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Posts Tagged ‘the sears homes of illinois’

The Amherst: All The Charms and Hominess of the Bungalow

April 20th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

…combined with the advantages of a two-story house!

So promised the advertising copy that accompanied the pictures in the 1914 Aladdin Homes catalog.

One week ago today, hubby (Wayne) and buddy (Milton) and I were wandering around Carney’s Point, NJ, admiring an entire neighborhood of Aladdin kit homes.

In Carney’s Point, I saw several models of Aladdin houses that I had never seen before.

The fun started along Shell Road (the main drag through town), where I found several Aladdin houses, many of which were in very good condition.

Since returning home, I’ve read through two books detailing the history of Carney’s Point, but neither book has so much as a mention about the fact that they’ve got a large neighborhood (more than 100 houses, I’d guess) of Aladdin kit homes.

Do they know?

If the do know, where’s the placard?

If they don’t, send them a link to this website! :D

Is your house a kit house? Click here to learn more about “The Nine Signs.”

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In the 1916 Aladdin catalog, this promotion appeared. Mark Hardin and I have been wondering if Carneys Point is the town to which theyre referring.

In the 1916 Aladdin catalog, this promotion appeared. Mark Hardin and I have been wondering if Carney's Point (New Jersey) is the town to which they're referring.

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The Amherst (shown here) appeared in the 1914 catalog. Apparently, it was not a big seller, but there are several in Carneys Point.

The Amherst appeared in the 1914 catalog. It was not a big seller, but there are several in Carney's Point.

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Floor plan

Look at the size of that living room!

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floor plan 2

All four bedrooms are good size, too.

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Love the description, complete with the typo!

Love the description, complete with the typo!

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Because it has so many unique features, it should be easy to identify!

Because it has so many unique features, it should be easy to identify!

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This Amherst is on Shell Road in Carneys Point.

This Amherst is on Shell Road in Carney's Point.

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Nice house

Wish I had the nerve to ask people to move their vehicles, but I don't.

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An Amherst in the heart of the Aladdin Neighborhood.

An Amherst in the heart of the Aladdin Neighborhood.

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Best feature is, original siding!

Best feature is, original siding (but replacement windows). Alas!

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And its for sale!

And it's for sale!

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Due to the small lots and mature vegetation, it was hard to get shots that were a good match to the catalog image.

Due to the small lots and mature vegetation, it was hard to get shots that were a good match to the catalog image. Well, let's say it was hard to get good shots and *not* get arrested. This is a good shot of the details down that bay-window side. That funky small window in the bay makes this house *easy* to identify in the wild.

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Fortunately, I was able to get a good shot of this.

Fortunately, I was able to get a good shot of this. from an angle that matched the catalog, however... That front porch addition is a little "clunky."

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What a fine match!

What a fine match!

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And what came with your house?

And what came with your house?

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To learn more about another DuPont town, click here.

To read about another town filled with Aladdin Homes, click here.

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The Grant: A Charm All Its Own

April 17th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

Recently, Wayne (hubby), Milton (buddy) and I traveled to the National Archives and Records Administration in Philadelphia to do research on Penniman. Along the way, we stopped at Carney’s Point, NJ to check out the houses in that neighborhood.

Carney’s Point, like Penniman, was the site of a World War 1 DuPont munitions plant.

In 1891, E. I. DuPont de Nemours bought the land, which had been owned by the descendant of an Irish immigrant named Thomas Carney. DuPont had purchased the 17 square mile tract so that they could build a plant and manufacture smokeless gunpowder.

When The European War began in July 1914, demand for smokeless gunpowder exploded (so to speak). (World War I began in Europe in July 1914, and was originally known as The European War.)

At Carney’s Point, the population swelled from 2,000 (pre-European War) to 25,000 (1917). In their great rush to provide industrial housing for all these people, DuPont turned to Aladdin to supply pre-cut houses. One of the houses that was built in the Aladdin neighborhood was The Grant.

This is one Aladdin model that I have never seen anywhere else, and yet there’s a surfeit of them in Carney’s Point.

Do you know of a “Grant” in another community? Please leave a comment below!

And please share this link on Facebook or with your old-house loving friends!

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The Grant, as seen in the 1914 Aladdin catalog.

In the 1914 Aladdin catalog, it was called, "The Jackson."

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People on prch

I just love the drawn-in people.

