbered to facilitate construction

Lumber was numbered to facilitate construction

Numbers

The numbers are usually less than an inch tall and will be found near the edge of the board.

The Sears Magnolia was also known as Model #2089

See the faint markings on this lumber? This mark was made in blue grease pencil and reads, "2089" and was scribbled on the board when the lumber left Cairo, Illinois. This was a photo taken in a Sears Magnolia in North Carolina. The Sears Magnolia was also known as Model #2089

Sears Magnolia was also known as #2089

Sears Magnolia was also known as Model #2089.

Shipping labels can also be a clue that you have a Sears Homes

Shipping labels can also be a clue that you have a Sears Home.

"The Sears Homes of Illinois" has more than 200 color photos of the most popular designs that Sears offered and can be very helpful in identifying Sears Homes.

Ephemera can help identify a house as a Sears Home

Ephemera can help identify a house as a Sears Home. This picture came from an original set of Sears "Honor Bilt" blueprints.

Ephemera

Ephemera and paperwork can provide proof that you do indeed have a Sears Home.

Goodwall Sheet Plaster

Goodwall Sheet Plaster was sold in the pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs. This was a "fireproof" product that was much like modern sheetrock.

About two dozen of Sears most popular designs had a unique column arrangement that makes identification easier. The Vallonia was one of those 24 Sears Homes with that unique column arrangement.

About two dozen of Sears most popular designs had a unique column arrangement that makes identification easier. The Vallonia was one of those 24 Sears Homes with that unique column arrangement.

Close-up of the columns.

Close-up of the columns.

And in the flesh...

And in the flesh...

Houses should be a perfect match to original drawings found in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Houses should be a perfect match to original drawings found in the Sears Modern Homes catalog. This is where people get into trouble. They ignore the details.

Sears Mitchell in Elgin, Illinois.

Sears "Mitchell" in Elgin, Illinois.

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The Sears Winona, as featured in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The house in Raleigh (see below) is just a spot-on match, a rarity in a house of this age!

The Sears Winona, as featured in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The house in Raleigh (see below) is just a spot-on match, a rarity in a house of this age!

Sears Winona in Raleigh, looking PERFECT!

Sears Winona in Raleigh, looking PERFECT!

Sears Auburn in Halifax, NC

Sears Auburn

And a dazzling Auburn in Halifax, NC.

And a dazzling Auburn in Halifax, NC.

Sears Pheonix from the 1919 Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Pheonix from the 1919 Modern Homes catalog.

And a lovely Sears Pheonix in Newman, IL. Photo is courtesy Rebecca Hunter.

And a lovely Sears Pheonix in Newman, IL. Photo is courtesy Rebecca Hunter.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Send Rose an email at thorntonrose@hotmail.com

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Beyond Standard Addition (Carlinville’s OTHER Kit Homes)

January 20th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

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

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

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

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

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

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

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

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

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

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Sears Beaumont in Carlinville, Illinois

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

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Sears Sunbeam, as shown in the 1919 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Sunbeam, as shown in the 1919 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Sunbeam in Carlinville.

Sears Sunbeam in Carlinville.

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Sears Lebanon from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Lebanon from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

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

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

To learn more about Standard Addition, click here.

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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

Poor Little Aladdin Shadowlawn

August 17th, 2010 Sears Homes 1 comment

In the 1980s, I rode by this house (see pics below) and saw that it had been lifted from its foundation, and according to the placard in the window, was headed to a new site, about 2 miles west on Portsmouth Blvd (Route 337).  A new foundation was prepared at the new site - just down the road - and then one day the house was moved.

Now, in 2010, the house is again standing in harm’s way. Across the street from this spacious two-story bungalow is a sprawling, growing, mega-monster shopping mall and complex, with the requisite Applebys, Olive Garden, Lowes, Home Depot, BJs, Walmart, 16-screen movie house, Michaels, Target, Dillards and about 250 more homogenized American stores.

I’d be surprised if this house is not already zoned commercial, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the house is purchased and demolished by some over-zealous developer. Pity, too. The house pictured here is a classic Aladdin Shadowlawn, one of Aladdin’s fancier kit homes.

Aladdin was based in Bay City, Michigan and started selling kit homes in 1906. They remained in business until 1981, selling about 75,000 kit homes. (Thanks to Dale Wolicki for the stats on Aladdin!) The Hampton Roads area has dozens of Aladdin kit homes, probably because of the Aladdin mill in nearby Greensboro, North Carolina.

However, we may soon have one less.

To read more about the kit homes in Hampton Roads, click here.

Aladdin Shadowlawn in Chesapeake, VA

Aladdin Shadowlawn in Chesapeake, VA

Aladdin Shadowlawn from the 1919 catalog

Aladdin Shadowlawn from the 1919 catalog

Is That A Sears Kit Home? 9 Easy Ways to Tell

August 15th, 2010 Sears Homes 6 comments

The number one question I’m asked again and again - How do you identify a Sears Kit Home?

