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Sweet Home, Alabama (Sears Magnolia)

April 26th, 2014 Sears Homes 6 comments

Sometime in 2005, the new owner of the Sears Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama sent me several dozen photos of the house. Recently, I rediscovered the CDs. Those photos reminded me that I also had a 1984 newspaper article about that Magnolia.

Unfortunately, I do not have any record of whose photos these are, so they appear below without attribution. I’m hoping someone reading this might help me figure out who took those pictures!

Below are the photos, and the 1984 article from The Anniston Star.

Piedmont boasts a Sears Catalog Mansion (November 1, 1984)

by Viveca Novak

Piedmont - When the late doctor Fain Webb and his wife filled out the order form Magnolia, the catalog description likened the Magnolia to the “famous residence at Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the poet Longfellow composed his immortal works.”

The Magnolia rolled into Piedmont in 1921 on a box car one day. Accompanying instructions told the dentist and his school-teacher wife how to assemble everythnig into the configuration of a dwelling.

“Everyone in Piedmont thought it was the prettiest house in town,” remembers Piedmont native Louise Golden. “Little did my mother dream that we would ever own the house.”

It was one day in 1964 that Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Woolf, Mrs. Golden’s parents, got a call from the Webb’s daughter who offered to sell them the homestead for the unbelievably low sum of $12,500.

At the time, Mrs. Woolf was 60 and her husband was 80, retired from years in the Inn business that included running the Piedmont Hotel in the late 1920s. With the help of a $20,000 loan from the Small Business Administration, the Woolfs made the necessary adjustments to complete their dream.

On January 1965, the Colonial Inn opened its doors for supper.

Four bedrooms upstairs were rented to help repay the loan, “but they were very careful about who they rented to, ” says Mrs. Golden, who returned to Piedmont to help her parents run the new venture.

The $2 Sunday smorgasboards attracted upwards of 100 people each week.

“We had Miss Alabama and Miss Poultry Queen for our Christmas Parade one year,” recalls Theresa Kaisor, city historian and asst school board superintendent. “We carried them over there to eat dinner.”

The Inn’s reputation spread far and wide and travelers of all kinds made the necessary detours to stop a night in Piedmont.

Two years later, Piedmont was mourning the closing of the inn, following the death of Mrs. Woolf. Though Mrs. Golden was urged to keep the inn open, it was a task she declined.

In 1970, the house underwent another rebirth with its sale - for $19,000 - to Calvin and Patricia Wingo, two history professors at Jacksonville State University who have a penchant for restoring old houses to their original grandeur.

The Wingos tore up the carpeting and refinished the hardwood floors, replaced the roof and wiring, repaired the bases of some of the columns and painted the whole house. Their son was born soon after they moved in.

Two families occupied the house between 1974, when the Wingos sold it, and 1980. It’s more recent history causes residents to shake their heads sadly. Under the ownership of Charles Grissom, from 1980 to this year, the house burned twice, destroying most of the interior on the first floor and the basement.

It has gone unoccupied for many months.

But the new owner, Winford Kines, hopes it will be a dream house once again, despite the fire damage and theft of one of the mantle pieces and an old pedestal sink.

Kines has begun cleaning out the burned basement and the yard in the initial stages of his project. It may take me a few years, but I hope to live in it someday, Kines said. He has already won a community for lifting the house above the status of neighborhood eyesore.

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My #1 favorite Magnolia story here. It’s well worth the read!

What is it about Magnolias and restaurants? Read about another Magnolia restaurant here.

What is it about Magnolias and fire?

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The Sears Magnolia was quite a house (1922 catalog).

The Sears Magnolia was quite a house (1922 catalog).

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In 2008 I visited the Sears Magnolia in Piedmont. Unfortunately, no one was home.

In 2008 I visited the Sears Magnolia in Piedmont. Unfortunately, no one was home.

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I helped myself to a few good photos while I was in the neighborhood.

I helped myself to a few good photos while I was in the neighborhood.

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This Magnolia

And walked around a bit.

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And went up on the front porch.

And went up on the front porch.

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Youll notice the dormer on this house is quite different than the dormer on the other Magnolias.

You'll notice the dormer on this house is quite different than the dormer on the other Magnolias. I've no idea how that came to be. It appears that the house has its original siding, so we can't blame this on the siding salesmen.

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Some features of the house

Some features of the house remain intact, such as these oak columns in front of the living room fireplace. The inglenook window and built-in bench are missing.

