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And The Winner is… (Part II)

December 31st, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Earlier this week, I wrote about the “contest” offered by Sears Roebuck, where they invited 100 “up-to-date farmers” to submit their plans for a “modern farm house for the 20th Century.”

Mr. Selck of Evansville, Wisconsin won first prize with his design (Modern Home #189, “The Hillrose”), and second prize was awarded to W. L. Richardson of Cambridge, Iowa for Modern Home #184.

Despite a lot of traveling, I’ve never seen an original Hillrose. However, in 2005, I gave a talk at a $1,000,000 reproduction of the Sears Hillrose in Prophetstown, Indiana.

The house was re-created several years ago by architectural  historians who studied the old pictures and floorplans shown in a Sears mail-order catalog. The Hillrose in Prophetstown is now open to the public, and in addition to the reproduced Sears kit home, there’s also a large working farm on the site.

When there in 2005, I had a thorough tour of the inside and snapped a few photos. As I told the director, I really loved what they’d done with the place. I snapped a few photos (old 35mm slides), which you’ll see below.

In 1916, the Sears Hillrose was offered for less than $2,000. More than 90 years later, the reproduction Hillrose cost more than $1 million.

To read more about The Contest, click here.

Want to join our group on Facebook? Click here.

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The contest was featured in an undated brochure (about 1914).

The contest was featured in an undated brochure (about 1914).

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The first prize design was Modern Home #189, or The Hillrose.

The first prize design was Modern Home #189, or The Hillrose (1914 catalog).

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The cost to build the contemporary Hillrose was $1,000,000.

The cost to build the contemporary Hillrose was $1,000,000.

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Despite my best efforts, I was not able to match the Sears barn. Upon reflection, Im not sure this was a bonafide reproduction kit barn. Memory can be fickle at times, especially when youre relying on a conversation that you had 10 years ago.

Despite my best efforts, I was not able to match the Sears barn to any known Sears kit barn designs. Upon reflection, I'm not sure this was a bonafide reproduction kit barn. Memory can be fickle at times, especially when you're relying on a conversation that you had 10 years ago. That's my little red 2003 Camry to the right of the barn.

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Close-up of the barn.

Close-up of the barn.

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As mentioned in the prior blog, I ended up giving my talk in this barn.

As mentioned in the prior blog, I ended up giving my talk that night inside this barn. Back in the day, I toted around two slide projectors and would show the two slides on two screens, comparing extant houses with vintage catalog images. I was rather relieved when the world went to digital. Organizing all those slides for every talk was a massive undertaking. I finally gave away those slide projectors in 2011 when we moved into a new house.

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The interior of the Hillrose was a thing of beauty.

The interior of the Hillrose was a thing of beauty. It disappears in the shadows, but yes, that's a chamber pot under the bed. The wallpaper was gorgeous, and the rag doll was a nice touch too.

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Is that a Sears light fixture?

Is that a Sears light fixture? Not perfect, but close enough for government work. :)

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For someone whos spent their life trying to figure out how to get back to the 1920s, the kitchen was charming.

For someone who's spent their life trying to figure out how to get back to the 1920s, I'd say the kitchen was utterly enchanting. And who doesn't secretly dream of a turquoise and white cast-iron, wood-fired cookstove?

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Oh

What's not to love?

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And what proper Indiana homestead wouldnt have a Hoosier cabinet?

And what proper Indiana homestead wouldn't have a Hoosier cabinet?

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And properly stocked, too?

And properly stocked, too?

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Do you have an aunt living in one of these towns?

Even though I've never seen an original Hillrose, the 1916 catalog shows that there were Hillroses buit in these cities. Please call your cousin Bertha in Griffith, Indiana and ask her to find the Sears Hillrose there and then ask her to take a photo and send it to the lady in Norfolk. Or maybe your Aunt Beulah in Alvada, Ohio? Or Granny Kittle in Waterman, Illinois? Work with me here. I need a photo of a real life Hillrose. Really I do.

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To read more about The Contest, click here.

Want to join our group on Facebook? Click here.

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And The Winner Is…

December 29th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

It started out in 1913 as a contest.

