Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sears Lewiston with LaTosca Hardware ("I've Found a Sears House!")

lewiston sears modern homes model st louis
575 N. Laclede Station Road (facing Greeley), Webster Groves, Missouri
A 1929* Sears Lewiston in a St. Louis area suburb, with an unusual tuck-under garage.
(*Tax records list the build date as 1936, but I found the mortgage deed for this house, from 1929.)

So, let me be clear: I am completely a novice at kit-home and plan-book searching. 


But, I have learned a thing or two. 


The first thing I learned, was that Sears is not the only kit-home company. I learned of Wardway (homes marketed by Montgomery Ward) early on, when I went to the library to get a self-published Rose Thornton Sears book, and found that she and Dale Wolicki also had a book on Wardway homes.  Turns out there are many companies... Sears was a big one, though.


houses that sears built_rosemary_thornton
EDIT 2017: Please note that self-published books tend to include some inaccuracies.
There are mistaken IDs of homes included in these books. 
The second thing I learned, was that Sears and Wardway (and all of the others) marketed homes that looked just like each other's (sometimes REALLY just like, and sometimes just similar), and just like all of the other homes from the 1920s and 30s. I learned this by thinking that every house in this town where I live must be a Sears home-- and finding out that they're not. Not at all. Almost none of them. Really. But they sure are darn close. Sometimes maddeningly so.

cover of Houses By Mail: the best book on Sears houses
The definitive book on Sears houses, and the first one I read, put out in 1986 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation:
Houses By Mail.  This is the go-to book for serious researchers, and an excellent start for new enthusiasts (see more info on Google Books).

How do you know it's not?
Well, usually, an established researcher will point out something to you that is really stupidly obvious... to them (and then to you)... since they look at these houses all the time, and they realize there are not-quite-the-same lookalikes out there everywhere. When you're new to the game, you think something that "pretty much looks like" the catalogue image, just MIGHT be ... but, the experienced researchers see right away that it's not.  The door is in the wrong spot. The width of the front gable is way off. The windows are in totally different spots. The slant of the roof is completely different. The footprint of the house is completely wrong. The house is from 20 years before Sears started marketing that house. That kind of thing.




Here's a house that is right around the corner from me-- I was SO excited when I realized that it was the spitting image of the Lewiston that everyone in the Sears Homes FaceBook group was talking about! So, I walked over, took a bunch of photos (with too many damned trees in the way), and proudly posted my photos:


I was immediately informed that something was wrong about this nearby house,
and it's not a Sears Lewiston.
I think the pointy part is too high. Or too skinny. I don't know.

But... I was immediately informed that this wasn't a Sears Lewiston. There are many other kit-home companies and plan-book companies with SIMILAR designs. Some companies (like Standard Homes, have about 5 different size floor plans).


sears lewiston clone lookalike
Here's the "Standard Homes" Holbrooke.  See? Just like the Lewiston.
But not quite! (I got this photo from a friend.)

sears lewiston clone_ sears lewiston lookalike
But, wait! Here's the "Standard Homes" Cromwell!
Wait, now... look closely at the big picture window,
that's NOT there on the Holbrooke. Or the Lewiston.

sears colchester lookalike_sears lewiston clone
And... hold on! Here's the "Standard Homes" CARLTON.
One obvious difference between this and the
Cromwell, is the brick veneer and half-timbered look, but it's also smaller.
These last two are from the 1948 catalogue, found on
archive.org

I found that some folks in that FaceBook group were patient and supportive. But, not everyone. Sometimes, talented, knowledgeable folks, with tons of experience, a great eye, and miles and miles of pages of catalogues in their possession (all super-efficiently organized by house-style theme), just don't know how to be diplomatic. Or polite. Or gracious. Or, they just don't want to be. When you come across one of those people, and your house IS a Sears house, they're excited as heck to be the one to "authenticate" it for you (I guess they like giving off that, "see what I know that you didn't really know for sure!" vibe).  But, if you're wrong... whoooooaaa Nelly, watch out! You'll be corrected. Bluntly. Every time. Right away. And your pictures will get mysteriously deleted. Before anyone else can answer your questions. Yes, it's a hobby. Yes, there's no need for this kind of impatience.  But, it's there with some people, that's for sure.

