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Posts Tagged ‘the houses that sears built’

Number Nine

March 20th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

In 2008, Ersela Jordan contacted me and told me that she’d discovered a surfeit of Sears Homes in Beckley, WV. Turned out, she was right!  About the same time, another Beckley resident named Sandi Daniels got in on the fun and said that she’d found a Sears Magnolia in a nearby town!

Within a few weeks of that first contact, I was in the car, headed west on I-64 toward Beckley, WV. Once I arrived, Ersela, Sandi and I became fast friends and we had a wonderful time together.

The three of us together, with Ersela driving, went out to the rural spot where Sandi had spotted a Magnolia.

Turns out, it was not a Magnolia.

In a big way.

Ersela and I chided Sandi a bit, but she took it all in good stride. Through the intervening years, Sandi has sent me photos of her subsequent discoveries and I’ve always had to tell her the same thing, “Sorry Sandi…”

Until yesterday.

She sent me photos of yet another purported “Sears Magnolia” in New Martinsville, WV. But this time, the picture gave me pause.

Sandi and I talked on the phone, and she sent a few more pictures. Within 30 minutes, I was becoming convinced. Plus, Sandi and the home’s owner answered my many questions about the home’s quirky floorplan, well-nigh settling in my mind that this was the real thing.

Sandi sent me about two dozen photos of the house, and the photos pretty well cinched the deal.

I’m hoping to visit this potential “Number Nine” sometime in late Spring, and get a closer look, but right now, I feel very confident that this could well be another Sears Magnolia.

Better yet, it’s the 2nd Magnolia found in West Virginia.

Now that’s impressive!

Thanks so much to Sandi Daniels for finding our 9th Magnolia!

To read about the other Magnolias, click here.

Click here to read my favorite Magnolia blog.

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The Magnolia was offered only from 1918-1922, and was featured on the cover of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia was offered only from 1918-1922, and was featured on the cover of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog. For many years, it was believed that only six Magnolias had been built in the country.

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The Magnolia, as seen in the 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia, as seen in the 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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The Magnolia was Sears biggest and best kit home, and had servants quarters on the 2nd floor.

The Magnolia was Sears biggest and best kit home, and had four bedrooms (two of which had dressing areas), a front and rear staircase, and "servants' quarters" on the 2nd floor (upper left bedroom).

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It was a fine house

It was a fine house, measuring 40 feet deep and 36 feet wide.

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The house Sandi found in New Martinsville, WV has been through a lot of changes. The windows were replaced and substitute siding was installed. Its also been converted from a residential home into a commercial restaurant and shop. All these changes have really altered the appearance of the house, and yet, based on what Ive seen, Im still willing to declare - with much certainty - that this does appear to be a Sears Magnolia.

The house Sandi found in New Martinsville, WV has been through a lot of changes. The windows were replaced aand the window openings were altered. Plus, substitute siding was installed. It's also been converted from a residential home into a commercial restaurant and shop. All these changes have really altered the appearance of the house, and yet, based on what I've seen, I'm still willing to declare - with much certainty - that this does appear to be a Sears Magnolia. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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After seeing the outside, I felt pretty certain this could be a Magnolia, but after I saw the interior, I became ever more convinced.

After seeing the outside, I felt pretty certain that this was a Magnolia, but after I saw the interior, I became ever more convinced. This is what a Magnolia looks like on the 2nd floor.

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And the

In the living room, there have been many dramatic alterations to accomodate its conversion into commercial space, and yet I can still see the hints of a Magnolia lurking here.

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house house

Again, speaking as someone who's inspected the interior of three Sears Magnolias, these proportions look right to me. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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These interior views were featured in the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

These "interior views" were featured in a special fold-out of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog. From this "angle" you can see one o f the more curious features of the Sears Magnolia: There's one set of French Doors on the landing (which lead to a small balcony off the back of the house), and a second set of French Doors (beside the staircase on the first floor) leading to a rear hallway. (Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for sharing this RARE image from her own collection of original catalogs!)

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Check out this

In this picture, you can see the French Doors leading to the rear hallway, and you can see a piece of the French Doors on the upstairs landing. On the New Martinsville Magnolia, the French Doors on the landing now lead to another room (added to the back of the house). Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Is it or isnt it?

Another view of those French Doors on the 2nd floor landing. And just beyond those French Doors (on the first floor, to the left of the staircase) is another door which is *also* a quirky feature, unique to the Sears Magnolia. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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These interior views were featured in the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

If you mentally close those French Doors on the first floor in Sandi's picture (above this one) and compare it to THIS photo, you can really see the similarities. (1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.)