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Did you read the whole article before scrolling down to look at the photos? If so, youd know that someone broke into the house and stole a fireplace mantle. Im guessing this is the mantle.

Did you read the whole article before scrolling down to look at the photos? If so, you'd know that someone broke into the house and stole a fireplace mantle. I'm guessing this is the scene of the crime. However, what they're missing in mantles, they make up for in vacuum cleaners.

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Bear

Incredibly, the windows and trim on the sunporch are all still original. Then again, all of these photos were snapped more than nine years ago. The antique oak filing cabinets are a nice touch, too, but they obstruct the windows a bit.

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Another view of the sunporch windows.

Another view of the sunporch windows.

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living room

This appears to be the dining room, in use as a parlor or den.

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living room also

From the dining room, looking into the living room.

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Looking

Remember reading about that fire? Apparently the staircase took a hit.

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A really bad hit.

A really bad hit.

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Definitely

The balustrade in the Magnolia was quite beautiful but sadly, in the Piedmont Magnolia, it's all gone. Here, it's been replaced them with 2x4s (gasp) and a planter stand (eek).

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nebraska up

As a contrast, here's a picture of a Magnolia in Nebraska that is no longer with us. You can see that it had a beautiful balustrade. This house was razed about the same time the newspaper article above was written - mid 1980s. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Second floor sunporch.

It's nice to see the original doors are in place, even if the hardware didn't survive. This is the second floor bedroom (master bedroom).

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Side

It's incredible that these original paneled newel posts survive (with balls on top), and yet the house has obviously been through some hard times. I know that the house sold recently. Perhaps now it will be restored.

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My #1 favorite Magnolia story here. It’s well worth the read!

What is it about Magnolias and restaurants? Read about another Magnolia restaurant here.

What is it about Magnolias and fire?

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It’s a Mystery

February 14th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Take a guess what this item is (shown below).

Plaster

Looks kind of hairy and gross, doesn't it?

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Does this help?

I'll give you a hint. It was found inside a 1920s home.

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This should help you figure it out.

This should help you figure it out.

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This pretty well gives it away.

This pretty well gives it away.

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In fact, its a chunk of plaster that was cut out of a wall.

In fact, it's a chunk of plaster that was cut out of a wall to add a new outlet.

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Up until sheetrock became widely accepted, a home’s interior walls were finished with plaster. Today, the word “plaster” is used loosely to describe any gypsum-based wall covering, but in fact, plaster is fairly unusual in post-WW2 homes and quite rare in post-1980s homes.

If you look at an old Sears catalog, you’ll find that while kit houses did not include plaster (due to shipping weight), your 12,000-piece kit house did come with good quality lath. In fact, the “Chelsea” (a 2,000-square-foot foursquare) came with 840 square yards of wooden lath. Sears estimated that a plasterer would charge you $200, which included nailing up all those thin strips of lath and applying three coats of plaster (1916).

Often, people talk about “old-fashioned horse-hair plaster,” but the binding agent in old plaster walls was more commonly cattle hair.

Plastering is fast becoming a lost art, and things have changed a bit in the last many decades. Today, a wire mesh is used in place of wooden lath. And I’m not sure what the contemporary binding agent is, but I seriously doubt it involves shaving dead cattle. However, you can still find good recipes online for making historically appropriate plaster to restore or repair the walls in your old house.

Old plaster walls ahve three coats: The scratch coat, the brown coat and the finish coat.

The scratch coat gets its name from the fact that it is scored so that the surface has a rough texture. This rough texture gives the brown coat (which contains a lot of sand) something to grip.

It’s the sand in the brown coat that helps the finish coat (which is about 1/8″) bond tightly to the walls.

According to the smart people, the scratch coat and brown coat are about 3/8″ thick, but the image shown above (from the 1920s house) tells a slightly different story. Making and applying plaster was a little bit like baking a cake: A lot depended on the cook, and his preferences and practices.

Plus, sometimes the “cook” was sober as a judge and sometimes the “cook” was so plastered (perhaps the source of the term?) that he couldn’t walk a straight line. Weather, humidity and quality of ingredients were other variables that affected the final product as well.

As always, if you have any thoughts to share, please leave a comment below!

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Back

This promotion, which appeared in a 1916 Sears Building Materials catalog, gives a pretty good explanation of how plaster was applied. I can't imagine how long it took to nail up all those lath boards (which were typically 1-inch wide). And the smudge pots were used to keep the temperature and humidity at a certain level while the plaster dried. Making and applying plaster was a slow, arduous process with many variables (1916 Sears Building Materials).

