Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Kit Homes of Oakland County - An Introduction

Our Sears Hamilton is located in the southwest corner of Oakland County, Michigan. Like many Sears homes, our house was built by a family that owned a farm and our house sits just north of the original Salow family farmstead. But most of the Sears houses that we've found or seen in Oakland County were built in the communities that stretch along the Woodward Avenue corridor from the border at 8 Mile with Detroit north and west to Pontiac and the communities that grew up around Pontiac. All of those communities had one thing in common - direct access to railroad and interurban (streetcar) lines. This map shows where those railroad and interurban lines were located in Oakland County.

It's not surprising to find houses from Sears and other kit home manufacturers in these locations. Almost all kit homes were shipped by rail. In those days, the necessity to unload a box car worth of materials that made up a kit house in a short amount of time - typically, no more than 48 hours - meant that the distance from box car to home site was fairly constrained. Back in the 1920s, there weren't any 18 wheelers available to load up and ship out your kit house delivery. You had to arrange for a local delivery company to move all that material to your home site using small delivery trucks or even horse and wagon.

Just as important was the role that railroads and interurban lines played in moving people from point A to point B. Unlike the limited role that passenger rail plays today in transporting people around cities and across the county, back in the 1920s, rail was the primary way that people traveled any significant distance. In many places, interurban lines were the primary transportation mode between communities due to the lack of paved roads and the small percentage of people who owned cars.

Interurban lines helped facilitate the growth of "streetcar" suburbs outside the urbanized areas of major American cities. Workers of varying economic levels could hop on a streetcar to reach a job in the center of a city like Detroit from locations, like Oakland County, that would have otherwise been too distant to contemplate before the establishment of the interurban lines. Over time, as automobile ownership became more common and roads were paved to connect the suburbs to the central cities, the interurban lines fell out of favor and eventually stopped operating. But by that time, the development pattern had been established and many of these "streetcar" suburbs had become home to a wide variety of kit houses, many of which still stand today.

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