Posts Tagged ‘wayne ringer’

Nice House: Basement Sometimes Floods

September 26th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

When Hubby and I were in Brattleboro last month, we saw this old building *in* the river. I’ve never seen anything quite like this, and would love to know a little more about it.

My first impression is that it was a mill with a water wheel, but I wonder - was it BUILT in all this water, or did the waterways change a bit after the construction?

On a recent trip to Brattleboro, we saw a cool house!

On a recent trip to Brattleboro, we saw a cool house!



Admittedly, I was just a flatlander tourist seeing the sites, but this structure caught my eye. Yes, that's Vermont rock at the far left, and the building was set within the river (or so it appears).



If I were the Realtor writing up the listing for the structure, I'd include this disclaimer: "Sometimes, the basement floods." It would be fun to go fishing off the balcony.



Was it built as a mill? I suspect it might have been.


To learn more about the kit homes I found in New England, click here.

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Hopeless in Hopewell (Part 72)

September 24th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

“Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes during their 32 years in the kit house business,” I tell folks at my lectures, “but judging from my emails, you’d think that number was 70 million kit homes.”

Some people really, really, really want their house to be a kit house, but not every 1920s house is a kit house.

And if I were queen of the world (a title I aspire to), I’d make that Hopewell’s town motto.

When I visited Hopewell in 2003, I caused a stir when I proclaimed that 36 of the town’s 44 Sears Homes in Crescent Hills weren’t really Sears Homes. As you can imagine, that didn’t go over well.

And the fact is, I might have made a mistake.

Rachel Shoemaker and I have reviewed some of the photos, and we now believe that 38 of the town’s 44 Sears Homes may not be Sears Homes.

Still, that leaves six Sears Homes in Crescent Hills (Hopewell).

After the “stir” in 2003, I didn’t hear back from Hopewell. But then, several years ago, I offered to help Hopewell do a proper survey of their kit homes - for FREE!

The town never responded to my emails or letters.

Eight years later, when I returned to Hopewell in Spring 2011 (wearing a wig and a fake nose), I focused on the amazing collection of Aladdin kit homes in that city. While Hopewell has only a few Sears Homes in Crescent Hills, they have dozens and dozens of Aladdin kit homes near the downtown area. More on that here and here.

However, I couldn’t resist driving through Crescent Hills and photographing a few of the fake Sears Homes.

For instance, the city’s brochure states that the house at 201 Prince George Avenue is the Sears Van Jean.

Let’s make this simple.

It’s not.

It has a gambrel roof and a chimney and some windows, but that’s about it.

The photos below make that pretty clear.

Learn about the Aladdin homes in Hopewell here.

Read my favorite blog on Hopewell here.

Hopewell, if you’re listening, you can contact me by leaving a comment below!

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The Van Jean, as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Van Jean, as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.



Notice the double windows centered on the 2nd floor, and the double windows on the first floor. Notice also the placement of the home's chimneys. These things do matter.


Details matter. The Sears Van Jean has large cornice returns.

Details matter. The Sears Van Jean has large cornice returns.


This Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a fine house but its not a Van Jean.

This Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a fine house but it's not a Van Jean. The 2nd floor windows are wrong, and the front porch is also not a match - for many reasons. The Van Jean has those oversized cornice returns. This house has none. I'd expect that the footprint for this house is also wrong. In short, it's *not* a Sears kit house.


Close-up, comparing the porch.

The edges of Van Jean's porch roof are aligned with the primary roof. The Hopewell porch roof extends well beyond the roofline. The Sears House porch has a closed triangle, with a cross member at the bottom and then a fascia board below that. The Hopewell porch roof terminates at the cross member.


Hopewells brochure explains the differences (ahem) between the Van Jean in Hopewell and the Sears Van Jean.

Hopewell's brochure explains the "differences" (ahem) between the Van Jean in Hopewell and the Sears Van Jean. Oopsie. They neglected a few details. And a few facts. And one big reality: This ain't no Van Jean.


Will there ever be a day when someone in Hopewell exclaims, “Enough of this! Let’s call that gal in Norfolk and get this right - once and for all!!”?

