Thursday, December 31, 2015

Kit House Presentation at the Royal Oak Historical Museum

Image courtesy of the Royal Oak Historical Society
If you're in the Detroit, Michigan area, there's an opportunity to learn more about kit houses at the Royal Oak Historical Museum. Through the end of January 2016, the museum is doing an exhibit related to the history of homes in Royal Oak titled "Royal Oak - Farm to Suburbs - Logs, Kits and Bricks". Wendy and I were asked by the museum to put together the "Kit" part of the exhibit. The Historical Museum is housed in an old fire house that used to belong to the City of Royal Oak's Fire Department.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Geography of Sears Mortgages

As regular readers may have noted, searching mortgage records for houses financed through Sears is one of our preferred method of finding Sears houses. When we first started researching mortgages in Washtenaw County, Michigan at the Bentley Historical Library, we were on the hunt for three names - "Walker O. Lewis", "E. Harrison Powell" and "Nicholas Wieland". These three names had been identified by kit house researcher Rebecca Hunter as trustees for Sears whose names would appear on mortgage records for catalog houses financed through Sears. As we combed through the records of the Washtenaw Abstract Company, sure enough, we started seeing those names. By the time we were done, we had found over 100 mortgages associated with Lewis and Powell.


Image courtesy of Archive.org

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Sears Twins - The Delmar and the Wayne

Catalog image of Sears Delmar (1924)
Image courtesy of Judith Chabot
Fellow kit house researcher Cindy Catanzaro recently asked me to assist her in reviewing Sears deeds in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where Cleveland and its suburbs are located . As I traced deed records back to actual Sears houses, I was fortunate enough to spot what I thought was a model that I don't see very often - the Delmar. In its design, the Delmar isn't that unusual. It looks very similar in design to a lot of two story homes from the 1920s. But it doesn't look like a lot of the Sears houses from the 1920s. You won't find any of the distinctive eaves brackets or detailed columns that other Sears houses sport. According to the Sears Modern Homes catalog, the Delmar was "one of our more popular designs". That's clearly a bit of marketing fluff when you consider that the Delmar was only offered in the 1924 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Washington DC - "A kit house from 1922 is preserved in the past"

Catalog image of Sears Walton (1921)
Image courtesy of Sears Archives
The Washington Post is currently featuring an article on kit houses in the Washington DC area titled "A kit house from 1922 is preserved in the past". One of the homes featured in the article is the Sears Walton. Washington DC area kit house researcher Catarina Bannier, who I worked with to authenticate kit houses in Washington DC, is quoted extensively in the article. Our work to authenticate Sears houses got a mention in the article where it highlighted the number and location of authenticated houses in Washington DC proper. The numbers came from the mortgages that Catarina and I reviewed and the locations came from a map that Wendy made of all of the authenticated houses we've found.

It's nice to see all the time that we put into that work being put to good use so quickly! We hope the article makes more people aware of the kit houses that still stand in Washington DC and perhaps encourages more owners to come forward with stories about their homes!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Washington DC - Sears Catalog House Capital of the US?

One of the exciting discoveries of the research into houses with Sears mortgages in Washington DC was the number of Sears houses that were located. To date, 242 identifiable Sears houses have been located through the mortgage records. That's notable because, to date, the largest known group of authenticated Sears houses in the US is located in Elgin, Illinois. Elgin's home to over 200 Sears catalog houses, many of which have been identified and authenticated through the work of Elgin resident and kit house researcher Rebecca Hunter.

Sears Mortgages of Washington DC

Image courtesy of Wendy Harman
Washington DC, USA
(March from the Tidal Basin) [CC BY 2.0]
I recently shared a post about discovering and authenticating Sears houses by searching mortgage records for catalog houses that were financed through Sears. Normally that process is very time intensive, requiring quite a bit of research to match mortgages with homes. But recently, I had the good fortune to come across a database of mortgage records that made the process of researching go much more quickly. This database of mortgage records was for properties located in Washington DC. In about 2 weeks time, I was able to review around 300 mortgage and deed records. For comparison, it took me almost a year to research around 500 mortgages in Oakland County, Michigan.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Custom Wardway House in Ann Arbor, Michigan

One of the great things about working with fellow kit house researchers are the discoveries that come about through the collaborative effort of the group. Such was the case with a recent find in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I first came across this house in November 2014 after discovering a mortgage from Wardway (Montgomery Ward) for this house in the records of the Washtenaw Abstract Company.


