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.

Who is #1?

Several communities could be considered contenders for the title of the Sears catalog house capital of the United States. In addition to Elgin, a number of Illinois communities have identified significant number of Sears homes. Carlinville, Illinois is well known for being home to over 150 authenticated Sears houses including an entire neighborhood of Sears houses that were built in the Standard Addition. Cincinnati, Ohio and its neighboring communities including the enclave of Norwood, where the Sears-owned Norwood Sash and Door Company was located, is home to over 450 identified Sears homes (although many of them have yet to be authenticated).

Sears Honor
1304 Geranium St NW - Washington DC
Image courtesy of Catarina Bannier
With over 200 houses with Sears mortgages, Washington DC could make a case for that title too. In addition to the houses with Sears mortgages, local kit house researcher Catarina Bannier shared with me a list that included more than 20 additional Sears houses that she and other researchers have identified. Of that group, they have been able to authenticate several of those houses through stamped lumber, building permits and other methods that researchers can use when a house can't be authenticated with a mortgage record. It's likely that the total number of authenticated Sears houses in Washington DC will push past the 250 house mark.

Almost all of the houses that have been identified in Washington DC are from the time period between 1919 and 1933. But Sears started selling catalog homes in 1908 and continued to sell homes into 1942 through local sales offices (the last Modern Homes catalog was issued in 1940). It's likely that there are more Sears houses located in Washington DC, especially from the time period between 1934 and 1940. While Sears didn't sell a lot of homes during that time period due to the economic impact of the Great Depression, I wouldn't be surprised if some of those homes ended up in Washington DC. Residents of Washington DC likely fared better economically during the Great Depression due to the stabilizing force of the Federal government and the employment it provided to many DC residents. Knowing where over 200 houses are located today, local researchers should have a good idea to look for more houses from Sears.

We're Just Getting Started

Whatever the final tally is of Sears houses in Washington DC, as Rebecca Hunter noted in her 2004 survey of Sears houses in Elgin, Illinois, it's "premature" for communities to lay claim to the title of #1 in the country for Sears houses. As she rightly noted, very few communities in the United States have done any kind of survey for Sears and other kit and catalog home company houses, much less the comprehensive survey that Elgin undertook over 10 years ago. Sears sold somewhere between 60,000 - 70,000 catalog houses over the course of 30 plus years. Many of these homes are still standing and yet just a fraction of them, perhaps in the range of 3,000 - 5,000, have been formally identified. That leaves tens of thousands of homes still to be located, identified and authenticated. Perhaps the real home of  the community with the most Sears houses is yet to be discovered. We shall see!

Updated on March 11, 2016 to reflect additional Sears houses located in Washington DC
Updated on November 27, 2016 to reflect additional Sears houses located in Washington DC

2 comments:

  1. Aurora, Illinois has 136 Sears houses authenticated through mortgage records. That's got to be up there nationally in terms of authenticated houses identified.

    Do you know what the count is for Cincinnati proper?

    Lara

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    1. Although I didn't call out Aurora by name, it would be in the top 5 nationally for authenticated homes. I don't know how many of the Sears homes in the Cincinnati area fall within the Cincinnati city limits. I'm hoping someone local to Cincinnati will take up the task of tallying those up.

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