Another view of the house I had no business calling a Sears Lewiston
(now with a fresh, new, bigger window up top in front).

Truly, it's understandable that folks would get a bit tired of the same thing happening over and over again. And having to tell yet another new "enthusiast" that she or he is not looking at all of the details. But, everyone started off at the same point. Some folks just forget that they were there at one point, too. Some folks can handle these repetitious errors from newcomers with unending patience and kindness, and really enjoy helping you come to figure this out on your own. It's probably a special gift to be one of those kinds of people.  And-- they're out there! So, don't despair! (I've found another great FaceBook group, by the way-- where I feel at home, and I learn something every day.) Just today, with the incredible patience and guidance of two of my house-seeking buddies (both incredibly knowledgeable and well-versed in researching techniques), I found my first house via a foreclosure deed (a deed or a mortgage record is undeniable proof that the house came from Sears-- or whomever).  It was such fun. It was a dinky little old bungalow, but some family loved it back in 1927, and lost it in 1928, so, as I was excited about my find, I knew to keep in mind that there are real people attached to these homes we seek.

1930 sears lewiston from catalog
This 1930 Sears catalogue image is from an interesting 2011 blog post by Rose Thornton
(you'll notice that Lara commented that the "real" Lewiston Rose showed in that blog post
might actually be the Standard Homes Holbrooke).

With that, I'll leave you with photos of the sale listing (from CircaProperties -- they specialize in historic homes) of the real Lewiston house I showed at the beginning of this blog. It's just gone under contract! A new family will be adding to its interesting history.

sears lewiston for sale st louis webster groves
The house number actually goes to the busy side street of this house,  
but it sits facing a nice, quiet street.

Take a CLOSE look at that door.  That's not just any 1930s door.
That's a Sears model door.
The placement of the window, and the line of the hinge hardware,
can be real clues about which company offered the door
on the house you're looking at.
You can't authenticate a house solely on its door, of course, but it can be a helpful clue.


Wait! Take a look at that door handle hardware.
That's the Sears La Tosca style! Only offered by Sears.
This was the key in identifying this home as a true Sears home,
and not a look-alike.  It was thanks to Cindy C., a truly gracious Sears expert,
that I learned that this house I had run across (driving by it last month) was for sale,
and that interior photos showed it to have the La Tosca door hardware.
Closeup views of several original door handle hardware examples in this house.
EDIT, May 30, 2017: Oh, wait! Here is a much better photo of La Tosca, from the newer Real Estate listing.


These two La Tosca images are straight from another informative and interesting
blog post by the (also always gracious!) author of Sears Homes of Chicagoland.
The February 2014 post (about a Sears Woodland model -- lots of information
about identifying features of this Sears home, and others) can be found at this link.

This photo is from an article from OldHouseJournal, by
Shirley Maxwell and James C. Massey, entitled, "Inside The Sears House", which refers to
 a Sears Cedars that I have written a post about.



I love these wood floors.
This shows a first-floor bedroom, and the bathroom entry.

Looks like they've renovated the bathroom,
while keeping a lovely, vintage feel to it.




Tell-tale signs of a vintage house second-floor bedroom -- the funky sloped ceiling!


Ahh... how I wish I had a screened-in porch like this one. 


This is the 1st-level floor plan as shown by real-estate listing.

UPDATE: 
This house has now been authenticated.  I located the 1929 Sears deed, signed by Walker O. Lewis, in my research in June of 2015.