I wonder.

In the meantime, Hopewell certainly does offer a lovely opportunity of how not to promote historic architecture.

To learn more about the real kit homes in Hopewell (and they’re not from Sears), click here.

To read about Sandston, click here.


Amtrak’s “Vermonter”: The Good, The Bad, and The Smelly

September 9th, 2014 Sears Homes 20 comments

Update! Amtrak contacted me and offered me $180 voucher for future travel! I’m not sure how they arrived at the math, but the customer service rep said it was the difference between a coach fare and the business class fare.

In last week’s blog, I mentioned my 10+ hour trip on Amtrak. In this blog, I’d like to tell a little bit about my experience on the The Vermonter between Brattleboro and Washington, DC.

When it comes to trains, I’m a hopeless romantic. I love, love, LOVE the idea of train travel. It’s an adventure, it’s relaxing, it’s environmentally sound, and “riding the rails” is an integral part of our American culture and history.

Plus, it’s a great way to find kit homes. My little pretties were often built right along the rail lines.

However, after my most recent experience on the Vermonter, I’d have to say that this country’s rail system needs some big help.

First, the good parts.

Frequent flyers will have culture shock when they board a train for the first time. The train slows down and stops at the platform, you climb on board, stow your luggage, pick a seat and get comfy.

That’s it.

No full body-cavity searches, no presentation of ID, no long wait to board. A few minutes into the trip, the conductor will walk down the aisle and ask for your ticket. Rarely do they ask for any ID. In my 20+ trips on Amtrak, I’ve been asked to produce ID only twice.

Our seats in “Business Class” were spacious and comfortable, and the long, tinted windows offered a broad and comfortable view of the world outside. There was an abundance of leg-room, and our brown-leather seats had foot rests and cup holders.

If you’re going to go Amtrak, Business Class is the way to travel. It’s been my experience that passengers in this car are usually well-coiffed, quiet, and mature  (35+). The cost to upgrade to Business Class is minimal.

Business Class is typically located within the Cafe Car, and the plus is, you have ready access to all manner of tasty treats (chips, drinks, pizzas, etc.). The downside is, Hubby spent $52 on snack food during our 10-hour ride back to DC. His sub sandwich, with a bag of pretzels and a small bottle of orange juice cost $22.

The other plus is that a train trip offers views that you’re not going to see on our highways and byways. And there’s a little splash of voyeurism too. You get a sneak peak into America’s back yards, as well as abandoned factories, dilapidated buildings and forgotten farm houses.

Train travel can be so very relaxing, and for the most part, fellow passengers are in good spirits. The rhythmic clicking of the wheels against the metal tracks soothes the weary soul. The gentle to and fro rocking can induce a meditative, almost euphoric state of mind.

With every train ticket you buy, you’re supporting an alternative to flying and driving. America desperately needs alternate modes of transportation.

Those are the good things.

Ready for the not-so-good things?

The trip from Brattleboro to DC (the trip home on Sunday) was less pleasant than the outbound trip, because every seat on the train was sold. This meant that the bathrooms saw a lot of use. Within three hours of our departure, the smell from the bathroom (within the cafe car) was horrific. And the bathroom looked worse than it smelled.

There were small puddles of urine on the floor, together with a few wads of used toilet paper. (My husband reported that on an earlier train trip, the bathrooms in coach had much bigger problems than “just” puddles of urine. Yikes.)

The bathroom trash can was filled well past overflowing. I skipped the paper towel portion of my visit so that I could avoid placing my hand into the mass of used debris stuffed into the trash receptacle. Again: Ick.

Fortunately, I had an adequate supply of disposable wipes in my briefcase.

A not-so-well-coiffed woman in Business Class threw her McDonald’s bag and an empty bottle of soda on the floor when she was finished with breakfast. And there it remained for four hours (despite several conductors stepping over it). When I arose to use the facilities, I picked up the bag and carried it to the overflowing trash can in the cafe car.

Admittedly, slobs and litter bugs are not the fault of Amtrak, but Hubby and I were both surprised that the conductors walked right past it repeatedly.

More bad.

