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A Sad Story That Needs a Good Ending: Carlinville’s “Standard Addition”

September 26th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

In the early years of the 1900s,

About 1918, Standard Oil purchased 192 kit homes from Sears & Roebuck. Carlinville ended up with 156 of these homes (offered in eight models). The 12-block area where these homes were built (in an old wheat field) came to be known as Standard Addition. Sears proudly touted this sale to Standard Oil as "the largest order ever placed," and pictures of Carlinville appeared in the front pages of the Modern Homes catalog for many years. This letter (shown above) appeared on the back page of the catalog until 1929.

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House

Standard Addition's homes - some of which were not wholly finished - appeared in the 1919 and 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Of the 192 houses sold to Standard Oil, 156 ended up in Carlinville, 24 were sent to Wood River (where Standard Oil had a large refinery) and 12 ended up in Schoper, IL (site of a large coal mine). Pictured above is the Warrenton model (left) and the Whitehall (right).

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In 1921, images of the completed neighborhood first appeared in the Searsm Modern Homes catalog.

In 1921, images of the completed neighborhood appeared in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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house house house 1921

Close-up of the "birdseye view" from the 1921 catalog. From left to right is the Gladstone, Roseberry, Warrenton, and Whitehall. And look at that darling little building behind the Whitehall. Is it still there?

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House

These homes were occasionally featured in "The Stanolind Record," an employee newsletter put out by Standard Oil. This image appeared with the caption, "Carlinville is coming out of the mud," which simply meant that streets would soon be laid, replacing the muddy roads.

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All of which brings me to the point of this blog. Standard Addition is at great risk of being lost.

And all the photos above bring me to the point of this blog. Standard Addition - this unique, historic and one-of-a-kind community - is at great risk. This "Roseberry" on Johnson Street caught fire in early 2013 and has not been razed yet. Derelict houses (such as this) contribute heavily to blight, and once blight takes root in a neighborhood, reversal can take decades. At best, this house poses a threat to public health and safety. At worst, it's an anchor that's dragging this historic neighborhood further into the muck. Would you want to live next door to this? How many months before this house gets torn down?

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Last month

Last month, a suspected meth lab was discovered in the 1000-block of Johnson Street, in the heart of Standard Addition. Once a house is used for "cooking" meth, making it suitable again for habitation can be expensive.

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Full story here: http://www.sj-r.com/breaking/x1367241203/Two-suspected-meth-labs-found-in-Carlinville

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And theres also the problem on insensitive remodeling.

And there's also the problem of insensitive remodeling. And it is quite a problem.

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Another

As built, these homes were very small (less than 1,100 square feet) but there are ways to increase square footage without diminishing the historicity of these unique homes.

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In short, it’s time for the state legislature and/or city council to step in and figure out what legislation is needed to protect this one-of-a-kind historic collection of Sears Homes in Carlinville. I’ve remained “astonished* that there is no signage, no billboards, no announcements of any kind welcoming the flat-lander tourist to come visit “Standard Addition.”

At the very least, there should be billboards in St. Louis, Alton (by the casino), Edwardsville and other “hot spots” inviting people to come see this fun collection of kit homes. There should be a website, self-guided driving brochures, maps, etc, promoting the area.

But there is nothing,

In my 14 years of experience in this niche field of America’s architectural history, I’ve never come across another collection of Sears kit homes quite like Standard Addition.

One week ago today, I drove through Standard Addition, admiring the pretty houses and dismayed by the blighted ones, and I glimpsed, more now than ever, something must be done to preserve and protect this neighborhood.

Before it’s too late.

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To learn more about the eight models in Standard Addition, click here.

To learn more about the building of Standard Addition (and the female supervisor of the project), click here.

In 2003, CBS Sunday Morning News came to Standard Addition.

To read about Illinois’ own ghost town (Schoper, IL), click right here.

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“I Was The Petted Daughter of a Rich Man…”

November 21st, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

“Look at those prices!”

