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The Sears Home in Needham, Massachusetts

May 24th, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

Last week, I visited Needham, Massachusetts and spent time with my daughter, Anna Rose.

After a Saturday morning breakfast, we were driving back to her house when I saw a house that caught my eye on Webster Avenue. As she pulled up to a nearby stop sign, I hopped out of the car (much to my daughter’s surprise), and said, “Circle the block and pick me up in a few minutes!”

Not only had I spotted a Sears House, but it was a Sears Ivanhoe, one of their biggest and best kit homes!  Unfortunately, due to the many trees, I was not able to get a good photo, but there’s definitely a fine-looking Ivanhoe hiding behind all those trees!

Later in the day, I drove around town a bit more, but didn’t see any other kit homes. Then again, I probably only saw 30% of the pre-WW2 neighborhoods in Needham. And Needham is a very difficult community to navigate! The streets are very narrow and the traffic is very heavy.

Did I miss a few? I’m betting that I did.

If you’re new to this site, you may be wondering, what IS a Sears kit home?

In the early 1900s, you could buy an entire house out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. These were not prefab houses, but real “kits” (with about 12,000 pieces of building materials!). The lumber came pre-cut and numbered to help facilitate construction. Those numbers, together with a 75-page instruction book, and blueprints designed for a novice, enabled a “man of average abilities” to build their own home.

In fact, Sears promised that you could have a house assembled and ready for occupancy in 90 days! When Sears closed their “Modern Homes” department in 1940, all sales records were destroyed, so the only way to find these homes in one by one. In fact, based on my 12 years of experience, more than 90% of the people living in these homes didn’t realize what they had until I knocked on their door and told them.

This is a piece of American history that is at great risk of being lost, which is why I travel all over the country, take photos and maintain this blog.

Do you know of more kit homes in the Boston neighborhoods? Please leave a comment below!

To read about another kit home I found in New England, click here.

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Needham is a suburb of Boston and to the flat-lander tourist, this appears to be an incredibly prosperous community.

Needham is a suburb of Boston and to the flat-lander tourist, it appears to be an incredibly prosperous community. The architecture is thoughtfully preserved and - with few exceptions - in excellent (original) condition. It's also a town full of churches. The Baptist Church is shown above.

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The Sears Home I found in Needham is an Ivanhoe, one of the largest, fanciest, and most expensive models that Sears offered (1920).

The Sears Home I found in Needham is an "Ivanhoe," one of the largest and fanciest models that Sears offered (1920). It was more than 2,000 square feet, not including the sunporches.

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The dotted lines on the floorplan represented beamed ceilings (made of oak).

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Great symmetry! And notice the side porches. Plus, there was quite a bit of space on the 3rd floor.

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This Ivanhoe is in Lewisburg, West Virginia.

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Another Ivanhoe in Monmouth, Illinois.

Another Ivanhoe in Monmouth, Illinois. Photo is copyright 2010 Carol Parish and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And heres the Ivahoe in Needham!

And here's the Ivahoe in Needham! Unfortunately, due to the abundance of trees, I had a heck of a time getting a photo of the house, but it's definitely a Sears Ivanhoe!

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Detail of the dormer on the 3rd floor.

Detail of the dormer on the 3rd floor.

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Another classic feature of the Ivanhoe are those oversized eaves. I was delighted to see that the house in Needham has not been decimated with aluminum trim and substitute sidings.

Another classic feature of the Ivanhoe are those oversized eaves. I was delighted to see that the house in Needham has not been decimated with aluminum trim and substitute sidings. These houses were built with all cypress exteriors. Cypress was billed as "The Wood Eternal." Because it's an oily, dense wood, it's naturally resistant to wood rot and insect infestation.

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A view from the other side.

A view from the other side. Again, the landscaping made it very difficult.

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And unlike 90% of the Ivanhoes I've seen, this one in Needham still retains its original little windows in the living room. The house is currently being remodeled. I hope the windows survive!

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And it sits on a big spacious lot!

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I’d love to hear from folks in Needham. Are there other kit homes in the city? Please contact me by leaving a comment below!

Want to learn more about the superior quality building materials that were used in Sears Homes? Click here.

To learn more about kit homes in Boston, click here.

To learn more about Anna, click here.

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The Sears Maytown: Regular and Supersized!

May 12th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

Pre-WW1 Sears Homes are scarce as hen’s teeth.

Well, almost as scarce as hen’s teeth. I’ve never seen a hen’s tooth, but I have seen a few pre-1917 Sears Homes.

Of these pre-1917 Sears Homes, one of the most popular is the Sears Maytown. And the good news is, it’s also one of the easiest to identify. In addition to that large turret on the home’s front, it also has a bay window on the front and the side. And if that’s not enough (and it should be), the house has a pedimented accent on the hipped porch roof, and a small window beside the front door, and two attic windows.

These are all architectural nuances that make it easy to identify the Maytown.

Supersize Me!

In 1916, Sears offered the option of adding an “additional two feet of width” to the standard Maytown.  Cost: $45 more.

