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New Information on Schoper, Illinois

December 31st, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

All ghost towns have a fascinating history, and Schoper, Illinois is no different.

Located about eight miles from Carlinville, the town of Schoper (also known as Standard City) was originally Thomas Schoper’s 500-acre family farm. In 1918, Standard Oil of Indiana bought the farm (literally) from Schoper, and sunk a 300-feet deep coal mine.

After a coal shortage in 1917, Standard Oil wanted a reliable supply of coal to call their own. The coal was used to fire the stills that refined crude oil and turned it into gasoline.

After the completion of several gelogocial surveys (commissioned by Standard Oil), it was discovered that there was a seven-foot tall seam of coal in the ground at Schoper. As an added bonus, Schoper was near The Chicago and Alton rail line, which was centrally located between the refineries in Wood River (near St. Louis) and Whiting, Indiana (near Chicago).

In 1918, Standard Oil placed a $1 million order (for 192 houses) with Sears Roebuck and Company for 192 Honor-Bilt homes. The houses were purchased for employees in CarlinvilleWood River and Schoper, Illinois. One hundred and fifty six of the houses were built in Carlinville, 12 were built in Schoper and 24 went to Wood River.

The 12 houses were built for the supervisors at the “Schoper Mine.” There were also boarding houses and dorms built at Schoper, for the miners.

By the mid-1920s, the boom at Schoper had gone bust. The price of coal dropped after The Great War (1918), and Standard Oil could now buy their coal cheaper from mines in Kentucky (which did not have unions) than they could mine it in Macoupin County.

In July 1925, a small column on the bottom page of the Macoupin County Enquirer sadly announced that the mine was closed for good.

Nine of the 12 little Sears Houses were painstakingly disassembled and left Schoper the same way they came in:  In pieces and loaded on a boxcar, headed off to destinations unknown.

Two of the Sears Homes were moved intact, to sites just outside of Standard City. The last Sears House at Schoper (The Sears Gladstone) was home to John McMillan and his wife, a supervisor with the mine. After the mine closed, he became a caretaker charged with myriad tasks, such as making sure the powerful fans down in the mine kept the methane down to acceptable levels.

McMillan’s little Gladstone eventually became rental property and burned down sometime in the mid-1990s.  The last remnant at the site was the Schoper Powerhouse and Mine Offices, a massive concrete Federalist structure which was torn down in Summer 2003.

And that was the whole story - until last month - when a reader sent me an email with new information. I’m not sure how he did it, but he found 1930s aerial maps of Schoper, which showed the footprints (and precise location) of the 12 little Sears Homes.

Scroll on down to enjoy the many photos, including the vintage aerial photo from 1937!

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Schoper

In the front pages of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog, this image was erroneously identified as a street view of the houses as "Schopper, Illinois." In fact, this was a picture of the 24 Sears Homes in Wood River. No pictures of Schoper appeared in the Sears Modern Homes catalogs.

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house house house

Picture of Schoper from the late 1910s. At the foot of the sidewalk is a 12-bay garage, shared by the occupants of the 12 Sears Homes. The Power House is shown in the background (near Schoper Lake). The Whitehall, Gladstone and Warrenton are shown in the foreground.

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house schoper house

Schoper was the site of a massive, modern colliery (1921 Stanolind Record). As a side note, I have no idea what this massive piece of equipment is. If a reader can identify this, please leave a comment below.

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Mine Road

And here's a bit of that vintage aerial map, showing the placement of those 12 Sears Homes in Schoper (outlined with a red square). The building circled in red is the Schoper Powerhouse.

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map map map 1937

Close-up of the aerial map (1937). The four white squares on each street represent the footprint where the 12 Schoper homes were located.

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house house house house house

And what Rachel Shoemaker discovered - which is nearly unbelievable - is that if you look at this modern aerial view, you can still see the outline of 12 squares, representing the placement of those 12 Schoper houses.

