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New Information on Schoper, Illinois

December 31st, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

All ghost towns have a fascinating history, and Schoper, Illinois is no different.

Located about eight miles from Carlinville, the town of Schoper (also known as Standard City) was originally Thomas Schoper’s 500-acre family farm. In 1918, Standard Oil of Indiana bought the farm (literally) from Schoper, and sunk a 300-feet deep coal mine.

After a coal shortage in 1917, Standard Oil wanted a reliable supply of coal to call their own. The coal was used to fire the stills that refined crude oil and turned it into gasoline.

After the completion of several gelogocial surveys (commissioned by Standard Oil), it was discovered that there was a seven-foot tall seam of coal in the ground at Schoper. As an added bonus, Schoper was near The Chicago and Alton rail line, which was centrally located between the refineries in Wood River (near St. Louis) and Whiting, Indiana (near Chicago).

In 1918, Standard Oil placed a $1 million order (for 192 houses) with Sears Roebuck and Company for 192 Honor-Bilt homes. The houses were purchased for employees in CarlinvilleWood River and Schoper, Illinois. One hundred and fifty six of the houses were built in Carlinville, 12 were built in Schoper and 24 went to Wood River.

The 12 houses were built for the supervisors at the “Schoper Mine.” There were also boarding houses and dorms built at Schoper, for the miners.

By the mid-1920s, the boom at Schoper had gone bust. The price of coal dropped after The Great War (1918), and Standard Oil could now buy their coal cheaper from mines in Kentucky (which did not have unions) than they could mine it in Macoupin County.

In July 1925, a small column on the bottom page of the Macoupin County Enquirer sadly announced that the mine was closed for good.

Nine of the 12 little Sears Houses were painstakingly disassembled and left Schoper the same way they came in:  In pieces and loaded on a boxcar, headed off to destinations unknown.

Two of the Sears Homes were moved intact, to sites just outside of Standard City. The last Sears House at Schoper (The Sears Gladstone) was home to John McMillan and his wife, a supervisor with the mine. After the mine closed, he became a caretaker charged with myriad tasks, such as making sure the powerful fans down in the mine kept the methane down to acceptable levels.

McMillan’s little Gladstone eventually became rental property and burned down sometime in the mid-1990s.  The last remnant at the site was the Schoper Powerhouse and Mine Offices, a massive concrete Federalist structure which was torn down in Summer 2003.

And that was the whole story - until last month - when a reader sent me an email with new information. I’m not sure how he did it, but he found 1930s aerial maps of Schoper, which showed the footprints (and precise location) of the 12 little Sears Homes.

Scroll on down to enjoy the many photos, including the vintage aerial photo from 1937!

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Schoper

In the front pages of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog, this image was erroneously identified as a street view of the houses as "Schopper, Illinois." In fact, this was a picture of the 24 Sears Homes in Wood River. No pictures of Schoper appeared in the Sears Modern Homes catalogs.

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Picture of Schoper from the late 1910s. At the foot of the sidewalk is a 12-bay garage, shared by the occupants of the 12 Sears Homes. The Power House is shown in the background (near Schoper Lake). The Whitehall, Gladstone and Warrenton are shown in the foreground.

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house schoper house

Schoper was the site of a massive, modern colliery (1921 Stanolind Record). As a side note, I have no idea what this massive piece of equipment is. If a reader can identify this, please leave a comment below.

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Mine Road

And here's a bit of that vintage aerial map, showing the placement of those 12 Sears Homes in Schoper (outlined with a red square). The building circled in red is the Schoper Powerhouse.

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map map map 1937

Close-up of the aerial map (1937). The four white squares on each street represent the footprint where the 12 Schoper homes were located.

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house house house house house

And what Rachel Shoemaker discovered - which is nearly unbelievable - is that if you look at this modern aerial view, you can still see the outline of 12 squares, representing the placement of those 12 Schoper houses.

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Schoper rose

It was claimed that the ’s six dynamos in the Schoper Power House had the potential to create enough electricity to power the entire state of Illinois. The local papers said it was the most powerful steam-driven power plant in the world. The smokestack was 213 feet tall and was the second highest peak in Macoupin County, only a little shorter than the spire atop the Macoupin County Courthouse in Carlinville. The picture above was taken in 2002, about a year before it was torn down.

