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

Today's example is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, it's a Sears Sherburne. The Sherburne, as we shared in a recent post, initially appeared as the #187 in the early Sears Modern Homes catalogs. The model was later renamed the Sherburne, appearing through the 1923 catalog. The Sherburne was one of the larger models offered by Sears and its distinctive Arts and Crafts inspired design is one that many people associate with kit houses. Despite the Sherburne's long run in the catalog, only a handful of Sherburnes have been identified and authenticated. 

The other reason that today's house is noteworthy is due to its appearance in the 1921 catalog as a "testimonial" house. Kit house enthusiasts use the term "testimonial" house to refer to a specific house or houses that were featured in a catalog or related promotional material from kit house companies. These testimonials are usually accompanied by a name and photograph of the house and in some cases, an address too. Not every testimonial includes that level of detail. In some cases, the testimonial may be as simple as a quote and a name or a reference to a city or area where the house was built or a certain model was built as is seen in this example:


Image from 1913 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Testimonial houses are prized by kit house hunters because they provide a way to authenticate a house once it's located. Kit house researcher Rebecca Hunter published an entire book of testimonial houses from Sears in Putting Sears Homes on the Map: A Compilation of Testimonials Published in Sears Modern Homes Catalogs 1908-1940.

Testimonials were a common feature in kit house catalogs and promotional material. Customers who had built kit homes were encouraged - often with the inducement of a payment - to send in photos of their homes. The kit house companies used the photos and rave reviews from satisfied customers in their catalogs to help sell the virtues of a particular model or the kit house method of building.. 


Early testimonials were very often detailed with a photo of the house accompanied by a name, a quote from the satisfied customer, the city and state where the house was located and sometimes even an address! Over time, the testimonials became less detailed and full names were dropped in favor of initials and addresses were limited to a city and state, sometimes with the curt note that an address could be provided upon request. 

The testimonial for the Sherburne appeared in a two page spread in the 1921 catalog with a huge headline stating on one page:


and on the second: 


While testimonial houses often featured homes built by the homeowners themselves, in the Sears world, "customers" was anyone who was involved in building a house. In some cases, testimonials were provided by builders or contractors who had built Sears catalog and kit houses.

As you can imagine, tracking down a house 80 - 100 years after the fact with such limited information can be difficult. But not today's testimonial house. In fact, it was one of the easiest testimonial houses to find because the testimonial includes the full address of the house and the house still has that same address today. 

As seen in the testimonial shown above, this Sears Sherburne was built at 34 So. (South) Third St in Fulton, New York. Here's the house as it appears in Google Streetview:


Sears Sherburne - 34 South Third Street - Fulton, New York
Image courtesy of Google Maps

Here's the image of the Sherburne model as it appeared in the 1921 catalog:


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

Take note from the catalog image that the model number is still #187. While Sears gave these models names to make them more appealing to potential customers, you would have still used the model number to order the house. Also, this house was only offered "Not Cut or Fitted". In 1921, Sears had been offering "pre-cut" kit houses for several years. But the Sherburne wasn't offered as a true kit with the framing lumber cut to size at the Sears mill. Instead, for those models that were only available as "not cut or fitted", Sears would ship the appropriate amount of framing lumber in standard lengths and sizes. It was up to the prospective customer to cut the framing lumber to size on the construction site. Some models were offered either way - pre-cut or "not cut and fitted" with the latter having a cheaper price due to the savings to Sears for not pre-cutting the lumber.  

Here's a view of the house from Google Streetview showing off what is called the "catalog view" of the house.


Sears Sherburne - 34 South Third Street - Fulton, New York
Image courtesy of Google Maps

From this view, you can see some of the distinctive details of the Sherburne including that small bump out midway between the first and second floor to accommodate the interior stairway. You can also see the large cornice returns on the porch, another distinctive feature of the Sherburne. Since this Sherburne sits on a corner lot, we also get a chance to see the back of the house, which features a large dormer on the second story. 