As my closest friends know, I’m highly allergic to little children, especially when they scream loudly and jump about and make lots of unexpected, dramatic movements. Less than an hour into the trip, a young father came into Business Class with two children (ages 5 and 7, I’d guess). The children crawled all over the seats and made a fair amount of noise and I don’t think they sat still for more than 20 seconds at a time. That took away a lot of the enjoyment of a “peaceful, quiet ride.”

Whey they got off the train, my husband, who’s far more tolerant of little children than said, “That’s a relief. Those kids were nerve-wracking.”

It was disappointing that the conductor didn’t ask those children to remain seated - especially in Business Class.

Which brings me to the next “Oh Dear” comment.

Some of the staff onboard the train were not pleasant. One conductor came into our car and literally yelled for all  of us to produce our tickets immediately. It was a piercing, strident voice and really not needful for the 20 passengers seated in the small section. Another employee - the cafe car attendant - made no secret of the fact that he was annoyed when someone showed up at the snack bar, and he had to get up out of his seat and wait on them.

On the north-bound journey, the Vermonter is moved onto a track at Palmer, Massachusetts and a new engine is put on. From Palmer to the end of the line (in our case, Brattleboro), the train goes backwards. If you’re in the Coach Section, you can switch seats (if there are openings) and find a backwards-facing seat. If you’re in the Business Class section, you’re kind of stuck.

Both Hubby and I have a bit of a tendency to motion sickness, so going backwards was a no-go for us. We moved to the cafe section and sat at a table, so we could face the right direction.

And there was one really big surprise.

Occasionally, the conductor would tell the passengers that they had “five minutes for a smoke break” at the next stop. Whenever these announcements were made, I’d hop out of my seat and go stand outside for a couple minutes to stretch my legs and get some fresh air. At one such stop, the rear door in the Business Section was opened. I wasn’t sure how long we’d be at that stop, so I stayed inside and admired the view from the safety of the car.

Good thing too, because without warning, that door slammed shut and the train started rolling. In other words, there was no conductor checking for passengers at the back of the train and no one yelling, “All aboard!”

I didn’t realize it until that moment, but those doors can be - and ARE - operated remotely from the front of the train. Had I stepped out of the car, I would have been left on the platform! Let me tell you, that would have taken a lot of fun out of the trip!

Factoring the four-hour drive between DC and Norfolk, the trip from Brattleboro to Norfolk took 14+ hours of travel time. (Not counting parking, and other miscellaneous travel events.) Fortunately, the train was on time both ways. However, this is a trip that takes about 9-1/2 hours by car.

The two round-trip train tickets were $566 and it cost $132 to park at DC’s Union Station.

It was an adventure, and there are some good memories, but I shant be riding The Vermonter again, for all the reasons outlined above.

To Amtrak’s credit, I must add that during the many years I lived in the Midwest, I rode the rails at least a dozen times. I’ve been on The Cardinal (2010) and the Texas Eagle (2004). In 2005, I took the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle. That was 48 hours of bliss!  I also rode the commuter train between Alton and Chicago too many times to count.

Those train rides were great fun. The service was good, the cars were clean and the trains were on time 75% of the time. In 2008, Hubby and I took the Silver Star to Orlando, and that was also a pleasant ride.

As I said in the beginning of this blog, I dearly love train travel and our country has great need of ecologically sound alternatives to flying and driving, but Amtrak has some major issues that need to be resolved. And the Vermonter’s run along the Northeast corridor has a lot of room for improvement.

As of 2008 (the last year for which I could find stats), the US taxpayers were subsidizing air travel to the tune of $13 billion per year. Perhaps it’s time to do more for Amtrak, in the hopes that they could find better staff and get the restrooms cleaned up and establish high-speed rail in more areas.

In short, Amtrak needs some re-tooling so it can be a viable contender in the transportation industry.

To read what I found in the Vermont area, click here.

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The trip to Brattleboro was a big annual vacation, and Vermont is a beautiful place, but getting there aint easy.

Vermont is a beautiful place, but getting there ain't easy.


The Amtrak station was next door to the Latchis Hotel, which was convenient.