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schoper house

The Schoper Power House, as seen in the 1921 Stanolind Record. When completed in mid-1919, the Power House also brought electricity to those twelve Sears houses. They were the only "electrified" houses in Schoper. The rest of the community would not know the joys of electric lights until power lines from Carlinville made their way to Standard City in the 1930s.

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house schoper

For many years, that last remaining Sears house (John McMillan's Gladstone) stood alone on a plot that was rapidly reverting to its primitive status as farmland. After the mines closed, McMillan became the mine’s caretaker. It was his job to descend into the deserted coal mine several times a week, grease the water pumps and turn them on. Ground water, which seeped into the mine, had to be pumped out frequently. He was also responsible for turning on the powerful ventilating fans to remove any build-up of firedamp - highly explosive methane gas - which accumulates in coal mines. As of 2003 (when this photo was taken), all that was left of the 12 Schoper Houses was this slight indent in the field.

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Schoper Lake

When Schoper was created in the late 1910s, a creek alongside the powerhouse was damned up to create a seven-acre, 40-foot-deep lake. Underground pipes drafted water from the lake to the powerhouse for the steam engines.

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To see the original vintage map, click here.

To read more about Carlinville’s kit homes, click here.

The above was excerpted from The Houses That Sears BuiltTo buy the book, click here.

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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.

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House

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).

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Full story here: http://www.sj-r.com/breaking/x1367241203/Two-suspected-meth-labs-found-in-Carlinville

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And theres also the problem on insensitive remodeling.

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

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Another

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.

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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.

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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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Quite Possibly, The Most Beautiful Elsmore in the World

December 10th, 2012 Sears Homes 5 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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“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 learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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

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The Sears Silverdale in Headache, Illinois

August 27th, 2012 Sears Homes 10 comments

Well, that’s what my husband calls it. In fact, it’s Hettick, Illinois, a small town in central Illinois, about 60 miles north of St. Louis, Missouri.

When I told Hubby about the find, the West Virginia filters on his hearing translated Hettick into “Headache.”

The Silverdale is an interesting house, because it looks like every early 20th Century farmhouse on every rural route in the Midwest. In my travels, I’ve probably seen dozens of them, but discounted most of them, because it’s so hard to positively identify them.

Do you have a Silverdale in your town? Please send me a photo!

Edited to add: Judith (see first comment below) noticed that this house in Hettick, IL is actually a better match to the GVT version (#167)! I hope to add more-better photos in a couple days! Thanks so much to Judith for pointing that out!

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The Silverdale as seen in the 1921 catalog.

The Silverdale as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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1916 catalog

The Silverdale also appeared in the 1916 catalog.

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The Headache House (well, Hettick, actually).

The Headache House (well, Hettick, actually).

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house

Judith (see comment below) discovered that the Gordon Van Tine #167 was a better match to the house in Hettick, IL. The smaller window (next to the front door) provides a good clue that this house in Hettick probably is *not* the Sears Silverdale, but rather the Gordon Van Tine model.

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Another view

Another view of the Silverdale in Hettick.

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Floorplan 1921

Floorplan for the first floor.

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Second floor silverdale

Second floor of the Silverdale. Note, there's no livable space over the kitchen. Back in the day, the room over the kitchen was considered uninhabitable, due to heat and smells that wafted from the kitchen below.

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house hosue testimonial

There are more than a few Silverdales around.

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Mr. Egan and Wife seemed to be pretty happy with their Silverdale.

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Typical

Typical hinge found in Sears kit home. This was found in the Silverdale in Hettick.

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Silverdale

An old glass window (with diamond muntins) has survived the remodelings.

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To read about the Sears Homes in Carlinville, click here.

To learn more about why I was in Hettick, click here.

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The Homey Homewood

July 17th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

Some models of Sears Homes were wildly popular. Some were not.

The Homewood falls into the second category.

And yet, it’s a puzzle as to why this attractive two-story bungalow was not a big seller for Sears.

With 784 square feet on each floor (about 1,600 square feet total), it was spacious with good-sized rooms and a thoughtful floorplan. And the price ($2,535 in 1928) was about average for the time period.

This house was only offered for a handful of years. Perhaps that’s why we don’t see more models of The Sears Homewood.

The Sears Homewood (1928 catalog)

The Sears Homewood (1928 catalog)

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Nice floorplan, and about 784 square feet per floor.

Nice floorplan, and about 784 square feet per floor.

