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“All My Friends Who Have Seen This House Are In Love With It” (Part II)

March 14th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

Several days ago, I wrote a blog about an old Gordon Van Tine “Roberts” somewhere in Wheeling, West Virginia. The house was built in the 1920s by a fellow named Otto Friebertshauser. I found out about this house when I obtained a copy of Gordon Van Tine’s promotional booklet, “The Proof of the Pudding” (1927), a collection of testimonials from happy homeowners.

It was a beautiful house and a well-written testimonial but no mention of where in Wheeling this house was built! Almost 90 years had passed since Otto turned that 12,000-piece kit into a spacious home. Had the house been torn down? Was it still alive? And if it was still alive, was it still well?

Too many times to count, I’ve written and published such blogs, only to find that the subject house had subsequently been destroyed and/or was in pitiable shape and/or had been cut up into several apartments.

After the blog was finished, I sent a link to Jeremy Morris, Executive Director of the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation. In less than a day, Jeremy wrote back, saying that he’d found the house. And not only had Jeremy found the house, but he’d talked with the owners and he got me a photo of the house!

The owners and I were soon in contact, and I’m delighted to report that they love this house just as much as Otto Friebertshauser did. In fact, they’ve done an exemplary job of restoring it to its former grandeur. And they did not realize it was a kit house (as is the case about 90% of the time).

Thanks so much to the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation and to Jeremy Morris (Executive Director) for going out and searching for this house, and thanks to the home’s current owners for doing such a first-class job of preserving this fine old house.

As mentioned in the previous blog, Wheeling is apparently awash in kit homes, and I’ve already spotted a PERFECT Sears Crescent on National Street, almost across the road from the Dairy Queen. I’d be ever so grateful if some good soul could snap a photo of that house for me!

Click here to see the other kit homes I saw in Wheeling, WV.

To learn more about Gordon Van Tine, visit my buddy Dale’s website, devoted to Gordon Van Tine homes.

I’d love to come out to Wheeling soon and do a proper survey and give a talk. Please leave a comment below to contact Rose and let’s figure out how to make it so!

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In the 1927 promotional brochure, Otto

In the 1927 promotional brochure, Otto Friebertshauser wrote, "All of my friends who have seen this house are in love with it." Otto even included a snapshot of his home.

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Close-up of the text that appeared in the 1927 brochure.

Close-up of the text that appeared in the 1927 brochure.

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Ottos home as seen in the 1920s.

Otto's home as seen in the 1920s.

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In 1916, the Roberts (Ottos house) appeared on the cover.

In 1916, the "Roberts" (Otto's house) appeared on the cover.

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Close-up of that pretty, pretty house.

Close-up of that pretty, pretty house.

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The original catalog page showing The Roberts (1924).

The original catalog page showing "The Roberts" (1924).

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According to this text, theres a Roberts in every state in the US.

According to this text, there's a Roberts in every state in the US.

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The floorplan shows how spacious

As kit homes go, this one was unusually spacious.

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A small room upstairs was devoted to space for the live-in maid! And that dressing room doesn't make much sense, as it was accessible only through the main hallway.

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Ah, but heres the most interesting photo of all. This is the Roberts in Wheeling, then and now. Photo is

Ah, but here's the most interesting photo of all. This is the Roberts in Wheeling, then and now. Photo (on left) is copyright 2013 Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. Photo on right was taken by Otto Freibertshauser, and it's also a dandy photo.

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Otto would be so pleased to see his house today!

Otto would be so pleased to see his house today! What a breath-taking beauty and it's been lovingly and thoughtfully maintained. And perhaps best of all, the original windows are still in place. Photo is copyright 2013 Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Ottos house dressed up for Christmas! Now this belongs on the cover of a Christmas card! So very pretty!

Otto's house dressed up for Christmas! Now this belongs on the cover of a Christmas card! Photo is copyright 2012 Frank Harrar and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To learn more about the kit homes I’ve found in Wheeling, click here.

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

Can you snap a photo of that Crescent and send it to me? Please leave a comment below and I’ll contact  you.

Heres

Here's a photo of the Sears Crescent (1928). The one in Wheeling is way up on a hill, across the street from the Dairy Queen. I found it while "driving" via Google Maps.

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“All My Friends Who Have Seen This House Are in Love With It.”

March 8th, 2013 Sears Homes 7 comments

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Updated with NEW photos! See below!!

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OOOH, I now have contemporary photos of Otto’s house! To read Part II of this blog (and see new photos), click here.