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In 1916, it was renamed

In 1916, the little house was renamed The Grant.

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Pretty basic floorplan

This first floor was 20 by 20 (400 square feet) and had a pretty basic floorplan.

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And perhaps most interesting, no bath

And perhaps most interesting, it had no bathroom (as shown in 1916).

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You can assemble it on youor next stay-cation.

Best of all, you can assemble it on your next "stay-cation" (last paragraph).

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Cutie

This one is easy to spot with the unique window arrangement and Arts & Crafts porch.

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nice house and cheap

This front porch on this Grant is largely original, but covered in siding and screens. The Victorian screen door isn't a good look, but that's kind of off-set by the 1950s wrouught-iron railing.

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unfortunate placement of ac

These folks went with vinyl siding instead of aluminum. Plus, it has a beam sticking out of its eye.

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house house

And this darling little house (which also has its original front porch) is for sale for a mere $112,900, which seems like a pretty good deal (assuming that it has an inside bathroom).

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my favorite

This was my favorite, because it's untouched by the ravages of roving home-improvement companies and vinyl-siding salesmen. I'd love to know if this is the original siding, or if it was added in later years. We do know that some of the DuPont designs were offered with "composite siding" which is a nice way of saying, "crappy asphalt roll siding" (which is what we're seeing here).

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detail

Oh yeah, baby! Original windows! I *love* it!

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detail around porch

And nice detail around the front porch.

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A view of Carneys Point in the late 1910s. .

A view of Carney's Point in the late 1910s/early 20s. This photo was taken in the 200-block of Broadway.

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To learn more about Penniman, click here.

To read about another town filled with Aladdin Homes, click here.

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When All Else Fails…

June 20th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

Last Friday, we had a wind gust sweep through Hampton Roads and with that one lone gust of 65+ mph winds, we lost power here at the Ringer Ranch (as did 307,000 other households in Hampton Roads). Next, I picked up my cell phone to call my daughter Crystal. Apparently, the cell towers were overloaded. I could neither make nor receive phone calls.

Those little cell phones we all love so dearly are actually radios, operating on less than one watt (and sometimes as low as .3 watts). But this technologically advanced system of communication has a big downside: It’s very fragile.

During a storm, cell towers can be damaged. When too many people use their phones, the system can get overloaded. During a crisis, the government has a legal authority (and ability) to commandeer cell phone towers or even cut them off (as happened with the Boston bombing).

Communications - especially in times of emergency - are so vital. How can we reach people when power is down, phone lines have fallen and cell phones aren’t working?

Ham (Amateur) Radio.

Field Day provides live demonstrations of Ham Radio in countless cities throughout the country and specifically, here in Norfolk (at Tarrollton Park on Tarrollton Drive).  This is a nationwide event, and thousands of experienced Ham Radio operators will be involved, and all will be eager, ready and able to answer any questions you might have.

The raison d’être for “Field Day” is to help amateur radio operators hone their emergency communications skills.  In other words, we’re training and practicing to help you when things get rough.

In 2003, my elderly father lost phone service and power during Hurricane Isabel. We had no way to contact him. Had I known about the availability of Ham Radio, I would have eagerly sought out an experienced ham radio operator and asked him/her to relay a message to Portsmouth, and check on this 83-year-old man who’d already had three severe heart attacks.

The American Radio Relay League (also known as the ARRL) is the largest organization of radio amateurs in the world (with 160,000 members). And the title above (”When All Else Fails”) comes from ARRL.

Want to see how this all works?  Drop by Tarrollton Park (in Norfolk) on Saturday or Sunday and learn a little bit about what Ham Radio is all about.

If nothing else, we’re good people to know. Just in case.

Just in case.

To learn more about Field Day, click here.

To learn more about Ham Radio, click here.

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Two years ago, I became a licensed ham radio operator. Since then, Ive obtained my Extra license (the highest level) because I believe that being able to communication in times of emergencies is vital.

Two years ago, I became a licensed ham radio operator, thanks in part to this movie, "Testament." Since then, I've obtained my "Extra" license (the highest level) because I believe that being able to communicate in times of emergencies is vital.

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My friend Milton has an awesome set-up.

One example of an awesome vintage ham radio set-up (from the 1980s).

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ham

My set-up is so simple that even a Sheltie can operate it! Okay, maybe not, but if she had opposable thumbs, that'd help. .

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Jim and Milton (fellow hams) install a new antenna.