That’s probably the #1 comment I hear from people as they browse the pages of an old Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Why were Sears kit homes priced so incredibly low?

Well, they weren’t really. Like everything else in history, the prices of early 20th Century housing have to be looked at in context.

One context to consider is taxation. In 1918, only the very wealthy paid federal income tax. In fact, only 5% of Americans paid any income tax at all. If your employer paid you $15 a week, you took home $15 a week.

The other issue is inflation. Pervasive, savings-eroding inflation has not always been a way of life in America.

In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the first step that moved us off the gold standard. It was a desperate attempt to re-inflate the sagging dollar. In 1933, Roosevelt issued Executive Order #6102, requiring Americans to deliver their gold to the Federal Reserve.

At the time, law required that Federal Reserve notes (aka “dollars”) had to be backed by 40% gold reserves held in the vaults at the Federal Reserve. That was our first disconnect from a true gold standard. The second came in 1971 when President Nixon permanently disconnected us from the gold standard.

After that, the Federal Reserve was free to print as much money as they felt was needed. And it was (not coincidentally) in the 1970s when inflation hit double digits.

A stable (non-inflating) economy made it far easier for people to save up their dollars over a period of years and eventually purchase a home. (Inflation rewards those who borrow and penalizes those who save.) In the early 1900s, taking on debt of any kind was considered foolhardy, dangerous and even reckless.

There was no “rush to buy” because the price of housing (and the value of dollars) was fairly stable. Young couples took their time and often spent many, many years saving up to buy a home.

The third historical context that needs to be considered is simplicity. Take a look the Sears Kismet (shown below). This house has 520 square feet with two bedrooms that measure 8′ by 9′. I’m not sure, but I think a FEMA trailer is bigger than that.

The fourth issue is building codes (a subset of simplicity, really). It was estimated that a kit home cost 30-40% less than a comparable stick-built home. The average joe could order his dream home out of the Sears Roebuck catalog, and within 90 days, his 12,000-piece kit would be delivered to the train station. Many locales did require building permits, but it was nothing like the process is today.

The building permit was - above all - a way for the city/county to make sure that no opportunity for new taxes was overlooked.

Homeowners often installed their own plumbing, electrical, heating and mechanical systems.  And these systems were simple. Fuse boxes were 30-amp service, with one outlet in each room (if that!). Plumbing consisted of a sink in the kitchen and one bathroom. Maybe. Heating systems were often “pipleless” which was a nice way of saying it was a massive space heater in a center hallways.

Houses were much smaller and simpler, and building codes were quite lax.

Still want an $800 house?  :)

Dollar for dollar, the Katrina Cottages offered by Lowes were comparable. These were very basic, very small kit homes selling for $20,000 or so (depending on model). Interestingly, they’re no longer available.

The world has changed since Sears first offered these kit homes in 1908. Most folks today would not find The Kismet suitable. And how many people have the skills to build a 12,000-piece kit? And I don’t know of any city in America where you could build a small house without a whole lot of government intrusion and/or oversight.

But I digress.

The main point is, wages in the 1910s and 1920s were a fraction of today’s incomes. According to American Carpenter and Builder Magazine (December 1912), skilled carpenters in Chicago were earning 65 cents an hour and plumbers were making 75 cents an hour.

In the early days, Ladies’ Home Journal was a magazine devoted to helping women get into a home of their own. Each issue was filled with stories from people who had overcome financial adversities and bought or built their own house on tiny incomes.

Some stories had headings such as, “How a wife did it herself,” and “Bought her own home with nine children and $800 a year income.”  These stories paint a vivid word picture of how much toil and sacrifice pre-World War I families endured to have a home of their own.

The following story appeared in the October 1903 Ladies’ Home Journal and was the winning entry for the magazine’s series, “How some families have saved for their own homes.”