Sears Sherburne - 34 South Third Street - Fulton, New York
Image courtesy of Google Maps

This view of the house that approximates the view from the testimonial highlights another distinctive feature of the Sherburne - the small bump out that's part of the dining room. One unusual feature of that bump out is that it has 2 full height windows with a small window in between that aligns with the top of the adjoining windows. The Sherburne in Berkley, Michigan also has this window arrangement. 


Sears Sherburne - 34 South Third Street - Fulton, New York
Image courtesy of Google Maps

We can also see a feature that appears on this house that differs from the Sherburne as it appears in the catalog. The large cornice returns near the top of the house on the front and back main dormers are specific to this house. 


View of cornice returns on Sears Sherburne
Image courtesy of Google Maps

But we know from the testimonial photo that they are original to the house. 


Close-up of cornice returns in the testimonial photo
Image courtesy of Archive.org

Perhaps the builders of the house were paying homage to a traditional style found in Fulton?


View of house on Utica Street, Fulton, New York
Image courtesy of Google Maps

Speaking of the builders of this house, when I first started researching this testimonial, I assumed that "W. J. Lockwood" was the first owner of this house. But I had no luck connecting any Lockwoods with this address. There was a "Walter J. Lockwood" in Fulton in the 1930 Census whose profession was listed as a millwright in a paper mill. My best guess is that some time before 1921, W. J. Lockwood was hired to build the house and provided the testimonial and photo to Sears after the house was completed. 

The first name that I was able to associate with a resident of the house was Newton G. Wilson in the 1922 city directory for Fulton. It's shown spelled correctly here in the 1925 directory. In a couple prior directories, his name was misspelled in different ways. 


Image from Fulton City Directory (1925)
Image courtesy of Ancestry.com

The Sherburne is a large house and it looks like Wilson, who was married with 2 children, had boarders who lived in the house with his family. Here's one example from the 1923 city directory - Monica Brown, a music teacher, who was a boarder at 34 South Third Street. 


Image from Fulton City Directory
Image courtesy of Ancestry.com

Based on his age in the 1930 Census, Wilson would have been 30 in 1922. The Sherburne was quite a substantial house for a man that young to have built. But from what I was able to glean from the Census and the city directories for Fulton, Wilson was a successful businessman in Fulton. He listed his occupation as an owner of a bookstore located just a few blocks from his home. As this ad from the city directory made clear, Wilson sold a wide variety of paper-related products including "Fancy Goods"!


Image from Fulton City Directory
Image courtesy of Ancestry.com

When the 1930 Census was taken, Newton and his wife Adrienne had been married for 14 years and had a son, Murray and a daughter, Lois. They valued their Sherburne at $10,000. 


Image from 1930 United States Census
Image courtesy of Ancestry.com

I don't know how long the Wilsons continued to live in their Sherburne but I've been able to place them at 34 South Third Street as late as 1955. I hope you have enjoyed our excursion to Fulton, New York to see this rare Sears house and some of the history behind it. 

Are you interested in seeing more examples of Sears houses like this from throughout the country? Join the Sears Modern Homes page on Facebook.





5 comments:

  1. You're right, Andrew, about these testimonial houses being prized by researchers. I love it when one comes to light. Guess it's time to start writing actual addresses in my copy of Rebecca Hunter's book. :)

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    1. I was surprised that there wasn't anything online already about this house. I guess that since it included the address, no one felt it needed any additional documentation. But as there are so few Sherburne's, I thought this was worthy of its own page.

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    2. It certainly is! Thanks for pointing out that this model was never "Ready Cut", too. There is a house in the Norwood area of Cincinnati that closely resembles The Sherburne, but isn't quite right. I'll have to look at it again and compare it to this one.

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    3. That fact probably explains some of the differences in details, like the cornice returns on the roof. Without the original photo, someone encountering this "in the wild" might have decided it was a "look-a-like" .

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  2. I am so glad you wrote up the history of this house. The Sherburne is such a cool house. I really enjoyed all of this!
    Judith
    Sears-House-Seeker.blogspot.com

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