Friday, October 9, 2015

Vergennes Laundry and a Sears Croissant

A many-berries tartelette at Vergennes Laundry, in Vergennes, Vermont
This summer, my mom and I went back east for a visit, and for my niece's wedding in New Jersey. First stop: Vermont, where my sister and her husband have a (beautiful) home that they designed (they're architects), that is in a peaceful, mountain setting, with lots of fresh air and all-around fabulousness. We love visiting.

We're kind of all foodies, and all lovers of architecture and history.  So, on one of the days, they drove us over to the lovely old town of Vergennes, Vermont, to re-visit this amazing French-style bakery/coffee house/lunch spot, called Vergennes Laundry.  We had the most incredibly flavorful (true tomato flavor) tomato salad, and I had a beet and goat cheese sandwich on a hearty, house-made rye bread slice that was just fantastic. For dessert, we all shared bites of the beautiful little tartelette you see up there.

This image from the Vergennes Laundry website shows you what we love about them: crusty bread, fresh butter, amazing jams, tasty tea and coffee, and a cool, authentic vibe. Here's their website. They're on Main Street, in Vergennes, Vermont.
Here's a view from the inside of Vergennes Laundry:
vergennes laundry looking out from inside
Love these old store fronts.
Of course, as we were driving into town, I spied one old house after another, but most were of an era that pre-dates Sears homes. And then:  bam! My eyes were hit with a beautiful Sears Crescent ! I thought. Right there on Main Street.  

51 Main Street, Vergennes, Vermont
My family indulged me with a stop to take several photos.  Everything looked so right!

Until I got home and started to compare the house with catalog images of the Sears Crescent.  My heart kind of sank.  Even though the Crescent has more than one size floor plan, this house just does not fit the window layout.  And... there are a few other details that just don't fit. Let's take a look.

Thanks to Andrew Mutch, of Kit House Hunters, for the image of this Ann Arbor house.
(Click to enlarge)
See those three-part windows in front? The Crescent does have 3-part windows... but, the outer two should be only about 2/3 the width of these.  And, see those boxy support structures that connect the front porch columns to the porch roof? That area should be almost twice as high.

Now, let's take a closer look at the beautiful porch roof:

What do you notice, there where the three arrows are pointing? The overall size and height of the Vergennes house's porch roof is a bit different.  See the little triangle shape at the top of the peak? On the authenticated Crescent, there are several inches of wood under the triangle shape.  On the Vergennes house, the curve follows along the exact bottom line of the triangle.  No wood below.  Continuing that thought: on the left and right upper parts of the curved area of the porch roof, there is a noticeably-wider amount of wood than what you see on the Vergennes house's porch roof.  The whole curve looks to be scooping out a larger area on the Vergennes house, than on the Ann Arbor house.

Now, you might think that this is a silly, splitting hairs kind of concern. But... if a house's components are pre-cut and shipped from Sears, those parts are going to be pretty much exactly the same proportions from house to house.  The fact that this one in Vergennes is noticeably different, means that this porch roof was maybe made by a local builder, or by a different company, that copied alllllmost exactly the Crescent's porch roof. In fact, the Vergennes house porch roof actually looks to be just a bit wider overall... because, look where the inner edge of the left cornice-return hits, in relation to the left sidelight around the door (and, by the way, that is not the Sears-design sidelight, though the doorway looks original to the era of the house):

(Click to enlarge)
Overall, it looks like the Vergennes house is just wider than the Ann Arbor house.  Unfortunately, there is no accessible real estate information for homes in Vergennes (that I could find), so I was not able to find a footprint measurement for the house at 51 Main Street.  But. what I do know, is that the two standard Crescent floor plans are both 34' wide... so any Crescent that you see, should have the same distribution of elements in the front of the house. The sides will show differences in window layout between the two floor plans, and the larger (in depth) floor plan (3259A), will have an extra room added onto the back right side of the house (making it 36' deep on that side, instead of 26' deep, which it is on the left side). The catalog image below shows that model floor plan.