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All of the bedrooms have a nice-sized closet. What a bonus!

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The Homewood was a fine-looking bungalow!

The Homewood was a fine-looking bungalow!

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Heres one in Elmhurst, Illinois. Thanks to Rebecca Hunter for finding this house, and then driving me over there to Elmhurst so I could get a good photo!

Here's one in Elmhurst, Illinois. Thanks to Rebecca Hunter for finding this house, and then driving me over there to Elmhurst so I could get a good photo! This model did not have a fireplace. Not all that unusual in Sears Homes. Fireplaces were optional.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read about the other Sears Homes in Northern Illinois, click here.

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The Sears Homes in Somerville, New Jersey

July 9th, 2012 Sears Homes 6 comments

Prior to May 2012, I’d never heard of Somerville, New Jersey.

And then I wrote a blog on the Sears Milton, and on the catalog page that features the Sears Milton, there was a small snippet mentioning that the Milton had also been built in Somerville, New Jersey.

I contacted a few folks in Somerville, and Marge Sullivan was kind enough to respond. Better than just responding, Marge sent photos, too.

In fact, not only did Marge send photos of the Sears Milton, but she also sent photos of several other Sears Homes in Somerville.

For years, I’d suspected that New Jersey was awash in Sears kit homes.

Sears had three mills, and Port Newark (New Jersey) was home to Sears second largest mill. And there were also seven Sears Modern Homes Sales Centers in New Jersey. There were only 40 of these sales centers in the country.

Sears strategically placed sales centers in areas where sales were very strong. Not surprisingly, sales increased in areas that boasted of having a Sears Modern Homes Sales Center.

In New Jersey, their seven sales centers were in Camden, Elizabeth, Hackensack, Long Branch, Newark, Paterson and Plainfield.

To learn more about these unique retail stores, click here.

And perhaps most interesting is that there’s a Sears Altona missing in Somerville. According to the Sears Modern Homes catalog, it was built in Somerville, but folks there are having a tough time finding it.

It may have been demolished or it may have been remodeled beyond all recognition. But we do know that one was built in Somerville, and that  L. B. Thatcher was the original builder. If someone in Somerville has access to a city directory, that last name may help in locating the missing Altona.

Many thanks to Marge Sullivan and also to the Somerville Historic Advisory Committee for sharing these wonderful photos!

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

To read about the Sears Milton in Somerville, click here.

Somewhere in Somerville, theres a Sears Altona!

Somewhere in Somerville, there's a Sears Altona!

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And according to this, it was built by L.

And according to this, it was built by L.B. Thatcher sometime before 1916.

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And theres a Sears Milton in Somerville, too.

And there's a Sears Milton in Somerville, too.

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Thanks to Marge Sullivan and the

Thanks to Marge Sullivan and the Somerville Historic Advisory Committee, we know where the Sears Milton is in Somerville! Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Sears Arlington, from the 1919 catalog.

The Sears Arlington, from the 1919 catalog.

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And heres a real beauty in Somerville, NJ.

And here's a real beauty in Somerville, NJ. This house is such a good match to the catalog page that it makes me swoon! For 90+ years, the asbestos, aluminum and vinyl siding salesmen have been kept at bay! This Arlington retains its original siding, columns and windows. Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Sears Carlin (also known as the Windsor) was for better class workers. Ive often wondered what Sears offered for the lower class workers.

The Sears Carlin (also known as the Windsor) was for "better class workers." I've often wondered what Sears offered for the "lower class workers."

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Another beautiful example of a Sears kit home in Somerville, NJ.

Another beautiful example of a Sears kit home in Somerville, NJ. It's so delightful to see these homes in largely original condition. Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And what all-American town doesnt have an Americus?

And what all-American town doesn't have an Americus?

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Actually, there are many All American Towns that do not have an Americus within their borders, but Somerville is not one of them. This Americus is a stunner, and even has its original railings.

Actually, there are many "All American Towns" that do not have an Americus within their borders, but Somerville is not one of them. This Americus is a stunner, and even has its original railings. Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Cornell (also known as the Davenport) was a non-descript little foursquare, and it was also quite popular.

The Cornell (also known as the Davenport) was a non-descript little foursquare, and it was also quite popular. Shown here in the 1928 catalog, it endured to the bitter end, and was also featured in the 1940 catalog.