Custom Wardway - 3061 Dexter - Ann Arbor, Michigan (1999)
Image courtesy of the City of Ann Arbor, Michigan

Monday, November 16, 2015

Where are the Sears houses located in Oakland County?

Map of Oakland County Municipalities
Image courtesy of Oakland County
One of the questions we most frequently get asked about kit houses in Oakland County is "where are the kit houses located?" Our answer - "Just about everywhere!" While we haven't identified kit houses in every one of the county's 61 communities, you will find kit houses in all parts of the county, from the densely developed southeastern corner to the more rural northern and western portions of Oakland County. In reviewing the over 300 identified Sears houses with mortgages discussed in the "The Sears Mortgages of Oakland County", we found Sears kit houses in 28 different cities, villages and townships. But you might be surprised by which communities have the most Sears kit houses.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Sears Mortgages of Oakland County, Michigan

One of the more time-intensive methods of researching Sears kit houses is by searching through mortgage records. Depending on where you are doing the research, it can take quite a bit of work to look through these records and related property records to find homes that were financed through Sears Roebuck. But when they are found, these mortgages help to authenticate possible Sears houses or lead us to houses that had not previously been identified.

Advertisement for financing a Sears kit house (1928)
Image courtesy of Detroit Free Press

Monday, November 9, 2015

When did Sears first start offering houses with pre-cut lumber?

One of the commonly quoted dates about Sears houses is that Sears first started offering homes with pre-cut lumber in 1916. Kit house researcher Rebecca Hunter was quoted in this article from 2006 outlining the timeline of when this first happened:
"Hunter said Sears didn't start marketing precut homes or "kits" until 1916. From 1908 to 1915, they provided plans and materials, but nothing was cut to size. So early Sears mail-order homes carry no part numbers on the materials." 
Researchers generally point to the 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog as the first advertisement for houses with pre-cut lumber.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Thank you Kalamazoo!

Sears Crescent - Kalamazoo, Michigan
We wanted to send our thanks to everyone who attended this evening's presentation at the Kalamazoo Public Library. A special thanks goes to the ever gracious Beth Timmerman, ‎Local History Specialist at the Library, for having us over to present. We especially enjoyed having kit house owners in attendance and we now have a few more addresses to add to our list for Kalamazoo. We heard a lot of good questions and we appreciated everyone sticking around to the end! If you have more questions or leads on kit houses, please drop us a line!

Andrew and Wendy 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sears Stuyvesant

It's not every day that you discover a new model of Sears kit house. But that's what happened the other day while researching Sears kit houses in Hampton Manor, New York. Hampton Manor is located in upstate New York, near Rensselaer, which lies across the Hudson River from the state capitol in Albany. Hampton Manor isn't even an incorporated town and is only a few hundred acres in size. But within the borders of Hampton Manor, you'll find dozens of Sears houses including many familiar models, like the Barrington, the Hampton, the Vallonia and the Winona. But you'll only find one example of this house - the Sears Stuyvesant.


Sears Stuyvesant - 271 Spring - Hampton Manor, New York
Image courtesy of Google Maps

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sears Twins - The Hampton and the Crafton

As I noted in the introductory article in this series, it wasn't unusual for Sears to change the names of models, even though the houses remained almost unchanged. One of the more popular models that went through a name change was the Sears Hampton. First offered in the 1924 Sears Modern Homes catalog, the Hampton was an unassuming house with only a hint of Arts and Crafts style detailing. The Hampton didn't look like a large house from the outside but actually contained a living room, dining room, kitchen, bath and three bedrooms on the same floor. The Hampton appeared to be aimed at the budget-conscious home buyer who needed more than two bedrooms but couldn't afford the larger models offered by Sears that had 3 bedrooms.


Catalog image of Sears Hampton (1925)
Image courtesy of Archive.org

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Sears Houses of Massapequa Park, New York - Pacific Street

One street west of Grand Boulevard in Massapequa Park is Pacific Street. While not home to as many possible Sears houses as found on Grand Boulevard, there's still several examples of homes that may have come from Sears. As on Grand Boulevard, this list starts on the south end of Pacific Street and heads north.


Sears Glen Falls- 52 Pacific Street - Massapequa Park, New York
Image courtesy of Nassau County Land Records Viewer


Catalog image of Sears Glen Falls
Image courtesy of Sears Archives

Monday, October 12, 2015

Sears Houses of Massapequa Park, New York

Like many kit house hunters, we scour the Internet looking for leads for locations of Sears houses. During one Google search, this article about the Sears houses of the Village of Massapequa Park, New York popped up in the results. The most intriguing part of the article was this:
"One of the largest single sales, according to Sears records, was 100 homes to a developer in East Massapequa, N.Y., which was incorporated as Massapequa Park in 1931. In the Lomeles' neighborhood, there are dozens of homes that were bought in the 1920s from the Sears Modern Homes Department."