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Schoper rose

It was claimed that the ’s six dynamos in the Schoper Power House had the potential to create enough electricity to power the entire state of Illinois. The local papers said it was the most powerful steam-driven power plant in the world. The smokestack was 213 feet tall and was the second highest peak in Macoupin County, only a little shorter than the spire atop the Macoupin County Courthouse in Carlinville. The picture above was taken in 2002, about a year before it was torn down.

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schoper house

The Schoper Power House, as seen in the 1921 Stanolind Record. When completed in mid-1919, the Power House also brought electricity to those twelve Sears houses. They were the only "electrified" houses in Schoper. The rest of the community would not know the joys of electric lights until power lines from Carlinville made their way to Standard City in the 1930s.

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house schoper

For many years, that last remaining Sears house (John McMillan's Gladstone) stood alone on a plot that was rapidly reverting to its primitive status as farmland. After the mines closed, McMillan became the mine’s caretaker. It was his job to descend into the deserted coal mine several times a week, grease the water pumps and turn them on. Ground water, which seeped into the mine, had to be pumped out frequently. He was also responsible for turning on the powerful ventilating fans to remove any build-up of firedamp - highly explosive methane gas - which accumulates in coal mines. As of 2003 (when this photo was taken), all that was left of the 12 Schoper Houses was this slight indent in the field.

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Schoper Lake

When Schoper was created in the late 1910s, a creek alongside the powerhouse was damned up to create a seven-acre, 40-foot-deep lake. Underground pipes drafted water from the lake to the powerhouse for the steam engines.

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To see the original vintage map, click here.

To read more about Carlinville’s kit homes, click here.

The above was excerpted from The Houses That Sears BuiltTo buy the book, click here.

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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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Quite Possibly, The Most Beautiful Elsmore in the World

December 10th, 2012 Sears Homes 9 comments

The Elsmore was a hugely popular house for Sears, and it was probably one of their top five best selling models.

Since all sales records were destroyed during a post-WW2 corporate housecleaning at Sears, it’s hard to know for sure, but I do know that I’ve seen a whole lot of Elsmores in my travels.

Earlier this year, I posted another blog on the Elsmore (click here to see that), but I was inspired to post a second blog, due to this home’s incredible popularity and also because Cindy Catanzaro found and photographed one of the prettiest (and most well-cared-for) Elsmores that I’ve ever seen.

To read more on the Elsmore, click here.

Refinement and Comfort here.  How elegant sounding!

"Refinement and Comfort here." Sounds lovely!!

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Heres an Elsmore that was built in Cairo, IL not far from the spot where Sears had their 40-acre mill.

Here's an Elsmore that was built in Cairo, IL not far from the spot where Sears had their 40-acre lumber mill. This Elsmore, built at 1501 Commerce Avenue, was torn down pre-2001. I visited Cairo then and went looking for this house, but 1501 Commerce was an empty lot at that point. How many Sears Homes in Cairo have been razed? It's a vexing question.

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Another vintage Elsmore.

Another vintage Elsmore. This one was in Glenshaw, PA (1919 catalog).

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This is one of my favorite Elsmores. Its in Park Ridge, Illiois. Picture perfect in every way. Photo is copyright 2010, Dale Patrick Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

This is one of my favorite Elsmores. It's in Park Ridge, Illinois. Picture perfect in every way. Photo is copyright 2010, Dale Patrick Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

Visit Dale’s website by clicking here.

And the crème de la crème

And the crème de la crème. Cindy Catazaro found this house in Oakwood Ohio and it has been lovingly and faithfully restored. The house has obviously had some "renovations," but they've been done in a thoughtful, sensitive manner. I'm so impressed to know that there are people in the world who love their Sears House *this* much! Photo is copyright 2012, Cindy Catazaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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An mini-Elsmore? It might be a trick of the eye, but it appears this Elsmore in Walnutport, PA is a little narrower than the catalog version.

An skinny mini-Elsmore? It might be a trick of the eye, but it appears this Elsmore in Walnutport, PA is a little narrower than the catalog version. The window arrangement is also a little different. I'd love to know the history behind this house. Photo is copyright 2012 Angela Laury and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Elsmore, as it appeared in the later 1910s and 20s was actually a remodel of this

The Elsmore, as it appeared in the later 1910s and 20s was actually a remodel of Modern Home #126, which was first offered in the 1908 (first) Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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If you compare the two floorplans, youll see how similar they really are.