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This Cornell in Somerville is feeling very festive! Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Berwyn was another hugely popular house for Sears. Its also easy to find with that double-arched entry and long-tall vent in the front gable.

The Berwyn was another hugely popular house for Sears. It's also easy to find with that double-arched entry and tall vent in the front gable. (1929)

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Is this little house in Somerville a Berwyn? My first impression is yes, it is. Its missing the long tall vent in the front gable, but replacing that with a double-sash window would be easy to do. The rest of the house is a spot-on match.

Is this little house in Somerville a Berwyn? My first impression is yes, it is. It's missing the long tall vent in the front gable, but replacing that with a double-sash window would be easy to do. The rest of the house is a spot-on match. Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Sears Lewiston, as

Look, it has an "S" on the chimney, and that's how you can tell it is a Sears Home! WRONG. That silly legend has persisted for many years, but it is NOT true. The "S" is just a stylistic element and has nothing to do with identifying a Sears House. (1930 catalog)

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Is this a Sears Lewiston in Somerville? On this house, it might be good to see a little more info. That metal casement window on the edge

Is this a Sears Lewiston in Somerville? Very possibly, and yet... On this house, it might be good to get a little more info. Is that a metal casement window on the left side? If so, that's a little worrisome. This style of house was hugely popular after WW2, and in my research, the quasi-Lewistons I've found with that metal casement window are always post-WW2. On the other hand, it's also very possible that this window was added in later years. The original wooden casement window that would have been in this spot was notoriously drafty. Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Martha Washington is one of my favorite Sears Homes. (1921 catalog)

The Martha Washington is one of my favorite Sears Homes. (1921 catalog)

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Sears

The Martha Washington in Somerville is another beauty in original condition. Notice the darling benches (hopefully under repair in this photo), also appear in the original catalog picture above. Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Sears

Sears Modern Home #138. Pretty rare house.

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Of all the Sears Homes in Somerville, this is my favorite, Sears Modern Home #138.

Of all the Sears Homes in Somerville, this is my favorite, Sears Modern Home #138. And - as with the other Sears Homes in Somerville - this one is in beautiful condition! Photo is copyright 2010, Marge Sullivan and Somerville Historic Advisory Committee (Somerville, NJ) and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And my friend Rachel recently discovered a Sears Cedars in Somerville. Itd be great to get a photo of that one, too!

And my friend Rachel recently discovered a Sears Cedars in Somerville. It'd be great to get a photo of that one, too!

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Do you know where the Sears Altona is in Somerville? If so, please leave a comment below!

To read the next blog, click here.

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The Magnificent Milton - And There’s One In New York City!

May 30th, 2012 Sears Homes 7 comments

In Spring 2010, my friend Rebecca sent me a note, asking if I knew about the Sears Milton in Stanley, Virginia. Four months later (August 2010), Hubby and I were standing in the front yard of the Sears Milton.

At the time, the 1,932-square foot house was being used as a Bed and Breakfast. The Milton House Inn website has now been taken down, so apparently, it’s a private residence again.

The house is located on the main drag, and it is an imposing structure in this beautiful (and tiny) town, nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. (Stanley is about seven miles south of Luray, Virginia and about five hours west of Norfolk.)

The Milton did not appear in the 1912 catalog (or prior years), but I found it in the 1916 catalog. It last appeared in 1919, so its reign was brief. If you’d purchased a Milton in 1916, the price was $1,619 and by 1919, the price had jumped to $2,491, a shocking 54% increase. And, it was not offered as a pre-cut house.

When I was putting together this blog, I was surprised to find (according to an old testimonial) a Milton had also been built in New York City. This is a massive and impressive house, not far behind the Sears Magnolia in terms of grandeur. Its many unique features would certainly make it hard to miss.

Is the Sears Milton still standing in New York City? Boy, I sure would love to know.

What about the Miltons that were built in Fayette, Ohio and Somerville, NJ?  Are they still standing?

In 2008, someone sent me a newspaper article that claimed that the Sears Milton had been built (and torn down) in Carlinville, Illinois. I shared the photo with Rebecca Hunter, and she and I concur: The house in Carlinville (on Route 4) did not appear to have been a Sears Milton.

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

To read about the Sears Homes in Carlinville’s Standard Addition, click here.

The Sears Milton is a distinctive and unusually large house. Identifying this gem is easier than shooting slow-moving fishies in a wee-tiny barrel.