Thanks to indefatigable researcher Rachel Shoemaker, I now have a digital copy of the 1931 brochure, “The Proof of the Pudding,” published by Gordon Van Tine. It’s a collection of happy testimonials from happy homeowners who purchased kit homes from Gordon Van Tine.

This little brochure is a real treasure.

Like Sears, Gordon Van Tine sold kit homes through mail order, and according to co-author Dale Wolicki, they sold about 50,000 kit homes (which is most impressive). Sears, by contrast, sold about 70,000 kit homes.

While reading “The Proof  of The Pudding,” one house in particular caught my eye.

“All of my friends who have seen this house,” wrote homeowner Otto Friebertshauser of Wheeling WV, “are in love with it.”

I’ve been through several cities in West Virginia and some of them have an abundance of kit homes (like Beckley and Lewisburg) and some have a handful (like Elkins) and some have very few kit homes (like Buckhannon).

However, I’ve never been to Wheeling, West Virginia.

But I suspect that there are quite a few kit homes there.

By the late 1920s, Sears had opened about 40 “Sears Modern Homes Sales Offices” throughout the country (39 of them were east of the Mississippi River). Sears didn’t open a sales center unless sales in that area were strong, and once a sales office was open, sales typically increased quite a bit.

Sometime around 1929, Sears opened a Sears Modern Homes Sales Office in Wheeling, WV at 41 Sixteenth Street. That tells me that there were enough sales in Wheeling to justify opening up this sales office (which is impressive in it own right, as this was the only sales office in West Virginia). And if the office in Wheeling was like the offices in other cities, sales of Sears Homes increased after this office opened. That tells me I should find quite a few post-1929 Sears kit homes.

And that is all good news!

My husband is from Elkins and we visit there often, and I love West Virginia. It’s mighty cold in the winter, but it must be one of the prettiest states in this country.

Do you know where this house is in Wheeling?  If so, please leave a comment below.

And do you know of other kit homes in Wheeling? Please let me know!

Many thanks to Rachel for sharing her brochure, “Proof in the Pudding.”  To read Rachel’s blog, click here.

OOOH, I now have contemporary photos of Otto’s house! To read Part II of this blog (and see new photos), click here.

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Otto must have really

Mr. Friebertshauser wrote passionately about his new home there in Wheeling!

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A picture of Mr.

A picture of Mr. Friebertshauser's home in Wheeling.

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Catalog page showing Ottos home: The Roberts

Catalog page showing Otto's home: The Roberts

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A Roberts in Front Royal, Virginia

A "Roberts" in Front Royal, Virginia

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Sears had only 40 Sears Modern Homes Sales Centers in the country and there was one in Wheeling, WV. This tells me that there are probably *many* Sears Homes in Wheeling.

Sears had only 40 "Sears Modern Homes Sales Centers" in the country and there was one in Wheeling, WV. This tells me that there are probably *many* Sears Homes in Wheeling.

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Sears only placed these Sales Centers in cities or regions where sales were very strong.

Sears only placed these "Sales Centers" in cities or regions where sales were very strong.

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Heres the actual photo of Ottos home in Wheeling. His description of the house gives a few clues. In 1927, it was a quarter mile from any other house.

Here's the actual photo of Otto's home in Wheeling. His description of the house gives a few clues. In the 1931 brochure, it was described as a "quarter mile from any other house."

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UPDATED!!  Wheeling must have an abundance of kit homes. Look what we found in about 30 minutes of looking!!

Heres a fine-looking house on Kruger Street (for sale) and its actually an Aladdin Shadowlawn. Aladdin was another large kit home company that sold homes through their mail-order catalog.

Here's a fine-looking house on Kruger Street (for sale) and it's actually an Aladdin Shadowlawn. Aladdin was another large kit home company that sold homes through their mail-order catalog. (Photo is from a real estate site and hopefully the new-found recognition that this house is a kit home will help sell the property and the unknown photographer won't be upset with us for borrowing this photo. Despite some searching, I couldn't find a photo credit.) Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for finding this house!

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Oh my stars, its a perfect match to the Shadowlawn as shown in the 1919 catalog! Now thats a nice match!!!

Oh my stars, it's a perfect match to the Shadowlawn as shown in the 1919 catalog!

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Heres another house for sale in Wheeling. Its a Sears Fullerton.

Here's another house for sale in Wheeling. It's a Sears Fullerton.

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Another real fine match!

Another real fine match!

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I saved the best for last. This is an Aladdin Standard, also currently for sale and listed at a real estate site. Now that the owners know its a kit home, will they sell it more quickly? We can hope!