Jim and Milton (fellow hams) install a new antenna.

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The best of both worlds: Large antenna mounted on Sears Avondale in Litchfield, Illinois

Ham radio antenna mounted on Sears kit home ("The Avondale) in Litchfield, Illinois. When times get rough, the people who have these antennas in their yard will be your new best friends. But not all antennas are visible from the front yard.

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To learn more about the movie Testament, click here.

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The Bellewood: A Happy Combination!

April 26th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

“The Bellewood is another happy combination of a well laid out floor plan with a modern exterior” (1932 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

And it’s also a real cutie-pie of a house.  With only 1,000 square feet of living area, it’s not surprising that people often convert the attic into usable living space.

The Bellewood is not an easy house to find, mostly because, it was only offered a short time (1931 - 1933), which also happened to be the first years of the Great Depression. In 1931, housing starts plummeted, so finding any post-1930 Sears Home is a special treat. (In January 1931, the Chicago Tribune reported that housing starts for the year [1930] were down 53%.)

Post-1930 Sears Homes are hard to find, and yet, there was one Sears House that will still selling by the hundreds in the early 1930s: The Crafton!

By the way, are you near Staunton? If so, come to our lecture on May 2nd!  :)  A good time will be had by all!

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1933 catalog house

The Bellewood (1933). Note that the Sears Modern Homes department is now known as the "Home Construction Division." In 1934, Sears closed down their kit homes department and in 1935, they reopened it for a short time. In 1940, the whole program was shuttered once and for all.

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1932 text

In 1932, it was described as a "Happy combination of a well laid out floor plan with a modern attractive exterior." In 1933, it was simply "an up-to-the-minute...design." How pedestrian.

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house floor plan

The Bellewood had a very simple floorplan, with two large closets and a tiny bathroom.

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Bellewood 1933

The Bellewood, as seen in the 1933 catalog.

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1932 catalog house

A close-up of the house as seen in 1932.

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Bellewood in Hopewell

Here's a lovely Bellewood in Hopewell, Virginia. Notice the vent on the 2nd floor has been replaced with a double-hung window. There's probably not a lot of head room on that 2nd floor.

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Andrew Mutch Ann Arbor

This Bellewood (Ann Arbor, MI) is in wonderfully original condition. It still has its original windows, siding and trim. Down this wall, there should be a single window in the living room, and paired windows in the dining room, and kitchen. The living room window is paired, and the dining room windows are missing. Given that it has its original siding, it was probably built this way. There's certainly room for another set of windows down that long wall. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch, and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Ann Arbor Bellewood house

The "short side" of the Sears Bellewood in Ann Arbor. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch, and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house shutters

The Bellewood came with "batten" shutters (shown here).

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house shutters

The Bellewood in Ann Arbor still has its original shutters! Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch, and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Lara Solinicke Des Plaines IL

And Lara Solinicke found this beautiful Bellewood in Des Plaines, Illinois. What a pretty house!! Again, that upstairs vent has been replaced with a double-hung window! Photo is copyright 2013 Lara Solickne and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Does Hopewell, VA have a large collection of Sears Homes? No, they do NOT. However, they do have a Bellewood (and a handful of others). Click here to learn more.

Want to learn how to identify Sears Homes? Click here!

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Sometimes, They’re Hiding Right By Your Biscuits…

April 5th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

Having lived in Norfolk for seven years now, I have scoured every street in this city, searching for mail-order kit homes. I’ve ridden around with several friends, studied maps, queried long-time residents and harangued my husband and I was quite certain that I’d seen every early 20th Century neighborhood that Norfolk had to offer.

Wednesday night, my buddy Milton and I were on our way to CERT class, and we swung by Church’s Fried Chicken to buy some of their world-famous honey biscuits. For reasons I can’t explain, an integral part of the CERT class is a pot-luck supper. (We’re  expected to bring a piquant and palatable platter of something wonderful to these weekly classes.)

As we pulled out onto Virginia Beach Blvd, I noticed a lovely Dutch Colonial staring back at me.

“Huh,” I thought to myself. “That Dutchie has an interior chimney,  just like the Martha Washington (Sears Home). Isn’t that something?”

And then I noticed that it had the curved porch roof, just like the Martha Washington.

And then I looked again and thought, “And it’s got those short windows centered on the second floor, just like the Martha Washington.”