Sears invited 100 “up to date farmers” to submit their plans for a “modern farm house for the 20th Century.”

Mr. Selck of Evansville, Wisconsin won first prize with his design, which came to be known as The Hillrose (Modern Home #189). In addition to having his creation featured in subsequent catalogs, he also won $50 - in gold.

Second prize ($35 in gold) went to W. L. Richardson of Cambridge, Iowa. His house (Modern Home #184) didn’t last long enough to be granted a name (1918), and in fact, was gone by 1916.

Despite 14 years of wandering and researching, I’ve seen only one Sears Hillrose and that was in Prophetstown, Indiana (near West Lafayette) and it was less than 20 years old.

The house was re-created several years ago by architectural  historians who studied the old pictures and floorplans shown in a Sears mail-order catalog. The Hillrose in Prophetstown is part of a museum exhibit that offers an interpretive display of a working farm.

The first floor of the house is true to the catalog image and to the time period. The interior is filled with period furnishings, appliances and even ephemera. An old Sears catalog sits on an end table in the front room of the Hillrose. The second floor is thoroughly modern, not open to the public, and is used as administrative offices.

In 2005, I traveled to Prophetstown to see this recently built Hillrose “in the flesh” and to give a talk on Sears Homes.

Originally, it was planned that I’d give the talk in the front room of the Hillrose (with space for 30 attendees). Not good. These talks - even 10 years ago - often drew 100+ visitors.

The only option available at the last minute was the barn. And it was a real barn, with real critters and hay and implements.

That evening, at 7:00 pm, I addressed about 90 people, four goats, six cows and several chickens. In the barn.

This newly built Hillrose was a pricey little affair. The 1916 Sears catalog showed the house offered for $1,649. More than 90 years later, the Hillrose’s contemporary cost exceeded $1 million, due to the expense of re-creating an early 20th Century farm house.

And now Prophetstown has a real treasure and a tourism attraction that will endure for decades to come.

Click here to see inside the Hillsboro in Prophetstown.

To read more about this Hillsboro in Indiana, click here.

Want to learn more about to identify a Sears House? Click here.

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Contest

I wonder what an "out of date" farmer looks like? This image came from a promotional brochure, dated about 1914. Take a moment and read it in its entirety. It's fun!

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First prize

Modern Home #189 was the prize winner, and garnered $50 in gold for Mr. Selck of Evansville, Indiana (1914 catalog). Fine house (with more than 2,000 square feet) for a mere $1,473.

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house hosue house

W. L. Richardson of Cambridge, Ohio won $35 in gold for this design (1914 catalog).

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First prize winner

Apparently, Sears asked for a letter from the first prize winner.

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Second

And the second-prize winner, too.

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house

Aladdin was actually the originator of the business of selling kit homes via mail-order catalogs, but what's a little promotional puffery between friends?.

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hillrose

A comparison of the two houses - side-by-side.

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house

I guess the woodshed was the thing that carried the day.

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house

A panoramic view of Modern Home #189, showing not only the house, but outbuildings and livestock.

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1916

A closer view of Modern Home #189 (The Hillrose).

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barn

A close-up of the Sears kit barn, as shown with The Hillrose (above).

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Round barn with

I love that dormer atop not just the round barn but the silo, too.

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cheapter

Chicken House #221 is shown next to the Hillrose.

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Long shot

Here's a long view of the 2nd prize winner. He has a chicken coop, but it's not the #221. He has a vehicle, but it's only one-horse power. He has an outbuilding, but it's a little milk house.

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house 1916

Second-prize winner got cheaped out on the chicken house.

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house house

Nice little milk house, though.

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Even though Ive never seen a 1910s Hillrose, they are out there - apparently (1916 catalog).

Even though I've never seen a 1910s Hillrose, they are out there - apparently (1916 catalog). Alvado, Ohio can't be that big. It can't be too tough to find a big old Sears foursquare in little old Alvado. Perhaps a kind-hearted Avacadoan will find this Hillrose in their town and snap a photo for moi. Or maybe someone in Griffith will embark on this mission of mercy. One can hope. I need a picture of a Hillrose.

