Monday, November 23, 2015

Sears Ashmore: A Catalog Testimonial House in Cleveland, Ohio

james j humpal testimonial ashmore cleveland ohio
3064 Corydon Road, Cleveland, Ohio • Sears Ashmore • 1920
Testimonial house of James J. Humpal
In the 1924 Sears Modern Homes catalog, there is a testimonial by James J. Humpal, reporting back to Sears to let them know how much he loves his newly-built Ashmore. Here it is:

The testimonial, as it appeared in the 1924 catalog.
Using, and Google maps street view, I was able to find James J. Humpal, and then his house, pretty quickly.  According to a check on Trulia, I found that he had built his house in 1920.

Do you see the big white house to the right of the Humpals' Ashmore? That big house is still there today! Here it is in a current Google Maps Street view shot:
sears ashmore
There's that big white four-square house, right next door! The same one that you see in the testimonial photo.
According to the 1921 City Directory for Cleveland, James J. Humpal was a carpenter, who lived here in the Ashmore on Corydon Road, with his wife, Stella.
1921 city directory for Cleveland, Ohio
According to the price in the 1920 catalog, they would have paid over $4,500, just for the kit, not counting labor, and extras, such as the heating system, electrical wiring, and bathroom fixtures.  It looks like WWI took its toll on the housing market: only two years earlier, in 1918, the Ashmore was offered -- not Ready Cut, however -- for a full two thousand dollars less, and then, two years after the Humpals built their Ashmore, it was available, in 1922, as an "Already Cut" and fitted kit, for just over $3,600 -- almost a thousand dollars less than they paid in 1920.

The Ashmore in the 1920 catalog.
The Ashmore two years earlier, in the 1918 catalog--
Not Ready Cut.
The Ashmore two years later, in the 1922 catalog.
The Ashmore is an impressive bungalow, and the catalog images always like to show off its very interesting side view:

1920 Catalog image of the Sears Ashmore
(click to enlarge)
I love the look of this house, and wish that the Humpal Ashmore didn't have a house to the left of it, so that we could get a good look at it, but... no... there's a tree in the way. The testimonial photo gives us a nice look, though:
Testimonial photo of James J. Humpal's Ashmore
The same Ashmore, as it looks today.
Everyone who blogs about the beautiful Sears Ashmore, always includes the great interior drawings shown in the catalog--why should I be different, eh?

sears ashmore rooms
Sears Ashmore interiors, as shown in one of the early catalogs.
And, the floor plan, while we're at it:
Sears Ashmore floor plan, from my 1924 catalog.
Do You Know Of An Ashmore?
We have a number of Ashmores on our National Database of Sears Homes, but I've read that there is one in north west Pennsylvania, and one in New Berlin, Illinois.  I'd love to know where! Feel free to leave me a comment if you know of the location of these two Ashmores, or any others.

Here's an authenticated beauty in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:
9760 East Road, Pttsburgh, Pennsylvania • 1916 Sears Ashmore
In the mean time, if you're interested in seeing more Ashmores, try:

This August 2015 post on Sears Houses in Ohio, by Cindy Catanzaro
This August 2015 post on Kit House Hunters, by Andrew Mutch

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Blogs About Sears Homes and Other Kit Homes

sears houses in cincinnati
A beautiful, authenticated Sears Osborn, as shown in a post on the tribute blog, Sears Houses in Cincinnati
I love reading about, and researching, Sears kit houses. If you do, too, you might be interested in a few of the blogs I turn to regularly for well-presented and thoughtfully-researched information, along with wonderful photos of Sears houses, and homes by other kit companies and plan-book companies of the 19-teens through 1930s.

radford gordon van tine wardway sears modern homes lewis sterling

Along the way in my own readings and research, I learned that several other kit-house companies existed, too (some larger than Sears, and older), and some of the bloggers I read include excellent information about homes by those companies, too: among them Aladdin, Gordon-Van Tine, Wardway (by Montgomery Ward), Harris Brothers (and their earlier name, Chicago House Wrecking Company), Lewis (later Lewis-Liberty), Sterling, and Bennett Homes.  All of these companies sold houses through catalogs, selling house blueprints, and bundling them up with all of the needed pre-cut-and-labeled lumber, screws and nuts and bolts, windows and doors, framing wood and millwork, staircases and built-ins, and even paint, stain, flooring, shingles, light fixtures, bathtubs, sinks, faucets, and heating systems.

Other companies sold only the blueprints, requiring you to turn to your local lumber yard for all of the needed supplies. We call these, Plan Book companies, and their house plans were usually compiled in books available at local lumber yards (who were all in deep competition with the mail-order kit-house companies). Some of the big names you might read about are: Radford, C. L. Bowes, Standard Homes, and Home Builders Catalog. There are others, too.