Next, I looked at the small attic window and thought, “And it’s got that half-round window in the attic, just like the Martha Washington.”

As Milton drove down the road, I twisted my head around and saw that the Dutchie had the two distinctive bay windows on the side, just like the Martha Washington. Those two windows are an unusual architecture feature, and that was the clincher.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I told Milton. “I think that’s a Sears House.”

Now anyone who’s hung around me for more than 73 minutes knows that I’m a pretty big fan of Sears Homes, and my friends understand that a significant risk of riding around with Rose is that there will be many detours when we pass by early 20th Century neighborhoods.

Milton gladly obliged and gave me an opportunity to take a long, lingering look at this Dapper Dutchie.

That night at the CERT meeting, I kept thinking about the fact that one of the most spacious and fanciest Sears Homes ever offered was sitting right here in Norfolk, and after seven years of living in this city, I just now found it.

The next day, Milton picked me up around 11:00 am and we returned to the Sears Martha Washington so that I could take a multitude of photos. Sadly, as we drove through the adjoining neighborhoods, we saw that the nearby college (Norfolk State) had apparently swallowed up great gobs of surrounding bungalows.

Between that and some very aggressive redevelopment, it appears that hundreds of early 20th Century homes are now just a dusty memory at the local landfill.

Do the owners of this Martha Washington know what they have? Based on my research, more than 90% of the people living in these historically significant homes didn’t know what they had until I knocked on their door and told them.

What a find! What a treasure! And it’s right here in Norfolk!

So is there a Magnolia hiding somewhere nearby?  :)

To learn more about the kit homes in Norfolk, click here.

To learn how to identify marked lumber, click here.

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The Martha Washington was a grand and glorious house.

The Martha Washington was a grand and glorious house. According to this page from the 1921 catalog, it had seven modern rooms. I wonder how many "old-fashioned" rooms it had?

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According to this

Here's a Martha Washington that was featured in the back pages of the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog. This house was built in Washington, DC, and shows the house shortly after it was finished.

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This line drawning from the 1921 catalog shows the

This line drawing from the 1921 catalog shows those two bay windows on the side.

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This was described as a snowy white kitchen de Lux.

This was described as a "snowy white kitchen de Lux." For its time, this really was a very modern kitchen. Notice the "good morning stairs" too the right, and the handy little stool under the sink. According to a 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog, the "average woman spends 3/4ths of her day in the kitchen." So maybe that's why she got a hard metal stool to sit on at the sink?

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Oh may

"Judge for yourself how attractive, bright and sanitary we have made this home for the housewife." And a "swinging seat"! I guess that's a desperate attempt to make kitchen work seem more recreational, and less like drudge work.

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CheckAn “exploded view” shows the home’s interior. That baby-grand piano looks mighty small!

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Second

Check out that bathtub on the rear of the house. And that's a sleeping porch in the upper right. Again, that furniture looks mighty small.

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As you can see from the picture (1921), this was a fine home!

As you can see from the picture (1921), this was a fine home!

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Be still my quiveringg heart!

Be still my quivering heart! And it's right on Virginia Beach Boulevard!

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A view from the side.

A view from the side, showing off those bay windows.

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The PVC fish scales over the porch are a pity (and do a fine job of hiding the beautiful fan light),

The PVC fish scales over the porch are a pity (and do a fine job of hiding the beautiful fan light), and the badly crimped aluminum trim on that porch roof doesn't look too good, and the wrought-iron is a disappointment, but (and this is a big but), at least it's still standing.

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Before

The porch, in its pre-aluminum siding salesmen and pre-wrought-iron and pre-PVC state.

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compare

A comparison of the Martha Washington in DC with the house in Norfolk!

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And heres a Martha Washington in Cincinnatti, Ohio.

And here's a Martha Washington in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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To learn more about the Martha Washington, click here.

To learn more about biscuits, click here.

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The Fulton: A Thoroughbred

February 28th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

The Fulton appeared only in the 1939 and 1940 Sears Modern Homes catalog (which were identical). Sears Homes offered in the 1930s are hard to find, and Sears Homes offered only in the late 1930s are well-nigh impossible to find, and yet, one of the faithful readers of this blog found what appears to be a Sears Fulton in Massachusetts!

Now that’s remarkable!

And, 1940 was the last year of the Sears Modern Homes program. It was shut down once and for all (after a temporary closure in 1935), and all sales records were destroyed, as was the other ephemera (catalogs, blueprints, manuals, etc).

