Friday, February 4, 2022

Making Lists - January 2022

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 in 2016, the database grew out of the need to have a centralized listing of Sears houses. Started nine years ago in January 2013, the Sears database has grown to over 14,000 documented homes with over 40 percent of those authenticated through various methods. 

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. We now have databases for 9 regional and national kit house companies. Let's take a look!

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 almost 800 homes with almost half of the homes authenticated, primarily from sales record information archived at the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University. 
Excerpt from "Aladdin Catalog Homes in the U.S."
    • Bennett Homes: Based in North Tonawanda, New York, the Ray H. Bennett Lumber Company sold kit houses primarily in the northeastern United States. With over 300 homes, this 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 1,300 homes on the list with 40 percent authenticated by mortgage records and testimonials. 
    • Harris Brothers: Based in Chicago, Illinois, Harris sold mail order homes across the country for a couple of decades. The database now has over 250 houses with a small number of authenticated Harris homes. 

    • Lewis Homes: Based in Bay City, Michigan, Lewis started in the kit house business supplying lumber for Aladdin. A few years later, 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 greatest number of Lewis homes identified are located in Washington DC but examples from a number of states are on the list . It has over 250 homes with a significant number of authenticated homes.
    • McClure Homes: Based in Saginaw, Michigan, McClure sold kit houses for a relative short time period - only about 10 years. But because they financed many of the homes that they sold, it's been possible to locate McClure homes through mortgage records. The list currently has less than 100 homes but many authenticated homes includes several large orders by industrial firms. 

    • 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 17,000 documented houses. This is undoubtedly the largest collection of documented and authenticated 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 includes information courtesy of Dale Wolicki and Rebecca Hunter

    Note: I first wrote a version of this post back in 2017. I've decided to do an annual version of this every January to help track the progress of the research being done by kit house researchers. 

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