If you compare the two floorplans, you'll see how similar they are. This is the floorplan for the Sears Modern Home #126 (1908). Notice the size of the rooms and placement of windows.

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Floor

And here's the floorplan for the Elsmore (1916). The chamfered corners are gone and the front porch is different, but the rest of the house is the same, down to window placement and room size. The front porch roof on Modern Home #126 (with cantilevers) *always* sagged due to its fantastic weight. Not a good design. The changes to the Elsmore porch fixed that problem.

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Thanks to Cindy Catazaro and Dale Wolicki for providing such beautiful photos!

To read more about the Elsmore, click here.

To visit Dale’s website, click here.

Did you enjoy this blog? Please take a moment and leave a nice comment below. I’m living on nothing but love.

:)

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The Elsmore: Refinement and Comfort

May 3rd, 2012 Sears Homes 7 comments

If you only learn to identify five Sears Homes, one of them should be the Elsmore. It was a perennial favorite amongst kit home buyers, and for good reason. It was offered in two floor plans and both had several nice features, including spacious rooms, a living room fireplace, a kitchen that overlooked the back yard, and a super-sized front porch. It was attractive house with a smart floor plan.

In 1919, the 1,100-square-foot home sold for a mere $1,528 - a solid value. There was a little bit of extra room in the attic too, if someone was willing to do some work to transform the second story into living space. In some cases, people added dormers to the massive hipped roof to add a window or two.

The 1919 catalog page (shown below) promised “Refinement and Comfort Here.” The Sears catalog was famous for its puffery, but in this case, the promises made about the Elsmore were probably pretty accurate.

Want to read more about the history of the Elsmore? Click here

To order a copy of Rose’s newest book, click here.

Elsmore, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

Elsmore, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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The 1924 catalog testimonial

This testimonial - written by Mr. DeHaven of Glenshaw, PA appeared in the 1924 catalog. It would be fun to find this house today.

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Elsmore in Cairo (now gone) 1921

This Elsmore was built at 1501 Commercial Avenue in in Cairo, Illinois. As of 2002, there was nothing but a vacant lot at that site. Mr. Fitzjearls house is long gone. Sears had a 40-acre mill in Cairo and there are many Sears Homes throughout Cairo, but not a single Elsmore.

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1921 houses

Mr. Fitzjearl built an Elsmore at 1501 Commercial Avenue.

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Sears Elsmore in Bedford, VA

Sears Elsmore in Bedford, VA (near Roanoke).

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Sears Elsmore as een in 1916

In the 1916 catalog, the Elsmore sold for a mere $937.

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Park Ridge, Il Dale

Dale Wolicki found this Elsmore in Park Ridge, Illinois. This house gets my vote for the most perfect Elsmore in America. Original windows, doors, siding and railings. Just amazing. Photo is courtesy of Dale Patrick Wolicki and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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One of the most perfect Elsmores in the world is in Elgin, IL.

The second most perfect Elsmore in the world is in Elgin, IL. Notice the original railing!

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Elsmore in Benld

This Elsmore has had a lot of "remodeling" but it still retains some original Elsmore features, such as the lone sash in the front porch attic. It's located in Benld, IL.

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Clifton Forge

This Elsmore is in Clifton Forge, Virginia.

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Sears Elsmore suffolk

This Elsmore is in downtown Suffolk.

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Mounds, Illinois is very close to Cairo, which was home to a massive 40-acre Sears Mill in the 1920s and 30s. Not surprisingly, there are many Sears Homes throughout this area.

Mounds, Illinois is very close to Cairo, which was home to a massive 40-acre Sears Mill in the 1920s and 30s. Not surprisingly, there are many Sears Homes throughout this area.

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Theres an abundance of Sears Homes in Takoma Park (DC area) too.

There's an abundance of Sears Homes in Takoma Park (DC area) too. Someone added a couple double-hung windows to the porch attic and turned it into living space.

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Colonail Heiths

This Elsmore is somewhere in Virginia. Wow. Just wow. And not a good wow.