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However, I dont know if any of these homes were ever built.

However, I don't know if any of these homes were ever built. Good news is, this house is so distinctive, it'll be easy to spot! In addition to being an L-shaped foursquare (yeah, really), it has an offset porch, small vestibule, pedimented porch roof, big gabled dormer, oversized eaves and a dainty-looking horse in the front yard.

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The Modern Hillrose in West Lafayette is a real dandy.

The Modern Hillrose in West Lafayette is a real dandy, and it's the only Hillrose I've seen.

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From catalog side

A view of the Hillrose from the same angle as the catalog.

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My favorite view of all

My favorite shot of the Hillrose, showing the barn in the background.

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Just a little archival storage tip: If youre going to

Just a little archival storage tip: If you're going to collect rare Sears House ephemera and sell it on eBay, don't cut it up into tiny bits and then laminate the whole caboodle with thick plastic. This photo here is to help explain why images 1, 4, 5 and 6 look like they were scanned through wax paper. Because - actually - they were. Special thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for purchasing this rare brochure and sharing it!

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To read Rachel’s wonderful blog, click here.

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Oh MY! Look What We Found in Herndon!

December 17th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

You really should join us in the Sears Homes group on Facebook.

The old house aficionados in that group are a wild and wooly bunch who really know how to have a good time! ;)

After a recent blog on the “GVT Tower House” in Herndon and some very interesting banter amongst the night owls, Rachel Shoemaker and I started poking around the small town of Herndon (via Bing Maps) to see what else we could find.

Unfortunately, a surfeit of trees prevented us from seeing much, but I discovered a Sears Winona (seriously altered by a lot of remodeling) and Rachel found the crème de la crème of kit homes, The Gordon Van Tine, “Brentwood.”

Oh, it gets better.

The Gordon Van Tine Brentwood with matching “Ajax” garage.

Ooh la la!

And in Herndon! Who knew?

That’s two rare Gordon Van Tine mail-order kit homes in one small Northern, Virginian town.

Who in the world is Rosemary Thornton?

Maybe there’s a Sears Magnolia hiding in there somewhere!

To read about the other Gordon Van Tine home, click here.

Many thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for finding the GVT Brentwood, and for supplying the GVT catalog images shown below!

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Amongst the trees and bushes of Herndon, we discovered a Sears Winona (1916 catalog).

Amongst the trees and bushes of Herndon, we discovered a Sears Winona (1916 catalog).

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Its a crummy

It's a fairly crummy image snagged off Bing Maps, but it's almost certainly a Sears Winona. From the five-piece eave brackets to the original porch railing and porch roof, it's a fine match.

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And heres the find of the MONTH!

And here's the find of the MONTH! The Gordon Van Tine "Brentwood" (Model 711).

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And you thought kit homes were just crummy little boxes?

And you thought "kit homes" were just crummy little boxes?

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house

Admittedly, it is somewhat unusual for mail-order houses to have a "Maid's Room."

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The typical mail-order kit home had 12,000 pieces and was shipped by train to its destination. The pieces and parts were carefully sorted and stacked, and would usually fit in a single boxcar. I suspect the GVT Brentwood took two boxcars!i

The typical mail-order kit home had 12,000 pieces and was shipped by train to its destination. The pieces and parts were carefully sorted and stacked, and would usually fit in a single boxcar. I suspect the GVT Brentwood took two boxcars!i

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And there it is, in the flesh, a perfect Gordon Van Tine #711.

And there it is, in the flesh, a perfect Gordon Van Tine #711. Rachel Shoemaker flew her little Bing Airplane over top of the house and confirmed (by viewing the back side) that it is indeed a GVT 711.

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And tucked away behind the house is a Gordon Van Tine garage.

And tucked away behind the house is a Gordon Van Tine garage.

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Ever wonder what those boxcars looked like? A lot like this.

Ever wonder what those boxcars looked like? A lot like this.

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Who in the world is Rosemary Thornton?

Maybe there’s a Sears Magnolia hiding in there somewhere!

To read about the other Gordon Van Tine home, click here.

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The Little GVT Tower House Mystery: Solved!