First, begin by eliminating the obvious. Sears sold these homes between 1908-1940. If your home was built outside of that time frame, it can not be a Sears catalog home. Period. Exclamation mark!

The nine easy signs follow:

1) Look for stamped lumber in the basement or attic. Sears Modern Homes were kit homes and the framing members were stamped with a letter and a number to help facilitate construction. Today, those marks can help prove that you have a kit home.

2) Look for shipping labels. These are often found on the back of millwork (baseboard molding, door and window trim, etc).

3) Check house design using a book with good quality photos and original catalog images. For Sears, I recommend, “The Sears Homes of Illinois” (all color photos). For Wardway, there’s “The Mail-Order Homes of Montgomery Ward.”

4) Look in the attic and basement for any paperwork (original blueprints, letters, etc). that might reveal that you have a Sears home.

5) Courthouse records. From 1911 to 1933, Sears offered home mortgages. Using grantor records, you may find a few Sears mortgages and thus, a few Sears homes.

6) Hardware fixtures. Sears homes built during the 1930s often have a small circled “SR” cast into the bathtub in the lower corner (furthest from the tub spout and near the floor) and on the underside of the kitchen or bathroom sink.

7) Goodwall sheet plaster. This was an early quasi-sheetrock product offered by Sears, and can be a clue that you have a kit home.

8 ) Unique column arrangement on front porch and five-piece eave brackets (see pictures below).

9) Original building permits. In cities that have retained original building permits, you’ll often find “Sears” listed as the home’s original architect.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To read another article, click here.

Lumber was numbered to facilitate construction

Lumber was numbered to facilitate construction

Numbers

The numbers are usually less than an inch tall and will be found near the edge of the board.

The Sears Magnolia was also known as Model #2089

See the faint markings on this lumber? This mark was made in blue grease pencil and reads, "2089" and was scribbled on the board when the lumber left Cairo, Illinois. This was a photo taken in a Sears Magnolia in North Carolina. The Sears Magnolia was also known as Model #2089

Sears Magnolia was also known as #2089

Sears Magnolia was also known as Model #2089.

Shipping labels can also be a clue that you have a Sears Homes

Shipping labels can also be a clue that you have a Sears Home.

"The Sears Homes of Illinois" has more than 200 color photos of the most popular designs that Sears offered and can be very helpful in identifying Sears Homes.

Ephemera can help identify a house as a Sears Home

Ephemera can help identify a house as a Sears Home. This picture came from an original set of Sears "Honor Bilt" blueprints.

Ephemera

Ephemera and paperwork can provide proof that you do indeed have a Sears Home.

Haa

Plumbing fixtures - such as this bathtub - can provide clues, as well. I've found this "SR" (Sears Roebuck) stamp on bathtubs, sinks and toilets. On the sink, it's found on the underside, and on toilets, it's found in the tank, near the casting date.

Goodwall Sheet Plaster

Goodwall Sheet Plaster was sold in the pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs. This was a "fireproof" product that was much like modern sheetrock.

About two dozen of Sears most popular designs had a unique column arrangement that makes identification easier. The Vallonia was one of those 24 Sears Homes with that unique column arrangement.

About two dozen of Sears most popular designs had a unique column arrangement that makes identification easier. The Vallonia was one of those 24 Sears Homes with that unique column arrangement.

Close-up of the columns.

Close-up of the columns.

And in the flesh...

And in the flesh...

Houses should be a perfect match to original drawings found in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Houses should be a perfect match to original drawings found in the Sears Modern Homes catalog. This is where people get into trouble. They ignore the details.

Sears Mitchell in Elgin, Illinois.

Sears "Mitchell" in Elgin, Illinois.

* * *

The Sears Winona, as featured in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The house in Raleigh (see below) is just a spot-on match, a rarity in a house of this age!

The Sears Winona, as featured in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The house in Raleigh (see below) is just a spot-on match, a rarity in a house of this age!

Sears Winona in Raleigh, looking PERFECT!

Sears Winona in Raleigh, looking PERFECT!

Sears Auburn in Halifax, NC

Sears Auburn

And a dazzling Auburn in Halifax, NC.

And a dazzling Auburn in Halifax, NC.

Sears Pheonix from the 1919 Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Pheonix from the 1919 Modern Homes catalog.

And a lovely Sears Pheonix in Newman, IL. Photo is courtesy Rebecca Hunter.

And a lovely Sears Pheonix in Newman, IL. Photo is courtesy Rebecca Hunter.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

* * *

Send Rose an email at thorntonrose@hotmail.com

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

* * *

The Prettiest Little Sears Mitchell That You Ever Did See…

August 12th, 2010 Sears Homes 6 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