Thursday, December 31, 2015

Kit House Presentation at the Royal Oak Historical Museum

Image courtesy of the Royal Oak Historical Society
If you're in the Detroit, Michigan area, there's an opportunity to learn more about kit houses at the Royal Oak Historical Museum. Through the end of January 2016, the museum is doing an exhibit related to the history of homes in Royal Oak titled "Royal Oak - Farm to Suburbs - Logs, Kits and Bricks". Wendy and I were asked by the museum to put together the "Kit" part of the exhibit. The Historical Museum is housed in an old fire house that used to belong to the City of Royal Oak's Fire Department.

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

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Sears Twins - The Delmar and the Wayne

Catalog image of Sears Delmar (1924)
Image courtesy of Judith Chabot
Fellow kit house researcher Cindy Catanzaro recently asked me to assist her in reviewing Sears deeds in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where Cleveland and its suburbs are located . As I traced deed records back to actual Sears houses, I was fortunate enough to spot what I thought was a model that I don't see very often - the Delmar. In its design, the Delmar isn't that unusual. It looks very similar in design to a lot of two story homes from the 1920s. But it doesn't look like a lot of the Sears houses from the 1920s. You won't find any of the distinctive eaves brackets or detailed columns that other Sears houses sport. According to the Sears Modern Homes catalog, the Delmar was "one of our more popular designs". That's clearly a bit of marketing fluff when you consider that the Delmar was only offered in the 1924 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Washington DC - "A kit house from 1922 is preserved in the past"

Catalog image of Sears Walton (1921)
Image courtesy of Sears Archives
The Washington Post is currently featuring an article on kit houses in the Washington DC area titled "A kit house from 1922 is preserved in the past". One of the homes featured in the article is the Sears Walton. Washington DC area kit house researcher Catarina Bannier, who I worked with to authenticate kit houses in Washington DC, is quoted extensively in the article. Our work to authenticate Sears houses got a mention in the article where it highlighted the number and location of authenticated houses in Washington DC proper. The numbers came from the mortgages that Catarina and I reviewed and the locations came from a map that Wendy made of all of the authenticated houses we've found.

It's nice to see all the time that we put into that work being put to good use so quickly! We hope the article makes more people aware of the kit houses that still stand in Washington DC and perhaps encourages more owners to come forward with stories about their homes!

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.

Sears Mortgages of Washington DC

Image courtesy of Wendy Harman
Washington DC, USA
(March from the Tidal Basin) [CC BY 2.0]
I recently shared a post about discovering and authenticating Sears houses by searching mortgage records for catalog houses that were financed through Sears. Normally that process is very time intensive, requiring quite a bit of research to match mortgages with homes. But recently, I had the good fortune to come across a database of mortgage records that made the process of researching go much more quickly. This database of mortgage records was for properties located in Washington DC. In about 2 weeks time, I was able to review around 300 mortgage and deed records. For comparison, it took me almost a year to research around 500 mortgages in Oakland County, Michigan.