December 15th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

Updated: Look what else we found in Herndon, VA!

Yesterday, I wrote a blog, asking who’d sent me a photo of a purported Sears House.

Weeks (or months) after I’d told the sender that it wasn’t a Sears House, I discovered that it was a kit house, from Gordon Van Tine!

Gordon Van Tine (based in Davenport, Iowa) was a competitor of Sears, and also sold entire kit homes through a mail-order catalog. The house was shipped by boxcar (with 12,000 pieces of house), and each kit came with a 75-page instruction book.

Last night, Tina replied to my inquiry and said it was she who’d sent me the original image, and that the house (in Herndon, VA) had been listed for sale as a Sears Maytown (oopsie).

She also provided a link, showing some interior photos of The Little Tower House.

I’ve reposted a handful the photos below (without a smidge of permission), but the direct link shows 24 beautiful pictures.

Now I’m wondering, what else is there in Herndon, VA? That’s one Virginia city I’ve never set foot in!

Many thanks to Tina for solving the mystery!

Updated to add: Herndon isn’t that far from Norfolk!  It’d be fun to visit Herndon and do a proper survey of all their kit homes!

To read the prior blog (with floorplan), click here.

Realtors seem to have a real problem with the Sears Maytown. Here’s one really wild example.

To see a real Sears Maytown, click here.

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Hernond

Again with the "Sears Maytown." Sheesh. It is a kit home, but it's NOT from Sears.

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Little Tower House in Herndon, VA.

Little Tower House in Herndon, VA.

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Tower House

Another view. BTW, that half acre of land really sweetens the deal!

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house

The stained glass windows are a lovely addition to the 2nd floor "Tower Room."

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I love that Tower Room!

I love that Tower Room! You can see a bit of the ceiling in this photo, too!

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What a pretty house!

This is the first floor view of the Tower Room. What a pretty house!

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I think Im in love.

I think I'm in love. Looks like an original light fixture to the left.

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Nicely done.

Wow. Who WOULDN'T love a space like this!

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And the back yard is just dreamy.

And the back yard is just dreamy.

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But repeat after me...this is NOT a Sears Maytown!

But repeat after me...this is NOT a Sears Maytown!

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It is a Gordon Van Tine

It is a Gordon Van Tine #143, as seen in the 1913 catalog.

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And what a fine little Tower House it is!

And what a fine little Tower House it is!

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To read the prior blog (with floorplan of The Tower House), click here.

To see a real Sears Maytown, click here.

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Was it *You* That Sent Me This Photo?

December 14th, 2014 Sears Homes 5 comments

Update! Mystery solved! The house is in Herndon, VA. Click here for more better photos!

And click here to see what else we found in Herndon!

A few weeks ago, someone sent me this photo (shown below), telling me that they’d always heard it was a Sears House. After looking through a few books, I wrote back and told them it was not a kit home (that I could find in my catalogs).

More recently, I was looking through the 1913 Gordon Van Tine catalog and discovered this very house.

Ruh-roh.

As is the case 80% of the time, it was NOT a Sears House, but it was a kit home - from Gordon Van Tine.

And now, I’m not sure where this photo came from, or where this house is located, or who sent me this photo. If that was *you* that sent me this photo, please leave a comment below.

And secondly, I apologize for missing this one on the first go-round.

It is a bit humbling.

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for sharing the 1913 GVT catalog with me.

To learn more about Gordon Van Tine, visit Dale’s website here.

house house

Fine little house, but where is it? I have no idea.

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While looking through my catalogs, I discovered that this little tower house was a good match to a readers photo.

While looking through this 1913 Gordon Van Tine catalog, I discovered that this "little tower house" was a good match to a reader's photo.

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Very interesting floor plan.

Very interesting floor plan.

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Especially on the 2nd floor!

Especially on the 2nd floor! I love that "Tower Room"!

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And theres one in

And there's one in Litchfield, Nebraska!

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Close-up of the house.

Close-up of the house.

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house

So, where is this house? :)

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Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for sharing the 1913 GVT catalog with me.

To learn more about Gordon Van Tine, visit Dale’s website here.