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By 1916,

By 1916, "Sheet Plaster" had already gained a toe-hold in the market, but it wasn't until after WW2 that it really became popular. And yet even in modern custom-built homes, plaster walls are considered an upgrade (and they're mighty expensive, too). My 1962-built ranch has sheetrock walls and plaster ceilings, which seems an odd combination (photo is from 1916 Sears Building Materials).

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Sheet

As shown in this 1916 Building Materials catalog, "Sheet Plaster" was much easier to install.

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To read a *fascinating* article about the benefits of old plaster walls (and how it was made), click here.

Bob Vila drives me to hard liquor, but his writers did put together a nice piece on plaster. You can read it here.

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Eight Pretty Maggies in a Row

August 29th, 2013 Sears Homes 14 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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house house house

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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house house house

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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house house

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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house house house

What a fine-looking house!

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house house

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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house

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

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house

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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house

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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house house

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

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house

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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house house

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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house house

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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What Do George Bailey and Sears Roebuck Have in Common?

July 19th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

One of my favorite movies is the Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Many folks think it’s a movie about one man’s life making a difference in this world, but I saw it a different way. I saw it as a movie that explained why homeownership is so important.

In the first years of the 20th Century, magazines and newspapers of the day declared that Americans had a patriotic duty to be homeowners. It was well-understood that home ownership was a boon to individuals and their families, but the “patriotic” angle made the point that homeownership also benefited neighborhoods and communities, and by extension, it benefited cities and even the country, as a whole.

To put a contemporary spin on this, what better modern-day model do we have than Detroit? How much of Detroit is now rental (non-owner occupied)? Despite 30 minutes of searching, I wasn’t able to find an answer, but I’d guess it’s a lot. (Heck, how much of Detroit’s housing is just not occupied by anyone?)

The early Sears Modern Homes catalogs made this point in a variety of ways, but in short it said this: 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 the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey sees what Bedford Falls, would have looked like if he’d never been born. Without George’s positive influence and his ever-fledgling Building and Loan, the modern subdivision of Bailey Park would never have been developed and many residents would have remained renters, rather than 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, and in a broader context, there is less stability in the community as well.

Look at Bert (the cop) and Ernie (the cab driver).

In this alternate “George-less” world, Ernie does not live with his family in their own “nice little home in Bailey Park,” but instead, he lives is a decrepit shack in Pottersville and it’s implied that this hardship is largely 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.

I’m of the opinion that Sears was, to small communities in the Midwest, 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, thanks to these little kit homes? Probably many.

Sears Modern Homes made a significant difference in many communities throughout the Midwest.

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In the movie, Its a Wonderful Life, the real heroes are the people who kept this little Building and Loan afloat, enabling countless residents to become homeowners.

In the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life," the real heroes are the people who kept this little Building and Loan afloat, enabling countless residents to become homeowners.

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In the end, George realized he had a wonderful life because he had touched so many peoples lives, enabling them to become homeowners. He saw that his town would have collapsed into blight had it not been for Bailey Brothers Building and Loan.

George realized he had a wonderful life because he had touched so many people's lives, enabling them to become homeowners. The angel ("Clarence") showed George that Bedford Falls would have collapsed into blight had it not been for Bailey Brother's Building and Loan.

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The value of homeownenrship was also touted in

The value of homeownership was also touted in the front pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalog (1921).

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Father is throwing out rent receipts - because theyre worthless - whilst dreaming of his very own home.

Father is throwing out rent receipts - because they're worthless - whilst dreaming of his very own home.

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Meanwhile, Father and Mother are dreaming of owning their very own Sears Hathaway.

Meanwhile, Father and Mother are dreaming of owning their very own Sears Hathaway. Even the little girl is lost in bliss! Is there a Hathaway in Lima, Ohio? It'd be fun to know!

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A real live Hathaway in Hampton, Virginia (Old Wythe section).

A real live Hathaway in Hampton, Virginia (Old Wythe section).

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

Learn more about the biggest and best Sears Home by clicking here!

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Hey, You Good-Looking Norwood, You…

January 27th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

Thanks to Kit House Aficionado Andrew Mutch, I now have pictures of a picture-perfect Wardway Norwood in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Truthfully, if I’d been driving past this Wardway Norwood, I probably would have kept driving because I would not have recognized it as a kit home!