The Brattleboro Amtrak station was next door to the Latchis Hotel (where we stayed).


Amtrak in 1915

The original train depot is a beautiful building in a beautiful setting. It's now a museum.


Another view of this beautiful old train depot.

Another view of this beautiful old train depot. Kudos to Brattleboro for preserving it.


The contemporary Amtrak station is carved out of a tiny piece of the original depot, in the back of the building. Pretty modest.

The contemporary Amtrak station is carved out of a tiny piece of the original depot, in the rear. That "does it fit?" frame in the left corner isn't used much apparently.


New Haven

The Amtrak station in New Haven, Connecticut.



In New Haven, Connecticut, the pretty Amtrak diesel-electric locomotive was replaced with an electric train, which runs on catenary or overhead wire. From New Haven to DC, we were electric. (Photo is from Wikipedia.)


A photo of our train at Penn Station in New York City.

A photo of our train at Penn Station in New York City. I'd love to know how old this thing is.


Long view of our train at Penn Station.

Long view of our train at Penn Station.



Hubby sitting in the Business Class section. The seats were quite comfy.


I will always love trains, but from now on, I may stick with excursion trips, such as this one in Elkins, WV.

I will always love trains, but from now on, I may stick with excursion trips, such as this one in Elkins, WV. Ten hours on a train is too much for moi.


I think these days are gone, but there must be a way that this country can make train travel a viable alternative for the weary traveler. Photo is from Wikipedia, showing a car on the Silver Meteor.

I know these days are gone, but there must be a way that this country can make train travel a viable alternative for the weary traveler. Check out those lamps. Photo is from Wikipedia, showing a car on the Silver Meteor.


To read about the future of train travel, click here.

Or here.

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Sears Catalog House, or Something Like it (Part II)

July 27th, 2014 Sears Homes 6 comments

In my most recent blog, I talked about the fact that Hopewell’s “Collection of Sears Homes” (and I use that term loosely) was in the local news again.

At the end of that blog, I offered to help Hopewell sort through their historical chaff and find the wheat.

The fact is, at this point I’d be willing to donate my services (gratis), to help this small town (just outside of Richmond) get their Sears-home story straight. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this enticing offer may not be accepted.

A few years ago, I wrote a couple of letters and emails (yes, both) to some folks in Hopewell, making this same offer. I never heard a peep. Not a “Thanks, but no,” not a “we’re not interested,” or even a “Go to hell, Rosemary Thornton.”

Honestly, I would have preferred to hear something, rather than nothing.

In case anyone from Hopewell is reading this, I can tell you, I know a little something about Sears Homes. Here’s a short bio I use with the media:

Rose is the author of several books on early 20th Century kit homes. Rose and her work have been featured on PBS History Detectives, A&E’s Biography, CBS Sunday Morning News, MSNBC, NPR’s All Things Considered and BBC Radio. In print media, her story has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, L. A. Times, Dallas Morning News, Christian Science Monitor and more.

Sounds darn good, doesn’t it?

So what can I do to help Hopewell correct their boo-boos?

I don’t know.

In the meantime, below is the “re-do” of a blog that was a personal favorite of mine. The idea was the brainstorm of Rachel Shoemaker, who loves both music and kit homes, and found a delightful way to blend the two topics.

You can read Rachel’s wonderful blog here.

Here’s the ditty that will  help you learn more about correctly identifying houses.

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Here's a screen-shot of the Sesame Street ditty that tell us, "One of these things is not like the other." Its intent is to teach youngsters how to spot differences in similar items. Learning how to distinguish subtle differences in physical objects can be tough. Ever more so if you live in the small towns around Richmond (apparently).



Let's try it with houses now.


One of the houses above is different from the others.

If you guessed the brick house with the metal casement windows, you’re right!

For some time, Hopewell was promoting a brochure (showcasing a driving tour of alleged kit homes in Crescent Hills neighborhood) that identified this brick house as a Sears Dover.

But oh noes!! That’s not a Sears Dover!

The other three houses (the three that look just alike) are the Sears Dover.