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If you mentally close those French doors,

If you mentally close those French doors to the left in Sandi's photo, you'll see that this is a near-perfect match, down to the unusual volute on the staircase. The spindles in the New Martinsville house are tapered, which I have seen in other high-end Sears Homes.The flair at the base of the stairs is an enhancement, buut for an experienced carpenter, this would be an easy alteration. .

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And from this angle, you can see another doorway tucked back in that small hallway (beyond the French Doors). This is also right (according to the floorplan) and lends even more support to my burgooning hope that this is the real thing.

Look closely, and you can see another doorway tucked back in that rear hallway (beyond the French Doors and to the left). This is also true to the Magnolia's floorplan and lends even more support to my burgooning hope that this is the real thing. And you can also get a better view of the volute. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And theres the outside.

And there's the outside. The house has been through a whole lot of changes, but I like the look of these proportions, too. It's unfortunate that when the front windows were replaced, the 15-marginal lites at the top were removed, and extra tall windows installed, but that's how it goes. At least it's still standing (unlike the Magnolia in Nebraska). Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Its still a fine old house.

It's still a fine old house. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And retains some of its original grandeur.

And retains some of its original grandeur. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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blah

More than 30% of Sears Homes were customized when built. Upstairs, on that 2nd floor balcony, someone opted for French Doors instead of a single door flanked by two small windows (as indicated in the original catalog images). Take a look at the floorplan in this area, and you'll agree, this is a good choice. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The original columns were preserved, but...

The original columns were preserved, but it looks like someone, desperate to deal with the rotting bases, wrapped them in concrete. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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This little detail - something the siding installers left behind - also gives an important clue.

This little detail - something the siding installers left behind - also gives an important clue. BTW, look at how the siding installers "wrapped" the trim around this post. <shudder> Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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That paneled post shown above - is just what Id expect to see on a Sears Magnolia.

That paneled post shown above - is just what I'd expect to see on a Sears Magnolia (minus the wooden ball on top). If this house is not a Magnolia, it's a darn good look-alike.

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This little detail - something the siding installers left behind - also gives an important clue.

This picture also shows the Magnoliaa's pilaster - yet another little detail - that is spot on. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Buut is

But is it our 9th Magnolia? I feel confident that it is. :) Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And while were talking about Sears Houses, I suspect that this is a Sears garage.

And while we're talking about Sears Houses, I suspect that this is a Sears garage. Photo is copyright 2014 Sandi Daniels and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Pretty nice

Pretty nice match, isn't it?

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To read about the other Magnolias, click here.

Click here to read my favorite Magnolia blog.

To contact Rose, 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 Home Stretch

March 7th, 2014 Sears Homes 10 comments

Twelve years ago, my life changed in so many ways and it all happened so fast.

January 2002, my beloved mother died suddenly. Less than 60 days later, my husband of 24 years asked for a divorce. Thirty days later, a close friend severed all ties with me. In 90 days, three of the most important people in my life were gone.

And yet a fresh green sprout of hope sprung up in the midst of those charred ashes of my life: My book on Sears Homes.

That book was a lifeline in too many ways to count, and it was an answer to so many prayers.

After the book was published (March 2002), I did some “back of the envelope ciphering” and figured I had enough cash on hand to survive 90 days. If my book had not “taken off” by then, I’d have to do something that scared the heck out of me: Get a real job.

Desperate to stretch my grocery budget, I ate very little and lost a lot of weight.

Sixty days out, I got a call from The New York Times. They were doing a feature story on Sears Homes and they’d heard I’d just written a book. A couple weeks later, my book and I hit the front page of the Real Estate Section. Next, I got a call from a producer at History Detectives. I appeared on the 2nd episode of the first season.

I was off to the races.

Since then, I’ve been featured on CBS Sunday Morning News, A&E’s Biography, MSNBC, BBC Radio, NPR Radio and more. In Summer 2004, my book was featured on Jeopardy!

In the last 12 years, I’ve given more than 200 lectures in 26 states. I’ve traveled many miles spreading the good news of this important and unique chapter in America’s architectural history. And I’ve met so many first-class folks along the way.

It’s truly been a big adventure and a whole lot of fun.

But, as the sophists say, all good things must come to an end.

The last three years, this business venture has not been profitable. The cost of everything keeps going up, and the profit margins keep going down. Three months ago, the last printing of The Houses That Sears Built came off the presses. When those books are gone, that’ll be the end.

In three or four months, the inventory at Amazon.com will be gone, and probably a few months after that, the stock of books I keep here at the house (sold through this website) will be exhausted.