The Fulton was an elegant home, and yet it was a mere 1,250 square feet. The enclosed front porch looks almost like an afterthought, but in fact, it was original to the home. Have you seen a Fulton in your neck of the woods? If so, please send me a photo!

Sadly, amongst the 50,000 photos on my computer, I neglected to note the name of the wonderful and kind soul who sent this photo along, so if you’re the person who so graciously supplied this photo, please drop me a note and give me your name?

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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The Fulton was offered only in the 1939/1940 Sears Modern Homes catalogs, which were identical.

The Fulton was offered only in the 1939/1940 Sears Modern Homes catalogs.

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Interesting house

Fortunately, the Fulton has many distinctive features, such as this oversized center chimney, modest cornice returns on the house, and a shed roof on the foyer. The details around the foyer would be the first thing to catch my eye.

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Are they describing Secretariat or a house?

Are they describing Secretariat or a house?

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The first floor

The first floor shows a very simple floorplan.

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2nd

2nd floor has two teeny tiny bedrooms, one good size bedroom and one bath.

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house

The Fulton, as seen in the 1939/1940 catalog.

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My notes say that this house is in Massachusetts, but I neglected to retain the name of the kind soul who sent me this photo. Please contact me if that was YOU, as Id like to give proper attribution.

My notes say that this house is in Massachusetts, but I neglected to retain the name of the kind soul who sent me this photo. Please contact me if that was YOU, as I'd like to give proper attribution. BEAUTIFUL photo, by the way!!

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Details around the front porch

Details around the front foyer make this house easy to identify.

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To learn more about how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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“A Conveniently Arranged Home of Eight Rooms at Low Cost”

January 6th, 2013 Sears Homes 7 comments

The Chelsea (Modern Home #111) was first offered in the 1908 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

This spacious foursquare endured until the early 1920s, when the more modern Colonial Revivals and Tudor Revivals bumped it out of the catalogs.

As is seen by the photos below, Modern Home #111 changed a bit as the years rolled by. In my travels, I’ve found only two examples of this house. The first was in Mattoon, Illinois (Central Illinois) and Colonial Heights, Virginia (near Richmond).

And yet I see there’s also one in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Anyone in Wisconsin willing to get a photo? :)

To learn more about the Sears Homes in Wisconsin, click here.

To read more about how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

The Sears Chelsea appeared in the first Modern Homes catalog (1908).

The Sears Chelsea appeared in the first Modern Homes catalog (1908). In the floorplan for the 1908 "Chelsea," the bathroom was an optional upgrade.

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By 1916,

By 1916, the price had dropped by almost half. It was not offered as a pre-cut home until late 1917. Notice that the house now has a slightly different appearance with that center closet window (front), broader windows and more substantial woodwork around the front porch.

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By 1919

By 1919, the price was back to 1908 levels. This was probably due to some post-war inflation. In 1919, the Chelsea was offered as a pre-cut kit home.

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This testimonial (and photo) appeared on the back cover of the 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

This testimonial (and photo) appeared on the back cover of the 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The porch columns and lack of a closet window suggest it was the earlier (1908) model Chelsea.

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Accompanying testimonial.

The accompanying testimonial explains that the house was built in Ossining, NY.

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Heres a picture-perfect Chelsea in Colonial Heights, VA.

Here's a picture-perfect Chelsea in Colonial Heights, VA. The owner has done a thorough, meticulous and painstakingly perfect job of restoring this 100+ year old house to its original grandeur.

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This later-model Chelsea is in Mattoon, IL.

This later-model Chelsea is in Mattoon, IL. Lots of sidings there.

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house

A comparison of the Chelsea in New York (1916) and the Chelsea in Virginia (2010).

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Quite Possibly, The Most Beautiful Elsmore in the World

December 10th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

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

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

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

To read more on the Elsmore, click here.

Refinement and Comfort here.  How elegant sounding!

"Refinement and Comfort here." Sounds lovely!!

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

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

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Another vintage Elsmore.

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

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

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

Visit Dale’s website by clicking here.

And the crème de la crème

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Floor

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

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

To read more about the Elsmore, click here.

To visit Dale’s website, click here.

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

:)

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Cooking - Off the Grid!

November 24th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

As has become our annual tradition, hubby cooked our 18-pound turkey on his Weber Charcoal Grill. It was one of the most delicious birds I’ve ever enjoyed. The best part was that it was cooked 100% “off the grid.”