More recently, Hopewell has modified this statement and now claims that this brick house is a Sears Maplewood.

Let’s see how that works.



Oh noes - AGAIN! One of these homes just doesn't belong! Which one is it? If you guessed the brick house, you're right! The other three homes are the Sears Maplewood.



There's also the fact that the Sears Maplewood and Dover were never ever offered with metal casement windows. There's also the fact that this house was probably built after WW2. But hey, why let something like "historical fact" get in the way of a good story!



Here's a Sears Maplewood (1930 catalog).



If you really think that the brick house above looks like a Sears Dover, I highly recommend the Sesame Street "Not like the other" series. It's helped many a lost soul find their way through the thickets of misidentified kit homes.



Meanwhile, in Hopewell, they have a cache of rare and unusual Aladdin Homes (like the one above) and what is being done to promote those houses? Nothing. Unbelievable.


To learn more about how to distinguish differences in certain objects, click here.

Thanks to Rebecca Hunter for the use of her photograph above (the blue Maplewood). You can visit Rebecca’s website here.

Visit Rachel’s website here.

Read about the bonanza of kit homes we found in Richmond!

If you’re from Hopewell, and you’d like to take up Rose on her offer, please leave a comment below.

If you’re not from Hopewell and you THINK they should take up Rose on her offer, please leave a comment below.

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Sears Catalog House or Something Like It (Hopewell, VA)

July 25th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

Last week, Hopewell was in the local news again, touting their Sears Homes. I’m not going to post a link to the article that appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch, because it was rife with errors.

I’m somewhat incredulous that a paper as prestigious as the Richmond Times Dispatch didn’t do some fact-checking before publishing this story.

The recording and publishing of history is such a sacred trust, and writers have a solemn charge to get the facts right, before sending this information into perpetuity.

And there’s this: I’ve been sought out and interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, BBC Radio, All Things Considered (PBS)  and more. I’ve been featured on PBS History Detectives, CBS Sunday Morning News, A&E’s Biography, and MSNBC.

It’s disheartening to know that a newspaper so close to home ran this article without seeking me out for a quote, or even asking me to help with the fact checking (which I would have gladly done).

Hopewell and I have a history.

When I visited Hopewell in 2003 (to give a talk), I was shown a small brochure touting 44 Sears Homes in Crescent Hills.

As mentioned in several other blogs (click here), Hopewell is mighty mixed up about what is, and what is not a kit house.

Of those 44 purported “Sears Homes” in Crescent Hills, only eight are the real deal, and frankly, it may not be eight. Some of those eight could well be plan book homes.

On that “list of 44,” this house (see below) was featured.

To read more about Hopewell, click here.

Many thanks to Rachel Shoemaker who successfully identified this house!


Nice House

The brochure promoting the Hopewell Sears Homes stated that this was a Sears "Newbury." Ooh, nice try and thanks for playing. We have some lovely parting gifts for you.



The Hopewell brochure states that it looks JUST LIKE a Newbury, except for the "sloping roof, full width dormer, extra windows and round columns." Good grief, if that's our criteria I could say that my dog Teddy looks like just like a Sears Magnolia.



Except for the absence of a hip roof, full width windows, round columns and cypress wood, these two dwelling places are stunningly similar. You'll note that the subject on the right also does not have ears or fur, but both of these items could have easily been removed during an earlier remodeling.



Sears Newbury, from the 1936 catalog.



Wow, look at this! The house on the left is in Illinois and it actually LOOKS like a Newbury!



Ruh Roh. These don't look anything alike!



Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker, we now know that this house in Hopewell came from "Standard Homes Plans" (1923, 1928 and 1929). You may notice that THIS looks a lot like the house in Hopewell!



In fact, "The Monticello" is on the cover of the catalog! What a beauty!



And lookie here. It is a very fine match!


Big and fancy

Did anyone from Hopewell ever go into this house and compare the interior layout? If so, I hope the homeowner gave their seeing-eye dog a tasty biscuit. The floor plan for the Monticello is radically different from the Sears Newbury (shown directly below). And the Monticello is 50% bigger. These details matter.