I imagine I’ll never stop looking for kit homes, and I’ll keep writing at this website. Heck, when I’m in my 80s, I’ll probably still be yelling, “STOP THE CAR” to whomever is driving me around.

But the days of printing these books - an important chapter in my life - has come to a close.

If you’d like to purchase my books, they’re available at this website.

While supplies last.

:)

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Its certainly been a fun run.

It's certainly been a fun run. The book on the right (first edition) has been out of print for 10 years, but the book on the left is now - as of January 2014 - out of print. Amazon has some inventory to sell off, and I have a few boxes here at the hoouse from the last printing. That's the last of the lot.

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And yes

When the last of the books are gone, it'll be nice to have this space free again.

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In 2005, I visited Lorain, Ohio and it was quite a thrill to see my name on the theater marquis!

In 2005, I visited Lorain, Ohio and it was quite a thrill to see my name on the theater marquis!

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If you took a stroll down the hallway of my home, youd see how much I enjoyed being The Author of this fun little niche topic.

If you took a stroll down the hallway of my home here in Norfolk, you'd see some of the mementos from my travels.

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In Raleigh, NC, they made this big movie poster for my talk.

In Raleigh, NC, they made this big movie poster for my talk. For my birthday, my husband had it framed.

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In November 2010, my last book (The Sears Homes of Illinois) was published, and I did a book tour throughout Illinois.

In November 2010, my last book ("The Sears Homes of Illinois") was published, and I did a book tour throughout Illinois. That was also a good time, but wearying.

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A personal favorite. In 2004, I was invited to give a talk at The Smithsonian Museum (Postal Museum). That was such a thrill for me. The day I gave that talk, I felt like I had finally proven myself to be a "legitimate" author!

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And this was also a special lecture for me. I was at this lecture when I

And this was also a special lecture for me. I was at this lecture in Jefferson City when Wayne Ringer called me the very first time. Ninety days later, we were engaged to be married.

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Sometimes, unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game (from the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun).

"Sometimes, unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game" (from the movie, "Under the Tuscan Sun").

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If you’d like to purchase my books, they’re available at this website.

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Marguerite’s Beautiful and Beloved #124

February 5th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

Last year, Sears homeowner Marguerite Deppert saw my blogs (here and here) on Sears Modern Home #124 and sent me several wonderful photos of her own home, which she had recently purchased in Montvale, NJ.

It’s a real beauty and in gorgeous condition. I wouldn’t be surprised if Montvale has many Sears Homes, due in part to the fact that they’re less than 30 miles from Port Newark, where Sears had a large mill. (Sears had but two mills - one in Cairo, IL and one in Newark, NJ.)

Thanks so much to Marguerite Deppert for sharing these photos with me! I’ve been drooling over them all morning!

To see a wide variety of pictures of Sears Modern Home 124, click here.

Did you know there’s a #124 in Lincolnton, Georgia? Click here to see that.

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Number 124 was gone by 1918 (when Sears Homes were given names), but it seemed to be a fairly popular house. Its certainly distinctive!

Sears Modern Home #124 was gone from the catalogs by 1918 (when Sears Homes were given names), but it seemed to be a fairly popular house. It's certainly distinctive! (1916)

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Marguerites house was even mentioned in the 1916 catalog!

Marguerite's house was even mentioned in the 1916 catalog!

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Spaciosu floor plan.

Some of the older homes have rather "odd" floorplans, but #124 was quite sensible.

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Years ago, Rebecca Hunter and I toured the inside of the #124 in Crystal Lake, IL and that little bathroom shown above was really tucked away under that sloping roof. Interesting, but almost claustrophobic.

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Nice house, and a darn good price!

Nice house, and a darn good price!

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Oh my, what a house!

Oh my, what a house! Even the detail around the chimneys is a match to the vintage image! (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Wow.

The rock border on the driveway is a nice complement to the stone columns. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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phoo

A view from the side highlights that beautiful stone work on the chimney. The two chimneys are covered with stone to the roofline, and then above the roofline, they're brick. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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close up

Close up of those unique details on the front porch. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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house

What a fine-looking house. What a treasure for Montvale. And I suspect Marguerite is one of the happiest homeowners in America! (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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details

Look at those wee tiny second-floor windows tucked up under that porch roof. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

What a beautiful house!

What a beautiful house! Just stunning. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Thanks again to Marguerite for sharing these wonderful photos!

To see a wide variety of pictures of Sears Modern Home 124, click here.

Did you know there’s a #124 in Lincolnton, Georgia? Click here to see that.