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The Sears “Groot-Mokum” in Scranton

May 16th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

How fitting that Sears would name one of their finest Dutch Colonials “The Amsterdam.”

After all, Amsterdam is the capital of The Netherlands!

In Dutch, the word Amsterdam translates into “Groot-Mokum” - hence, the title of this blog.

I did a blog on The Dandy Amsterdam more than two years ago, but since then, I’ve come across another Amsterdam in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

I’m guessing that - due to cost and size - the Groot-Mokum was a pretty rare model for Sears. I’ve only seen one “in the flesh” and that was the model in Scranton. For reasons I’ve long since forgotten, I did not photograph the house in Scranton when I was there about 10 years ago, and just recently re-discovered these photos, sent by a Sears House Aficionado.

Unfortunately, the SHA did not include their name on the photos, so I don’t know who found this Amsterdam and/or who shot the photos. If it was you, please leave a comment below!  :D

BTW, if you have an Amsterdam in your neighborhood, take a photo and send it to me!

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At

At $3,578, the Groot-Mokum was a pricey affair (1928).

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Lots of room

The Groot Modum was a spacious house. Even had a Music Room!

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Four spacious bedroms

Love the four bedrooms, but not sure about the bathroom on the home's front.

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Beautiful house

The Amsterdam (1928)

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Whomever took this photo did a perfect job of getting it from the same angle as the catalog page.

Whomever took this photo did a stellar job of replicating the angle in the catalog page.

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The inscription on the back of the card is also very interesting!

The inscription on the back of the card is also very interesting! But who wrote it?

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Ooh

Side-by-side they're a nice match (minus the gabled porch add on).

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This Groot-Mokum is in

This Groot-Mokum is also in Pennsylvania, specifically Pittsburgh. (Photo is copyright 2011 Melody Snyder and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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

If you know who photographed the Scranton house, please leave a comment below!

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Another Mystery in Richmond!

March 14th, 2014 Sears Homes 16 comments

My blog on the Sears Houses in Richmond has gotten several hundred views in the last few days. I am tickled pink to see it, but I wish I knew what led folks to a 15-month old blog!

But in the meantime, I’ve made another *fascinating* discovery, which might lead me to a neighborhood of Sears Homes in Richmond!

Today, David Spriggs and I were doing research at the Norfolk Public Library, and I found this article (June 16, 1921) in the Richmond Times Dispatch. At first glance, it looks like another 1920s ad, but look closely.

Article

The "beautiful bungalow" shown in the advertisement is a Sears Elsmore.

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Check out the fine print.

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And you can buy “all the material necessary to build this charming bungalow” - from Sears!
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If you look closely at the house in the ad, youll see its a Sears Elsmore.

If you look closely at the house in the ad, you'll see it's a Sears "Elsmore." In fact, it's the picture right out of the Sears Modern Homes catalog!

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This is the picture used in the advertisement shown above.

This is the picture used in the advertisement shown above.

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Heres an Elsmore in Elgin, Illinois. Were any of these beautiful bungalows built in Richmond?

Here's an Elsmore in Elgin, Illinois. Were any of these "beautiful bungalows" built in Richmond?

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Perhaps someone familiar with Richmond can help me find this neighborhood! Was the builder successful in pitching these Sears kit homes to the people who bought his lots?

This could be fun!!  Please leave a comment below if you know where this area is!

To learn more about the Sears Homes I found in Richmond, click here.

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The Trifecta from the 1933 Sears Modern Homes Catalog

July 25th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

Last week, fellow researcher Lara Solonicke posted a blog about a perfect trifecta of very rare Sears Homes from the very rare 1933 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Even better, the triumvirate of Sears Homes is located in Oak Park, Illinois and surely anyone reading this blog will remember that Oak Park was the home of Richard Warren Sears for much of his adult life!

How fitting that Lara has discovered these homes in Richard Sears’ old stomping grounds!

The three houses she found in Oak Park were the Schuyler, the Bristol, and the Webster, which were offered only in the 1933 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Lara told me that it was an advertisement in an old newspaper that led her to this wonderful discovery.

Many thanks to Lara for sharing this information and the wonderful photos! To read her blog, click here.