This is an Aladdin Standard, also currently for sale and listed at a real estate site. Now that folks know it's a kit home, will they sell it more quickly? We can hope!

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Be still my quivering heart, what a nice match to the photo above! The image is from the 1914 Aladdin catalog.

Be still my quivering heart, what a nice match to the photo above! (1914 Aladdin catalog).

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Another house for sale in Wheeling (and since Google Maps doesnt provide street views in Wheeling, this is all we got). This is not a kit home but its a plan book house. Plan books were a little different than kit homes. When you purchased a design from a planbook, youd receive blueprints and a list of building materials needed to complete the house. These Plan Books were very popular in the 1920s.

Another house for sale in Wheeling (and since Google Maps doesn't provide street views in Wheeling, this is all we got). This is not a "kit home" but it's a "plan book" house. Plan books were a little different than kit homes. When you purchased a design from a planbook, you'd receive blueprints and a list of building materials needed to complete the house. These Plan Books were very popular in the 1920s.

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Heres the house as seen in the 1929 Home Builders catalog.

Here's the house as seen in the 1929 "Home Builders" catalog.

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Theres also

There's a Sears Crescent high on a hill in Wheeling. It's across the street from the Dairy Queen and I found it while "driving" via Google Maps. It sure would be nice to have a photo! If you're able to take a photo for me, please leave a comment below.

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So Wheeling has kit homes from Sears, Aladdin and Gordon Van Tine. How many kit homes does Wheeling have?

I don’t know, but I do know that I’d love to visit Wheeling and find out!

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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

To visit Rachel’s blog, click here.

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Writing for Fun and Fame, Minus the Fortune

December 19th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Writing about Sears Homes has been a fun gig, but my income from this career has been quite modest. But, there are other means of compensation beyond dollars.

Last year, my co-author Dale and I wrote a book on the kit homes of Montgomery Ward. As part of this research, I pored over old Wardway Homes catalogs, reading the many testimonials from happy customers. And I saw an especially interesting testimonial from a man named “Ringer” in Quinter, Kansas.

“We are well pleased with our Ohio which bought of you,” wrote Mathias Ringer in the 1919 Wardway Homes catalog. “Everybody is welcome on the Ringer Ranch. Everything is modern and is from Montgomery Ward, furniture and all. We want to build two more of these later on” (page 44).

Feeling bold, I sent a letter to all the Ringers in Quinter, Kansas and told them about my project.  Within 30 days, I had a letter from a Gail Ringer, telling me that Mathias Ringer was his grandfather and that Mathias had relocated to Quinter from Somerset County, Pennsylvania to get away from the coal mines. Then 19 years old, Mathias was told that he had the early stages of black lung, and that if he got out of the coal mines and into a better climate, he might live many more years.

And that’s how Mathias Ringer landed in Quinter, Kansas.

Gail Ringer invited me to come to Quinter and stay with him for a few days and see the Wardway Ohio (a spacious cross-gabled kit home) that his grandfather had built. I readily accepted the invitation.

I arrived in Quinter in early August 2007, and the Ringers treated me like long-lost family. Gail Ringer regaled me with stories of his grandfather and father. He shared his memories of growing up in the Wardway Ohio (pictured below).

This whole trip really demonstrates the true benefits of being a writer. I had the time of my life, and it was a delight to find people who had such a clear and strong sense of family and integrity.

Last year,  I received a letter in the mail that my friend Gail Ringer had passed on.  It had been my hope that he’d see a copy of this new book on Wardway Homes before he died (with his interview inside), but it didn’t work out that way.

In the letter from Gail’s son, he wrote, “His anticipation of your 2007 visit was like a spring tonic for him. When the plans for your arrival began to materialize, he perked up immensely. Thanks so much for your part in reviving his spirit.”

As I said, sometimes the best recompense comes in non-pecuniary forms.

Gail Ringer

Gail Ringer was a class act and a true gentleman and also possessed an amazing memory. He invited me - a total stranger - to come stay at his home in Kansas while I did research for my book on Wardway Homes. Meeting people like Gail is one of the true and enduring joys of being a writer.

Wardway Ohio - from the 1921 Wardway catalog

Wardway Ohio - from the 1921 Wardway catalog

Testimonial that caught my eye in the Wardway Homes catalog

Testimonial in slightly different form in the 1921 Wardway Homes catalog

The Ringer Ranch in Kansas

The Ringer Ranch in Kansas

And sometimes, there’s a little bit of fame, too!

Fame

Fame

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn more about Wardway homes, click here.

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