It’s a wonderful story that really demonstrates the sacrifice involved in purchasing a home at the turn of the last century. The wages mentioned in this piece lend some additional insight to the dollar values of the day, and help explain the low prices of homes offered in the Sears catalogs.

We planted a garden and my husband worked it himself. He [arose] every morning at about four and worked [in the garden] until time to go to the shop - about two hours.  We’d sell the vegetables at market, keeping only a minimum for ourselves.

We could not afford to buy a sewing machine, so I rented an old-fashioned hand machine at $3 a year and had to turn the wheel with one hand and guide the work with the other.  I would sew every night (taking in work for hire) never retiring earlier than one o’clock.  I got up at five every morning.

So much work came to me that [many] nights, I would sit up until daybreak, snatch an hour’s nap, then get up to cook breakfast  My husband would get up when I retired, work his garden, split the wood, build a fire in the kitchen stove, bring in enough water for the day (we had no well) and then set the coffee pot to boil. I did the washing and ironing and made my own soap.

Three years thus rolled away. My husband’s wages went up to $8 a week but we still practiced the most rigid economy and cut off some of our necessities. Our cow had a calf and when he was one year old, we killed him and sold the meat.

To clothe my little boy, I took my husband’s cast-off clothing, turned it wrong side out and cut out the best portions, making the boy’s clothes.

At the end of seven years, my husband’s wages had increased to $9 a week. After seven years of struggle and extreme economy, toil and labor, today finds us with a comfortable home, horses and cows.

As for myself, before my marriage I never knew the value of money as I was the petted daughter of a rich man.

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In the early 1900s, Ladies Home Journal was a housing magazine for women.

In the early 1900s, Ladies' Home Journal was a housing magazine for women.

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The magazines pages were filled with articles on how to buy a nice house.

The magazine's pages were filled with articles on how to build or buy a nice house.

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In the early 1900s, houses were cheap, but so were wages.

In the early 1900s, houses were cheap, but so were wages. In 1920, these women (sorting incoming orders for Montgomery Ward) probably didn't make $1,000 a year. In 1920, the average teacher's salary was $920 a year.

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Heating systems were very primitive compared to todays modern furnaces and boilers. The pipeless furnace was hugely popular. It would be set in the crawlspace or basement near the center point of the house. The living room would be tropical, while the folks upstairs could see their breath.

Heating systems were very primitive compared to today's modern furnaces and boilers. The "pipeless furnace" was hugely popular. It would be set in the crawlspace or basement near the center point of the house. The living room would be tropical, while the folks upstairs could see their breath.

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The Kismet, as shown in the 1919 catalog.

The Kismet, as shown in the 1919 catalog.

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Could

Pretty small house. Could you raise five kids in the house? Many folks did. There was the parent's bedroom and the kids' bedroom. If you were really fancy, you might get a three-bedroom house with a girls' bedroom and a boys' bedroom.

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This Kismet in Elmhurst, Illinois is a cutie, but its pretty small.

This Kismet in Elmhurst, Illinois is a cutie, but it's pretty small. And it's had a substantial addition added onto the back of the house.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy your loved one the PERFECT Christmas gift, click here!

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The Sears Silverdale in Headache, Illinois

August 27th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

Well, that’s what my husband calls it. In fact, it’s Hettick, Illinois, a small town in central Illinois, about 60 miles north of St. Louis, Missouri.

When I told Hubby about the find, the West Virginia filters on his hearing translated Hettick into “Headache.”

The Silverdale is an interesting house, because it looks like every early 20th Century farmhouse on every rural route in the Midwest. In my travels, I’ve probably seen dozens of them, but discounted most of them, because it’s so hard to positively identify them.

Thanks to the gracious folks who own this house in Hettick, I got a tour of the inside and because of that, I’m able to say with 99% confidence that this is a Sears Silverdale.

This house in Hettick has several things distinguishing it as a Silverdale:

1)  Pre-remodeling, it was a perfect match to the Silverdale floorplan.