Here's a list of a few blogs you might enjoy, given in no particular oder. They're all informative and well-done. They're not updated daily, because research takes time, but each post is worth the wait:

1. Sears Houses in Cincinnati
laraine shape blog
This blog is a tribute blog, re-creating the blog posts of Laraine Shape, a Cincinnati Realtor and Sears House enthusiast, who passed away in January of 2015.  Her good friend, Cindy Catanzaro (of Sears Houses in Ohio), collected all of the words and photos of Laraine's original blog, and is, little by little, re-publishing her posts.  Cincinnati is, as Cindy has said, like Disneyland for Sears House enthusiasts, because there are hundreds (and hundreds?) of Sears houses there, thanks to the existence there of a company called Norwood Sash & Door, which was headquartered in Cincinnati.  Sears bought the company, and used them for the fabrication of its millwork, doors, and windows. The image at the top of today's blog post, is of a beautiful, authenticated Sears Osborn, and comes from the November 14, 2015 blog post.  Since Laraine was a realtor, many of the posts she wrote included lots of great interior photos, which is rare.
Click here to read the informative post about that Osborn
Click here to get to the home page of Sears Houses in Cincinnati

2. Sears Homes of Chicagoland
Whenever I needed information and photos of houses, I found myself turning to this blog all of the time, before I even knew its author, researcher Lara Solonickne.  Lara began this blog several years ago, when she realized that there was a real dearth of information available to show Sears Homes in the greater Chicago area... another area of the country that is rife with Sears homes, because Sears was headquartered in Chicago. While the blog focuses on Sears homes in the Chicago area, Lara also occasionally includes Wardway or Gordon-Van Tine homes, or the occasional Harris or Home Builders plan-book home.  Her blog is informative, well-researched, and often includes some history about the original owners of the homes.  As Lara is an avid researcher, she also sometimes includes posts that provide background information on how Sears developed its Modern Homes division. Lara is responsible for beginning the National Database of Sears Homes.
Click here to go to the home page of Sears Homes of Chicagoland (

3.  Sears Houses In Ohio
blog on sears houses
Researcher and Sears house expert, Cindy Catanzaro, is based in Springfield, Ohio.  She became interested in Sears homes when she realized that she owned one, a Sears Jeanette model.  Since then, she has become a leading authority on Sears homes, and leads tours of Sears homes in Springfield, Ohio.  Her blog includes homes found throughout her state, and touches on research methods and other historic background on the houses she includes. A number of the homes that Cindy writes about, have been located and authenticated through meticulous research of mortgage records using Ohio's excellent on-line tax assessor and auditor resources.  But, she also has a great eye for spotting Sears models, as well as homes from other companies.  Cindy is also the administrator behind the Facebook page, Sears Modern Homes, where you can see images of Sears homes, learn about the background of kit homes, and ask questions.
Click here to read Sears Houses in Ohio
Click here to go to the Facebook page, Sears Modern Homes

4.  Kit House Hunters
andrew and wendy mutch novi michigan
Researchers and kit-house enthusiasts Andrew and Wendy Mutch live in Michigan, in a wonderful 1926 Sears Hamilton model.  Who knew there were so many kit houses in Michigan!? I didn't, but I've learned about tons of them, thanks to Andrew's input in our research-oriented Facebook group -- we've only seen the tip of the iceberg in the blog posts so far! Besides showing homes, Andrew's posts frequently highlight research that he has done authenticating Sears homes and Wardway homes, especially, and providing research-backed information on the development of kit-house companies in the U.S.  Andrew has located hundreds of houses in communities in Michigan, New York State, and elsewhere, through top-notch research of mortgages and historic publications.  He and Wendy are both information professionals, and they share their research via the blog, but also through presentations in local communities in Michigan.  If you have the opportunity to attend one of their presentations, don't miss it!  Andrew is also a co-administrator of the Facebook page, Sears Modern Homes.
Click here to read Kit House Hunters

Other Resources
If your blog reading has given you a taste for further research on your own, I've provided a list of a few great resources in the side column on the right of my blog (Don't miss Daily Bungalow's albums on Flickr, the resources found at Antique Home, and online original catalogs you can find via this link.) Happy hunting! This is an enjoyable hobby, but also an important bit of research into an unusual phenomenon in American History.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Sears Homes in New Bern, NC: Sears Milton, No. 178, Saratoga, and Roanoke

sears houses new bern nc

Lara Solonickne writes the blog Sears Homes of Chicagoland.  She is passionate about finding and documenting Sears kit homes, and is a dogged researcher of everything related to the history of how this phenomenon developed in our country.

While researching recently, Lara found a document that led her to a listing of historic homes in New Bern, North Carolina, including these two gorgeous, early-model Sears homes, that are very rare finds: a Milton, and its fraternal twin, the No. 178.  The document was an application for inclusion of New Bern's Ghent Historic District, on the National Register of Historic Places.  Along with these two homes, three other possible Sears homes are cited in the document: a Saratoga, a Roanoke, and a Maywood.  Because Lara limits her blog to the documenting of Sears homes in the Chicago area, I was happy to oblige by writing up these wonderful finds in New Bern, North Carolina, here on Sears House Seeker.

