Monday, February 13, 2017

Making Lists

Regular readers of this blog know that one of my kit house-related projects is contributing to a national database of Sears catalog and kit houses. As I shared last year, the database grew out of the need to have a centralized listing of Sears houses. Started four years ago in January 2013, the Sears database has grown to almost 6,500 homes. While the Sears database is the largest in number of homes, it's not the only database we're working on. Just as there was a need to document houses from Sears, the same is true for homes from the other major kit house manufacturers.

The houses in these databases come from a variety of sources. These include the research done by members of our group, houses submitted by homeowners, houses located and shared by other kit house researchers around the country and publicly available resources both online and in other formats. The databases being maintained by members of our kit house research group include the following companies:
  • Aladdin: Based in Bay City, Michigan, Aladdin was the first and the last of the major kit house manufacturers. The database currently has over 275 homes with almost half of the homes authenticated, primarily from sales record information archived at the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University. 
  • Bennett Homes: Based in North Tonawanda, New York, the Ray H. Bennett Lumber Company  sold kit houses primarily in the northeastern United States. This small but growing database of homes is primarily maintained by one of our researchers in the Niagara region of New York. 
  • Gordon-Van Tine and Montgomery Ward: Gordon-Van Tine was a mail order catalog house company based in Davenport, Iowa. In addition to selling their own homes, for a number of years, Gordon-Van Tine supplied the plans and materials for homes sold by Montgomery Ward under the "Wardway" name. Due to this relationship and the fact that many of the homes sold by these two companies share common designs, the database covers homes sold by both companies. There's over 500 homes on the list with 40% authenticated by mortgage records and testimonials. 
Excerpt from "Aladdin Catalog Homes in the U.S."
  • Harris Brothers: Based in Chicago, Illinois, Harris sold mail order homes across the country for a couple of decades. The database is approaching 100 houses with a small number of authenticated Harris homes. 
  • Lewis Homes: Based in Bay City, Michigan, Lewis stated in the kit house business supplying lumber for Aladdin. Lewis started their own line of kit houses sold under the Lewis Homes name. Around 1925, Lewis changed the name of the kit house business to Liberty and continued to sell homes until the early 1970s. The database of Lewis homes is primarily made up of homes located in Michigan, New York and Washington DC. It has over 150 homes with a significant number of authenticated homes. 
  • Sterling: Also based in Bay City, Michigan, Sterling, like Lewis, started in the kit house business as a supplier for Aladdin. Sterling sold homes from 1915 - 1973. The database has a small number of homes primarily located in Michigan.
Together, these databases include over 7,500 documented houses. This is likely the largest collection of catalog and kit houses in the country and the collection is growing every day!

Do you know of homes that should be considered for inclusion in one of these databases? Let us know in the comments with your contact information or contact me directly from the Kit House Hunters page.

Historical background courtesy of Dale Wolicki and Rebecca Hunter


  1. May I suggest: If you leave Andrew a comment about a house, please include contact info so that he can get back to you (his comments are previewed before publication, so no one will see your email address).
    Fellow researcher :)

  2. So many houses in such a short period of time! After we turned our focus to source documents, we had great success at growing these lists. Now if I just had all my addresses from houses other that Sears entered.........

  3. Andrew, I think you have all the authenticated Clawson houses already, but I'd like to share what I've added recently - where can I see these databases and cross check? (Melodie Nichols)