2) It’s in Hettick, IL, and on a line between Cairo Illinois (where the homes were milled) and Chicago (where Sears was located). In other words, it’s in the heart of Sears House-Land.

3) Inside, this house has Sears hardware. This is a biggie.

Do you have a Silverdale in your town? Please send me a photo!

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The Silverdale as seen in the 1921 catalog.

The Silverdale as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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1916 catalog

The Silverdale also appeared in the 1916 catalog.

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The Headache House (well, Hettick, actually).

The Headache House (well, Hettick, actually).

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Another view

Another view of the Silverdale in Hettick.

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Floorplan 1921

Floorplan for the first floor.

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Second floor silverdale

Second floor of the Silverdale. Note, there's no livable space over the kitchen. Back in the day, the room over the kitchen was considered uninhabitable, due to heat and smells that wafted from the kitchen below.

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house hosue testimonial

There are more than a few Silverdales around.

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house house house

Mr. Egan and Wife seemed to be pretty happy with their Silverdale.

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Typical

Typical hinge found in Sears kit home. This was found in the Silverdale in Hettick.

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Silverdale

An old glass window (with diamond muntins) has survived the remodelings.

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To read about the Sears Homes in Carlinville, click here.

To learn more about why I was in Hettick, click here.

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The Magnificent Milton - And There’s One In New York City!

May 30th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

In Spring 2010, my friend Rebecca sent me a note, asking if I knew about the Sears Milton in Stanley, Virginia. Four months later (August 2010), Hubby and I were standing in the front yard of the Sears Milton.

At the time, the 1,932-square foot house was being used as a Bed and Breakfast. The Milton House Inn website has now been taken down, so apparently, it’s a private residence again.

The house is located on the main drag, and it is an imposing structure in this beautiful (and tiny) town, nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. (Stanley is about seven miles south of Luray, Virginia and about five hours west of Norfolk.)

The Milton did not appear in the 1912 catalog (or prior years), but I found it in the 1916 catalog. It last appeared in 1919, so its reign was brief. If you’d purchased a Milton in 1916, the price was $1,619 and by 1919, the price had jumped to $2,491, a shocking 54% increase. And, it was not offered as a pre-cut house.

When I was putting together this blog, I was surprised to find (according to an old testimonial) a Milton had also been built in New York City. This is a massive and impressive house, not far behind the Sears Magnolia in terms of grandeur. Its many unique features would certainly make it hard to miss.

Is the Sears Milton still standing in New York City? Boy, I sure would love to know.

What about the Miltons that were built in Fayette, Ohio and Somerville, NJ?  Are they still standing?

In 2008, someone sent me a newspaper article that claimed that the Sears Milton had been built (and torn down) in Carlinville, Illinois. I shared the photo with Rebecca Hunter, and she and I concur: The house in Carlinville (on Route 4) did not appear to have been a Sears Milton.

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

To read about the Sears Homes in Carlinville’s Standard Addition, click here.

The Sears Milton is a distinctive and unusually large house. Identifying this gem is easier than shooting slow-moving fishies in a wee-tiny barrel.

The Sears Milton is a distinctive and unusually large house. Identifying this gem is easier than shooting slow-moving fishies in a wee-tiny barrel. (1916 catalog)

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Spacious and awesome

That bay window (dining room) is quite large and is one of many identifying characteristics of the Sears Milton. The small windows on the side (flanking the fireplace) are another unique feature, asis the second floor porch with its unusual window placement.

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And as of 1916, several had been built, including one in New York City!

And as of 1916, several had been built, including one in New York City! Pics please?? :)

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Close-up of the house (1916).

Close-up of the house (1916). As mentioned, this house has many unique features, such as the dentil molding, massive eave brackets, tiny attic window set in those deep gables, pergolas, and that massive two-story bay window. That second-story porch (with small windows on either side of the balcony door is also pretty distinctive.