Now that’s a darn good deal.

In 1919, the “extra-chubby” Maytown was now 2-1/2 feet wider and those extra six inches came at a cost:  The supersized Maytown was $125 more than the regular size.

So, have you seen the Maytown in your neighborhood? If so, please send me a photo!

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

Want to see more pretty pictures? Click here.

The Maytown as seen in the 1916 catalog.

The Maytown as seen in the 1916 catalog.

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In 1916, you could supersize your Sears Maytown by getting two extra feet added to its width. By 1921, the

Supersize me! - In 1916, you could "supersize" your Sears Maytown by getting two extra feet added to its width. By 1921, the extra-chubby Maytown was given its own model number.

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In 1919, the Maytown was identified as "A Big Seller."

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And in 1919, the supersized Maytown cost $125 more than the slimmer version.

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By 1916, the Maytown was already a very popular house for Sears.

By 1916, the Maytown was already a very popular house for Sears.

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Sometime before 1916, Mr. Chase built his Maytown in Grafton, Massachusetts.

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Mr. Chases Maytown in 1916.

Mr. Chase's Maytown in 1916.

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Mr. Chases Maytown in 2011.

Mr. Chase's Maytown in 2011. I wonder if he went with the supersized version? (Photo is courtesy of Kelly McCall Creeron and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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One of the worlds most perfect Maytowns is this one in Edwardsville, IL. For years, it was used as a Frat House (for nearby SIUE), so its a miracle that this old house lived through *that* experience.

One of the world's most perfect Maytowns is this one in Edwardsville, IL. For years, it was used as a Frat House (for nearby SIUE), so it's a miracle that this old house lived through *that* experience.

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Another perfect Maytown!  This is one of my favorite pictures, in one of my favorite places:  Shenandoah, Virginia.

Another perfect Maytown! This is one of my favorite pictures, in one of my favorite places: Shenandoah, Virginia.

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And youll notice that the beauty in Shenandoah still has its original attic windows, replete with marginal lites (as they were known).

And you'll notice that the beauty in Shenandoah still has its original attic windows, replete with "marginal lites" (as they were known).

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To read the next story on Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s newest book, click here.

To learn about Wardway Homes, click here.

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Old Kit Homes in New England, Part II

September 24th, 2011 Sears Homes 6 comments

Sometime in the late 1910s, Mr. D. S. Chase of Grafton, Massachusetts bought and built a Sears Maytown in Grafton, Massachusetts.

I discovered this when I was reading through the testimonials in a 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The house in the 110-year-old snapshot (shown below) was a real beauty, but given its location, I was very concerned that the house had been put to death by some overzealous developer, municipality, and/or a large institution filled with academia nuts (otherwise known as a bungalow-eating institution of higher learning).

All of these entities are a clear and present danger to modest dwelling places and they are notorious for cutting a wide swath through the heart of older neighborhoods, knocking down any little houses that get in their way (so they can build steel and glass monuments to further historical research on American culture).

The model that Mr. Chase selected and built - the Sears Maytown - was one of Sears nicer homes and fairly distinctive with that cantilevered turret on the front. Thanks to Kelly McCall Creeron, I now have a plethora of beautiful photographs showing the Maytown as it looks today.

It appears that those beautiful shakes (seen in the original photo) have been covered with a substitute siding, but siding or not, the house still is easily recognizable as a Maytown, and perhaps best of all, it was not torn down to make way for some plasticine palace.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

If you’re here to learn about Aunt Addie mysterious murder, click here.

Sears Maytown

Sears Maytown in Grafton, Mass, as pictured in the 1921 Sears catalog.

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Thanks to Kelly McCall Creeron, I now have a picture of Mr. Chase's Maytown in Grafton, Massachusetts. It's been through some changes since that photo (above) was taken in the late 1910s or early 20s, but it's still easily recognizable as The Maytown. Photo is courtesy of Kelly McCall Creeron and can not be used or reproduced with written permission.

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It appears that the house been re-sided. It's hard to tell from the photo, but the facia boards are now missing in action, which makes me suspect that this is a substitute siding job. Nonetheless, this Maytown has the two bay windows (front and side) and that remarkable turret. Photo is courtesy of Kelly McCall Creeron and can not be used or reproduced with written permission.

Original house

The original snapshot of Mr. Chase's Maytown shows a little detail on the fascia and soffit.

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A close-up of the contemporary photo shows that the facia is gone, and the soffit appears to have been wrapped in a substitute material (aluminum perhaps).

Testimonial as it appeared in the 1921 catalog

Testimonial as it appeared in the 1921 catalog

Testimonial of D. S. Chase from 1921 catalog

Testimonial of D. S. Chase from 1921 catalog

Sears Maytown

Sears Maytown as shown in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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This Maytown is in Edwardsville, Illinois and still retains its original siding. Notice the sculpted block that's used on the front porch columns and even balustrade.

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My favorite Maytown is this beauty in Shenandoah, Virginia.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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