The Sears Milton is a distinctive and unusually large house. Identifying this gem is easier than shooting slow-moving fishies in a wee-tiny barrel. (1916 catalog)

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Spacious and awesome

That bay window (dining room) is quite large and is one of many identifying characteristics of the Sears Milton. The small windows on the side (flanking the fireplace) are another unique feature, asis the second floor porch with its unusual window placement.

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And as of 1916, several had been built, including one in New York City!

And as of 1916, several had been built, including one in New York City! Pics please?? :)

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Close-up of the house (1916).

Close-up of the house (1916). As mentioned, this house has many unique features, such as the dentil molding, massive eave brackets, tiny attic window set in those deep gables, pergolas, and that massive two-story bay window. That second-story porch (with small windows on either side of the balcony door is also pretty distinctive.

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Here in the flesh

Landscaping prevented a shot that's more akin to the catalog image (as seen above), but there's no doubt about it: This is a Sears Milton. Note the dentil molding atop the columns.

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Straight on

My oh my, that's a fine-looking house! Note the two-story bays on the right!

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Another view

Another view of this wonderful old house.

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From the side

From this angle, you can see those two small windows flanking the chimney.

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Remnants of the rafter tails.

Underneath the flat porch roof are remnants of the old pergola. Note the unique cuts on the rafter tails.

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stanley wow

A view of the Magnificent Milton's front porch.

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Details around the second-story porch.

Details around the second-story porch.

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Comparison

Comparison of the catalog image and the house in Stanley, Virginia.

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To learn more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

Interested in seeing more photos of Sears Homes in the Blue Ridge Mountains? Click here.

The Miltons in New York, New Jersey and Ohio were built between 1913 -1916. Please leave a comment if you have any clue where these homes might be!

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The Sears Fullerton: “Meets The Needs of So Many People”

May 9th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

The foursquare is one of my favorite housing styles (but then again, I love them all). For 18 years, my name was Rosemary Fuller, so I have a special affinity for the Sears Fullerton for familial reasons, too!

The Fullerton was one of Sears most popular housing styles and it’s easy to identify because it has many distinctive features. Most notable are the flared columns on the front porch with the paneled columns on top.  The Fullerton also has three windows on the home’s front, and the small “landing window” on the side. The attic dormer is also distinctive. The Sears Fullerton has a broad, low dormer window with an undersized sash.

This foursquare also has something I have never seen on any other Sears House: A fireplace chimney that’s centered on the roof! The Fullerton has a pyramidal hip roof, and the chimney is very near the apex of that pyramidal hip. As the chimney rises up through the attic, the bricks are laid in a “twist,” so that the chimney pops out through the roof’s center.

It’s one of the most unusual features I’ve ever seen in a kit house, and it’s unique to the Fullerton.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

If you’re here to read about Addie’s exhumation, this is the place to click.

Sears Fullerton as seen in the 1925 catalog.

Sears Fullerton as seen in the 1925 catalog.

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So many reasons to love the Fullerton...

So many reasons to love the Fullerton...

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Good floorplan, too!

The Fullerton had "good morning" stairs, which was a small staircase that opened into the kitchen. The idea was you could toddle downstairs and enter the kitchen without disturbing the folks in the living room.

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The 1925 catalog featured some interior views!

The 1925 catalog featured some "interior" views. This shot of the staircase shows another unique feature: That closet door off the landing, and the small built-in table by the door.

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And the living room!

The fireplace in the living room dominates the Fullerton.

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And the kitchen

And the most modern kitchen!

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Sears

Notice the flared brick columns with the paneled tops (1925).

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Sears Fullerton in Aurora, IL

Sears Fullerton in Aurora, IL, replete with flared columns and paneled tops!

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Sears Fullerton in Hampton

Sears Fullerton in Hampton. Notice that tiny window in that massive dormer.

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Olstead

Classic Fullerton in Olmstead, IL.

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Fullerton in DC

Another classic Fullerton, but this one has endured some plasticine siding and icky replacement windows. This house is in DC, which is not known for being kind to their Sears Homes. In 2008, the municipality tore down a *beautiful* Sears Fullerton, despite a massive grass roots effort to save the house. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without specific permission.

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Fullerton in Roanoke

Sears Fullerton in Roanoke with a porte cochere.

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Wood River

Sears Fullerton in Wood River, Illinois. In the 1930s, a tornado went through this area and destroyed many of the front porches.