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Here in the flesh

Landscaping prevented a shot that's more akin to the catalog image (as seen above), but there's no doubt about it: This is a Sears Milton. Note the dentil molding atop the columns.

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Straight on

My oh my, that's a fine-looking house! Note the two-story bays on the right!

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Another view

Another view of this wonderful old house.

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From the side

From this angle, you can see those two small windows flanking the chimney.

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Remnants of the rafter tails.

Underneath the flat porch roof are remnants of the old pergola. Note the unique cuts on the rafter tails.

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stanley wow

A view of the Magnificent Milton's front porch.

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Details around the second-story porch.

Details around the second-story porch.

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Comparison

Comparison of the catalog image and the house in Stanley, Virginia.

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To learn more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

Interested in seeing more photos of Sears Homes in the Blue Ridge Mountains? Click here.

The Miltons in New York, New Jersey and Ohio were built between 1913 -1916. Please leave a comment if you have any clue where these homes might be!

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The Beaumont: Extra Convenience

May 29th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

When Rebecca and I were reviewing and comparing our Life Lists, Rebecca identified the Sears Beaumont as one of the Sears Homes that she’d never seen.

“I’ve only seen one,” I told her, “and it was in Carlinville, Illinois.”

Rebecca laughed out loud and said, “I might have driven right past it and not noticed it!”

Me, too.

In 2004, I gave a talk in Carlinville on Sears Homes.

The event was organized by Beth Kaburick, Head Librarian at the Carlinville Public Library.  I was so impressed with her professionalism and her passion for Carlinville’s history. I had first met Beth in 1999, when I spent countless hours at her library, researching Sears Homes, first for an article, and then later for my books.

Beth went out of her way to help me with my research. In 2004, when I gave the talk in Carlinville, it was well publicized and well attended, thanks wholly to Beth. (Sadly, Beth died in June 2007 in a tragic car accident.)

It was after that talk that someone told me about a Sears Home outside of Standard Addition (where 150 Sears Homes are located). The gentleman gave me the street name but wasn’t sure of the specific address.

Immediately after the talk, I drove up and down that street - in the dark - trying to figure out which Sears House I’d missed! As the author of several books on kit homes, I’d driven on that street too many times to count, and had never seen any Sears Homes.

And there in the dark, I saw an interesting Colonial Revival/Bungalowish-type house with a familiar-looking attic window. I grabbed my dog-eared copy of Houses by Mail and hastily thumbed through it and found my match:  The house I’d found in the dark - thanks to a kind stranger at a lecture - was a Sears Beaumont.

That was eight years ago, and it was (and remains) the only Beaumont I’ve ever seen.

To see vintage pictures of Carlinville and Schoper, click here.

To read about the woman who supervised the construction of Standard Addition, click here.

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1919

In the 1919 catalog, the heading proclaimed that the Beaumont had "Extra convenience." Unfortunately, the text in the body offers no clue as to what they're talking about.

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1921

In 1921, the price on the Beaumont increased $500 or about 26%. Pretty steep increase for two year's time. And apparently what it gained in price it lost in "convenience." Now the heading had changed from the dramatic ("Extra convenience") to the pedestrian ("Six rooms and bath").

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floorplan 1921

The Beaumont's floorplan (1921 catalog).

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2004 or so

The Beaumont, as it looked in 2004.

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house

In February 2010, I traveled to Carlinville to do more research for my book, "The Sears Homes of Illinois." That's when this photograph was taken. Notice, a plague of vinyl siding salesmen had descended upon the house since the last photo in 2004.

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house also

Another view of the Beaumont.

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The attic window that caught my eye

That night, when I first saw the Beaumont, it was the attic window that caught my eye.

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Attic window again

Nice match to the catalog picture!

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To learn more about the 150 Sears Homes in Carlinville, click here or here.

To buy Rose’s newest book, click here.

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The Frangible Fosgate or The Diminuitive Delevan?