The charcoal is a no-brainer. Lots of people know how to use charcoal to cook their meat.

But the secret of a well-cooked bird  is the rotisserie attachment which spins the meat at a slow speed. This year, the small but powerful rotisserie motor was powered  by our new “Solar System,” three 15-watt solar panels which we recently installed at The Ringer Ranch.

These three photovoltaic panels convert the sun’s rays into electricity, which is stored in a 12-volt deep-cycle marine battery. The inverter (shown below) converts the 12-volt system into 120 volts, suitable for household use.

To learn more about how we installed these solar panels, click here.

Hubby proudly points out his delicious turkey spinning on the grill.

Hubby proudly points out his delicious turkey spinning on the grill.

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Look

Our three 15-watt solar panels are on top of the shed roof.

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The electrical items (inverter, solar controller and battery) are inside the shed.

The electrical items (inverter, solar controller and battery) are inside the shed. Notice the orange extension cord coming out of the inverter? That is powering the rotisserie.

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The most amazing part is that the solar panels were charging the battery *faster* than the rotisserie motor was drawing off power.

The most amazing part is that the solar panels were charging the battery *faster* than the rotisserie motor was drawing off power. And this was at 8:00 am.

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Safety first. Hubby uses the five-gallon bucket to keep the cords out of the wet dew.

Safety first. Hubby uses the five-gallon bucket to keep the cords out of the wet dew.

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It was indeed a most splendiferous bird!

It was indeed a most splendiferous bird!

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Want a “solar system” of your own? We did it for $351 (total cost). To buy your own, click here.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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To read about a very happy Thanksgiving in 1918, click here.

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“I Was The Petted Daughter of a Rich Man…”

November 21st, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

“Look at those prices!”

That’s probably the #1 comment I hear from people as they browse the pages of an old Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Why were Sears kit homes priced so incredibly low?

Well, they weren’t really. Like everything else in history, the prices of early 20th Century housing have to be looked at in context.

One context to consider is taxation. In 1918, only the very wealthy paid federal income tax. In fact, only 5% of Americans paid any income tax at all. If your employer paid you $15 a week, you took home $15 a week.

The other issue is inflation. Pervasive, savings-eroding inflation has not always been a way of life in America.

In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the first step that moved us off the gold standard. It was a desperate attempt to re-inflate the sagging dollar. In 1933, Roosevelt issued Executive Order #6102, requiring Americans to deliver their gold to the Federal Reserve.

At the time, law required that Federal Reserve notes (aka “dollars”) had to be backed by 40% gold reserves held in the vaults at the Federal Reserve. That was our first disconnect from a true gold standard. The second came in 1971 when President Nixon permanently disconnected us from the gold standard.

After that, the Federal Reserve was free to print as much money as they felt was needed. And it was (not coincidentally) in the 1970s when inflation hit double digits.

A stable (non-inflating) economy made it far easier for people to save up their dollars over a period of years and eventually purchase a home. (Inflation rewards those who borrow and penalizes those who save.) In the early 1900s, taking on debt of any kind was considered foolhardy, dangerous and even reckless.

There was no “rush to buy” because the price of housing (and the value of dollars) was fairly stable. Young couples took their time and often spent many, many years saving up to buy a home.

The third historical context that needs to be considered is simplicity. Take a look the Sears Kismet (shown below). This house has 520 square feet with two bedrooms that measure 8′ by 9′. I’m not sure, but I think a FEMA trailer is bigger than that.

The fourth issue is building codes (a subset of simplicity, really). It was estimated that a kit home cost 30-40% less than a comparable stick-built home. The average joe could order his dream home out of the Sears Roebuck catalog, and within 90 days, his 12,000-piece kit would be delivered to the train station. Many locales did require building permits, but it was nothing like the process is today.

The building permit was - above all - a way for the city/county to make sure that no opportunity for new taxes was overlooked.

Homeowners often installed their own plumbing, electrical, heating and mechanical systems.  And these systems were simple. Fuse boxes were 30-amp service, with one outlet in each room (if that!). Plumbing consisted of a sink in the kitchen and one bathroom. Maybe. Heating systems were often “pipleless” which was a nice way of saying it was a massive space heater in a center hallways.

Houses were much smaller and simpler, and building codes were quite lax.