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My Favorite Magnolia Story - As Told By A Builder Who Built A Maggy

February 3rd, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

This blog originally appeared at this site November 2011. That was more than two years ago, and I thought it’d be worthwhile to print this again.  Enjoy!

In September 2002, I flew to Akron, Ohio to work with a producer for a new show that was tentatively called, History Detectives. They were very excited about launching the new program with a story on Sears Homes. I would appear on the second episode, in a story centered around some purported Sears Homes in Firestone Park in Akron.

The filming started at a beautiful Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio. What a thrill that was, to see my first Sears Magnolia up close and personal!

The filming took place in March and it was very cold in Ohio. Seemed like it was either snowing, getting ready to snow, or just finishing up with snow. I never saw a blue sky during my time in Ohio.

Despite the cold weather, it was a happy, happy event for me - all the way around. Throughout the eight days of filming, I was treated like a queen and I had my own “gaffer,” who fetched me donuts and hot cocoa and gloves and any little thing my heart desired. What fun!

Years after that big event, someone sent me an article about the building of that Magnolia in Canton, Ohio. It was written sometime in the early 1990s by a Canton history buff, T. E. Prather. The title was “Magnolia: Neo Classic Revival Revived!”

What’s remarkable about this article is that it quotes the 94-year-old builder who helped build the Magnolia in 1923. (Unfortunately, it was a short newspaper clipping, and there was no newspaper name attached! I’d love to know where this originally appeared.)

Clarence Swallow was the builder of nearly 300 homes in this area, and in 1923, he was a 27-year-old carpenter. He was hired by Canton Attorney Leroy Contie, Sr., to supervise the total construction of Contie’s Magnolia.

The catalog price of this pre-cut house was $5,140. With the price of the Ridgewood lot, plastering, electrical work, plumbing, plus other extras, te total cost of the home was approximately $18,000.

Swallow explains how the crates of numbered, top-quality, pre-cut lumber and supplies were brought to the building site by horse-drawn wagons. Swallow and his two-man crew sorted through the giant jig-saw puzzle of packages and began construction in the summer of 1923.

The framing went up on the pre-formed concrete foundation through the summer and autumn. By the first snowfall, the Magnolia was under roof. Then Ennon Plumbing, Eclipse Electric, and several plasterers worked through the winter as Swallow and crew completed the interior trim work.

The six fluted yellow poplar Corinthian porch columns were precisely set in place to support the two-story front portico. The side lights [flanking] the front entrance and an elliptical fanlight under a second floor balcony were the center focus of the main entry.

The original elegance of this early 1920s Magnolia has yielded a small bit to being unoccupied over the past couple years. Yet it has been featured in the Smithsonian (November 1985) and was the featured home of Ohio Historical Society’s publication , Timeline in early 1989.


To read my second favorite blog about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

And we found an eighth Magnolia in West Virginia! Read about that here!

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The Magnolia was the finest house that Sears offered (cover 1918).

The Magnolia was the finest house that Sears offered (cover 1918).

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Although I never did see one with a red roof.

Although I never did see one with a red roof.

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It was offered from 1918 - 1922, and sold for about $5,000 (depending on year). In 1920, the price hit $9,990 due to post-war hyperinflation of building materials.

It was offered from 1918 - 1922, and sold for about $5,000 (depending on year). In 1920, the price hit $9,990 due to post-war hyperinflation of building materials.

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One of my favorite Magnolias in Benson, SC.

One of my favorite Magnolias in Benson, SC.

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Another gorgeous Magnolia in West Virginia.

Another gorgeous Magnolia in West Virginia.

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The Magnolia in South Bend (which is currently for sale). Photo is copyright 2012 James Layne and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

The Magnolia in South Bend (which is currently for sale). Photo is copyright 2012 James Layne and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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This Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama is looking a little rough, but its recently been sold and maybe itll get a new chance at life.

This Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama is looking a little rough, but it's recently been sold and maybe it'll get a new chance at life. It does need some lovin'.

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A brick Sears Magnolia in Pennsylvania.

A brick Sears Magnolia in Pennsylvania.

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And a STUNNING Magnolia in Syracuse, NY. Its also a real beauty.

And a STUNNING Magnolia in Syracuse, NY. It's also a real beauty. (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Rest in peace, old Maggy. This was torn down in 1986. Sigh.

Rest in peace, old Maggy. This was torn down in 1986. Sigh. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To read about the Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska, click here.

