Sunday, February 5, 2017

ID this house! Sears Priscilla

21 Oak St - Irvington, NY - Sears Priscilla
Image courtesy of Zillow
As I've been researching mortgages in Westchester County, I've been able to see several examples of houses from Sears Roebuck that I rarely see elsewhere in the country. One of those models is the Sears Priscilla. To date, I've located five different examples of the Priscilla in the County. That's notable as we have less than 20 Priscillas in the national database of Sears houses. Thankfully for us, one of the well-kept examples of the Priscilla was recently for sale and the real estate listing photos included many views of the inside and outside of the house. From these photos, I want to share with you some of the distinct characteristics of the Priscilla in case there's one in your town. Let's take a look!


Dutch Colonial  Revival was one of the popular revival housing styles during the time that Sears Roebuck was selling kit houses. Sears sold a number of different models in the Dutch Colonial style including well-known models like the Martha Washington and the Verona.


The Priscilla first appeared in the 1925 Modern Homes Catalog. In 1926, a number of new Dutch Colonial style models joined the Priscilla in the catalog, indicating a continuing interest from Sears customers for this style. But by 1929, the Priscilla was no longer available in the catalog. We don't know the specific reasons why Sears discontinued selling the Priscilla but lack of sales was likely one of the contributing factors. Fortunately for those of us kit house hunting, the Priscilla has a number of distinctive features that sets it apart from other Dutch Colonial style houses that Sears sold as well as other homes of the era that were built in the same style.

Catalog Image of Sears Priscilla (1925)
Image courtesy of Archive.org
Dutch Colonial houses are easy to spot. The identifying characteristic of this style is the gambrel style roof, which is the style roof commonly found on many barns. If your first impression of the form of a house is that it reminds you of a barn, it's probably a Dutch Colonial!

When it comes to the Dutch Colonial houses offered by Sears, the Priscilla is equally easy to spot once you know what to look for with this model. Starting at the front of the house, the most distinctive feature is the four evenly spaced windows in the shed dormer on the second floor of the house. None of the other Sears Dutch Colonial models have this window arrangement.

21 Oak St - Irvington, NY - Sears Priscilla
On the first floor, look for an original Sears "Colonial" entrance complete with sidelights and a fanlight over the door. This entrance was standard on the Priscilla and we have a perfect example of it on the Priscilla in Irvington. It was also available to Sears customers through the Sears Building Materials catalog as illustrated below.

Image from 1930 Sears Building Materials catalog
Image courtesy of Archive.org
On either side of the entrance is a singe window. This house appears to still have the original windows shutters with the crescent moon detail!



Here's the shutters in the Sears Building Materials catalog.

Image from 1930 Sears Building Materials catalog
Image courtesy of Archive.org
As the catalog image of the Priscilla shows, the windows on the second floor would have originally had shutters too. Over time, these kind of details often get lost. One other detail to note from the front of the house is the placement of the chimney. This chimney actually housed the flues from the living room fireplace and the furnace in the basement. Unlike some other Sears houses, you should only see one chimney on the Priscilla and it will be centered on the peak of the roof.

This house has a reversed floor plan so the "right" side of the house in the catalog appears on the "left" side of this house. This is the one view of the house that doesn't appear in the real estate listing. But we can see this side of the house from an older view in Bing Maps. The house was previously painted a light blue but don't be confused, it's the same house. From this view, we can see the arrangement of the windows and doors on this side of the house and how they match up to the catalog image.


21 Oak St - Irvington, NY - Sears Priscilla
Image courtesy of Bing Maps
On this house, you'll see windows where the catalog image from 1925 shows an attic vent. In later years, the catalog image shows windows for the attic so windows in this location may have been original to this house. One element that stands out is how close the second floor windows are to the edge of the roofline. This house also appears to have the original brackets holding up the porch roof over the first floor entrance.

On the other side of the house, we can clearly see the gambrel roof design and the flared eaves. On this side of the house, the Priscilla has two paired windows on the first floor and two single windows on the second floor. You can see how the second story windows are inset further from the roofline as compared to the other side of the house. Some of the windows on this house have been replaced and you can see how a doorway was created from the dining room to the back deck.

21 Oak St - Irvington, NY - Sears Priscilla
If you're fortunate, you may find an original Sears garage to go with a Sears house! Here's one in the backyard of the Irvington house. Remember, Sears sold garages separately from houses so finding a garage from Sears doesn't mean the house was also from Sears.

21 Oak St - Irvington, NY - Sears Garage
In addition to the mostly original exterior, the interior photos of the house show a couple nice examples of elements that are straight out of the Sears Modern Homes catalog. When I saw this fireplace in the living room, I recognized it immediately! It has the same mantle and pattern of brickwork and floor tiles that you'll find in our Sears Hamilton.


Again, here's the fireplace as it was featured in the Building Materials catalog. The same fireplace appears in some of the home interior views in various editions of the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Image from 1930 Sears Building Materials catalog
Image courtesy of Archive.org
Here's the stairway in the living room. It's a bit hard to see all the details but it's a nice match for the "Colonial Stairway" in the Building Materials catalog. Sears Modern Homes customers looking to customize their house were able to consult the building materials catalog for different options when it came to various building elements and materials. In this case, these designs were likely the standard for the Priscilla.



Image from 1930 Sears Building Materials catalog
Image courtesy of Archive.org
We don't always get to see the inside of potential Sears houses. But finding elements in a house that looks like a model from Sears can help us in the process of identifying and authenticating houses. If you want to see more photos of the house, the listing on Zillow currently still shows them.

On the topic of authentication, I was able to authenticate this Sears Priscilla through a mortgage from Walker O. Lewis, trustee for Sears Roebuck to Arthur and Ebba Sundberg for $4,000 in May 1927. The mortgage with Sears was paid off in May 1934. This Priscilla turns 90 years old this year. It looks pretty good for its age!


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