May 26th, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

The Fosgate and Delevan were two very similar houses offered by Sears in the early 1920s. At first glance, I thought they were the same house, but after looking at the floorplan, I saw that the Fosgate was a little bigger than the Delevan.

And the Fosgate was “Standard Bilt,” while the Delevan was “Honor Bilt.”

Honor Bilt” was Sears’ best. “Standard Bilt” was pretty flimsy, and not suited for extreme weather or longevity.

The Delevan was 22′ by 22′ (pretty tiny), and the Fosgate was 24′ by 24′ (a little less tiny).

As a point of comparison, the Delevan was the size of my den. And the bedrooms in this house were the size of many walk-in closets.

To learn more about the difference between Standard Bilt and Honor Bilt, click here.

Want to learn how to identify Sears Homes? Click here.

title title

"Nice and cozy" is one way of describing a house with 480 square feet (1920).

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Holy moly, look at the size of the bedrooms. And the bathroom! Not enough room in there to change your mind! (The Delevan, 1921 catalog).

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test in 1920 catalog and the above was 1920

Now this is a real puzzle. If you look at the houses on Gamble Street in Shelby, there are no Delevans. This insert appeared on the page with the Delevan (see above, just beside the home's floorplan). And yet, there on Gamble Street you'll see a Sears Fullerton. What exactly did Mr. Thornill build?

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this is from the 1925 catalog

The Fosgate appeared in the 1925 catalog. As you can see, it looks a whole lot like the Delevan. The lone obvious difference (from the outside) is that the Fosgate does not have a window in that front bedroom, where the Delevan DOES. The Fosgate is also two feet longer and wider, and it is "Standard Bilt" compared to the Honor Bilt Delevan.

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1921 Fosgate

The Delevan was a pricey little affair in 1921. The year before, it was a mere $696.

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Lacon Illinois Sears Fosgate or delevan

Located in Laconic Lacon, Illinois, is this a Fosgate or a Delevan? My first impression is that it's a Fosgate (because of the width).

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Cindys photo

Located in Ohio, this little house appears to be the Fosgate, because it's missing that bedroom window on the side. The front porch has certainly been embellished. (Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and can not be used or reproduced without permission.)

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Cindys photo

Same house, different angle. You can see the kitchen window at the rear. (Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and can not be used or reproduced without permission.)

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Cincinnatti Donna Bakke

Is this the Fosgate or the Delevan? Judging by the width, I'd *guess* it's the Delevan, but it's mighty hard to know for sure. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakker and can not be used or reproduced without permission.)

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn about Addie Hoyt Fargo, click here.

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Is Your Neighbor’s House a Sears Kit House?

July 8th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Next time your neighbor invites you over for high tea, take that opportunity to go into their basement and inspect his/her framing members for marks.  More than 90% of the people living in these homes don’t realize what they have. Incredibly, most of these Sears Homeowners tell me - after learning about the unique history of their house - that they’d “never noticed all those numbers” on their floor joists! Or, they saw them and had no idea what they meant.

Below are pictures of marked lumber in Sears Homes!

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This mark - so bold and pretty - was invisible to the eye of the homeowner. She'd lived in this house for 20 years and was totally surprised to see this mark on *all* of her floor joists. This is a typical mark found in a Sears Home. It's a letter and a three-digit number. A is for 2x4, B is 2x6, C is 2x8 and D is 2x10. The numbers - together with detailed blueprints and a 75-page instruction book - told the novice home builder how all those pieces and parts went together.

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Another 2x10 in another Midwestern basement. The number is typically found 2-6" inches from the end of the joist, and can also be found on the butt end of the lumber.

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Sometimes, the marks are easy to spot - if you know where to look.

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Sometimes, they're not so easy to see. This is a 2x4 on the underside of a staircase in a Sears Sunbeam in Beckley, WV. The mark is very faint. Look at the wide part of the 2x4 and you'll see "A 105" directly below the large nail.