But major kudos to Andrew for not only spotting it, but correctly identifying it! And more kudos to Andrew for sending me a picture!!  :)

Do you have remarkable pictures of kit homes that you’d like to share? Please contact me at Rosemary.ringer@gmail.com.

And thanks so much to Andrew Mutch for sending along this photo!

To learn a LOT more about Wardway Homes, please click here.

To learn more about kit homes in general, visit Rebecca Hunter’s website, here.

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Boy, I tell you, if Id been the one driving past this Wardway Kit Home, I probably would have KEPT driving!!  Thanks to Andrew Mutch for finding and identifying this house!

If I'd been the one driving past this Wardway Kit Home, I probably would have KEPT driving!! Thanks to Andrew Mutch for finding and identifying this house! (1927 catalog image). And the title of the blog, you may notice, comes from the headline above: "Good Looking and Roomy!"

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Nice floor plan, too!

Nice floor plan, too! CLASSIC foursquare design!

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I love these descriptions!

I love these descriptions! The plain lines are "skillfully relieved"!

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Ward

Not a bad deal, either. And for $16 extra, they'll throw in some shades.

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It is a good-looking house.

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And here it is in Ann Arbor, Michigan! Photo is copyright 2012 Andrew Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

And here it is in Ann Arbor, Michigan! Photo is copyright 2012 Andrew Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Thanks again to Andrew for sending along the photos!

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

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Pretty, Pretty Preston!

December 28th, 2012 Sears Homes 11 comments

Houses By Mail” (published 1985) is a wonderful field guide for those seeking more information on the 370 models of Sears kit homes that were offered from 1908 - 1940. The book contains some factual errors, but it’s still one of my favorites and has a cherished spot in my library and in my heart.

The house featured on the cover of “Houses By Mail” is the Sears Preston. It’s a puzzle as to why the publisher selected this particular house, as it was a pretty rare model.

When Pete Sanders first discovered a Sears Preston in Berkley, Michigan, it was love at first sight.

“The character of the house was outstanding,” he said. “I loved it, and I left a note in the door, asking about buying it.”

Pete says he didn’t realize it was a Sears House until after he purchased it.

Pete told me, “Once I got inside the house, I was really in love. It had nine-foot ceilings, and the built-in bookcases had amazing detail.”

Pete has very good taste in houses!

The Preston was one of the top five fanciest (and most expensive) houses that Sears offered, right up there with the Magnolia and the Lexington.

Is there a Preston in your neighborhood? Send me a photo!

And thanks to Pete Sanders, Catarina Bannier and Judy Davids for supplying all these wonderful photos!

The Sears Preston was one of Sears biggest and fanciest homes. Its shown here in the 1921 catalog.

The Sears Preston was one of Sears biggest and fanciest homes. It's shown here in the 1921 catalog. Note the price. The Preston was second only to the Magnolia in terms of price and grandeur. The Sears Magnolia was the most expensive house that Sears offered.

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Close-up of the Prestons dining room.

Close-up of the Preston's dining room.

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Notice the detail on the living room fireplace. This is a classic design for a Sears fireplace.

Notice the detail on the living room fireplace. This is a classic design for a "Sears" fireplace.

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This was the only house Sears offered that showcased the optional wall safe.

This was the only house Sears offered with an optional wall safe. I see some Federal Reserve notes on the bottom, but what's in the top shelf?

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The Preston also had a built-in breakfast nook.

The Preston also had a built-in breakfast nook.

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The floorplan shows the massive rooms.

The floorplan shows the massive rooms. The living room was 27' long. That's a big room.

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Upstairs

Upstairs had four modest bedrooms and a sleeping porch.

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It really was (and is) a beautiful home.

It really was (and is) a beautiful home.

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And heres the house that Pete Sanders fell in love with in Berkley, Michigan.

And here's the house that Pete Sanders fell in love with in Berkley, Michigan. The dormers were removed and the front entry was remodeled sometime in the early 1930s. Photo is copyright 2012 Judy Davids and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Incredibly, Pete has some vintage photos of the house.

Incredibly, Pete has some vintage photos of the house. This photo shows the house with the original dormers and entry-way. Even the flower boxes are in place. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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bicycle

This shot shows a cute little kid on a big bike and also the home's original entryway. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And the homes rear.