To see the inside of a Magnolia, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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New Information on Schoper, Illinois

December 31st, 2013 Sears Homes 3 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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Bob Beckel’s Christmas Crescent

December 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

Friday night, Milton and I turned on the television and saw “The Five” (talk show on Fox News, with five commentators, including Bob Beckel).  Within 30 seconds, the program showed a picture of Bob Beckel’s house, and I exclaimed to Milton, “Oh my goodness. It’s a Sears Crescent!”

Sure enough, after I got a close look, I saw it was a Christmas Crescent.

What is a Sears house? Sears homes were 12,000-piece kit houses, and each kit came with a a 75-page instruction book. Sears promised that “a man of average abilities” could have it assembled in 90 days. The instruction book offered this somber warning: “Do not take anyone’s advice on how this house should be assembled.” The framing members were marked with a letter and a three-digit-number to facilitate construction. Today, these marks can help authenticate that a house is a kit home.

Searching for these homes is like hunting for hidden treasure. From 1908-1940, about 70,000 Sears Homes were sold, but in the 1940s, during a corporate housecleaning, Sears destroyed all sales records. The only way to find these homes is literally one-by-one.

Or one television show at a time.  :)

At some point, the classic Crescent windows in Mr. Beckel’s house were discarded and replaced (and that’s a real pity) but the house does have its original cypress clapboards. The small shed dormer was probably added later, but it *might* have been original to the house. There was some usable space on the 2nd floor, and dormers are a frequent addition to the Sears Crescent.

Mr. Beckel, did you know you have a Sears house? If you’re like 90% of Americans, you did NOT know - until now!

To read more about the Sears Crescent, click here.

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Bob Beckels house, all decked out for the holidays.

Bob Beckel's house, all decked out for the holidays. Although it's barely visible in this photo, at the top of the porch's arch, you can see a faint triangle there. This is one of the classic signs of a Sears Crescent.

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Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Judging by the placement of the fireplace, Mr. Beckels house is a

This photo shows that triangle on the porch's peak more clearly. And notice the three large columns on the corners of the porch. All classic Crescent features. And it has its original siding!

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Flippped

The Crescent was offered from 1918-1928. Image above is from the 1928 catalog. Note the unusual windows, the triangle in the porch's peak, and the three columns. That massive porch is its most distinctive feature.

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RaleighThe dormers were original to this Crescent in Raleigh, NC.

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A darling

A darling little Crescent in Wheeling, WV, sitting like a jewel atop the hill.

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One of my favorite Crescents in Bloomington, IL.

One of my favorite Crescents in Bloomington, IL. It still has the original lattice work, as shown in the catalog images. And like Mr. Beckel's house, it has the optional fireplace.

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In 1928

In 1928, the "super-sized Crescent" (as Mr. Beckel has) was a mere $2,195. The larger floorplan is shown in the upper right. The 2nd floor layout is on the lower right.

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This testimonial

Jerome Kelly from an unnamed city really loves his little Crescent.

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To learn more about the Sears Crescent (with interior views), click here.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.

Are there more kit homes in Beckel’s neighborhood of Brookmont? Without a doubt. There was a Sears Modern Homes Sales Center nearby, and these were only placed in communities where sales were already strong. Plus, sales went way up after one of these retail stores was opened in the area.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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Moving House: Williamsburg Style

November 22nd, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

Like thousands of good little schoolchildren before me, our elementary school class trekked off to see Colonial Williamsburg sometime in the 1960s. Little did I know that parts of this “Colonial” site were a mere 30 years old at the time.

Despite being a native of this area, it wasn’t until 2007 that I learned that part of Colonial Williamsburg was re-created in the early 1930s through the beneficence and foresight of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Hubby and I were touring Colonial Williamsburg when I pointed out that there’d been some restoration work done on these buildings in the 1920s or 30s. He looked at my quizzically and said, “You know that many of these buildings are re-creations done in the early 30s, right?”

Oops.

Seven years later, while researching Penniman, DuPont’s 37th munitions plant on the York River, I discovered that the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation) had several aerial photos of Williamsburg from the late 1920s and 1930s. David Spriggs and I drove to the library Tuesday morning to get a better look at these photos.

And it was a fascinating field trip.

Marianne, the Vital Resources Editorial Librarian, was every researcher’s dream. She was not only knowledgeable and well-versed, but eager to help us solve a few mysteries.

In looking at these old aerial photos, it was my hope to find a few of the 17 houses that were moved to Williamsburg from Penniman in October 1921 by W. A. Bozarth (according to the Virginia Gazette).  I did find nine Penniman houses in the photo.

Sadly, judging from these vintage photos, many early 20th Century houses and eight of our relocated Penniman houses went bye-bye during the Colonial Williamsburg restoration. (Kind of pitiable really. The little Penniman houses survived the “leave no board behind” government salvage at Penniman, and then died a tragic death just 10 years later.)