Mark

See it now?

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Close-up of the mark (also enhanced).

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At this Sears Vallonia in Columbia, Illinois, the builder was so proud of his Sears House, he turned the treads and risers wrong-side out, so everyone could see those marks.

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The floor joist on this Sears Magnolia in Benson, NC says "2089" and has a family name written beside it. When the lumber was bundled up and prepared for shipment in Cairo, IL, the model number and buyer's name was scribbled in blue grease pencil. Finding a model number in blue grease pencil on a joist is also an effective means of authenticating a Sears Home.

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Those 12,000 pieces of house were shipped via boxcar, and the shipping crates were wooden, and were marked with the homeowner's name. Oftimes, the old crates were re-used to build coal bins or basement walls. This plank was salvaged from an old shipping crate and nailed to a basement wall in an Osborn in Sidney, IL.

Sears

This is a mark found on a newer (post-1934) Sears Home.

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Shipping labels can also provide proof that you have a Sears kit home. Often, the words "Sears and Roebuck" do not appear anywhere on the label, but contain only Sears address: 925 Homan Avenue, Chicago, IL. Shipping labels are often found on the back of millwork.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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When CBS Sunday Morning News Came to Carlinville, Illinois

June 19th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

The Houses That Sears Built came out at just about the same time that my long-term marriage had a surprise ending. Doing a little back of the envelope ciphering, I figured I had enough money to last for about 60 days, and then I’d be flat busted broke. And I’d only make it to 60 days if I stopped buying groceries and lived very simply. If my book wasn’t supporting me by then, I’d have to do something I’d never done before: Get a real job.

The very idea scared me half out of my wits.

I did a lot of praying and a lot of scrambling. And I ate a lot of meals at friends’ houses.

Six weeks after the book hit the streets, I had a call from a reporter at the New York Times. They were doing a feature story on Sears Homes and they wanted to interview me. The story ran on the front page of the Real Estate section. Next came a phone call from a producer who was putting together a new history show for PBS. He’d seen the piece in the New York Times and wanted to know if I could appear on one of their first episodes.

The show, he told me, was tentatively titled, “History Detectives.”

Next I heard from CBS. They wanted to do a piece on the Sears Homes in Carlinville. We arranged a date and met at the town square. Russ Mitchell was the reporter, and he’d been raised in nearby St. Louis, so this was a great assignment for him.

We tooled around the town and I talked about the Sears Homes of Carlinville, explaining that this was not the largest collection of Sears Homes (Elgin has that honor), but it was the largest contiguous collection, with 152 Sears Homes in a 12-block area. As we drove along, I rattled off the names of the eight models of Sears Homes featured in Carlinville.

It was a wonderful day, and as a result of that show, I was then invited to appear on A&E’s Biography.

It was nine years ago (almost to the day), that we filmed that show for CBS Sunday Morning News. I went on to write five more books, and turns out, I made it past those first 60 days, with a little money left over!

Best of all, I never had to get a “real job.”

:)

Filming

CBS film crew starts shooting the Sears Homes from the top of their specially modified Chevy Suburban.

filming

Wish I could remember this fellow's name. He was incredibly polite and a whole lot of fun.

They also shot footage in St. Louis (Kirkwood), where there are several Sears Homes.

They also shot footage in St. Louis (Kirkwood), where there are several Sears Homes.

Producer and Russ review some details for the next shot.

Producer and Russ review some details for the next shot.

To learn more about Sears Homes in Carlinville, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Carlinville, Illinois: Not The Largest Collection of Sears Homes

June 13th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Carlinville is a small city in central Illinois (population 5,400) with 152 Sears Homes in a 12-block area in a neighborhood known as Standard Addition. It is NOT the largest collection of Sears Homes in this country (as is often reported), but it does have the largest collection of contiguous Sears Homes.

Elgin, Illinois has the largest collection of Sears Homes, with more than 210 houses within its borders! (Thanks to Rebecca Hunter for this information!)

