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.


While Wendy was attending a conference for a couple of days, I spent some time at the City/County complex in downtown Grand Rapids, specifically at the Register of Deeds. What I was hoping to find in the records at the Register of Deeds were mortgages and deeds connected to Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward (Wardway). I was fortunate that the Kent County Register of Deeds office has digitized all of the name indexes for mortgages and deeds in the county going back into the late 1800s. I was able to review indexes of names for mortgages from the 1920s through the early 1930s and the same for deeds through the 1940s by using a computer program that allowed me to view a digital scan of the indexes. Many of the entries included a property description associated with the deed or mortgage. Typically, searching these records requires leafing through dusty old volumes of mortgage and deed records and/or scanning roll after roll of microfilm trying to track down the property information. While it still took quite a bit of time to find what I was hoping to find, being able to use technology to speed up this process was a huge help and I'm glad that the taxpayers of Kent County have invested in this technology to make the search easier!


Image of Calder Plaza and the City and County Buildings
Image courtesy of Mlive.com

When it comes to finding kit houses in Grand Rapids, it's been a bit of a black hole for us. Prior to this visit, we had exactly one Sears house on our list. After reviewing the records at the County, I can understand why. I found around a dozen mortgages and associated deeds for houses from Sears. To put that in perspective, our list of Sears mortgages for Oakland and Washtenaw counties in southeast Michigan number in the hundreds. 

I have to wonder if Grand Rapids' lack of kit houses is related to its connection to the furniture business? That industry likely was accompanied by large volume of quality lumber that was locally available and a large population of people with the skills to build homes. The same conditions existed in Bay City, Michigan but in that case, kit houses became part of the local industrial base. Grand Rapids did have one company involved in the kit home business - Togan-Stiles (although Togan-Stiles homes had more pre-built components than the typical kit houses). I did see some evidence of activity involving Togan-Stiles in the mortgage records and in the future, I will be investigating to see whether those mortgages represented homes from Togan-Stiles. 


Images of Togan-Stiles House Models
Image courtesy of Google Books

Despite the small number of mortgages from Sears (I didn't find any from Wardway), we did get to see some good examples of Sears houses in Grand Rapids. We didn't photograph all of them but here are some of the houses that we saw in the Grand Rapids area.

One of the more popular models for Sears in the 1930s was the Sears Mitchell. First offered in 1928, the Mitchell continued to be offered through the last Sears Modern Homes catalog in 1940. For several years, Sears offered a variation of the Mitchell in face brick that Sears called the Stratford. Other than the difference in the exterior finish, the Stratford shared the same layout and dimensions as the Mitchell. From a mortgage record, we found this Sears Stratford in Wyoming, Michigan, a suburb along the southern border of Grand Rapids. This house was located just a few blocks from the old interurban line that ran south from Grand Rapids into the suburbs. 


Catalog images of Sears Stratford (1929 Special Supplement)
Images courtesy of Antique Home


Sears Stratford - 31 Buckingham - Wyoming, Michigan


Sears Stratford - 31 Buckingham - Wyoming, Michigan 


Sears Stratford - 31 Buckingham - Wyoming, Michigan

A mile to the north of this house along the path of the old interurban line was a Sears house that I found driving around in Google Streetview. When I saw it online, I was pretty sure that it was a Sears Clyde, something we were able to confirm when we photographed the house in person. The Clyde was offered by Sears from 1920 - 1929. One of the distinctive features of the Clyde is the 5 piece eaves brackets. While these aren't exclusive to Sears houses, if you spot them on a house, it's worth taking a second look to see if it is a Sears house. 

Catalog image of Sears Clyde (1921)
Image courtesy of Sears Archives

The Clyde was offered with two different floor plans. You can see from this view showing the window arrangement along the right side of the house, this Clyde was the larger of the two floor plans. At times, we were battling the sun when taking photos so I'm using this view from Google Streetview to illustrate that view.


Sears Clyde - 62 Withey St SW - Grand Rapids, Michigan
Image courtesy of Google Maps


Sears Clyde - 62 Withey St SW - Grand Rapids, Michigan
Image courtesy of Google Maps

Here's a close-up of those distinctive 5 piece eaves brackets. 


Sears Clyde - 62 Withey St SW - Grand Rapids, Michigan

Almost 2 miles directly east of the Sears Clyde on the southeast side of Grand Rapids was this nearly perfect match for the catalog image of the Sears Hamilton. This house was located from a mortgage record. The Hamilton was another popular model for Sears that was offered from 1922 through 1931. 



Sears Hamilton - 612 Deming St SE - Grand Rapids, Michigan 


Catalog image of Sears Hamilton (1931)

Over those years, Sears changed the front living room window arrangement of the Hamilton several times. The house on Deming, which was built in 1927, still has the distinctive windows that match the example shown above. Our Sears Hamilton, which was built in 1926, has windows that match the image from the 1925 catalog. 


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

You can see that this Hamilton has had the front porch enclosed, a common change to the Hamilton. But you can still see the original front door and windows through the window screens. 


Sears Hamilton - 612 Deming St SE - Grand Rapids, Michigan 

As owners of a Sears Hamilton, we're always pleased to see another Hamilton in such fine shape and clearly well cared for by its current owners. 

We found some other homes with Sears mortgages that we are still working on identifying. Hopefully, we will be able to share those in a future blog post about the Sears houses of Grand Rapids.

5 comments:

  1. It's interesting that the newer of the two styles of windows for the front of the Hamilton, is a three-part window... that actually looks like the size of the windows we've seen on some possible Crescents... and wondered about. Maybe these were available for the Crescent in later years?

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    1. It's similar in style to the Crescent but I believe the two smaller windows in the Crescent were narrower than the ones in the Hamilton. We'll have to explore that further.

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  2. Glad Wendy got another Hamilton to add to the list!

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  3. Aren't there a bunch in the Creston Neighborhood in Grand Rapids?

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    1. If there are, we haven't found them yet. There is a Sears Argyle on Leonard NE. But we haven't found any others when driving the area. If you know of any, please share potential locations and we'll check them out.

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