Finding those Penniman houses was fun, but there was hidden treasure I discovered in that photo that was even more fun!

Scroll on down.

To learn more about John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation), click here

To read more about Penniman, click here.

Shiawassee History

This undated aerial view of Williamsburg was probably from the early 1930s. Those familiar with Williamsburg will recognize "The Triangle" where Richmond and Jamestown Roads merge at Duke Of Gloucester Street. These photos were taken by the Army Corps of Engineers and the detail is stunning. (Photo is courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.)

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House

When I first saw this house, I told my husband, "Why, it looks like that house is sitting in the middle of the street!" And then I realized, that the house IS sitting in the middle of S. England Street! The photographer managed to catch a picture of Williamsburg on a day when a house was being moved. With all the development of Colonial Williamsburg, I'm grateful to know that a few houses were moved rather than destroyed, and this image offers photographic proof! Most likely, the house is being moved backwards, and headed south on S. England Street. The absence of power lines and overhead wires made it a lot easier to move houses. In fact, in the early 1900s, moving houses was a surprisingly common practice. (Photo is courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.)

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house house

And if you look real close, you'll see what appears to be a pair of tracks behind the house. From what I can glean, S. England street was a paved street at the time of this photo. Those rails would have been used to move the house. They were laid behind the house (where it's advancing) and then as the house moved, the sections were taken up from the front and moved to the rear. Remember, the house is being moved backwards. Moving a house back in the day was a very slow process. Often, houses couldn't be moved from old site to new site in a single day, so at the end of the day, the workers went home and left the house sitting in the middle of the street. Given that I see no workers present, I suspect that's what is going on here. (Photo is courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.)

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Shiawassee

One of the finest examples of early 20th Century moving that I've ever come across is this picture from the Shiawassee History website. See link below. If you look at the image above, you'll see rails laid down in front of the house. At the website (below), there's a thorough explanation of how this move was accomplished, but in short, the horse walked in a circle around that capstan which was anchored to a tree or some solid object. The winding of the rope around the capstan acted like a winch, pulling the house forward on those rails, SLOWLY.

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For a real life example of how this capstan works, click here to see it in use.

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In October 1921, the Virginia Gazette reported that

In October 1921, the Virginia Gazette reported that Mr. Bozarth had moved 17 houses out of Penniman and into Williamsburg. Better yet, they were "desirable houses"! I wonder how many "undesirable houses" he moved?

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Just this morning, I was talking to a curator at a local museum who told me, “I heard that some houses were moved by barge from York County to Norfolk, but I told the person making the inquiry that they didn’t move houses in the early 1900s, and that it was just a myth. Just too difficult for a variety of reasons.”

Alas!

In fact, it was much MORE common in the early 1900s than it is today. The absence of overhead power lines made it even better, plus this country had a different mindset about wasting precious resources.

To read about the houses that came by barge to Norfolk, click here.

Click here to visit the *fabulous* Shiawassee History website, and learn more about the how and why of moving houses in the early 1900s.

The site also offers a splendiferous explanation of how (and why) so many houses were moved, rather than destroyed (as they are today).

For all our 21st Century noise about recycling, we’re way too eager to send old houses to the landfill. The house shown probably represents 250,000+ pounds of irreplaceable building materials.

To learn more about the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library in Williamsburg, click here.

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The Sears Elmhurst, Part II

October 11th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

Recently, Rachel Shoemaker was looking through a Sears Modern Homes catalog (1930) when she discovered a testimonial for a Sears Elmhurst built in Flushing, New York. She then did some extra digging and was able to glean the home’s current address.

In fact, Rachel wrote a blog on her wonderful discovery (click here to see it).

Now, we need someone near Flushing to snap a few photos of this grand and elegant home in Flushing. If you’re near the area, please leave a comment below and I’ll contact you toote suite!

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Testimoniaal

Here's the testimonial that Rachel found in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Zvonecs loved their house

I have a feeling that the Zvanovec's are no longer extending an open invitation to visit their home. Nonetheless, it sounds like they really did love their home, and were very proud of it.

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As Rachel points out in her blog, this must have been one of the first Elmhursts built, because it appeared in the 1929

Close-up of this beautiful Sears Elmhurst in Flushing, NY. Look at the beautiful stone work on the front porch.

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And heres the Elmhurst recently discovered in St. Louis.

And here's the Elmhurst recently discovered in St. Louis.

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An Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb (originally discovered by Rebecca Hunter).