Other Authenticated Kit Houses in Webster Groves, Missouri 
• Sears Stanford in the same neighborhood as a lovely Randolph
• Sears Clifton, right next door to the Sears Stanford 
• A custom-design Sears home on Westborough Place
• A wonderful Gordon-Van Tine Company's Model No. 535, on Oakwood Avenue
• A beautiful Lewis Homes' Marlboro on W. Lockwood

For other authenticated Sears homes in the surrounding towns of Kirkwood, Glendale, and other areas of St. Louis City and County, please use the SEARCH function on the right-hand side of my blog.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sears #110 (Silverdale) in Massachusetts (and a GVT No. 167 in Hettick, IL)

sears no 110
Our Family's 1911 Sears #110 (Silverdale) • 96 Hockanum Road, Northampton, Massachusetts

In 1911, my maternal great grandparents (both first-generation immigrants from Russian Poland) ordered a house from a Sears catalogue. They chose the #110, later known as the Silverdale.  In 1911, Sears had not yet begun selling their houses as pre-cut packages (known as "kits"), but they did sell the blueprints and all of the needed lumber, hardware, windows, door knobs, screws, nails, shingles, floorboards, mill work, and kitchen and bathroom fixtures-- all as one big package, shipped by rail to a nearby railroad station, where it would be picked up by the buyer, and hauled back to the home site... to be constructed by a hired crew, or by the buyers themselves.

Descendants of my great grandparents still own and reside in this home, and this is where my mother grew up. The design of the upper floor was modified at the time of purchase of the blueprints, to accommodate two families, and, over its 100+ years of history, it has had several other additions and alterations, but it sits on the exact footprint of the #110 as shown in the Sears catalogue, and still contains many of the tell-tale signs of a true Sears #110.  (Though we knew the story of our family home, our house has been authenticated as a Sears house by noted architectural historian, Rebecca Hunter, through shipping labels, visuals, and family history.) Our house has held its own against at least two major floods-- all the way up into the second floor of the house-- but sits today, having been lovingly cared for by my aunt and uncle, with the same patch of peonies that my grandmother planted many, many decades ago. It is one of the oldest authenticated Sears houses on our national database of over 7, 500 houses, and the oldest one that I know of, to have the same family still living in it. Here is the story of our family home.

(NOTE ON PHOTOS: All photos used here are the property of the blogger, and may not be used for any reason, without a direct, legible, link to this blog post. Many thanks to my cousin Martha for the wonderful family photos used here.)

In The Catalogs Through The Years

The No. 110 first appeared in the Sears catalogs in 1908, I believe, with a slightly different change to the front porch roof line, and offering turned porch columns. This price of $1,461 was not the price of the plans and materials, but actually was an estimate of what the finished product would cost, including an estimate for labor.
From the 3rd edition 1908 catalog -- thanks to researcher Andrew Mutch, of Kit House Hunters, for the scan. 

Here it is in my 1912 catalog -- no bathroom shown! Note the rounded porch columns, as an option.
Sears No. 110 in the 1912 catalog, offered for $770, not pre-cut
Still called the No. 110, here in the 1912 catalog.  That price of $770 got you the plans and all of the supplies, not pre-cut.


The 1916 catalog is the first year that the house was offered as a pre-cut kit -- all of the catalog names begin with "264P___", and include a second price for the option of having all of the material "cut and fitted". 
Sears No. 110 in the 1916 catalog, shown as No. 264P110
Thanks to our friend at Daily Bungalow/AntiqueHome.org for the use of her scanned image.
And, finally, in my 1918 catalog, we see the house offered with the Silverdale name... with a bathroom!
sears silverdale catalog listing in 1918

Design and Alterations Through the Years

sears no 110 model northampton massachusetts
Here is the house back around 1940, before the back porch was enclosed, and before the master-bedroom addition above that back porch.
sears silverdale sears no 110 white farm house on country road in massachusetts
There's the house back there, before the back porch was enclosed, and the master bedroom was expanded, above the porch. Thanks to my cousin, Martha M., for this photo. Not sure who that is in the photo... possibly my mom's cousin Lydia. The big barn has been gone for many years.
sears no 110 front porch

Here's my mom, Helen, standing in front of these porch steps in 1943:

Helen Gross in front of the newly re-done porch, in 1943.

Here, however, is the house as it looked in 1940.  

If you were able to look really closely here at the 1940 image, you would see that the house, at this date, still had the very tight, narrow, wooden planks, for its siding. At some point, shortly after this, it was re-sided with cedar shingling. I learned about this bit of info recently, from my cousin Peter Gross (pictured in the 1959 photo, below), while visiting the family in 2015.


