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

We moved onto Oakland County, Michigan and the mortgages there followed the same pattern - Lewis and Powell on mortgages and Wieland on releases and miscellaneous transactions. We shared our findings with other kit houses researchers and others researching mortgages found similar results in other states including Ohio and Missouri. But as others started looking around in places like upstate New York and Washington DC, they only found a smattering of mortgages under Walker O. Lewis, even in places where we knew there had been a lot of Sears houses built. The lack of mortgage records was perplexing. Was the financing of homes limited to certain geographic areas? We didn't have enough information about where Sears issued mortgages to know either way.

Earlier this year, one of the members of our group of researchers discovered that some of the Sears houses in upstate New York had mortgages with "Edwards D. Ford" as trustee. Now we had a new name and as we started finding more Sears houses with Ford on the mortgages. In May, this article from Arlington, Virginia about the kit houses there brought was shared with our group. It brought to light three more names - "William C. Reed", "David C. Wikoff" and "John M. Ogden". Cynthia Liccese-Torres, Historic Preservation Program Coordinator with Arlington County had discovered these three trustees while working on her master’s thesis.

These discoveries helped crack the code of the missing mortgages in a number of locations. Previously, Catarina Bannier and I had only been able to find a handful of mortgages for Washington DC under "Walker O. Lewis". Armed with these additional names, we hit the mortgage jackpot. "William C. Reed" and "Edwards D. Ford" appeared on hundreds of mortgages in Washington DC, allowing Catarina and I to authenticate over 200 Sears houses. "John M. Ogden" appeared on a number of releases for paid-off mortgages in Washington DC. Searching in states like New York and Pennsylvania turned up mortgages with Reed and Ford's names and associated Sears houses.

What we soon discovered is that there was a geographical pattern to these names. Reed and Ford appeared on mortgages exclusively on the East Coast - from Maine to Florida. While Lewis appeared on some early mortgages on the East Coast, the numbers paled in comparison to the number of mortgages with his name found in Midwest states. Powell and Wieland appeared on Midwest mortgages and associated documents but never on any from the East Coast.

One explanation for this geographic distinction appeared in the mortgage documents themselves. We found that in the Washington DC mortgages that both Reed and Ford were listed at the same address - 4640 Roosevelt Boulevard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Not surprisingly, this was the address of Sears Modern Homes office in Philadelphia. Likewise, mortgages for Lewis and Powell included the address of 925 South Homan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, the corporate headquarters for Sears Roebuck. It appears that starting sometime around 1921 - 1922, Sears divided up the responsibility for handling mortgages between the two locations, a division that continued until Sears stopped financing homes for customers in 1933.


As of today, here's a breakdown by state of the names associated with mortgage and deeds for catalog and kit houses financed through Sears. These are the names you should use to start your search for mortgages and deeds. If we find other states where houses were financed through Sears, we will update the list to reflect those.

Update (3/11/2016): We've discovered mortgages under the name of "F. C. Schaub" in states that were covered by the Philadelphia office. 

Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington DC
- Walker O. Lewis
- William C. Reed
- Edwards D. Ford
- F. C. Schaub
- Fowler B. McConnell
- John M. Ogden
- Sears Roebuck - Primarily on deeds

Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio
- Walker O. Lewis
- E. Harrison Powell
- Nicholas Wieland (sometimes spelled Weiland)
- Sears Roebuck - Primarily on deeds



Mortgage Record for house financed through Sears Roebuck
Image courtesy of the City of Washington DC

3 comments:

  1. Love the mortgages :)
    Judith
    Sears-House-Seeker.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Good info and thanks for organizing! I found a deed with Fowler B. McConnell in New York state. Wish I had more to contribute.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Lara! One day, we'll get access to Cook County and you won't know what to do with all those mortgages!

      Delete