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Elgin

Elgin, IL has the largest known collection of kit homes in the country. This Fullerton is in Elgin. Dr. Hunter has done an amazing amount of research on Sears Homes, and she's the author of several books on the topic. She lives in Elgin, IL.

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The Fullerton was the one of two foursquares that endured into the early 1930s, and appeared in the 1933 Book of Modern Homes catalog. e into the 1930s,

The Fullerton was the one of two foursquares that endured into the early 1930s, and appeared in the 1933 "Low Cost Homes" catalog.

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To learn more about Dr. Hunter and her books, click here.

To visit Dr. Hunter’s website, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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The Elsmore: Refinement and Comfort

May 3rd, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

If you only learn to identify five Sears Homes, one of them should be the Elsmore. It was a perennial favorite amongst kit home buyers, and for good reason. It was offered in two floor plans and both had several nice features, including spacious rooms, a living room fireplace, a kitchen that overlooked the back yard, and a super-sized front porch. It was attractive house with a smart floor plan.

In 1919, the 1,100-square-foot home sold for a mere $1,528 - a solid value. There was a little bit of extra room in the attic too, if someone was willing to do some work to transform the second story into living space. In some cases, people added dormers to the massive hipped roof to add a window or two.

The 1919 catalog page (shown below) promised “Refinement and Comfort Here.” The Sears catalog was famous for its puffery, but in this case, the promises made about the Elsmore were probably pretty accurate.

Want to read more about the history of the Elsmore? Click here

To order a copy of Rose’s newest book, click here.

Elsmore, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

Elsmore, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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The 1924 catalog testimonial

This testimonial - written by Mr. DeHaven of Glenshaw, PA appeared in the 1924 catalog. It would be fun to find this house today.

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Elsmore in Cairo (now gone) 1921

This Elsmore was built at 1501 Commercial Avenue in in Cairo, Illinois. As of 2002, there was nothing but a vacant lot at that site. Mr. Fitzjearls house is long gone. Sears had a 40-acre mill in Cairo and there are many Sears Homes throughout Cairo, but not a single Elsmore.

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1921 houses

Mr. Fitzjearl built an Elsmore at 1501 Commercial Avenue.

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Sears Elsmore in Bedford, VA

Sears Elsmore in Bedford, VA (near Roanoke).

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Sears Elsmore as een in 1916

In the 1916 catalog, the Elsmore sold for a mere $937.

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Park Ridge, Il Dale

Dale Wolicki found this Elsmore in Park Ridge, Illinois. This house gets my vote for the most perfect Elsmore in America. Original windows, doors, siding and railings. Just amazing. Photo is courtesy of Dale Patrick Wolicki and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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One of the most perfect Elsmores in the world is in Elgin, IL.

The second most perfect Elsmore in the world is in Elgin, IL. Notice the original railing!

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Elsmore in Benld

This Elsmore has had a lot of "remodeling" but it still retains some original Elsmore features, such as the lone sash in the front porch attic. It's located in Benld, IL.

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Clifton Forge

This Elsmore is in Clifton Forge, Virginia.

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Sears Elsmore suffolk

This Elsmore is in downtown Suffolk.

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Mounds, Illinois is very close to Cairo, which was home to a massive 40-acre Sears Mill in the 1920s and 30s. Not surprisingly, there are many Sears Homes throughout this area.

Mounds, Illinois is very close to Cairo, which was home to a massive 40-acre Sears Mill in the 1920s and 30s. Not surprisingly, there are many Sears Homes throughout this area.

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Theres an abundance of Sears Homes in Takoma Park (DC area) too.

There's an abundance of Sears Homes in Takoma Park (DC area) too. Someone added a couple double-hung windows to the porch attic and turned it into living space.

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Colonail Heiths

This Elsmore is somewhere in Virginia. Wow. Just wow. And not a good wow.

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floor plan

These Elsmore was offered in this lone floor plan until the early 1920s when a second floor plan was offered.

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The Elsmore came in two floor plans

The second floor plan had the same footprint, but the interior was very different, and it had a pair of windows in the dining room. If you scroll back up and look at these houses, you'll see most of them are "Floor plan #13192."*

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beauty 1919

The Elsmore as it appeared in 1921.

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Photo from Dale

Side by side comparison of the Elsmore in the catalog (left) and real life (right).

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn about Wardway Homes, click here.

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