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It’s likely that these three Sears Homes (the Schuyler, Bristol, and Webster) were the only examples of these three models ever built. Not surprisingly, 1932 was a bad year for the Modern Homes Department, but  1933 was even worse. In 1932, sales of Sears homes suffered due to the Great Depression, and net sales were down 47% from the prior year (1931).

In 1933, sales dropped 50% (as compared to 1932).

In an attempt to boost sales, Sears executives decided to conduct an experiment, and build these three homes prior to sale. They felt if customers could walk through model homes and see the Sears quality firsthand, they would be more inclined to purchase.

Construction on the houses started in summer of 1932 and the first completed model opened in October of that year. The Schuyler was priced at $14,900; the Bristol was priced at $15,100, and the Webster was priced at $15,300. These were not cheap houses. Originally Sears hoped to sell these houses for $10,000 each, but the cost to construct went well beyond initial estimates.

Interestingly, only one house currently has a built-in garage. All three originally had cedar shingles, although they are covered in aluminum today. The shingles and the brick were painted white on all three houses. The shutters were black, and the roofs were variegated black and red.

The Bristol and the Schuyler share the same stone exterior on the first floor, while the Webster has a brick first-floor exterior. Two of the houses featured finished recreation rooms in the basement, which was uncommon in houses of the early 1930s.

Sears managed to sell the three houses, but felt that profit margin was too low to continue constructing homes before sale.

“We do not propose any further experimentation along this line pending the sale of the Oak Park Houses and the development of better sales conditions,” wrote General W.H. Rose, the General Supervisor of the Modern Homes Department.

Sears built the Webster, the Bristol and the Schuyler side by side on Linden Avenue in Oak Park, IL. These three rare styles were only offered for sale in the 1933 catalog.

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Thanks so much to Lara for sharing this information. You can visit her website by clicking here.

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The 1933 Sears Modern Homes catalog was a tiny little thing, about the size of a small index card.

The 1933 Sears Modern Homes catalog was a tiny little thing, about the size of a small index card. Thanks to the hole on the cover, you can see the copyright date (bottom of photo). The 1932 and 1934 catalogs were full size catalogs (approximately 8-1/2" by 11"). The 1933 was the only "small" catalog.

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The catalog

Thanks to tiny print, the copy writers managed to squeeze a lot of info onto the page. In fact, the major difference between the diminutive 1933 catalog and the full-size catalogs was text. Sears copy writers were far less loquacious in 1933. Shown above is The Schuyler with its "Historic Colonial Charm."

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Nice house with a nice floorplan.

The house has a dining room and a diner (which probably had space for a breakfast nook). My only question is, who drives a car shaped like a shuffleboard? Or was a dedicated "shuffleboard room" a suggested use for this space? As a garage, it was ideal for a Mazda Miata or Toyota Yaris. An absolute minimum today for a one-car garage would be 12-feet by 20-feet, and even that size means to have to eject your passengers before rolling into the garage.

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2nd floor

The Schuyler had many very progressive concepts for an early 1930s "kit" home. The master bedroom had a private bath, and two spacious closets. Even the study has a spacious walk-in closet. The house had 2-1/2 bathrooms which was quite unusual for 1933.

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Sears

The Sears Schuyler, as seen in the 1933 catalog.

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The Sears Schuyler

The Sears Schuyler with its attached garage. Would you ever have guessed this is a Sears kit house? And do the owners know that their house was sold by Sears Roebuck? Photo is copyright Lara Solonicke 2012 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Sears Bristol

The Sears Bristol, offered only in 1933. Love the inset dormers! However, this is a not-so-great design because these type of dormers ALWAYS leak.

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Sears Bristol

You may notice that there's a lot of flashing around those inset dormers on this "Bristol." And while this model does not have the garage now, it looks like there was a garage door in that space when the house was originally built. See the strips of aluminum siding tucked under the garage-width picture window? Photo is copyright Lara Solonicke 2012 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house house

Close-up on the Bristol's former garage door. It's likely that, when first built, the Bristol had a garage. Photo is copyright Lara Solonicke 2012 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The third

The third house in our trifecta is the Sears Webster (1933).