Sears Lexington model on the cover of the Sears Modern Homes catalog
Image courtesy of Archive.org

Sears Houses of Massapequa Park, New York - Grand Boulevard

As I outlined in my introduction to the Sears houses of Massapequa Park, New York, the following is a basic list of possible Sears houses located in the Village. There are 14 identifiable Sears houses on Grand Boulevard. These are basic identifications and I have not personally authenticated any of these houses as Sears houses. I'll do updates as more information becomes available about these homes. This list starts at the south end of Grand Boulevard and heads north.


Sears Verona - 57 Grand Boulevard - Massapequa Park, New York
Image courtesy of Google Maps


Catalog image of Sears Verona (1925)
Image courtesy of Archive.org

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Sears Houses of Grand Rapids, Michigan

Wendy and I recently spent a couple of days in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Michigan's second largest city after Detroit, Grand Rapids has long been known for its role in the furniture industry. These days, Grand Rapids may be better know for its craft brews and ArtPrize, an international art competition that Wendy's been a part of three times. Grand Rapids and its surrounding suburbs are also home to a large number of homes that were built during the era when kit houses were in demand.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Sears Sherburne Testimonial house in Fulton, New York

Although the focus of our blog is on kit homes in southeast Michigan, occasionally we'll feature kit houses from outside our part of the Mitten. One of the reasons we created this blog is to help document kit houses wherever we may find them. From time to time, we'll share examples of kit houses outside our area that are worth documenting. We hope by sharing information about a kit house or neighborhood of kit houses, we'll raise awareness about these houses and hopefully lead owners and communities to recognize the history and value of those homes.


Image from Sears Modern Homes catalog (1921)
Image courtesy of Archive.org

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Sears Houses of Ferndale, Michigan

Ferndale, Michigan is located in southeastern Oakland County, sharing a border with the City of Detroit along 8 Mile Road. Ferndale was the first of the streetcar suburbs to develop in southern Oakland County. Bisected by Woodward Avenue, the Detroit to Pontiac interurban line of the Detroit United Railway and the Detroit to Pontiac railroad line of the Grand Trunk Western Railway, Ferndale was directly in the path of the City of Detroit's northwest expansion. By the time Detroit's borders reached 8 Mile Road in 1916, Ferndale's identity was well-established. Ferndale incorporated as a Village in 1918 and a City in 1927. The 1920s were a period of tremendous growth with the population increasing by 690%, going from a little over 2,000 residents to over 20,000 by 1930.


Downtown Ferndale
Image courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Sears Twins - The Maplewood and the Ridgeland

One of the quirks of researching Sears houses is the fact that Sears would, from time to time, change the name of house models for no apparent reason. A house that was offered under one name in this year's catalog would appear in the next year's catalog under a new name. I've yet to see an explanation for any of these name changes. For those unfamiliar with this practice, it can be confusing to see what appear to be two identical models listed under two different names.


2812 Griffith - Berkley, Michigan - Sears Maplewood

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Lost Sears Houses of Hazel Park, Michigan

Hazel Park, Michigan is located in the southeast corner of Oakland County. Sharing a border with the City of Detroit, Hazel Park is one of a number of "streetcar" suburbs that developed in the early years of the 1900s along the interurban lines that radiated out from Detroit. During a 20 year period, the population of Detroit exploded, adding over 1.1 million residents between 1910 and 1930, as workers flocked to work in the burgeoning automobile industry. The population growth spilled past the existing city limits into areas beyond the city. These areas, which were made up primarily of working farms, became the target of developers who sought to build new housing to serve new families moving to Detroit to work and those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and the noise and pollution of the factories. As you can see in this map of the area around Detroit in 1905, there was a lot of open land between Detroit and the small village of Royal Oak.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Neighborhood of Wardway Homes - Part 4

As I was researching the origin of the neighborhoods of Wardway homes in Pontiac, Michigan, I discovered a connection between those houses and the General Motor's subsidiary Modern Housing Corporation. As I noted in that previous post, starting in 1919, Modern Housing Corporation was responsible for two major developments that provided worker housing for GM employees in Pontiac and Flint.

