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Posts Tagged ‘sears modern homes department’

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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house also

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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“You Will Like the Josephine The Longer You Live In It…”

May 4th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

So promised the catalog advertisement for the “Honor Bilt” house, The Josephine.

This diminutive 840-square-foot house provides a nice example of the difference between “Honor Bilt, Already Cut” houses and the “Lighter Bilt, Not Cut or Fitted” houses.

The Honor-Bilt Josephine was offered for $1,470 while its cheaper cousin (Lighter Bilt) was $1,052. In today’s economic clime, that may not seem like a big difference but imagine a Realtor showing you two houses that appear to be the same, and both with 840 square feet. One is selling for $105,000 and the other is selling for $147,000. Which one would you choose?

And yet, the Honor Bilt really was the far better value.  These homes 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.

Lighter Bilt” was another kettle of fish. These homes were really not intended for cold-weather climates. Wall studs were on 24-inch centers, and there were single headers over doors and windows, no subfloor and no underlying exterior sheathing. Those things make a big difference.

And then there was the whole pre-cut vs. non-cut lumber. You’d have to be taking some heavy doses of laudanum to think that non-precut lumber was a good plan.

To appreciate the value of precut lumber, think back to the early 1900s. Electricity was in its infancy, and in many cities, electricity was turned off each night at 11 p.m. for six hours of repairs and maintenance! In 1910, only 10% of homes had electricity. By 1930, that number had jumped to 70%. (Source:  Electrifying America:  Social Meanings of  a New Technology, David E. Nye.)  As late as December 1917, American Carpenter and Builder Magazine was still describing electric lights as a luxury that a builder should incorporate into a modern city home.

To cut a piece of lumber with a handsaw required time, strength and a degree of expertise (for a good square cut). Electric saws and the heavy duty wiring to handle the amperage draw were a thing of the future. In fact, the electric handsaw (a portable circular saw) wasn’t widely available until 1925. A fascinating news item in the February 1925 American Carpenter and Builder heralded the “new invention” with this commentary:  “The portable circular saw does the sawing for 15 carpenters.”

In 1921, Sears conducted an “experiment’ building two Rodessas (small frame homes) side by side at the site of the Sears mill in Cairo, Illinois. One house was erected using Sears’ precut lumber. The second house was built using traditional construction techniques; no precut lumber. The precut house was fully assembled in 352 carpenter hours and the non-precut home was completed in 583 carpenter hours.

In short, the fellow building his own Sears kit home would probably be doing his sawing with an old-fashioned, man-powered saw. The 1927 Wardway Homes catalog estimated that the average two-bedroom stick-built home required about 4,000 cuts with a saw.

That’s a whole lot of sawing that could be spared by purchasing an “Already Cut” Sears Home.

To learn more about Honor Bilt and Lighter Bilt houses, click here.

To buy Rose’s newest book on Sears kit homes, click here.

The Josephine, as shown in the 1921 catalog.

The Josephine, as shown in the 1921 catalog.

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Look in the difference in price between Honor Bilt and Lighter Bilt.

Look in the difference in price between Honor Bilt and Lighter Bilt.

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This 840-square foot house was just the right size for many families in the early 1920s.

This 840-square foot house was just the right size for many families in the early 1920s. And the living room has space for a piano and a bench!

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Heres a Josephine in Mt. Healthy, Ohio. Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

Here's a Josephine in Mt. Healthy, Ohio. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Cincinnatti, Ohio.

This little cutie - discovered and photographed by Donna Bakke - is in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Effingham, Illinois

Yellow seems like an appropriate color for the happy little Josephine.

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Also in Mt. Healthy, OH

Donna found this Josephine in Mt. Healthy, OH. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Cincinnatti, OH

Another one in Cincinnati, OH. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Mt. Healthy

This is my favorite - and it's in stunningly original condition. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Mt. Healthy

Look at the details around the front porch! (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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My favorite one in Mt. Healthy

Close-up on the porch details.

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Awesome

And the house in Mt. Healthy is a perfect match! (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To see more pretty pictures of old houses, click here.

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The Story of a Life, and a Sears Home

May 19th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

Some stories are so compelling and inspiring that they stay with you for a lifetime.