Still want an $800 house?  :)

Dollar for dollar, the Katrina Cottages offered by Lowes were comparable. These were very basic, very small kit homes selling for $20,000 or so (depending on model). Interestingly, they’re no longer available.

The world has changed since Sears first offered these kit homes in 1908. Most folks today would not find The Kismet suitable. And how many people have the skills to build a 12,000-piece kit? And I don’t know of any city in America where you could build a small house without a whole lot of government intrusion and/or oversight.

But I digress.

The main point is, wages in the 1910s and 1920s were a fraction of today’s incomes. According to American Carpenter and Builder Magazine (December 1912), skilled carpenters in Chicago were earning 65 cents an hour and plumbers were making 75 cents an hour.

In the early days, Ladies’ Home Journal was a magazine devoted to helping women get into a home of their own. Each issue was filled with stories from people who had overcome financial adversities and bought or built their own house on tiny incomes.

Some stories had headings such as, “How a wife did it herself,” and “Bought her own home with nine children and $800 a year income.”  These stories paint a vivid word picture of how much toil and sacrifice pre-World War I families endured to have a home of their own.

The following story appeared in the October 1903 Ladies’ Home Journal and was the winning entry for the magazine’s series, “How some families have saved for their own homes.”

It’s a wonderful story that really demonstrates the sacrifice involved in purchasing a home at the turn of the last century. The wages mentioned in this piece lend some additional insight to the dollar values of the day, and help explain the low prices of homes offered in the Sears catalogs.

We planted a garden and my husband worked it himself. He [arose] every morning at about four and worked [in the garden] until time to go to the shop - about two hours.  We’d sell the vegetables at market, keeping only a minimum for ourselves.

We could not afford to buy a sewing machine, so I rented an old-fashioned hand machine at $3 a year and had to turn the wheel with one hand and guide the work with the other.  I would sew every night (taking in work for hire) never retiring earlier than one o’clock.  I got up at five every morning.

So much work came to me that [many] nights, I would sit up until daybreak, snatch an hour’s nap, then get up to cook breakfast  My husband would get up when I retired, work his garden, split the wood, build a fire in the kitchen stove, bring in enough water for the day (we had no well) and then set the coffee pot to boil. I did the washing and ironing and made my own soap.

Three years thus rolled away. My husband’s wages went up to $8 a week but we still practiced the most rigid economy and cut off some of our necessities. Our cow had a calf and when he was one year old, we killed him and sold the meat.

To clothe my little boy, I took my husband’s cast-off clothing, turned it wrong side out and cut out the best portions, making the boy’s clothes.

At the end of seven years, my husband’s wages had increased to $9 a week. After seven years of struggle and extreme economy, toil and labor, today finds us with a comfortable home, horses and cows.

As for myself, before my marriage I never knew the value of money as I was the petted daughter of a rich man.

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In the early 1900s, Ladies Home Journal was a housing magazine for women.

In the early 1900s, Ladies' Home Journal was a housing magazine for women.

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The magazines pages were filled with articles on how to buy a nice house.

The magazine's pages were filled with articles on how to build or buy a nice house.

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In the early 1900s, houses were cheap, but so were wages.

In the early 1900s, houses were cheap, but so were wages. In 1920, these women (sorting incoming orders for Montgomery Ward) probably didn't make $1,000 a year. In 1920, the average teacher's salary was $920 a year.

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Heating systems were very primitive compared to todays modern furnaces and boilers. The pipeless furnace was hugely popular. It would be set in the crawlspace or basement near the center point of the house. The living room would be tropical, while the folks upstairs could see their breath.

Heating systems were very primitive compared to today's modern furnaces and boilers. The "pipeless furnace" was hugely popular. It would be set in the crawlspace or basement near the center point of the house. The living room would be tropical, while the folks upstairs could see their breath.

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The Kismet, as shown in the 1919 catalog.

The Kismet, as shown in the 1919 catalog.

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Could

Pretty small house. Could you raise five kids in the house? Many folks did. There was the parent's bedroom and the kids' bedroom. If you were really fancy, you might get a three-bedroom house with a girls' bedroom and a boys' bedroom.

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This Kismet in Elmhurst, Illinois is a cutie, but its pretty small.

This Kismet in Elmhurst, Illinois is a cutie, but it's pretty small. And it's had a substantial addition added onto the back of the house.

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To buy your loved one the PERFECT Christmas gift, click here!

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