In Pontiac, most of the potential Wardway models have been located in two subdivisions that were platted in 1927, a number of years after the original Modern Housing Corporation development was completed. However, there were several Wardway houses that were located on lots in the original plat for the Modern Housing Corporation development. Is it possible that the Modern Housing Corporation used Wardway kits to fill in vacant lots in the original development in addition to the Wardway homes found in the subdivisions platted in 1927?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

ID this house! Ashmore v. Avalon

Recently, I wrote a post about how a group of kit house researchers had tentatively identified a house as a Sears Ashmore in Highland Park, Michigan. When identifying homes, we try to match up as many of details as we can before deciding whether a house is a kit house or not. But when you don't have access to ways to authenticate a house like a mortgage record or stamped lumber, we have to make an educated guess based on the available information and admit up front that we're not 100% sure.

Sometimes, something like this happens...

Lewis Avalon

Image courtesy of Cindy Catanzaro

Cindy Catanzaro, who first spotted the possible Sears Ashmore shared this catalog image with us. Does it look familiar? If you saw images of the Sears Ashmore, you might think this too is an Ashmore. But from the caption, you can see that this isn't an Ashmore. It's an Avalon - a Lewis Avalon. But it's not just any Lewis Avalon, it's the exact same house we identified as the Ashmore!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Wardway Avalon in Pontiac, Michigan

My recent posts about a neighborhood of Wardway homes reminded me that I had come across one of these homes prior to discovering the larger neighborhood of homes. This Wardway Avalon is located at 740 Joslyn. Unfortunately, the reason I discovered this house was its inclusion on a list of homes that were up for auction after being foreclosed on for failure to pay property taxes. For a foreclosure house, it doesn't look to be in bad shape from the outside and still has some of the original features of the Avalon model. Let's hope that it has a new owner who will take good care of it.

Wardway Avalon

740 Joslyn - Pontiac, Michigan - Wardway Avalon
Image courtesy of Oakland County Treasurer's Office

Sears Ashmore in Highland Park, Michigan

Updated! See the link at the end of the post for more details.

One of the enjoyable aspects of being a kit house hunter is the chance to collaborate with fellow kit house enthusiasts. Today, one of the newer members of our group of kit house researchers shared a house he had found in the Medbury's-Grove Lawn Subdivisions Historic District in Highland Park, Michigan. While we were discussing that house and its neighbor, one of the other members, Cindy Catanzaro, who manages the Sears Modern Homes page on Facebook, spotted what looked like a rare Sears model - the Ashmore.

Sears Ashmore

180 Moss - Highland Park, Michigan
Image courtesy of Google Maps

A Neighborhood of Wardway Homes - Part 3

After discovering a neighborhood of possible Wardway homes in Pontiac, Michigan, we learned that the subdivision where the homes were built was platted by the Modern Housing Corporation. But this wasn't the first or only subdivision platted by that company. A few months after the company platted the Modern Housing Corporation Oakland Park Subdivision in March 1927, the company platted their Modern Housing Corporation Oakland Park No. 1 Subdivision in July 1927.

Wardway Homes Catalog Cover

Image of Wardway Homes Catalog
Image courtesy of Antique Home

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Sears Vallonia in Northville, Michigan

The city of Northville, Michigan is only a couple of miles south of where we live in Novi. Best known for its historic downtown and Victorian Festival each year, Northville is also home to at least nine kit houses from Aladdin, Lewis and Sears. The City of Northville is split almost equally between Wayne and Oakland Counties and Baseline is the dividing line between the two counties. The most often recognized of these kit homes - a Sears Vallonia - can be found at 317 Baseline.

Sears Vallonia

317 Baseline - Northville, Michigan - Sears Vallonia

Friday, August 28, 2015

Identifying my first Sears house

When Wendy and I were getting started finding kit homes, we made several trips to Ann Arbor to look for and photograph Sears houses. Our guide was the list of kit homes that Grace Shackman and Rob Schweitzer has assembled back in March 1991. But as we drove the streets of Ann Arbor, it seemed like every other house was a kit house - at least to our then untrained eyes.  

As we worked our way across the city, we eventually reached a neighborhood on the far west side of Ann Arbor that didn't include any kit houses from the list. We almost skipped it. But the neighborhood consisted of only a couple of short streets and we decided to give it a look. As we turned into the neighborhood, we discovered that the streets weren't even paved. Dirt roads in Ann Arbor? Who knew! I wasn't sure if that was a good sign or not but as we drove the short couple of blocks, each street ending in a dead-end, we saw only a couple of houses that could have be "maybes". But we didn't see anything we recognized. 

As we reached the last dead-end of the last street in this small subdivision, we spotted this house at 3417 Ferry. 