The Newbury is a modest, simple house (1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog).


If you dont love this house, theres something wrong with you!

According to the text in the ad, if you don't love the Monticello, there's something seriously wrong with you!


It’d really be swell if Hopewell would invite me back to do a thorough and proper survey. I would be more than happy to get the facts right and help them create a new brochure.

In fact, I really wish they’d give it a go. It’s time to make this right.

To learn more about Hopewell, click here.

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

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A *Beautifully* Original Magnolia in South Bend - For Sale!

June 12th, 2014 Sears Homes 6 comments

For many years, I’ve wondered what it would be like to see a Magnolia in original condition.

Now, I know.

The Sears Magnolia in South Bend was recently listed for sale, and the Realtor kindly sent me a few pictures.

It can be described in one word:  STUNNING.

Or maybe two:  Original!

These photos give us a rare opportunity to step back in time almost 100 years, and see what the Sears Magnolia looked like when built.

If I was queen of the world (and it shouldn’t be long now), I’d insist that the potential buyers of this rare, historically significant home be required to do a proper, thoughtful and historically sensitive restoration (which is radically different from a remodeling). I’d demand that they find a way to preserve the home’s original features.

As my buddy Bill Inge says, “The first commandment of preservation is, ‘Thou shalt not destroy good old work.’”

The 3,895-square foot home is listed at $320,000. Situated on 1/3 of an acre, it has four bedrooms, three full bathrooms and two half-baths. The listing says it was built in 1927, but we know that that’s not right. The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922.

This house is a rare treasure. I hope its next owners “catch” the vision and see what a remarkable property it really is.

Ready to see some photos? You should get ready to be dazzled!

To buy this fine old house, click here.

To learn more about the history of the Sears Magnolia kit home, click here.

Interested in reading more about how these homes were built? Click here.

All photos are copyright Steve Matz, 2014.

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The Sears Magnolia is now for sale in South Bend, IN.

The Sears Magnolia is now for sale in South Bend, IN.


The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.



The Magnolia in South Bend is remarkable because it's in original condition.


A view from the inside.

A view from the inside.



This Magnolia still retains its original mouldings and trim but the inglenook and columns are not in place. It's possible that the house was built without these built-ins.



I suspect that this is the fireplace in the den.


house house

The den (right rear) was very small (only 8'9" deep). It's unusual to see the den in its original shape and size. It's also unusual to see a house from this vintage with a half-bath on the first floor (next to the den).



The Realtor had the good sense to photograph the staircase from the same angle as the original catalog image!



Nice match, isn't it? Check out the French doors at the rear - both upper and lower level.



Nice, huh? :D


The best

There's something about these old nooks that just makes my heart skip a beat.


house house house

This is the very best picture of all. And perhaps the home's finest feature: A built-in nook, completely untouched by time, with the original tile floor, white hexagonal tiles with a blue flower center. This pattern is a classic feature found in early 20th Century Sears Homes. You can see the three original wooden windows behind the nook.



Fun comparison, isn't it? It's so rare to see these nooks still in place.


Another incredible feature is that

Not only does this house have its original Butler's Pantry, but it has the original sink, wooden surround and fixture. This house is such a rare find, and to think that it's a Sears Magnolia!


And it just gets better. Upstairs, just off the Master Bedroom, the dressing room, is the original sink, light fixtures and oak cabinetry - unpainted!

Upstairs, just off the Master Bedroom, is a surprisingly large dressing room. The fact that even the dressing room is original is a real testament to the home's prior owners, who had the wisdom to follow the #1 rule: "Thou shalt not destroy good old work." And this cabinetry was incredibly good work. In the corner, is the Magnolia's original sink, light fixtures and medicine chest - unpainted! If you look closely, you'll see the original cabinet pulls.



It's true that I am nutty as a fruitcake, but seeing this century-old Magnolia - wholly untouched by time - sends me. Original sink, original fixtures, original medicine chest, and an original light fixture (porcelain sconce). Just incredible. I'm a big fan of old plumbing but I've never seen a three-sided sink before.


house house

Close-up of the upstairs floorplan, showing that small sink in the dressing room.


