Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Sears Medford in Little Falls, New York

I recently was searching one of my favorite online resources for historical newspapers from New York, FultonHistory.com. I was looking for newspaper articles related to the Sears Modern Homes program that were newly added to their collection. One of the articles that I found led me to a rare Sears model - the Medford - in Little Falls, New York. Lara Solonickne, who blogs over at the Sears Homes of Chicagoland, coined the name the "Rare 10" for a group of Sears models that were introduced in 1939 and the Medford is one of them! This house in Little Falls is only the second example in our national database. Let's take a look!

There's been a persistent myth that the Sears Modern Homes program ended in 1940. In some online articles, you'll see claims that any house built after 1940 can't be from Sears. Lara's done a pretty good job of debunking that idea. Sears continued to sell homes through Modern Homes sales offices and salesmen into 1942 when the war time effort effectively ended Sears ability to provide materials for homes. 

Ad from 1941 for a Sears development near Utica, NY
Image courtesy of FultonHistory.com
Recently, I read online a claim that almost all the homes being sold by Sears after 1940 would be found in the Home Club Plan developments. It's true, many of the homes sold during the time period of 1939 - 1942 were in the Home Club Plan developments that Sears sponsored in several states. But these weren't the only homes being sold by Sears. Some were built in smaller scale developments, like "Wells Gardens" shown in the image above, and Sears continued to sell homes - like this Sears Medford - to individual homeowners. Some of the houses, like the Medford, were based on plans from the catalogs while others were based on plans that never appeared in the Modern Homes catalog. 

Image of 1940 Sears Modern Homes Catalog Cover
Image courtesy  of Archive.org
The Sears Medford first appeared in the 1939 catalog. In the final Modern Homes catalog that was issued in 1940, the Medford was presented as offering "prim Cape Cod charm and New England traditions". It's that Cape Cod design, so popular in that era, that makes the Medford hard to pick out from a row of look-a-like houses on a block. Fortunately, an article in the Utica Observer from 1941 highlighting local examples of Sears houses under construction included a number of names of owners and the towns where the Sears houses had recently been completed or were under construction. 

Catalog image of Sears Medford (1940)Image courtesy  of Archive.org
This particular house is located in Little Falls and a search through Ancestry helped me locate the address for the owner. While Google Streetview hasn't reached Little Falls, this particular house had real estate listing photos in Zillow. From the real estate photos, we can see some of the elements that help us identify this as a Sears Medford. 

277 Church St - Little Falls, NY - Sears Medford
Image courtesy of Zillow
From the front of the house, we can see how the house generally follows the catalog image as it appeared in the 1940 edition of the Sears "Modern Homes" catalog. While the proportions of the house look a bit off in this view, that's due to the angle of the photograph. As we'll see in some other photos, this house matches up well to the Medford.

277 Church St - Little Falls, NY - Sears Medford
Image courtesy of Zillow
From the side of the house, we can see the two single windows that appear in the catalog image. Above them is the outline of the attic vent that also appears in the catalog image. One element you can see in this and subsequent views is how the roofline of the back of the house is very different from the front. But that's not obvious from the catalog image. In the catalog image, a large tree obscures the back of the house!

277 Church St - Little Falls, NY - Sears Medford
Image courtesy of Zillow
The 3D floorplans that Sears used in the 1940 catalog are pretty cool but they sometimes hide details about how the house is laid out. As you can see from the first floor plan, on the back of the house, there's a single window in the garage, a door, another single window in the kitchen and a paired window in the dining room. 

Catalog image of the first floor of the Sears Medford (1940)Image courtesy  of Archive.org
On this house, the arrangement of the doors and windows - fenestration in architectural terms - matches that arrangement except that the kitchen has a paired set of windows versus a single window. That may be original to the house or it could be a change that was made over the years. 

On the second floor, there should be 3 dormers to go with the three windows. But as you can see, there's clearly four. Why? 

277 Church St - Little Falls, NY - Sears Medford
Image courtesy of Zillow
This view likely explains why there's this difference from the original arrangement. On this side of the house, there's a small sunroom. Because of the location of the sunroom, there's not room for a window for the back bedroom on the side of the house. 

Catalog image of the second floor of the Sears Medford (1940)Image courtesy  of Archive.org
By moving that window around to the back of the house, it retains the second window for the back bedroom. In the process, it also provides a more uniform spacing of the dormers along the back of the house. The original design actually has a less uniform spacing. It's likely that this change is original to the house (although the sun room may have started out as a porch, which was seen on several house plans in the 1940 catalog). Sears would have been able to make these kind of changes for the owner for an additional charge. 

I'm continuing to research the Sears houses that were built after 1940 in the Utica area using leads from the article as well as information on the "Wells Gardens" development. As I locate and identify more houses, I'll be sharing those too. Do you know of another example of the Medford or any other Sears houses? Let us know in the comments!


  1. Very interesting. What an unusual style this house is, with the height emphasis so focused on only the back half of the house. I love those four dormers, though!
    Sears House Seeker blog

  2. I agree. The other example has 3 and because they're not evenly spaced, it doesn't look as good.

  3. Interesting house--I won't forget that model!

    You're right that Sears sold plenty of houses to individual consumers in 1940-1942. We can see that from building permits in various locales. It seems that Home Club Plans received the bulk of the advertising dollars though.