Here's an Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb (originally discovered by Rebecca Hunter). Notice this house has the decorative blocks under the faux half timbering on that front gable. These blocks are missing from the Elmhurst in St. Louis and Flushing, NY. This Elmhurst and the one in Flushing are both brick veneer, whereas the one in St. Louis is solid brick. As mentioned in the prior blog, solid brick is very unusual on a Sears kit home.

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Is this a Sears Elmhurst? I think its likely but Im not certain. This house is in Rocky Mount, NC where I found an abundance of kit homes from both Sears and Aladdin.

Is this a Sears Elmhurst? I think it's likely but I'm not certain. It's in Rocky Mount, NC where I found an abundance of kit homes from both Sears and Aladdin. It's not a spot-on match but it's darn close! This is such an unusual house, I'd be inclined to say it probably is an Elmhurst. Probably. Notice, those decorative blocks are in place under the front gable.

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The Elmhurst was featured in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog and had a two-page spread.

The Elmhurst was "featured" in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog and had a two-page spread, including this colorized image. Notice, the blocks are shown in the catalog image.

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Are you near Flushing? Would you be willing to get some good, high-resolution photos for us?

If so, please leave a comment below!

To read more about the kit homes I found in Rocky Mount, click here.

To read  more about the Elmhurst, click here.

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Inside The Sears Elmhurst (St. Louis)

October 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 13 comments

Several weeks ago, a reader of this blog told me that he owned a Sears Elmhurst in St. Louis, and he was kind enough to send me a few photos. To my surprise and delight, he was right!  It really was an Elmhurst.

Last month, I visited the Elmhurst “in person” and my oh my, what a treat!

The home’s current owners have a deep abiding respect and appreciation for the unique origins of their historic home. In other words, they really love their old Sears House, and have been faithfully researching the history of this beautiful old house, and restoring it, inch by inch.

Thanks so much to the home’s owners who were gracious enough to let me take a tour of their home and share a few photos of its interior!

Elmhurst first appeared in the 1928

The Sears Elmhurst was a classic (and classy) Tudor Revival with a "half-timber effect" on the second story. Inside, it had three bedrooms and 1-1/2 baths. The house in St. Louis is in mostly original condition.

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house floorplan

The living room and dining room were spacious. The kitchen and lavatory were not.

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Cover of the 1932

The cover of the 1932 "Homes of Today" showed this fetching entryway, which is from the Elmhurst. It's kind of a "Twilight Zone" doorway, out of the hubbub of busy city living and into another dimension of peace and joy and "the satisfaction that comes from building your own home" (as Sears promised in their literature).

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house 1930 catalog

In the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog, the Elmhurst was given a two-page spread.

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house 1930

Even in the simplified line drawings (from the 1930 catalog) the Elmhurst looks quite elegant.

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house house house

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is a perfect match to the catalog image. Just perfect.

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house gerst

The St. Louis house is being faithfully restored by its current owners, and it's a real beauty.

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Elmhurst compare

Close-up of that entryway shown on the front cover of the 1932 catalog.

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Mike gerst elmhurst

And a fine side-by-side contrast of the St. Louis Elmhurst (left) and the entryway shown in the catalog.

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house ricin

The 1932 "Homes of Today" Sears Modern Homes catalog showed this view of the Elmhurst built in Ohio.

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house stairs

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is a good match to the black/white image above.

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house house stairs

The "Elmhurst built in Ohio" is shown here on the right, and the Elmhurst in St. Louis in on the left. The details are perfect with two lone exceptions: The front door is hinged different in the St. Louis house, and that decorative "S" is missing from the base of the wrought-iron staircase railing (which looks like it'd be a knee-buster anyway). The flip-flops are missing from the Elmhurst in Ohio.

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house la tosca

La Tosca door hardware was a very popular choice in Sears Homes.

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house house la tosca

The LaTosca door hardware, as seen in the Elmhurst and as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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phone niche

The moldings and trim in this Elmhurst are birch, according to the owner. Based on the research he's done, I'd say he's probably right. The owner is doing a remarkable job of restoring the inherent beauty of all the original wood trim throughout the house. The patina and beauty of the natural wood finish on this phone niche isn't accurately represented by this dark photo. While walking through the house, I couldn't help but to "reach out and touch" the beautiful wood trim. It really is that beautiful.

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house house door

The 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog showed this view of the front door (interior). Note that the stylistic "S" is missing from the wrought-iron railing in this picture.

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front door stuff

There was a wall that blocked my shooting the door and staircase from the same angle as shown above, but I got pretty close. This house was a one-hour trip from my brother's home in Elsah, IL (where I was staying), but once I saw the inside of this house, I was mighty glad I'd made the effort. In every way that an old house can be truly stunning, this house *was* stunning. It's a real gem in the heart of St. Louis.