And the sunporch has its original wooden casement windows.

And the sunporch has its original wooden casement windows.


A view from the upstairs 2nd floor balcony.

A view from the upstairs 2nd floor balcony.


To buy this fine old house, click here.

Interested in learning more about the Sears Magnolia? Click here.

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So Proud of Hubby…

June 4th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Hubby (a self-described “old workhorse trial attorney”) argued a case before the Virginia Supreme Court (in Richmond) on Wednesday morning. I went with him, because I wanted to see how he did, and I also wanted to be part of the fun!

And it was a lot of fun.

The night before, he was a bit nervous, but when he arose to address the seven justices of the State Supreme Court, he performed flawlessly!

The Supreme Court of Virginia is housed in the former Federal Reserve Building, and it is a stunning piece of architecture. And - praise to be the visionaries of Richmond - it’s in gloriously original condition - down to the hardware on the massive old doors.

To read more about Hubby, click here.

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


The day before, we took a little walk around Commonwealth Park, and Hubby posed on the steps of the court building.

The day before, we took a little walk around Commonwealth Park, and Hubby posed on the steps of the court building. We won't know the court's opinion on this case until September!


Carney’s Point, NJ: Then and Now

May 7th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

Last month, we drove from Norfolk to Philladelphia to visit the National Archives and Records Administration.

En route, we took a slight detour to Carney’s Point, NJ to check out the houses in that neighborhood. Carney’s Point, like Penniman, eventually became the site of a World War 1 DuPont munitions plant.

In 1891, E. I. DuPont de Nemours bought the land from the descendant of an Irish immigrant (Thomas Carney). DuPont wanted the 17-mile-square-tract to build a manufacturing plant for one of their best-selling products: 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.)

After The European War started, Carney’s Point went from a population of 2,000 (pre-War) to 25,000 (early 1917).  In their rush to provide housing for their employees, they turned to Aladdin, and created - literally - a neighborhood full of Aladdin kit homes.

We went to Carney’s Point with a photograph in hand and a mission. I wanted to take a photo that replicated a pre-WW1 photo of the same neighborhood. Mark Hardin found this vintage image (see below) and even figured out what street it was on. Milton and I both snapped several photos, trying to re-create the original image from the vintage photo.  And his photos came out much better than my own. I hate it when that happens.  ;)

Actually, I was very grateful to find that his photos had come out so pretty.

Do the folks in Carney’s Point know that they live in a neighborhood full of Aladdin kit homes?

To learn more about Virginia’s Own Ghost City (Penniman), click here.


Mark Hardin found this photo from about 100 years ago.

Mark Hardin found this photo of Carney's Point ("DuPont's New Village). We suspect the photo was taken in the late 1910s. Perhaps someone who's familiar with children's clothing can give a better guess. On the left, is an Aladdin Georgia, followed by an Edison. On the right is a Cumberland model, an Edison, a Jackson/Grant, and another Edison. This neighborhood had dozens of Aladdin kit homes.


My friend Milton snapped this photo (which came out better than my own photos) and it shows the neighborhood from the same angle.

My friend Milton snapped this photo (which came out better than my own photos) and it shows the street view. From our best guess, these photos were taken more than 90 years apart. Photo is credit 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.



Side-by-side comparison of the two images. I was hoping some kids might come running out, as it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, but no kids ever appeared. They were probably inside playing with their Wii or their Ipad or something. Unlike the 1910s, when kids were sent outside and expected to entertain themselves for several hours with a stick and some dirt.


To read about the other cool houses I found in Carney’s Point, click here or here.

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The Home Stretch

March 7th, 2014 Sears Homes 10 comments

Twelve years ago, my life changed in so many ways and it all happened so fast.

January 2002, my beloved mother died suddenly. Less than 60 days later, my husband of 24 years asked for a divorce. Thirty days later, a close friend severed all ties with me. In 90 days, three of the most important people in my life were gone.

And yet a fresh green sprout of hope sprung up in the midst of those charred ashes of my life: My book on Sears Homes.

That book was a lifeline in too many ways to count, and it was an answer to so many prayers.