The story of Henry and Ethel Mohr is one such story.

In 1928, 12-year-old Muriel Mohr returned home from school to find the charred remnants of the Mohr family homestead. It must have been devastating. However, I suspect that Muriel - like most young people - was watching her parents to see how they responded to such an unthinkable tragedy. And I suspect that Henry and Ethel Mohr knew that this experience was a teachable moment. They were teaching their young daughter - by their own example - how to keep going forward when life deals you an unfair blow.

Despite the fact that they lost their house and most of its furnishings, Henry and Ethel did not throw in the towel and give up on their piece of the American dream. These second-generation Americans were not about to walk away from the plot of ground they’d spent years nurturing and cultivating and farming. They weren’t about to give up on the 160-acre Illinois homestead that Henry’s parents - Frederick and Wilhelmina Mohr - had homesteaded when they immigrated from Germany. By 1928, Henry and Ethel and Frederick and Wilhelmina had 74 years invested in this patch of fertile Midwestern farmland.

In 1928, the Henry Mohrs turned to Sears Roebuck to transform their burden into a blessing, and that blessing took the shape of a beautiful little red and white bungalow that’d endure for generations to come.

Building that house for his family, I’m confident that Henry and his brother-in-law Frank paid close attention to each and every detail in that 75-page instruction book, and the accompanying blueprints. I’d bet money that when the Mohrs built their Sears Obsorn, they knew it’d be a house that’d outlive them, and their children.

When Muriel Mohr married Dean Riggs in 1939, they took their vows in the Osborn’s living room. After the war, Muriel and Dean moved into a little house on the edge of the Mohr’s farmstead. Muriel and Dean’s two children (Dennis and Linda) grew up in that little house. Dennis and Linda had only to scurry through a grove of fruit trees to visit Grandma and Grandpa’s house. In 1975, Ethel passed on and exactly two months later, Henry followed her. Muriel inherited The Osborn, and in 1978, she and her husband moved into the house her father built.

The architectural historian in me thinks back to 1928, where I can imagine Muriel’s father putting the finishing touches on their fine, new modern home. I can picture Henry Mohr pausing from his work to explain the import of this house to his little girl. Maybe he took her 12-year-old hands in his wizened, calloused hands, looked into her eyes and said, “I built this house for you, and for your children, and for their children. Always remember, if you could see a father’s love, it’d look like just this house: Strong, true and enduring.”

Since 2002, I’ve been interviewed hundreds of times by hundreds of reporters in too many cities to count. After the story appears in print or on television, reporters consistently tell me that their piece on Sears homes generated more viewer/reader response than any story they’ve ever done. There’s a reason for that, and the Riggs’ story helped me better understand the reason.

There’s so much more to this story than kit homes sold out of a mail-order catalog. Each and every home is a piece of the tapestry that is the fabric of America and her people and her success. Homesteaders and city dwellers alike worked and struggled and strived to improve their lot in life and to create a better life for themselves and their children and their children’s children. They were willing to give up a year’s wages to secure a piece of land, and they were willing to place an order for 12,000 pieces of building material from a large mail-order company in Chicago, Illinois, and then - working nights and weekends - assemble those pieces into something that resembled a house.

The Riggs’ family story, multiplied thousands of times, gives a thumbnail sketch of the story of Illinois and the story of our country. In the first years of the 20th Century, magazines and newspapers of the day consistently promoted this message: It’s your patriotic duty to become a homeowner. The early Sears Modern Homes catalogues stated this basic philosophy in different ways, but there was an elementary core truth therein: Homeowners have a vested interest in their community and communities with a large percentage of homeowners will enjoy a greater proportion of  prosperity, stability and peace.

In one of my favorite movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey gets to see what his town, Bedford Falls, would have looked like if he’d never been born.  Without George’s positive influence and his struggling Building and Loan, the modern subdivision of Bailey Park would never have been developed and countless citizens would never have had the opportunity to become homeowners.

Without the Bailey Building and Loan, George finds that Bedford Falls is full of substandard rental properties. And because there are so many rental properties, there is less stability in the family structure and in a broader context, there is less stability in the whole community.  In this alternate sans-George world, Ernie the cab driver does not live with his family in their own “nice little home in Bailey Park,” but instead, his home is a decrepit shack in Pottersville and it’s implied that this hardship is partly to blame for the fact that Ernie’s wife “ran off three years ago and took the kid.”