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floor plan

These Elsmore was offered in this lone floor plan until the early 1920s when a second floor plan was offered.

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The Elsmore came in two floor plans

The second floor plan had the same footprint, but the interior was very different, and it had a pair of windows in the dining room. If you scroll back up and look at these houses, you'll see most of them are "Floor plan #13192."*

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beauty 1919

The Elsmore as it appeared in 1921.

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Photo from Dale

Side by side comparison of the Elsmore in the catalog (left) and real life (right).

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn about Wardway Homes, click here.

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Carlinville and Schoper, Illinois

May 23rd, 2011 Sears Homes 10 comments

Update! This article was updated in 2013. To read the latest, click here!

I love ghost towns. All ghost towns have a fascinating history, and this one in Schoper, Illinois is no different. It’s the real deal - a boom town that went bust and literally disappeared off the map.

It started in 1918, when Standard Oil of Indiana placed a $1 million order with Sears Roebuck and Company for 192 Honor-Bilt homes. Standard Oil purchased the houses for their workers in Carlinville, Wood River and Schoper, Illinois. Of those 192 houses, 156 landed in Carlinville, 12 were built in Schoper and 24 went to Wood River.

Standard Oil was grateful for the dandy little houses, as is evidenced by this thank-you note that they wrote to Sears.

This thank you note graced the back pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs for many years.

This appeared on the back pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs for many years.

In Schoper, Illinois (about 8 miles from Carlinville), the 12 houses were built for the coal miners at a colliery that would become known as “Schoper Mine.”

Prior to the arrival of Standard Oil, this site had been a typical early 20th Century farm with one old house and a few outbuildings. By the late 1910s, more than 1000 people were living in “Schoper” and in 1920, the 500-acre farm was incorporated as a village and named Standard City.

Standard Oil needed a steady supply of coal to fuel the stills that refined the crude oil into gasoline. Carlinville and Schoper were ideal locations because of the seven-foot thick vein of coal, and also because of its location. The Chicago and Alton rail line ran between Standard Oil’s refineries in Wood River (near St. Louis) and Whiting, Indiana (near Chicago).

Providing homes to workers was a proven tact for creating a more stable workforce, and also attracted “family men,” who were more desirable employees for a plethora of reasons. And in these pre-OSHA days, it was a nice bonus. Mining was horribly dangerous, and an article in the Macoupin County Enquirer (dated September 19, 1923) said that 18 miners died that year in Macoupin County, which was in line with the national average of “one [miner] fatality per 279,354 tons of coal produced.”

Schoper was - at its peak - the largest coal mine in the state of Illinois, employing 650 men and hoisting up to 4,000 tones of coal each day. About 450 men worked at the Berry Mine (Carlinville), producing about 2,000 tons of coal per day.

Times were good. In the early 1920s, Schoper miners worked about 298 days per year, while nationwide, most coal miners were working about 200 days per year.

By the mid-1920s, the boom had gone bust. The price of coal dropped precipitously after The Great War (1918), and Standard Oil could now buy their coal from non-union Kentucky mines far cheaper than they could mine it in Macoupin County.

In July 1925, a small column on the bottom page of the Macoupin County Enquirer said the mine was closed for good.

Nine of the 12 little Sears Houses went out the way they came in:  In pieces and loaded on a boxcar. They were disassembled (which must have been a massive project, but probably provided work for a few idle coal miners), and shipped by train to destinations unknown. Two of the Sears Homes were moved intact, to sites just outside of Standard City. The last Sears House at Schoper (The Sears Gladstone) was home to John McMillan and his wife, a supervisor with the mine. After the mine closed, he became a caretaker making sure the powerful fans kept the methane down to acceptable levels.

McMillan’s little Gladstone eventually became rental property and burned down sometime in the mid-1990s.  The last remnant at the site was the Schoper Powerhouse and Mine Offices, a massive concrete structure which was torn down in Summer 2003.

