Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Real Sears Modern Homes of Ossining, New York

Image courtesy of CBS
I don't recall when Ossining, New York first got on my radar as a place that potentially had a lot of Sears Roebuck houses. But in December 2016, I was focused on finding Sears houses in Westchester County, New York, where the Town and Village of Ossining are located. That was when I came across what looked to be, on first appearance, a treasure trove of Sears houses. In the spring of 2010, the Village had put out a document called the "Significant Sites and Structures Guide" of homes and buildings in the Village. That guide included an entire section dedicated to Sears Modern Homes. The guide noted that there were 102 Sears houses located in the village and even better, provided a list of addresses for all the homes. As I had been working through mortgages to identify Sears houses in Ossining, I was excited to see what I had matched and what I had missed. But the more I read through the guide and reviewed addresses, the more questions I had. It was clear that something was very off. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

A Unique Sears Mortgage in Trucksville, Pennsylvania

In 2016, I wrote a lengthy post about the "Great Sears Paper Trail". In that post I explained that while the original sales records for homes sold by Sears Roebuck no longer exist (per the Sears Archives), there's still a lengthy paper trail that exists in paper and digital formats that can assist us in finding Sears houses. I've written quite a few posts that touch on one aspect of that paper trail - transactions related to mortgages and deeds. While a lot of my research has been spent reviewing actual mortgage and deed records, quite a bit of that research has also been through newspaper references to mortgages and deeds. Back in 2020, a newspaper reference led me to a possible Sears house but with a most interesting twist. Let's take a look!

Thursday, December 2, 2021

ID this House! Sears Carver

In the later years of the Sears Roebuck "Modern Homes" program, the public interest in architectural styles shifted to more minimalist designs. In part, this was a response to changing preferences that reflected the austerity that accompanied the Great Depression. The detailing that accompanied the Arts and Crafts-inspired house designs of the 1920s probably seemed extravagant to buyers looking to save every penny. Many of the house designs that Sears offered in the 1930s were similarly austere which can make them more difficult to pick out from other houses of that time period. One of the more distinctive designs was the "Carver". While it was only offered for a few years, this house is one that should be easy to pick out once you've learned a few of the key design elements. Let's learn to ID this house! 

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Sears Vallonias of Metro Detroit - East Side Edition

I recently had a chance to attend a meeting on the grounds of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan. The "Ford House" and estate is everything you might expect from one of America's most famous automotive families. Located north and east of the City of Detroit, the five Pointes communities were among the earliest "suburbs" of Detroit and home to some of the grandest examples of homes built with the wealth of the titans of the automotive industry.

As Detroit experienced explosive growth during the first half of the 20the Century, the surrounding communities like the Pointes grew too, especially those located first along the railroad and interurban lines and later along the major roads, like Gratiot Avenue, that radiated out from the heart of Detroit far into the farmland of the surrounding counties. People looking for the 1920s version of the suburban life took advantage of new transportation options to built homes in urbanizing outposts like Center Line, Roseville and St. Clair Shores. Among those new homes were kit houses from Sears, including one of the most popular models, the "Vallonia". Let's take a look! 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Sears Jefferson in New Britain, Connecticut

Some of the houses that I post about tend to be outliers in the Sears Roebuck "Modern Homes" program. Because they are "rare" models (or at least I thought so when I first started posting about them), I like to share them so that other kit house researchers (and fans of these houses) can see real-world examples. Some of them are rare because the model only appeared for a year or two in the "Modern Homes" catalog before being replaced by something more appealing to customers. Or they were introduced near the end of the run of the "Modern Homes" catalog (see the "Rare 10" listing from Lara at "Sears Homes of Chicagoland"). But in the case of today's example, the "Jefferson", this model appeared in the catalog for 5 years. But to date, only 4 examples of this house have been found. We'll discuss why as we review this example from New Britain, Connecticut. Let's take a look!

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Thank You Michigan Questers!

This past week, I had the opportunity to present to the annual conference of the Michigan Questers that was held in Bay City. The conference draws members of Questers chapters from across the state. As kit house fans know, Bay City was the home of the Aladdin company which produced the first mail order kit houses. Bay City was also home to two of Aladdin's competitors in the kit house business - Lewis Homes and Sterling Homes. All three companies had long histories and numerous examples of their homes can be found locally. As an homage to the host city, the conference theme was "Kit Homes: From Catalog to Curb" and I was asked to speak about the history of kit homes. 

In keeping with the Questers motto of "It's fun to search and a joy to find", a portion of the presentation focused on the research process that I follow to locate and identify kit houses. It's the first time that I've done a presentation with that as the focus. But from the feedback I received, the audience found it quite informative. As for the audience, they were delightful, attentive listeners (after a delicious lunch, no less!) had a lot of good questions and I believe is the largest group to hear my kit house presentation. It was nice to get back in front of a crowd and tell the story of Michigan's kit house history and share examples from our state. Thank you Michigan Questers for having me and happy kit house hunting! 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Sears Modern Homes - 1941

We know that contrary to a common myth about Sears homes, Sears Roebuck was still actively selling their "Modern Homes" in 1941. I've shared some of the different ways that Sears was selling homes - individual homes, small scale developments and the large "Home Club" developments. I've also noted that the models that were being sold varied depending on location. But where was Sears selling homes during this time period? To help answer that question, I've put together a list of locations where Sears was actively reported selling homes. This information comes primarily come from digitized newspaper articles and advertisements from 1941. Let's take a look! 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Where are the Sears Houses - September 2021 Edition

Sears Langston - Watervliet. New York
Image courtesy of Zillow
It's been almost a year since I did the last "Where the are the Sears Houses" update. But that's less a reflection on the pace of progress in finding Sears houses and more a reflection on your intrepid reporter being lax in posting an update. We actually reached the 13,500 house mark back in May, which means it took about 7 months to find 500 houses. Since May, we've made good progress towards 14,000! All that said, it's time to post another update of "Where are the Sears Houses?" 

