Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sears Lexington Testimonial House in Chatham, New Jersey

Cover of 1932 Sears Modern Homes Catalog
Image courtesy of
One of the ways that we track down catalog and kit houses is by locating "testimonial" houses found in catalogs and promotional material put out by the kit house companies. As I explained in the post about a "testimonial" Sears Sherburne located in Fulton, New York, these customer testimonials sometimes include enough information to enable kit house researchers to locate these homes if they are still standing today.

Many of the known testimonial houses have already been located which made it a bit of a surprise that I wasn't able to find any references online to the testimonial house of Dr. Frederick and Mrs. Lum of Chatham, New Jersey. A photo of their house from Sears was included in the 1932 Sears Modern Homes catalog. So I decided to see if I could find it...

...and I did!

Image of Lum Testimonial House from 1932 Sears Modern Homes Catalog
Image courtesy of
Chatham, New Jersey isn't a very large town but finding Dr. Lum's house took a bit more work than I first expected. Back in the 1930s and 1940s, there were two Dr. Lum's in town. Both Lums living in Chatham were dentists. It turns out that I was looking for Dr. Frederick H. Lum, the 3rd. His father, Dr. Frederick H. Lum, Jr. also owned a home in Chatham. Once I figured that out, I was able to find a street name for Dr. Lum, the 3rd. Although I didn't find his house at the address listed in the 1940 Census, it gave me the correct street name. With a bit of hunting, I found his house at 179 Washington Ave.

Customized Sears Lexington - 179 Washington Ave - Chatham, NJ
Image courtesy of Google Maps
Frederick and Jean Lum's house is a customized house based on the Sears Lexington model. The Lexington was first offered in 1920 and was one of the largest and most expensive models offered by Sears. In the late 1920s, the design of the Lexington was changed to the version we see here. The later version of the Lexington followed the same general floor plan as the original but without the enclosed wings on each side of the house. The later version of the Lexington continued to appear in the catalog through 1933. The later version of the house is easy to differentiate from the original version because it has five windows on the second floor of the front of the house versus three on the original Lexington.

Catalog image of Sears Lexington (1932)
Image courtesy of
You can see the standard arrangement of the Lexington from this authenticated Sears Lexington in Washington, DC (with enclosed side porch).

2301 Naylor Rd SE - Washington DC - Sears Lexington
Image courtesy of Google Maps
In the case of the Lum's house, they customized it by adding enclosed wings on each side of the house. The text description from the catalog indicates that these included a two car garage. You can also see how dormers were added to the wings, possibly creating useable second story space. Since the house was built, the open portion of the wing on the right-hand side of the house has been enclosed. With these additions to the standard model, you can see how much larger the Lums house is as compared to the standard Lexington model yet still shares the common elements with the standard Lexington plan.

Customized Sears Lexington - 179 Washington Ave - Chatham, NJ
Image courtesy of Google Maps
The younger Dr. Lum was in his early 30s when he ordered his custom house from Sears. He and his wife, her mother and her sister all lived in the house when the 1940 Census was taken. This is the latest I've been able to definitively place them in the house although I believe that they continued to live in the house for a number of years.

After locating the house, I discovered a couple of local references to the Lum house noting its Lexington model origin and that it had been featured in the Sears catalog. Ironically, one of those articles stated:

"It may be the only house on the street built from a kit..."

It turns out, it's not the only kit house on this street! At 141 Washington Ave in Chatham, I found what appears to be a Sears Martha Washington.

141 Washington - Chatham, NJ - Sears Martha Washington
Image courtesy of Google Maps
Right across the street from the Martha Washington is a possible Gordon-Van Tine 535.

142 Washington - Chatham, NJ - Gordon-Van Tine #535
Image courtesy of Google Maps
After finding the Lum's customized Sears Lexington "testimonial" house, finding these two houses was the cherry on top! Do you know of any other kit houses in Chatham? Share those with us in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. Well, there is that Crescent you found in the real estate listings, eh? :)