Posts Tagged ‘the sears homes of Carlinville’

Christmas in Carlinville (Illinois)

January 6th, 2017 Sears Homes 2 comments

In an effort to be “anywhere but here,” I traveled to Illinois for the holidays and spent them in Carlinville, Illinois, home of a large collection of Sears Homes, built by Standard Oil.

It was a treat to find the Town Square all lit up for the holidays.

Carlinvilles Town Square at Christmas

Carlinville's Town Square at Christmas

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

September 26th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

In the early years of the 1900s,

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



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


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

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


house house house 1921

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



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


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

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


Last month

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


Full story here:


And theres also the problem on insensitive remodeling.

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



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


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

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

But there is nothing,

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

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

Before it’s too late.


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

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

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

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

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When CBS Sunday Morning News Came to Carlinville, Illinois

June 19th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

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

The very idea scared me half out of my wits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

Producer and Russ review some details for the next shot.

Producer and Russ review some details for the next shot.

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

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Is Your City on This List? If So, You Should Be Looking for Sears Homes!

June 6th, 2011 Sears Homes 7 comments

In 1919, Sears opened their first “Modern Homes Sales Center” in Akron, Ohio. These were storefronts where you could personally inspect the millwork and lumber that would go into your Sears Home. You could examine the different types of bookcase collonades or pick out your favorite fireplace mantel or choose a delightful sleeping porch!

Typically, Sears put sales offices in cities which had experienced strong sales, and once those sales offices opened, sales of kit homes increased even more. If your city had a Sears Modern Homes sales center, chances are good that you have a plethora of Sears Homes there!

In 1930, there were 48 Sears Modern Homes sales offices in the country. One year later, they were down to 27 offices and by 1933, they had only13 sales offices and two of those were actually the Sears mills in Norwood, Ohio and Newark, New Jersey.

By 1939, there were 19 sales offices for the Modern Homes department, all of which were located “east of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio.” These “stores” probably occupied a small office next door to a Sears storefront or may have been a small space within the main store and their closing in 1940 may have gone largely unnoticed. It’s also likely that these old Modern Homes departments were transmogrified into hardware sections or building materials departments. 

I’ve visited a handful of the cities on this list (see below) and have consistently found an abundance of Sears Homes there.

So, is your city on this list?  :)  Scroll on down to see vintage photos!


New Haven



Calumet City








Fort Wayne




South Bend






Ann Arbor






Port Huron



Kansas City

St. Louis

New Jersey




Long Branch




New York



Long Island

Mt. Vernon

New Rochelle

New York





White Plains


















New Castle





Washington DC

(Three locations)

West Virginia




Back page of 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog, showing cities with Modern Homes Sales Office.

Back page of 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog, showing cities with Modern Homes Sales Office.


Close-up of advertisement on back page of 1930 catalog.


This is a typical "Sears Modern Homes" sales office. I'd love to know where this building was located. I suspect Ohio, but that's just a guess.

Close-up of sign

Close-up of sign


And inside the office you might find three men with straw hats, sitting under a pergola and reading the newspaper while "working." This is from a late 1910s Sears Modern Homes catalog.


Or maybe this scary-looking guy from the 1933 Sears Modern Homes catalog. He's got the whole Wexford, in his hands, he's got the whole Wexford, in his hands... This picture is a little disturbing, isn't it?

close up of lists with addresses

Close up of lists (from back page of 1930 catalog) with addresses of those Sears Modern Homes sales offices.


Next column...


And the next...


And the last.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s house, click here.

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Carlinville: “Coming Out of The Mud”

May 22nd, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

To read about Carlinville today, click here.

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

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Carlinville, Illinois and its Sears Homes

January 15th, 2011 Sears Homes 10 comments

If you’re a frequent visitor to my site, you’ll notice that I have not posted much about Carlinville, IL. This small city in central Illinois (population 5,400) has 152 Sears Homes in a 12-block area. It is NOT the largest collection of Sears Homes in this country (as is often reported). That honor falls to Elgin, Illinois which has more than 210 Sears Homes within the city borders. (Thanks to Rebecca Hunter for this information!)

However, Carlinville does have the largest contiguous collection of Sears Homes.  Those 152 Sears Homes are all in one neighborhood - Standard Addition.

Every time I visit the Midwest (which is once a year or more), I visit Carlinville and Standard Addition. After all, it was this community of Sears Homes that launched my career and inspired me to start writing books on this topic!

In 1999, I wrote an article for my editor (at Old House Web) about Sears Homes and that one article turned into a career, and what a blessing that career has been in my life.

When I visit Standard Addition, I’m saddened to see that so many of these homes are in poor condition.

And as of Spring 2013, I hear it’s just getting worse and worse. It’s time for the city of Carlinville to get serious about saving this unique collection of Sears Homes, because if they continue on the path they’ve been on thus far, there won’t be much left to save.

Want to learn more? Join us on Facebook! We’re listed under “Sears Homes.”

To read about a whole bunch of Sears Homes in other parts of Illinois, click. here.
To buy Rose’s book (and get it inscribed!), click here.

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Sears Roseberry, as it appeared in the 1916 catalog.

Sears Roseberry, as it appeared in the 1916 catalog.


A Sears Roseberry thats looking a little rough

This little Roseberry has had many modifications. It's a'hurtin'.


More permastone dons the front of this Roseberry

More permastone dons the front of this Roseberry


One of the eight models offered in Carlinville was The Warrenton.

One of the eight models offered in Carlinville was "The Warrenton."



When originally built in 1919, this Sears Warrenton looked very different.



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



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


The Sears Carlin, from the 1919 catalog.

The Sears Carlin, from the 1919 catalog.

Sears Windsor.

The front porch on this Sears Carlin has been completely closed in.


Carlinville under construction, about 1918.

Carlinville under construction, about 1918.

Vintage Carlinville

Vintage Carlinville. This photo was taken soon after the construction of the Sears Homes were complete and the sidewalks were paved! These houses were originally built by Standard Oil of Indiana for their coal miners in Carlinville, IL.

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See more photos of the St. Louis area Sears Homes by clicking here.

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To read another article on Sears Homes, click here.

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To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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To contact Rose, send an email to

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Why Is the Porch Ceiling Blue?

August 13th, 2010 Sears Homes 4 comments

Years ago, I was reading an early 20th Century book on house painting and there, amidst the many ads for “high quality, high lead” paints and “natural horse hair bristle brushes” was a little snippet on painting porch ceilings. “Sky Blue” was the preferred color for porch ceilings, the article said, because it was a known fact that mud daubers and wasps would not build a nest against a blue ceiling.

One hundred years ago, front porches were a big part of American culture and they became - in a way - auxiliary living rooms. Elderly folks have told me that when they were little kids and it was raining outside, their mom would send them out to the front porch to play - for the day!

The porch was a place for social gatherings, too. City sidewalks bustled with pedestrians moving to and fro, and front porches provided a window on the world and a place to chat with neighbors and catch up on the local happenings.

Front porches were comfortable, too. Before World War Two, air conditioning was something you found at a few movie theaters. In these pre-A/C days, front porches (and their fresh breezes) provided a little relief from the summer’s heat.

And all of that could be ruined by a few stings from an angry wasp.

One hundred years ago, homes were built intelligently and thoughtfully, and everything builders did had a good practical reason behind it, including using the color blue on porch ceilings.

Thus far, no mud daubers or wasps have built a nest against my sky-blue porch ceiling on my newly painted home here in Norfolk.

Thus far, no mud daubers or wasps have built a nest against my sky-blue porch ceiling on my newly painted home here in Norfolk.