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house

This Sears Webster is distinctive, with the unusual window arrangement and the jettied second story. Was this the only Sears Webster built? It's certainly quite possible! Photo is copyright Lara Solonicke 2012 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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garage

And if you zoom in on this large bay window, you'll see that this house also started life with an attached garage, and today, there's a a grade-level room in its place. The house is brick (painted), but under the bay window, it's either wood or aluminum siding. It'd be interesting to see if there's a curb cut on the street for a driveway (in front of this window). If not, it's possible that this "modification" was done when the house was built. Still, in that these were models for Sears & Roebuck, it seems likely the homes would have built "according to plan." Photo is copyright Lara Solonicke 2012 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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A price sheet from the 1933 catalog shows that these models were their finest and most expensive.

A price sheet from the 1933 catalog shows that the Webster and Schuyler were among their finest and most expensive. The prices shown above (Schuyler - $2,458 and Webster - $2,658) were for the plans and materials. The price that Lara quoted (The Schuyler for $14,900 and Webster for $15,300) included the lot and all construction costs. In the 1919 catalog, Sears stated that a completed kit home would cost about 2-1/2 to 3 times the cost of the kit. In other words, a $2,000 kit house would cost you about $6,000 when all was said and done. By 1933, the factor had jumped to about six times the cost of the kit. ($2,458 x 6.0618 = $14899.)

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Lara Solonickne is an architecture enthusiast and blogger. She is the founder of Sears-homes.com, which spotlights catalog homes in the Chicago area. Lara worked as a communications consultant and technical writer in a former life. She currently lives in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Drop her a line at lara@sears-homes.com.

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To visit Lara’s blog, click here.

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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The Thrift Book of a Nation

May 26th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

Earlier this week, my friend Rachel posted a picture of this 1922 Sears catalog in our Facebook group “Sears Homes.”

I found it utterly enchanting.

The cover shows a little girl dashing out to the mailbox to retrieve the goodies that just arrived from Sears & Roebuck. In the background, there’s a Sears Silo, a Sears Barn, and a Sears kit home, The Silverdale.

It’s an entire farm built by Sears!

Years ago, I interviewed Joseph Origer who’d purchased a Sears Hammond (kit house) out of the 1940 Sears Modern Homes catalog.  He was inspired to buy a Sears House by his father.

Mr. Origer explained,

My dad built a Sears kit silo in 1911 and he was so impressed with the quality of the lumber (all cypress) that he decided to buy and build Sears Modern Home #101.

I remember my father telling me that his kit home was all number one lumber and material. All the building materials cost $879 and the total expense, including all carpenter labor, was less than $1500. I still have the itemized list of materials for that house!

When I decided to marry and stay on the farm, my parents suggested we go to Chicago and pick out another Sears home. Dad said, “you know the material will be good.”

These 60-plus years The Hammond has been a wonderful house. I am glad I built it. This house has been well maintained inside and out, and it is still just as good as new.

Mr. Origer’s experience was probably fairly typical. Potential customers might have been hesitant to purchase an entire kit house, but they were ready and willing to buy chicken coops, silos, corn cribs, milk sheds, tool houses and more.

How many American farms were filled with Sears outbuildings and kit homes?

I wish I knew!

Many thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for sharing these wonderful images!

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Cover of the 1922 Sears General Merchandise catalog.

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The barn in the background is a Sears kit barn, L2055.

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Sears barn 1918

The Sears barn as seen in the 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Unnamed, happy child with severely deformed left leg and mangled left hand rushes out to the mailbox to see what parcels have arrived from Sears and Roebuck.

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These must be some of Sears best customers! Not only did they order a house, silo and barn from Sears, but each day they receive a plethora of packages!

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Close-up of the Sears Silverdale. But what kind of car is that?

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silverdale

The Silverdale, as seen in the 1916 Sears catalog.

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Hettick, IL

A real live Silverdale in Hettick, IL.

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Thanks again to Rachel for sharing this wonderful picture!

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To learn more about the amazing Mr. Sears, click here.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

To visit Rachel’s blog, click here.

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