You can see that the porch columns are different from the the 1943 (and current) porch columns. These rounded columns are what is shown with the house beginning at least in the 1912 catalog.
The bottom photo is the Silverdale, as it was marketed in the 1918 catalog.

And, here is a photo of my mom, Helen Gross, in the 1930s, standing on that original front porch, next to one of the rounded porch columns.  You can just make out the original porch railing, as well, with its turned balusters.

The right side of the house has seen several alterations, beginning with the very first day that it was built, because the plans were altered to adapt the house to accommodate two families, one upstairs, and one down.  The entry way you see here (no longer in use), was added as the entry for the second-floor apartment.  It sits at the base of the interior stairs that lead to the second floor. 

The comments on the image explain, as well, the 1960s kitchen expansion that caused the big bump-out behind that side entry door, and the expansion of the living room area to add an additional very small bedroom in the front of the house, which brought this side flush to the edge of the rest of the house.


This image of a 1925 Silverdale in South Charleston, West Virginia, shows what this side of the Silverdale normally looks like:

You can read about this West Virginia Silverdale, here.

The Devastating 1936 Flood 

New England experienced a horrendous flooding event in the freezing cold early months of 1936.  Up and down the Connecticut River--which runs through "The Meadows", the land that made up part of the Gross family's farming acreage, and which splits Hockanum Road in Northampton, from Hockanum Road in South Hadley (location of another documented Sears house)-- homes, businesses, and full towns, were devastated by icy flood waters, reaching up to-- and into-- the second floor of many homes, including my mother's family's Sears No. 110 here on Hockanum Road.  

Here is a synopsis of the event, from the Pioneer Valley History Network's website:

Historian David Parnell put together a 6-minute documentary about the 1936 flood, and its impact on the area.  Here is a still photo, showing the well-known Round House on Conz Street, during the flood:
You can watch Parnell's full video here.
Northampton's Forbes Library also has a short 7-minute video on You Tube that is actual 16mm footage taken around Northampton, during the flooding:
You can watch this video here.

Here is my mother's Uncle Bill (Wladyslaw Gross), on the front porch roof of the Silverdale, with his boat turned over to dry out for a moment, during rescue events for the family, and other neighbors. My mother remembers going to live with cousins for the rest of the school year, as her family eventually worked to make their house inhabitable again.  She remembers that the bridge was out, and that it took a very long time to get from Northampton to her cousin's house, having to detour around to take land routes somehow to get to the other town.

In the top photo, of my mom's uncle, you can see the original wood plank siding on the house.  It was later re-sided with cedar shingles.


In 1938, New England again experienced a horrific winter storm event, with one of the worst hurricanes in the history of New England.  This resulted in flooding once again in Northampton, and the family's house was flooded up to the second floor again.

The Back and Interior of the 
Sears No. 110 / Silverdale 
on Hockanum Road
Here are a few final images showing how the house follows the Silverdale's footprint and floor plan, and some of the changes made over the years.

Here is what an un-altered Silverdale looks like from this back view. This one is in Pennsylvania:
white Sears Silverdale with open porches
And here is our family house, after changes that were made in the original building, and many years later, as explained in the comments on the photos:
sears 110 floor plan

sears no 110 front door
sears model 126 catalog
On the right, is a photo of the door of another Sears house -- same door! The dark door also has the original round doorbell, one of which was also on our family's front door, originally.


The Sears Shipping Labels
If there were any doubt about the origins of our family's house, they can be put to rest after seeing this: Sears shipping labels found on the back of window trim all over the house, discovered by my Uncle Ed Gross, as he worked to install new windows sometime in the recent decades of the life of the house.  As a Sears house researcher, I always point out that shipping labels alone are absolutely not a definite indication that a house is a model from the Sears Modern Homes catalogs.  Why? Because Sears also sold building supplies to folks who already had their own house plans.  Still, Sears would figure out what you needed, and package it all up, and ship it to you, but that is not considered a Sears house -- not if the plans were not offered by Sears.