When I visit the Midwest every year or so, I stop in and say hello to Carlinville and Standard Addition. After all, it was this community of Sears Homes that launched my career and inspired me to start writing books on this topic! In 1999, I wrote an article for my editor (at Old House Web) about Sears Homes and that one article turned into a career, and what a blessing that career has been in my life.

And yet, with each visit, I see this neighborhood slip-sliding downward. It’s very sad to see, and I wish something could be done to preserve and protect this unique collection of Sears Homes. It’s an amazing piece of our architectural history, and is worthy of preservation.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To read another article on Carlinville, click here.

A Sears Roseberry thats looking a little rough

This little Roseberry has had many modifications. It's kind of the Michael Jackson of architecture, with six too many nose jobs.

Yuck

When originally built in 1919, this Sears Warrenton looked very different. If walls could talk, this house would say "Ouch!"

Sears

Another Sears Warrenton with 1960s permastone, 1980s vinyl and 1990s aluminum columns.

More permastone dons the front of this Roseberry

The Permastone salesman had a lot of success peddling his wares in Carlinville.

Wow

Sears Gladstone with a closed-in front porch and a new porch added on. To their credit, the garage addition has been done thoughtfully with a hip roof that matches the original structure.

Sears Windsor.

The front porch on this Sears Windsor has been completely closed in. That one square window on the enclosed front porch is rather cyclopsian.

Vintage Carlinville

Vintage Carlinville. This photo was taken in the late 1910s when the houses in Carlinville were under construction. These houses were originally built by Standard Oil of Indiana for their coal miners in Carlinville.

To read another article on Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Carlinville: “Coming Out of The Mud”

May 22nd, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

If you could go back in time 100 years, you might find it a little challenging to understand exactly what people were talking about. In the early 1900s, some words had radically different meanings.

For instance, there’s the word “slacker.” A slacker was any able-bodied young man who did not volunteer to serve in the military (and subsequently become part of the American Expeditionary Force).

Wanting to learn more about this time period in American history, I also studied World War 1. It wasn’t called WW1 until the late 1930s, when WW2 broke out. In the late 1910s, it was known as “The Great War.” When the American government was selling the citizens on the idea of another war, we were promised that this would be “The War to End All Wars.” (Turned out, they were wrong about that.)

One of the most chilling definitions I learned was the etymology of the term “basket-case.” During the The Great War, when a soldier lost his limbs in battle, a wicker basket was used to carry the limbless figure off the battlefield. One can only imagine the mental state of such a soldier. The fellow soldiers described him as “a real basket-case.”

“Smut” was another interesting term. It was a disease of the wheat crop, and in the early 1900s, smut damaged so much wheat that it caused a nation-wide shortage of wheat.

An article in the 1920 Stanolind Record (employee newsletter of Standard Oil) said that soon Carlinville residents would be “coming out of the mud.” (Carlinville’s “Standard Addition” neighborhood has 152 Sears Homes in a 12-block area. Carlinville is in central Illinois.) For several months, I could not glean the meaning of this unusual phrase. Finally, I found a clipping that said a neighborhood had just “come out of the mud.” It showed freshly paved streets and sidewalks. “Coming out of the mud” meant the subdivision now had proper sidewalks and city streets.

Vintage photo of Carlinvilles Standard Addition before it came out of the mud.

Vintage photo of Carlinville's Standard Addition before it "came out of the mud." This photo came from the Sears Modern Homes catalog (1918).

Carlinville

Another view of Muddy Carlinville (pre-paved streets and sidewalks). This photo came from the Stanolind Record (employee newsletter for Standard Oil).

Muddy

This picture appeared in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog, and it would appear the streets are in the process of being paved in this photo.

Carlinville

Carlinville's little Sears Homes under construction in about 1918.

To read about Carlinville today, click here.

To buy Rose’s book on Sears Homes, click here.

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