After the book was published (March 2002), I did some “back of the envelope ciphering” and figured I had enough cash on hand to survive 90 days. If my book had not “taken off” by then, I’d have to do something that scared the heck out of me: Get a real job.

Desperate to stretch my grocery budget, I ate very little and lost a lot of weight.

Sixty days out, I got a call from The New York Times. They were doing a feature story on Sears Homes and they’d heard I’d just written a book. A couple weeks later, my book and I hit the front page of the Real Estate Section. Next, I got a call from a producer at History Detectives. I appeared on the 2nd episode of the first season.

I was off to the races.

Since then, I’ve been featured on CBS Sunday Morning News, A&E’s Biography, MSNBC, BBC Radio, NPR Radio and more. In Summer 2004, my book was featured on Jeopardy!

In the last 12 years, I’ve given more than 200 lectures in 26 states. I’ve traveled many miles spreading the good news of this important and unique chapter in America’s architectural history. And I’ve met so many first-class folks along the way.

It’s truly been a big adventure and a whole lot of fun.

But, as the sophists say, all good things must come to an end.

The last three years, this business venture has not been profitable. The cost of everything keeps going up, and the profit margins keep going down. Three months ago, the last printing of The Houses That Sears Built came off the presses. When those books are gone, that’ll be the end.

In three or four months, the inventory at will be gone, and probably a few months after that, the stock of books I keep here at the house (sold through this website) will be exhausted.

I imagine I’ll never stop looking for kit homes, and I’ll keep writing at this website. Heck, when I’m in my 80s, I’ll probably still be yelling, “STOP THE CAR” to whomever is driving me around.

But the days of printing these books - an important chapter in my life - has come to a close.

If you’d like to purchase my books, they’re available at this website.

While supplies last.



Its certainly been a fun run.

It's certainly been a fun run. The book on the right (first edition) has been out of print for 10 years, but the book on the left is now - as of January 2014 - out of print. Amazon has some inventory to sell off, and I have a few boxes here at the hoouse from the last printing. That's the last of the lot.


And yes

When the last of the books are gone, it'll be nice to have this space free again.


In 2005, I visited Lorain, Ohio and it was quite a thrill to see my name on the theater marquis!

In 2005, I visited Lorain, Ohio and it was quite a thrill to see my name on the theater marquis!


If you took a stroll down the hallway of my home, youd see how much I enjoyed being The Author of this fun little niche topic.

If you took a stroll down the hallway of my home here in Norfolk, you'd see some of the mementos from my travels.


In Raleigh, NC, they made this big movie poster for my talk.

In Raleigh, NC, they made this big movie poster for my talk. For my birthday, my husband had it framed.


In November 2010, my last book (The Sears Homes of Illinois) was published, and I did a book tour throughout Illinois.

In November 2010, my last book ("The Sears Homes of Illinois") was published, and I did a book tour throughout Illinois. That was also a good time, but wearying.



A personal favorite. In 2004, I was invited to give a talk at The Smithsonian Museum (Postal Museum). That was such a thrill for me. The day I gave that talk, I felt like I had finally proven myself to be a "legitimate" author!


And this was also a special lecture for me. I was at this lecture when I

And this was also a special lecture for me. I was at this lecture in Jefferson City when Wayne Ringer called me the very first time. Ninety days later, we were engaged to be married.


Sometimes, unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game (from the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun).

"Sometimes, unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game" (from the movie, "Under the Tuscan Sun").


If you’d like to purchase my books, they’re available at this website.

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All Things Considered…

February 19th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Monday evening, a 50-second snippet of my interview with NPR radio host Jon Kalish, was featured on NPR’s program, All Things Considered.

I haven’t had the nerve to listen to it yet, but I’m told that the program was well done.

If you’d like to listen to it online, you can click here.

This must be a very popular program, because my website traffic has doubled in the last three days.


All things considered, this is one of my favorite train photos! I love this picture because it looks like a photo of a model train set, but in fact, it's all life size! :D This excursion train is in Elkins, WV.


To read about Sears Houses, click here.

To learn more about Aunt Addie, click here.

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