However... if those shipping labels are found on a house that, in other ways, follows the footprint and interior and exterior design of a Sears model, then, it is pretty much the final piece of evidence we need to authenticate a house.  That's the case here with the house on Hockanum Road.  Especially with this house, having had alterations made not only to the original design, but throughout its 110+ years of existence, only that front porch and entry area are clear indicators of the original design of the house being a Sears No. 110 / Silverdale.  With this shipping label, and the detailed explanations of all of the alterations to the house, plus the main footprint being the same as for the Silverdale, and most of the interior layout, we know that the story passed down through generations by family members, is accurate.
http://www.searshomes.org/index.php/2013/06/24/sears-modern-home-179-magnifico
Click on image to go to Rose Thornton's blog post.


Residents of the Massachusetts #110 Through the Years

The house at 96 Hockanum Road was originally purchased from Sears, and built, by my mother's grandparents, both immigrants from Russian Poland, who came to the area separately, in the 1880s, and married in 1890.  Their names were Jan and Franciszka Gross, names later Americanized to John and Frances.

Interestingly, Jan and Franciszka first lived in a house on the other side of the street, sitting at No. 96 Hockanum Road.  When they built the Sears house, even though the house was across the street, they just transferred that house number to the new house! (The old house was actually physically moved to nearby Henry Street, I believe.)

Jan and Franciszka went on to have, I believe, five children: four sons and a daughter.  Sadly, three of those children died (Stephen succumbed to influenza in 1918, I believe; young Edmond died from an accidental shot from a hunting rifle; and little Jenny died from an illness at a young age).  Jan, himself, later committed suicide, and Franciszka died some years later from a horrific event which saw her burned as a result of cleaning a mattress outside, using a flammable liquid.  Somehow a spark was ignited, and the mattress whooshed into flames, and fell over on Frances.  This was all witnessed from inside the house by her daughter-in-law, my mom's mother, Martha Petroski Gross.

Jan and Franciszka's remaining sons, Julian and Bill (William, or Wladyslaw), married and continued the family's life in the Sears No. 110.  Bill first married a young woman from Salem, Bertha Luzienski, and they had a daughter, whom they named Hildegarde (Hilda).  Shortly after Hilda's birth, Bertha died, however.  Bill then re-married, marrying Julia Petroski, the sister of his brother Julian's wife, Martha (my mom's parents were Julian and Martha).... so the two Gross brothers, married two Petroski sisters.  In short time, Bill and Julia decided to move on to live at their own house, having some children of their own, but Hilda (my mom's cherished cousin) more-or-less stayed on to live with my mom's family, at the Sears house at 96 Hockanum.

That left Julian Gross, and his wife, Martha Petroski Gross, to raise their family in the Sears No. 110/Silverdale.  My mom, Helen, born in 1924, was their first child, and they raised, in total, five children in the family house.  My grandfather Julian died of an illness related to his profession of cattle butchering (which he ran out of the family house, where there was a special "meat market" in place, in the back of the house, as well as outer buildings devoted to the business), when my mom was a young teenager, sometime after the first flood.  

That left my courageous grandmother, Martha Petroski Gross -- herself from a family of Polish immigrants -- to "buck up" and take over the family butchering business, while raising five children on her own.  She also was forced by eminent domain laws to sell off a large portion of the family's lands in "the Meadows", for pennies on the dollar, to allow for preventive measures to be taken to help guard against future flooding of the area.  My grandmother was a no-nonsense woman, who loved her family, and simply had no choice but to carry on after losing her husband and much of their land.  She had loving brothers (uncles whom my mother adored) who stepped in to help as much as they could, as well.  I believe that her life was a far cry from what she expected it to be when she proudly graduated, with honors, from high school -- something really to be admired for a woman in the 19-teens.  Her father had emigrated from Poland, leaving his wife and first child (my mom's Uncle August) there, as he worked to get settled in America.  He first made his way to Wisconsin, and then his wife and son came from Poland to live with him there, where they continued their family.  My grandmother, then, was born in Wisconsin.  Eventually, the Petroski family moved to Leverett, Massachusetts, and had a farm there.  There is so much to tell about these strong, hard-working people! But I will shorten it to say that my mom, Helen, lovingly remembered spending Sundays at the Petroski family farm in Leverett.

