Thursday, September 15, 2022

Testimonial House: Sears No. 306 in Griswold, Iowa

Recently, the group of kit house researchers I work with has been using Rebecca Hunter's "Putting Sears Homes on the Map" book as a reference to locate testimonial houses. Most of the locations listed in the book are for houses that were referenced in the "Modern Homes" catalog either tied to a specific owner or location in the United States. But some of testimonials listed by Rebecca come from a book that Sears put out around 1912 called "Successful Building". This book was filled with customer testimonials including photos of the houses that they built. While many of those testimonials also appeared elsewhere, some of them, as far as I know, didn't appear anywhere else in Sears advertising, either in the "Modern Homes" catalog or the General Merchandise catalog. I recently had the good fortune of tracking down one of those houses in Griswold, Iowa. Let's take a look!

When I started my search, the house I was looking for was listed as a "No. 215/No. 306 variant". The No. 306, which was later sold as the No. 215, was one of the larger homes that Sears sold in the early years of the "Modern Homes" catalogs. The No. 306 didn't appear in the 1908 "Modern Homes" catalog but it was listed in the 1911 catalog although it may have appeared before 1911. A couple years later, it was listed as the No. 215. It's final appearance was in the 1917 catalog, which means it was never a "named" model (in the 1918 catalog, all the models were given names like "Avoca" and "Preston"). 

According to "Putting Sears Homes on the Map", the house was located in Griswold, Iowa. Griswold is a city of less than 1,000 residents located in southwest Iowa, not far from Omaha, Nebraska. In the early 1900s, the city was served by an extension of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, which would have facilitated the delivery of the materials for a house from Sears Roebuck. In more recent year, the rail line, which entered the city from the south, was abandoned and only the faint hints of the line's route through the countryside are still visible.

Image courtesy of the Iowa Digital Library

Thankfully, despite its small size, quite a few of the city's streets had been driven by Google and appeared in Streetview. The quality of Streetview can vary from town to town but in Griswold, most of it was good quality and included streets that had been driven as recently as 2021. 

Griswold is small enough that I probably could have driven all the visible streets through Google Maps to see if I could find the house. But I also had the name of the original owner - H. D. Turner - and I checked to see if that would help me pin down the location of the house. Using, I found that there was a "Hector D. Turner" who lived in Griswold for a number of years. In 1920, he lived on Fourth Street but the census record didn't include an exact address. 

Hector died in 1948 but his wife Dora appeared in the 1950 Census, still living on Fourth Street. But the 1950 Census also didn't include an address. I checked some other sources but I didn't have any luck placing Dora at a specific address on Fourth Street. But as Fourth Street is only 9 blocks long and most of it was visible in Streetview, I fired up my Google car and took it for a "drive" to see if I could find something that looked like a No. 306. 

I started on the east side of town and had made it through the center of town when I spotted this house at 600 Fourth Street. 

My first impression was not that it was a No. 306 but that it might be another Sears model, the No. 148, which has the distinctive arrangement of windows at the front corners of the house.

In fact, the arrangement of the front door and the windows on the front of the house looked like almost a match for the No. 148. But as I got around to the other side of the house, it was clear that this definitely was not a No. 148.

The right side of the house looked like a much better match for the No. 306. But again, it wasn't an exact match. And the biggest difference, besides the No. 148-style arrangement of the front door and windows, was the lack of the wraparound porch. So was this the house? After confirming the address and taking some snapshots from different angles, I continued down the remainder of Fourth Street that was visible. 

I finished up Fourth Street without finding any other possible candidates. I decided to look around the remainder of the city that was visible in Streetview to see if I could spot any other houses from Sears or any other kit house companies. I also did some searches in Zillow to see if that would reveal any houses in the parts of town not on Streetview. 

After all that, I didn't spot any candidates elsewhere in Griswold which left me with a few options:

1. The house at 600 Fourth Street was the "No. 215/No. 306 variant". That was a strong possibility based on knowing that the Turners lived on Fourth and that this house appeared to be based on the No. 306. 

2. The house I was seeking was on the part of the Fourth not visible on Streetview. This seemed less likely based on what I could see from aerial photos. 

3. The house was located in another part of Griswold or had been built in a location nearby but outside the city limits. 

4. The house had been demolished. Unfortunately, that has been the fate of some of the testimonials I've tried to track down. 

I was pretty sure I had found the house. But I like to be certain, so I noted the address in the database we have of all the testimonials in "Putting Sears Homes on the Map" with the hope that something would come up in the future to confirm that address. 

Fast forward a month or so and I got a message from Matthew, one of the kit house researcher wunderkinds in our group. He had been looking through a resource online from Chicagology that I had shared with him that includes a number of the testimonials from the "Successful Building" book. I hadn't looked at the site in ages but as Matthew was going through the various houses and comparing them to the database, he realized that one of the houses was located in Griswold, Iowa. He looked up the address I had found and compared it to the house on the web site.

Look familiar? 

Image property of Chicagology 

Unless someone built 2 examples of this house, I think we found the match. Chicagology lists the house as "Modern Home No. 2016". My best guess is that is a reference to the plan number for the custom design which incorporated elements of a No. 148 into a No. 306. Most likely, this is a one-of-a-kind house. As exciting as it was to get confirmation that I had found the house, I was more excited to know that 110 years after it was built, this Sears Roebuck house still looks largely original to when it was build. How cool is that? 

1 comment:

  1. I've seen the Successful Building catalog, although I don't have a copy myself. Most of the testimonials are for building materials, but there are are couple houses in there.