Background:

Are “Sears Homes” Finally Getting Due Recognition?

ctmansfieldg294359_101_12searsSeveral years ago, I listed for sale a circa 1920 Craftsman bungalow in Mansfield, Connecticut, and I suspected that it may have been a “Sears home” (see the house, left), or at least some kind of mail order house.  I have been fascinated with Sears homes ever since.  For those who don’t know, “Sears house” is a generic term people use to describe “mail order houses” or “kit homes” that were sold by Sears Roebuck, Aladdin Homes, Montgomery Ward, and other companies between 1908 and 1940.  Over 70,000 of these “ready to assemble” houses were sold by Sears Roebuck, alone, and they can be found all over the country– probably even in your hometown.  These kit homes were offered in dozens of styles, from the most basic Cape Cod to elaborate Colonial Revival houses that looked like small mansions.

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sears-modern-catalog1The large “kits” were ordered from a catalogue, would arrive by train cars, and were transported to the house lot where, with the help of a large instruction manual, the house was built over a period of at least 3 months, but sometimes 3 years, depending on the proficiency of the assemblers!  Unfortunately, depite Sears marketing these houses as “Modern Homes” (because they were designed to allow modern systems such as central heating , plumbing, & electricity), “Sears houses” apparently carried a negative connotation for years, probably because they were not always assembled by “professionals,” but instead were built by the homeonwers and the friends & family they could draft to help out.

However, it seems that the materials & construction methods for these houses were just as good (if not better) than any other houses being built during the early 20th century, and now, “Sears houses” seem to be gradually becoming a historic novelty, perhaps even seen as “desirable” by home buyers who seek Craftsman era properties.  It is apparent that preservationists all over the country are beginning to rally to identify, catalogue & preserve these properties, and educate people about their special place in American (& architectural) history.    However, as with any antique or historic properties, Sears houses are often threatened with demolition to make room for “progress,” and unfortunately, preservationists sometimes are unable to stop their demolition (see video below).

If you own a house that you suspect to be a Sears home, or if you are a Realtor trying to market one of these houses, there are lots of guides available on how to identify Sears houses (or other kit homes).  I also think the following YouTube video is a nice introduction to the subject for readers who are unfamiliar with “Sears homes.”  Also, several great books about Sears houses are listed below the video.

The woman featured in the YouTube video, Rosemary Thornton, is the author of two of the most widely read books about Sears houses — The Houses That Sears Built (a good overview & general history) and Finding the Houses That Sears Built (A Guide to the 60 Most Popular Styles).  Another very comprehensive book that I would highly recommend is Houses By Mail by Katherine Cole Stevenson H. Ward Jandl.

8 Comments

  1. by Historic House Blog » Modern but still Historic- Great Websites for the “Vintage” Home, on 02.20.09 @ 12:06 AM

     

    […] were built all over the country, and were especially popular in city residential neighborhoods. Sears offered its first mail-order kithouses. Colonial Revival styles surged in the 1920s and have been popular ever since (the style became so […]

  2. by Kelly, on 08.18.09 @ 7:49 PM

     

    I wonder if anything was salvaged from that house they tore down? The windows looked like they were still there, I guess it wasn’t worth anything to anyone to save those at least?

  3. by Rhonda Keith, on 10.26.09 @ 4:41 PM

     

    Long before I ever had the chance to tour a Sears house (in Madeira, Ohio), I was fascinated by Sears catalogues, which our family used to get every year when I was growing up. I wrote a short novel called The Wish Book about a family that is able to order everything they want from original Sears catalogues, at original prices. A young woman who’s been making a living at flea markets opens a store selling new antiques. Eventually she sees the possibilities in selling Sears house kits. Wouldn’t you buy a new house for $2,000 or $5,000 even if you already had a house? Look for The Wish Book by Rhonda Keith in digital format for Amazon’s Kindle reader, or for download at Lulu.com — fun, fantasy, and romance!

  4. by Historic House Blog » When $1 Historic Houses Are Not $1 Houses, on 10.31.09 @ 10:56 AM

     

    […] & largest of the three.  The other two, both located on West Station Street, are small 1920s Crafstman houses — one more quaint & attractive than the other (right).  So perhaps the […]

  5. by HandPaintedWoodSigns.com, on 11.21.10 @ 10:00 PM

     

    There exists an excellent condition Sears house in my hometown of Medford New Jersey. The address is 13 Branch Street, Medford NJ 08055.
    Here is a link for a description: http://www.westjerseyhistory.org/books/medsites/

    As for the quality comparable to today, honestly, is there any comparison?

  6. by sommerhus på tenerife, on 09.26.12 @ 9:42 AM

     

    Hi, i feel that i noticed you visited my web site thus i came to return the want?
    .I’m trying to to find things to enhance my site!I guess its adequate to use some of your ideas!!

  7. by Andreas, on 11.29.12 @ 9:52 AM

     

    http://goo.gl/maps/OMO2w

    This home is slated to be destroyed by a developer that wants to squeeze in a two family. There is a public hearing and I would like to ask of the possibility of having the developer “restore” this Sears Roebuck rather than replace it. My position is not to hinder what people want to do with their homes or stop people from making money, but the neighborhood really does not need another generic, stuffed in, another double lot.

    How can I verify this is a Sears Roebuck and have it placed as Historically Preserved?

  8. by Michael@HHB, on 12.07.12 @ 10:04 PM

     

    Hi Andreas,

    It’s pretty difficult to prevent the demolition of historic houses unless they are in a local historic district. Often times, even recognition on the National Register or State Register does not prevent a property owner from doing what they wish (check on this, every state is different). But almost always, the local-level historic districts have the most “teeth” to prevent alteration of historic properties. Is there a local historic district commission to contact in that town? A historical society would also be able to point you in the right direction. Good Luck!

    Michael @HHB

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