My mom, Helen Gross, lived in the Sears house her whole life, until she left in 1953 to marry my father, and become Helen Gross Chabot.  The rest of her siblings married and moved out, but her youngest brother, Ed Gross, moved back into the Sears house, with his wife, Marion, in the 1950s. They lived there, raising four children (my cousins!), with my Grandmother Martha, until she finally moved to her own small apartment probably in her 70s or 80s.  Gram continued to work even then, being a companion and helper to a somewhat wealthy elderly woman in town... who was actually younger than she was!  Gram (Martha Petroski Gross) lived to the age of 102, actually close to 103. 

Throughout the years, Uncle Ed (everyone called him Edge, actually) worked as a carpenter, and made many of the changes to the house, himself, and also served on the Northampton town council, and even ran for mayor of Northampton, at one point. When he passed away in 2015, I would say that most of the town knew who he was, and came to pay their respects to the family. The Gross family has been in Northampton for generations, now.

So, the family home stands, now, with Gross family members still living there.  My wonderful Aunt Marion -- who will tell you with a laugh that she just married into this Gross family, and never even was consulted about whether or not she wanted to live in the Gross family house... my uncle having just announced one day that he was moving the family back into the house! -- still lives there, with her son, Peter.  Pete has two children with busy lives away from the house, and my cousins Ed Jr., Martha, and Sara, all keep the family going with their busy lives, children, grand-children, and now great-grand-children.  All still in and out of the Sears No. 110 / Silverdale on Hockanum Road.  I, myself, was just there last week!

Here are a number of images that illustrate the early part of the story of the Gross family, and their life in the family Sears house:



My maternal great-grandparents, Jan and Franciszka, purchased and built the Sears #110 in 1911.

My mom's mother, Martha Petroski, before she married Julian Gross.


Another wonderful family photo (thanks, Martha M.!), circa 1959, showing the back of the house, pre- enclosure of the back porch, and pre-2nd-floor addition above the back porch.
Three women of the four generations of strong women 
who have lived in the Gross Homestead
Here is a great family photo from 1992 in the yard of the Sears No. 110/Silverdale: from left, my grandmother, Martha Petroski Gross (daughter-in-law of the original owners/builders of the house), who raised her family here; her daughter, my mom, Helen Gross Chabot, who grew up in the house; and her daughter-in-law, my Aunt Marion Pritchard Gross (who married Ed Gross), who raised her family here and still lives in the house today.
Left to Right: Martha Petroski Gross, Helen Gross Chabot, Marion Pritchard Gross


The Gordon Van Tine #167:
a Silverdale / #110 Lookalike
Browsing through the Gordon Van Tine (GVT) 1916 catalogue on archive.org one day recently, I came across a Silverdale lookalike! The GVT model is called the #167, and is almost an exact duplicate in floor plan and design, of the Sears #110/Silverdale. There are two noticeable differences: 


• A spot on the left side of the house, where there is a small window (on the GVT model) looking into the front vestibule of the house, where there is a full-size window on the Sears model. 

• The front porch roof is a 3-part roof on the GVT model, but a 4-part roof on the Sears model (this also alters the placement of the entryway onto the porch).



I had read a blog post by Rose Thornton (noted researcher of Sears Homes and Wardway Homes, and author of several books and websites on these subjects) in the past, about a house she identified as a Silverdale, in Hettick, IL.  When I came across this GVT #167, and compared its image to the one Rose posted on her blog, I noticed that the Hettick, IL house she was showing, had the two characteristics that would distinguish it as a GVT, instead of as a Sears Silverdale.  

I left a comment on her blog, bringing this to her attention, and she graciously replied that she felt that the house in Hettick is most probably a GVT #167, and not a Silverdale.  To read Rose’s blog post on the Hettick, IL house, clickhere. To see the GVT 1916 catalogue page showing the #167, clickhere. (To read a newer blog post [March 2015] about ANOTHER company's Silverdale/110 lookalike, click HERE.)
gordon van tine 167 hettick illinois
 
On the Sears #110 / Silverdale, you see the four-part porch roof.  Even though the placement of the steps and opening to enter the porch was moved to the left side of the porch (during original construction), the roof still has that four-part  construction.