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comparison

Comparison showing the 1930 catalog image and the real live house in St. Louis.

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Wall

From this view (near the landing), you get a better idea of the size of the hallway.

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kitchen 1932

The kitchen of the Elmhurst (as shown in the 1932 catalog). This appears to be a photo, and the picture was taken by someone standing with their backside leaning hard against the right rear corner of the house, looking toward the door that opens into the dining room. Notice the La Tosca hardware on the door.

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kitchen today

The Elmhurst's kitchen today, from that dining room door, looking toward the right rear corner. While I'm a big fan of all things old, even I'd agree that the kitchen needed a little bit of updating for the 21st Century.

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Most Sears kit homes had maple floors in the kitchen and bath (underneath tile and other floor coverings). The owners of the Elmhurst tried to restored the maple floor in their kitchen but it was too far gone.

Most Sears kit homes had maple floors in the kitchen and bath (underneath the floor coverings). The owners of the Elmhurst tried to restored the maple floor in their kitchen but these floors were really intended to be used as a subfloor, not a primary floor.

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house inside

The fireplace in the living room has the same square slate tiles as seen on the front porch.

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house hallway upstairs

This over-sized landing window was another lovely feature of the Elmhurst. As seen from the outside, this is the tall dormer window just to the right of the front porch (as seen from the street).

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window staircase

Downstairs looking up at the staircase window.

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house elmhurst

A distinctive feature found in two-story Sears kit homes are these plinth blocks. These square blocks were used to help the novice homebuilder cope with complex joints. The landing of the Elmhurst had three of these plinth blocks on one landing. I do believe that that's the most plinth blocks I've ever seen in one kit house.

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house plinth block

The plinth block at this juncture is actually two-steps tall.

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business card

While doing some work on the home, the owner found this business card inside a wall. I've seen a lot of very cool ephemera in my fun career, but this is one of the best. There were only 40 Sears Modern Homes "Sales Centers" in the country and there was one in St. Louis. Folks could stroll into these storefronts and get a first-hand look at the quality of framing members, millwork, heating equipment and plumbing fixtures. Apparently Miss Manning visited the Sears Modern Homes Sales Center and had some discussion with Marcelle Elton about her new Elmhurst.

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pipe tag pipe tag

The home's current owners found this tag attached to a cast-iron pipe inside the kitchen wall. It shows that the home's purchaser was a "Miss Margaret Manning" of Clayton, Missouri. For those interested in genealogy, I would LOVE to know where Miss Manning lived before she purchased the house in St. Louis and what she did for a living. Lastly, I'd also be interested in knowing how long she lived in this house.

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house pipe tag pipe tag

Close-up of the tab shows a return address of 925 Homan Avenue, in Chicago, Illinois.

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houe exterior house

From all angles, the Elmhurst is quite stunning.

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On the inside, those dormers look like this.

On the inside, those dormers look like this.

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house solid brick

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is an enigma for several reasons. One, this is not a frame house with brick veneer (like every other "brick" Sears kit house I've ever seen). This house is solid brick, and when the owner remodeled the kitchen, he said the exterior walls had furring strips (typical of a solid brick house). And the flashing and original gutters were copper. When built, the house had a tile roof. These are all significant upgrades and probably cost the home's first owner quite a bit extra.

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gerst home

This photo was taken by the home's current owner. You can see a remnant of the tile roof on the ridge of the house. And if you look closely, you can see the copper flashing around the chimney.

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Elmhurst in Chitown

There's another Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb that Rebecca Hunter found. This Elmhurst has concrete sills (as you'd expect to see on a kit house, because it's simpler than laying brick), but the house in St. Louis had *brick* sills.

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house 1930

The Elmhurst was beautiful, but not very popular. It was offered from 1929 to 1932.

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And look what my buddy Rachel found in her 1929 Brick Veneer Honor Bilt Homes catalog! Its an Elmhurst that was built in Long Island, NY. And Rachel even found the house - as it stands today - in New York!

And look what my buddy Rachel found in her 1929 "Brick Veneer Honor Bilt Homes" catalog! It's an Elmhurst that was built in Long Island, NY. And Rachel even found the house - as it stands today - in New York! Who wants to get a photo of this house? :)

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Thanks again to the home’s current owners for sharing their Elmhurst with me (and the readers of this blog!). It’s a real treasure.

To read more about Rachel’s discovery in New York, click here.

To join our group of Facebook (”Sears Homes”), click here.

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