And the home's rear. One of the unique features of the Preston was that it was one of only FIVE models that Sears offered with functional shutters. (In addition to The Preston, the other Sears Homes with real shutters were The Puritan, The Lexington, Martha Washington and The Verona.) The other Sears Homes had decorative shutters that were permanently affixed to the wall. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And a wonderful photo showing a picture-perfect picket fence.

And a wonderful photo showing a picture-perfect picket fence for a perfect and pretty Preston. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Close-up of the house

Close-up of the house. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another view of the house

Another view of the house, post-entry-way remodel. The dormers were removed when the entry-way was squared off. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another view of the house, showcasing that incredible fence. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Baldwins owned the home in the 1930s.

The Baldwins owned the home in the 1930s. Judging from this photo, they didn't have the official Sears fireplace (shown above). You can see a piece of the original built-in bookcases behind Father's left shoulder. Ernest R. Baldwin (seated) was the mayor of Berkley from 1932 to 1944. Those were tough years to be a mayor of any town. Florence Church Baldwin is seated beside him. Also pictured are their two sons, Robert and James. Ernest R. Baldwin was a veteran from The Great War. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Pete really scored a bonanza with these photos of the homes interior.

Pete really scored a bonanza with these photos of the home's interior. This is the living room, adjoining the entry hall. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And check out the bedroom!

And check out the bedroom! What a perfect picture, encapsulating the furnishings and lifestyles of the early 1930s. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Preston is a very rare Sears kit home, but Catarina Bannier found one in the Washington DC area.

The Preston is a very rare Sears kit home, but Catarina Bannier found one in the Washington DC area. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And I found this one in Wyoming, Ohio in 2003.

And I found this one in Wyoming, Ohio in 2003.

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It is indeed a real beauty.

It is indeed a real beauty.

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

To join our group on Facebook, click here.

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The Willard: A Two-Story English Cottage

December 5th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

The Neo-Tudors (also called Tudor Revivals) have always had a special place in my heart. They’re cute, practical and distinctive.

The Sears Willard was one of their most popular designs, and because of its many distinctive features, it’s easy to spot.

Scroll on down to see several real-life examples of The Willard.

The Sears Willard was the house featured in a promotion showcasing affordable monthly payments.

The Sears Willard was the house featured in a promotion showcasing affordable monthly payments. It's a darling house, and the payments aren't too bad either.

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The Sears Willard, as seen in the 1928 catalog.

The Sears Willard, as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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Think you may have a Willard? Wont be hard to figure out if you can get inside! Look at the many unique features on this floorplan!

Think you may have a Willard? Won't be hard to figure out if you can get inside! Look at the many unique features on this floorplan!

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It is a darling house!

It is a darling house!

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In all my house-hunting career, Ive never photographed a Sears Willard from the right angle. Something in my muscle memory demands that I take the photo from THIS angle.

In all my house-hunting career, I've never photographed a Sears Willard from the right angle. Something in my muscle memory demands that I take the photo from THIS angle. Nonetheless, you can see a few of those distinctive features from this angle. Notice the three windows in a row on the right side, and the dainty cornice return. Also notice the nine lites (windows) in the front door. This brick Willard is in Colonial Heights, VA.

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This house is photographed from the correct angle, but its not my photo.

This house is photographed from the correct angle, but it's not my photo. This Willard is in Bowling Green, Ohio and the photo was taken by Dale Patrick Wolicki (copyright 2010, and can not be reprinted or used without written permission).

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And heres another Willard

This Willard was not photographed by me, but you can see that Rebecca Hunter (the photographer) has the same problem with muscle memory that I do. (Photo is copyright 2010 Rebecca Hunter and can not be reprinted or used without written permission). We just yearn to photograph this house from the three-window side.

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Galax, Virginia is a fun little town with lots of rolling hills which makes photography a bit challenging.

Galax, Virginia is a fun little town with lots of rolling hills which makes photography a bit challenging. Lots of utility wires in this photo, but it's definitely a Willard (with a modified dormer) in Galax. Unfortunately, as built, that dormer (with a flat roof in front of the dormer window) leaks like a sieve, so people often build out the dormer to enclose that flat spot.

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One fine little Willard in Peoria, Illinois.

One fine little Willard in Peoria, Illinois. Again, from the wrong angle.

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Here's the lone Willard photo I have taken from the correct angle. It's in Crystal Lake, IL.

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And another fine Willard in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

And another fine Willard in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Look at the angle. Sigh.