Larger Floor plan (3259A), from my 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog, showing the extended section at the back right.
The Two Crescent Floor Plans
Here is the floor plan for that larger version of the Crescent. Notice the three first-floor windows on the right.

sears catalog crescent 3259a
Larger floor plan for the Crescent

The smaller version of the Crescent, Floor Plan 3258A, is only 24' deep on both sides, with no extension in the back. The layout of the rooms is different, too.  Look at the windows on the sides... they are different in number and in placement, from the larger floor plan.

sears crescent floorplan 3258a
Smaller floor plan for the Crescent

Since our Vergennes, Vermont house does not have an extension on the right side, we know it isn't the larger of the two Crescent floor plans. But, if you look at the side windows on both sides of the Vergennes house, it doesn't match the first-floor window layout of either Crescent floor plan.  On the left, there should either be two close-together single windows, in the back half of the house, or two single windows spaced very far from each other, one in the front half of the house, and one in the back half of the house. But, that's not the case with the Vergennes house:

This lone back window is placed correctly for the furthest-back side window of the larger Crescent floor plan, but there is no front window on that side.... and there should be.  That window would be much closer to the center of the side, if this were the smaller floor plan of the Crescent (and there would be an additional window right next to it).

On the right side, we should see three windows, and an extension in the back, if this were the larger of the floor plans (as we see in the 1930 catalog drawing of the Crescent,  a bit above). If this is the smaller version of the Crescent, we would have a single window in the back half, and it would be the kitchen... and, these shorter, smaller windows are more typical in kitchens, I think.  Maybe they could have upgraded to a double window there. But... the floor plan shows a side door here on this side, if that is the kitchen back there... and no window up there in the front half of the house:

sears crescent catalog 1930
Smaller floor plan: right side look

Those little short windows are usually in a kitchen, I would say. The smaller floor plan of the Crescent does have a kitchen back there, but shows a single window in that spot. 
Obviously, the Vergennes house has additional dormers, and a shed dormer across the back.  The Crescent did have a finished-second-floor option, and I'm sure you could have added dormers. But, too many other things are just wrong here.

We do know that Sears offered the possibility of enlarging the house a bit... but, would someone enlarge the house just, say, 8 inches? or 1 foot overall? I doubt it. And they could probably have asked for an additional window, or a double kitchen window... I guess... but, what about the side door? Who would want to get rid of a handy side door?

So, the bottom line is that this is probably not a Sears Crescent, after all. We've never seen an authenticated Crescent with the front elevation anomalies that we see on this house.  Some researchers may have mistakenly labeled a house that had these larger front windows, and the shorter boxy support areas of the front porch, as Crescents, because a drive-by "windshield survey" gave them that impression.  So, if you Google around, and find images, or blog posts, that include houses with these departures from the correct look of the Crescent, take a look to see whether or not they are labeled as authenticated Sears Crescents.  Remember, if no one has gone inside, and found marked lumber, or blueprints, or if the house has not been authenticated through mortgage records, you just can't know for sure that it is a Sears house.

If you're interested in seeing other lookalike models to the Crescent, by other kit and plan-book companies, take a look at this blog post of mine about a probable Sears Crescent (3258A) in Rock Hill, Missouri (in the Saint Louis area). I've included quite a few lookalikes there (and you'll notice that very few have the cornice-return porch roof that this one, and the Crescent, have). If you're interested in seeing more Sears catalog images, you'll find links to several years of catalogs in this blog post of mine.

Thanks to fellow researchers Andrew Mutch (Kit House Hunters) and Lara Solonickne (Sears Homes of Chicagoland), who shared thoughts and images with me as we dissected this cute house in Vergennes, Vermont. We may have ended up with a great croissant, but not, I think, a Crescent !

p.s. If you happen to know the owners of this lovely home on Main Street, please encourage them to contact me. I'd love to find out if they have authenticating materials to prove me wrong!

3 comments:

  1. I would never have noticed those details and would have jumped to conclusions. Really fascinating. Anyway, I love the style!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Clearly, I didn't notice those details (at first), either! LOL

      Delete

Your comment will appear after it has been previewed and approved by the blog author. Thanks for your interest!