Here is the breakdown of location of houses by state based on approximately 13,500 homes in the database. Let's take a look! 

Saturday, September 4, 2021

East Versus (Mid)West

As I was exploring the topic of how many Sears homes were built between 1940 - 1942, my research took me from the East Coast to the Midwest as I read newspaper ads and articles from a number of cities. As these led me to examples of homes that were built during this time period, it became evident that there was a significant difference in the kinds of homes that Sears Roebuck was marketing and selling depending on where one lived in the country. It was as if there were two distinct versions of the "Modern Homes" program in operation during those years. 

On the East Coast, Sears had embarked on a bold new initiative to move away from just selling homes to individuals to playing the role of developer, selling entire neighborhoods of homes built from plans and materials from Sears. In the Midwest, sales of Sears homes continued to follow the tried-and-true pattern of individual home sales. But it wasn't just the method of selling homes that differed. Depending on where you lived, the home models that Sears was promoting varied too! There was very much a split between what was being sold and marketed on the East Coast versus the Midwest. Let's take a look!

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Wardway Houses in Poets' Corner (Hartsdale), New York

Cover of Wardway Homes catalog (1930)
In my most recent post about the Sears houses located in the Poets' Corner section of Hartsdale, New York, I noted that based on the USGS maps available from the 1930s, many of the houses that were shown in this section of Hartsdale were homes purchased from Sears Roebuck. Using the USGS maps, I decided to look at the other houses built in Hartsdale Lawns and Hartsdale Manor that were not among the list of 18 known or possible Sears houses. As I used Google Streetview to "drive" around the area, I came across two houses that I recognized. But these houses did not have designs from Sears. Instead, they were designs I recognized as being from one of Sears biggest competitors in the mail order business - Montgomery Ward! Montgomery Ward sold kit houses under the "Wardway" brand name. It's not uncommon to find Wardway houses in close proximity to Sears houses and so I wasn't surprised to see these Wardway houses. I was just surprised that it took me this long to recognize them. Let's take a closer look!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

A Return to Poets' Corner (Hartsdale), New York

14 Longfellow St - Hartsdale, New York
Sears Gateshead
Five years ago, I wrote a few posts about the collection of Sears Roebuck kit houses in the Poets' Corner section of Hartsdale, New York. Between 1928 and 1933, at least 17 Sears houses were built in the Hartsdale Lawns and Hartsdale Manor subdivision plats where the streets are named after famous poets. At the time, I was able to document most of the Sears houses located in that area. However, in the intervening years, I've managed to locate and/or authenticate a few additional houses that didn't make it into the original posts about Hartsdale Lawns and Hartsdale Manor. Additionally, I've spotted a couple more houses that might be Sears (or might not) that I'll point out in case more information comes to light about those homes. Let's take (another) look!

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

ID this House! Sears Carlin and Windsor

Sears Carlin in Kalamazoo, Michigan
Recently, while searching real estate listings, I spied what I thought was a model I've seen many times over, the Sears Windsor. On first glance, this house in Kalamazoo, Michigan had all the hallmarks of the Windsor. As I was drafting up a post for my "Sears Homes For Sale" Facebook page, I made sure to note that while this model is often misidentified as the "Carlin", in fact almost all of the hundreds of examples that have been identified to date are actually the "Windsor". I was going to point out some of the easy-to-spot differences between the two models that would show that this was a Sears Windsor. Except as I started reviewing the house more closely, it quickly became apparent that in fact the house in Kalamazoo was not a Windsor, it was a Carlin! To date, only 20 examples of the Carlin have been added to the national database of Sears houses. The house in Kalamazoo provided the perfect opportunity to showcase those differences and help other kit house researchers and homeowners easily determine whether a house is the Carlin or the Windsor. Let's learn to ID these models! 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Sears Roebuck's "Home of the Week"

Over at Sears Homes of Chicagoland, Lara's latest post is exploring examples of advertising for "Modern Homes" from Sears Roebuck. Advertising for the "Modern Homes" program appeared in a number of different formats but the ones I've most frequently come across were ads in newspapers from those parts of the county where Sears sold their "Modern Homes". Thanks to digitization efforts, we've been able to see numerous examples of ads from a number of newspapers. Lara's post reminded me of some advertising I had come across again a few weeks ago while searching old newspapers for articles. These ads from Sears "Home Construction Division" featured a number of "Modern Homes" models. I'm calling these ads the Sears "Home of the Week" series. Let's take a look!