The streets of this alternate-Bedford Falls (now named Pottersville) are lined with liquor stores, night clubs, pawnbrokers, striptease shows and pool halls. Gaudy neon signs flash “girls, girls, girls” and illumine the night-time corridors of Main Street. Citizens are neither calm nor law-abiding and brusque policemen struggle to keep peace and order.

George’s revelation that he really had a “wonderful life” stemmed in part from the realization that his meager efforts to give people the chance to become homeowners gave them a feeling of accomplishment, prosperity, security and pride. By extension, the whole community benefited in important, significant and enduring ways.

Perhaps Sears was to Illinois what George Bailey was to Bedford Falls. Sears empowered and enabled tens of thousands of working-class and immigrant families to build their own home. What would countless Midwestern towns have become without Sears homes?  How many towns in the Midwest were spared the fate of becoming a Pottersville? Probably many.

Sears Modern Homes made a significant difference in many communities throughout Illinois and the Midwest. I’m sure of that.  (The story above and photos are an excerpt from The Sears Homes of Illinois The History Press, 2010), and may not be reprinted or reproduced without written permission. To buy a copy of that book, click here.

And did you know that the best (and most wholesome) ice cream in America is located within minutes of this Osborn? Learn more about the Dairy Barn in Sidney, IL by clicking here. It really is the World’s Best Ice cream!

Catalog page

In 2002, Muriel Mohr Riggs (the 12-year-old girl mentioned above) came to a lecture I gave in Champaign, IL, and she brought this catalog with her. This was *THE* catalog from which her parents ordered their Osborn. She explained that "Mama tore out the price on this page" because she didn't want anyone knowing what they'd paid for their Osborn.

house page

You'll notice it was first smudged with dark ink, and THEN torn out!

The Osborn

The Osborn from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

And the creme de la creme, my #1 favorite, is this Sears Osborn in Sidney, Illinois. This house sits on a Centennial Farm (100 years in the same family), and was built in 1926 by Harry Mohr and his wife, Ethel. Its one of the finest Sears Homes Ive ever had the pleasure to see.

This Sears Osborn - built by the Mohrs in 1928 - sits on a Centennial Farm (100 years in the same family). It's one of the finest Sears Homes I've ever had the pleasure to see. It's just a beauty in every way. The Osborn was built to replace an old family home that burned down.

farm

Something even more rare than a perfect Sears Osborn is a Centennial, family-owned farm.

Close-up

Close-up of the Illinois Centennial Farm sign.

A beautiful home in an equally beautiful setting

A beautiful home in an equally beautiful setting

More beauty

The side yard of the Mohr's Osborn.

Front yard views

Front yard views

photo from the family album

Muriel Mohr (Riggs) with her father, the home's original owner and builder. (Photo is courtesy of the Riggs' family and may not be reproduced without permission.)

family photo

A page from the family photo album, showing Muriel Mohr Riggs and her husband, seated outside their Sears Osborn. (Photo is courtesy of the Riggs' family and may not be reproduced without permission.)

family photo

Black and white photo of the Sears Osborn. (Photo is courtesy of the Riggs' family and may not be reproduced without permission.)

These houses were shipped in wooden crates, marked with the owners name and destination (train station). The shipping crates were often salvaged and the wood was reused to build coal bins or basement shelving. Heres one such remnant found in the basement of the Osborn.

These houses were shipped in wooden crates, marked with the owner's name and destination (train station). The shipping crates were often salvaged and the wood was reused to build coal bins or basement shelving. Here's one such remnant found in the basement of the Osborn.

guarantee

This certificate of deposit provided an promise that if the quality of the building materials was in any way inferior, the buyer would receive a full refund of his money, plus 6% annual interest. Pretty good deal.

close up

Close up of the dollar amount remitted for the Sears Osborn.

Close-up of the unique columns on the Mohrs Osborn.

Close-up of the unique columns on the Mohr's Osborn.

To learn more about the Sears Homes of Illinois, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To read another article at this site, click here.

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