There’s something about this former boom town that is compelling and even haunting. Driving into Standard City, you turn onto Mine Road to reach the site of the old mine, or hang a left for Cinder Road (made from old cinders). And then there’s Pershing Street, undoubtedly named for General John “Black Jack” Pershing, WW1 hero and commander of the American Expeditionary Force. Another street is Rice Street, probably named for Charles Rice, who handled real estate acquisitions for Standard Oil.

Standing on the plat land beside the abandoned, vandalized powerhouse, gazing out at Schoper Lake, you can close your eyes and almost hear the steam whistle signaling the end of a shift. Listen, really listen, and maybe you’ll hear the metal cables of the hoist groan and creak as a steel cage raises three dozen coal-blackened minders from 440 feet below grade.

Einstein said, “To those of us who are committed physicists, the  past, present and future are only illusion, however persistent.”

Nowhere in my experiences have I intuitively felt that this illusion of time is more fragile and ethereal than at the site of Schoper Mine. And you if you’re not a romantic/tangential/historical fanatic dream (as I am), but just someone who enjoys visiting towns that boomed and busted, it’s still worth the trip.

Just don’t speed and don’t litter and don’t tromp on the crops. Standard City is still home to about 100 folks, and they (rightfully so) love their community.

To read more about Carlinville’s kit homes, click here.

The above was excerpted from The Houses That Sears Built. To buy the book, click here.

To read about a fascinating ghost town in Virginia, click here.

Enjoy the photos below!

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One of the only known photos of the Sears Homes in Schoper, Illinois.

One of the only known photos of the Sears Homes in Schoper, Illinois. Note that the Sears Homes shown here have tar-paper roofs. After Schoper closed down, the houses were "wrecked" (deconstructed) and put back in railroad cars and shipped on down the line. Two of the houses were moved intact to other locations.

Picture of Mine 1 at Schoper, taken from the 1921 Stanolind Record

Picture of Mine 1 at Schoper, taken from the 1921 Stanolind Record

Vintage picture of the Schoper Powerhouse, also from the 1921 Stanolind Record

Vintage picture of the Schoper Powerhouse, also from the 1921 Stanolind Record. The Schoper powerhouse consumed more than 60 tons of coal per day. The smokestack was 213 feet tall and was the second highest point in all of Macoupin County. The highest point was the spire atop the Macoupin County courthouse.

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This picture appeared in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog, promoting their wonderful little kit homes. It was labeled "Schopper" (sic) but in fact, it's a street view of the 24 Sears Homes in Wood River. The houses in Schoper were laid out on three streets in groups of four houses per street. Further, Sears didn't seem to know how to spell "Schoper."

The Schoper Powerhouse, photographed in 2002, about a year before it was torn down. This building also houses offices for the Schoper Mine.

The Schoper Powerhouse, photographed in 2002, about a year before it was torn down. This building also houses offices for the Schoper Mine.

Another view of the Schoper Powerhouse

Another view of the Schoper Powerhouse. When completed in 1919, this powerhouse supplied electricity to the 12 Sears Homes (just across the street). In November 1919, the city of Carlinville authorized spending $2,056 to run underground electrical lines from the Schoper powerhouse to Berry Mine in Carlinville, electrifying that mine as well.

When Schoper was created in the late 1910s, a creek that ran through an area beside the powerhouse was damned to create a seven-acre, 40-foot-deep lake - which became known as Schoper Lake. Underground pipes drafted water from the lake to the powerhouse for the steam engines. It was claimed that the six dynamos in this powerhouse had the potential to create enough electricity for the entire state of Illinois.

When Schoper was created in the late 1910s, a creek that ran through an area beside the powerhouse was damned to create a seven-acre, 40-foot-deep lake - which became known as Schoper Lake. Underground pipes drafted water from the lake to the powerhouse for the steam engines. It was claimed that the six dynamos in this powerhouse had the potential to create enough electricity for the entire state of Illinois.

This photo was taken in 2002, and it shows that all the remains of John McMillans Gladstone is a little dip in the soil and a short piece of driveway.

This photo was taken in 2002, and it shows that all the remains of John McMillan's Gladstone is a little dip in the soil and a short piece of driveway.

To read more about the largest order in the history of Sears homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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