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To visit Dale’s website, click here.

To visit Rebecca’s website, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

Interested in Wardway (Montgomery Ward) kit homes? Click here.

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The Sears 264P202! What a House!

December 1st, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

Before 1918, Sears Homes were given numbers, not names. From a marketing perspective, it was brilliant to assign names to these models. After all, would you rather tell Mum and Dad that you’re buying “Sears Modern Home #2089″ or that you’ve just purchased The Magnolia?

Pre-1916, some of these houses had very long model numbers, such as the house shown here. It was apparently a fairly popular house for Sears, as I’ve got four real-life examples below, and yet it was offered only for a few short years, appearing last in the 1916 catalog.

Does this look like a Sears House to you? Didnt look like one to me, either, but it is! Its the venerable 264P202, and judging by the photos below, its a design that you should memorize, because it was apparently fairly common!

Does this look like a Sears House to you? Didn't look like one to me at first, but it sure is! It's the venerable 264P202, and judging by the photos below, it's a design that you should memorize, because it was apparently fairly common! This one is in Benld, IL.

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An interesting aaside: Do you know how Benld got its name? A fellow named Ben L. Dorsey purchased the land foor its rich mineral rights (coal, really) and it was developed into a tiny town. The name “Dorsey” was already taken, so Ben L. Dorsey chose the name “Benld,” a combination of his first name and subsequent initals.

For the flatlander tourist, it might help you to know that it’s pronounced, “Benn-ELD.”

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The original catalog page (1916) shows that this house sold for

The original catalog page (1916) shows that this house sold for $1,165 and by 1917, it was gone. In 1918, Sears Homes were given names instead of numbers. The 264P202 never had a name, so we know it was gone by 1918.

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housse house

This wonderful example of a 264P202 is in Okawville, IL. Look at the detail on the columns! It's a real beauty in original condition, but...

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house house

A broader view shows that this old house has been converted into a Funeral Home, and that brick ranch globbed onto the side is actually a not-so-sensitive addition.

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house house

This 264P202 is in West Chicago. Of the four examples shown on this page, three of these homes have porte cocheres.

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Close-up of the original catalog image (1916).

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House in Arkansas

Here's one in Searcy, Arkansas that is being offered for sale at $128,000. In the listing, this house is described as "One of the last Sears Roebuck houses left in White County."

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To learn more about “one of the last Sears Roebuck houses in White County,” click here.

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The house in Searcy has a bathroom thats in beautifully original condition.

The house in Searcy has a bathroom that's in beautifully original condition. Left is the 1916 Modern Homes catalog. Right side is the house in Searcy.

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house text

Nice floor plan.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To see an abundance of awesome photos of the house in Searcy, click here.

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The Flossmoor: Good Dental Advice or a Sears House?

November 29th, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

Or maybe both?

Yes, the Flossmoor was a Sears House that was offered for a short time in the late 1910s. By 1923, it was gone.

The massive cornice returns make it easy to identify. Another eye-catching feature is the clipped gable and the grouping of three windows on the front.

The 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog promised, “You will like this.” Apparently, that statement was more hopeful than realistic. In my travels, I’ve only see a couple of these unique houses. Is there one in your neighborhood? If so, stop what you’re doing, get a photo and send it to me.  :)

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Flossmoor 1920

Massive cornice returns, clipped gables and the three windows on the home's front make the Flossmoor an easy house to identify (1920).

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This Flossmoor was built in Evansville, Indiana and was featured in the 1919 Modern Homes catalog. Is it still standing?

This Flossmoor was built in Evansville, Indiana and was featured in the 1919 Modern Homes catalog. Is it still standing? Do the owners know what they have?

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Should

Mr. F. M. Hills of Evansville, Indiana shouldn't be too hard to find! :)

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According to the text in the 1920 catalog,

According to the text in the 1920 catalog, The Flossmoor was also built in these cities. Notice there's supposedly one in New York City!

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House

Look at the size of that reception hall! Also, note the "good morning" stairs.

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The floorplan was quite simple.

The floorplan was quite simple. A small hallway makes maximum use of the small footprint. Squeezing four small bedrooms out of this floorplan is pretty impressive.

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house

Nice house, isn't it? Another feature is that unusually small attic window.

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And heres the real life example in Batavia, Illinois.

And here's the real life example in Batavia, Illinois. Be still my heart.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To see more photos of the Sears Homes of Northern Illinois, click here.

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