Sears Brookwood

3417 Ferry - Ann Arbor, Michigan

Sears Sherburne in Berkley, Michigan

Wendy and I first started looking for Sears houses in our area in late 2012. Not long after we started our search, Judy Davids published a series of articles about kit homes located in and around Royal Oak, Michigan. One of those articles titled "Local Mail Order Homes (Some Assembly Required)" included photos of a number of local kit homes in the communities of Berkley, Ferndale and Royal Oak.

Berkley, Ferndale and Royal Oak are located along the interurban and railroads lines that ran northwest from Detroit. We weren't surprised by the fact that there were kit homes located in those communities. But we were astounded by the size of some of these houses. We had seen the catalog images of some of these grand homes in the reproduction of a 1926 Sears Modern Homes catalog that we owned. But we didn't realize that some of these models were located so close to us! 

As the weather turned warmer in the spring of 2013, we finally made a road trip to Berkley. By that time, a little driving around in Google Streetview had provided us with a list of streets where we knew that some of the homes featured in Judy's article were located. First on our list was Beverly Boulevard. As we headed down Beverly, we were greeted by this house, a Sears Sherburne.



Sears Sherburne

Sears Sherburne - 2273 Beverly Boulevard - Berkley, Michigan

Thursday, August 27, 2015

ID this house! Puritan v. Salem

A common challenge for kit house researchers is differentiating between similar models offered by kit home manufacturers. In some cases, these houses can look almost identical to each other, making it next to impossible to know for sure whether a house is from one company or another. Two of the look-a-like models are the Dutch Colonial Revival style Sears Puritan and Wardway Salem. The Puritan was a popular model for Sears. It first appeared in the 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog and continued to appear through the 1931 catalog. The Salem was offered by Wardway for a few years starting in the late 1920s. 

Sears Puritan

Catalog image of Sears Puritan
courtesy of Sears Homes of Chicagoland

A Neighborhood of Wardway Homes - Part 2

Stumbling across a neighborhood filled with Wardway homes in Pontiac, Michigan was quite an exciting discovery. As I explained in that post, it's unusual to find neighborhoods made up predominantly of kit homes. But that fact also had me wondering - how did all those Wardway homes come to be built in this neighborhood? I did some searching around on Google to see if there was any reference to these Wardway homes in Pontiac - no luck. 

My next step was to see if the land records for this area would reveal any clues. I started out by using Oakland County's Property Gateway mapping service to get some basic information about this area. The Property Gateway is a really cool online service that allows you to zoom into individual parcels and see details like subdivision names, lot numbers, lot dimensions and current and historical aerial photos. In this case, the map provided the name of the subdivision plat - "Modern Housing Corp Oakland Park".




Image of subdivision plat from Oakland County Property Gateway

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Kit Homes of Oakland County - An Introduction

Our Sears Hamilton is located in the southwest corner of Oakland County, Michigan. Like many Sears homes, our house was built by a family that owned a farm and our house sits just north of the original Salow family farmstead. But most of the Sears houses that we've found or seen in Oakland County were built in the communities that stretch along the Woodward Avenue corridor from the border at 8 Mile with Detroit north and west to Pontiac and the communities that grew up around Pontiac. All of those communities had one thing in common - direct access to railroad and interurban (streetcar) lines. This map shows where those railroad and interurban lines were located in Oakland County.

A Neighborhood of Wardway Homes - Part 1

Recently, Wendy and I were traveling through Pontiac, Michigan on our way to meet a friend for dinner. As often is the case driving through areas with older homes, we were keeping an eye out for anything that looked familiar. At one intersection, we stopped for a red light and we immediately spotted several houses that looked promising. Could they be Wardway Kenwoods? As the light changed and we drove through the intersection, I was sure that I spotted a Wardway Piermont down the side street. On the next block was another home that looked like a Kenwood. It was an intriguing discovery but as sometimes happens, we didn't have time to stop and take photographs.

Wardway Kenwood

Catalog image of Wardway Kenwood
courtesy of Sears Homes of Chicagoland

In the Beginning

I'm sure that every "Kit House Hunter" has a story about how they first got interested in kit houses. In my case, my 1926 Sears Hamilton was the inspiration for the journey into discovering kit homes. When I purchased my house in 2003, the previous owners passed along a binder that included a collection of photos and articles about the house and Sears houses in general. While some owners don't know that they own a kit house, in my case, I was one of a long line of owners who knew that our house was a Sears kit house.


Sears Hamilton

Photo of our 1926 Sears Hamilton under construction