Let's take a look:

The Milton (No. 264P210)

sears 264p210 1914

sears milton 264p210 1914 sears modern homes catalog
From my 1914 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The Milton was originally known by its number: 264P210
The Milton was offered in the 1914 catalog with another model that shared its floor plan: the No. 178.  For the same price, you could get either home -- same floor plan, different exterior look.  These homes, by the way, were before the pre-cut, cut-to-fit kits. The buyer received the plans and all of the necessary lumber, in standard lengths, and still had to cut the lumber to fit.

sears model milton and 178
From the same page of my 1914 catalog: Modern Home No. 178, sold for the same price as the Milton.
sears 1914 homes catalog milton and no 178

Both homes are the same, with the same room layout and window layout, but the front dormer and column options are different.
Click to enlarge.
A side view of the Milton in New Bern:
Click to enlarge. All house photos courtesy of Google maps.
According to the application for consideration of this house for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, this home was ordered by Charles P. Bartling, who was the first white barber of New Bern (p. 46).

The Sears No. 178

Just across the street from the Sears Milton, is this beautiful No. 178.  It was bought in 1918 by Frank G. Godfroy, superintendent of the New Bern Water and Light Department, from the Ghent Land Company (p. 33).  According to the application cited previously, it has been converted into a duplex, with two separate entrances, and an additional one-story wing was added in the back. (p. 34)
Closeup of the top of the front porch roof supports. 
sears house new bern nc
You can see the one-story addition along the back, and the unusual jutting-out gable
across the top of the side of the house, a design element shared by the Milton,
and found on both sides of this house, and the Milton.
sears house new bern nc
Notice the rafter tails jutting out and supporting the side gable.
(Click to enlarge any photo.)
You can see that the double-floor bay windows are on the left side of this house.
The Milton across the street has the reverse of this floor plan.
sears house new bern nc

To read more about Sears model No. 178, you can click here to read a blog post I wrote about another No. 178, one that I found in Guthrie Center, Iowa.  There is another Sears Milton shown in that blog post, as well.

Sears Saratoga
On the same street as the Milton and the No. 178, sits another rare and beautiful model, a Saratoga:

sears modern homes catalog saratoga
1402 Spencer Avenue, New Bern, North Carolina • Probable Sears Saratoga • c. 1913
It's always important to make the point that any house that does not have accompanying blueprints, or marked lumber, or purchase documents, is not an authenticated Sears house.  This house at 1402 Spencer Avenue fits all of the visual cues to be a Sears Saratoga, but there may be a "lookalike" model by another company out there, and so we can't say with 100% certainty that this home was bought from Sears. In any case, given the build year of circa 1913, this house would have pre-dated the sale of cut-to-fit kits, and so would not have any marked lumber. However, it might have shipping labels behind some of the trim pieces. The Saratoga was one of the earliest models of Sears homes, offered in the very first Modern Homes catalog, in 1908.

If you look at the catalog view below, and note the placement of windows and "bump-out" sections on the floor plan, you'll see that this home at 1402 Spencer must be a reverse of the standard floor plan:

sears modern homes catalog 1914 saratoga
Here, you can see the bay window that is actually on the opposite side of the New Bern Saratoga.
(From my 1914 catalog.)
You'll notice that the wraparound porch extends around to the right side of the New Bern house,
and you'll see the dining room bump-out just behind the end of the porch.
sears house in new bern nc
There is the dining room bump-out, with its four long windows,
and the edge of the wraparound porch, just next to it.
Here's a bit of information on the early owners of this house, as well as a few comments about some likenesses and differences between this house, and the catalog model view:
national register of historic places application new bern nc
From pages 27- 28 of the  NRHP application. Click to enlarge.
This beautiful home was sold in October of 2015, and so interior photos are available, thanks to this listing on ZillowThanks to an avid reader of my blog, for pointing out the listing ;) The photos show that the house is just a wonderful match for the floor plan of the Saratoga --more evidence that this unauthenticated house is quite probably a Sears Saratoga. Let's take a look. (Keep in mind that the Spencer Avenue house follows the reverse floor plan of the Saratoga, so, I've flipped the floor plan drawing in each photo. ) Click to enlarge any photo :
sears saratoga entry hall
Note the wall to the right of the staircase. In the pattern-book lookalike
version of this model, that wall is not there. Instead of an entry hall area,
the whole living room spans the front of the house, and includes
this entry area as one big, open space.  
Pattern-book lookalike to the Saratoga.
sears saratoga
And, look at that! A Sears Newel
straight out of the 1912 catalog of building supplies!
sears saratoga kitchen
sears saratoga dining room
sears saratoga
Throughout the home, you can see numerous examples of
the budding Craftsman style, which was rather new in 1913,
but was offered in the 1912 Sears building materials catalog.
sears saratoga
And, again, the lovely Craftsman door surround from Sears.
sears saratoga
And the simple elegance of the Craftsman window surround.
sears saratoga living room

And look at that gorgeous fireplace surround, and that rich, thick crown moulding. That's surely not an original Sears, run of the mill fireplace surround. No doubt this was added sometime later in the over 100 years of life of this gorgeous home. Or, even possibly at the time of construction... perhaps the owners simply wanted something more colonial, and of more of an impact,  than the rather simple fireplace mantels more appropriate for a simpler area, such as, say, Oklahoma.
You can see from this image, that the owners of this home preferred
a less bulky, less "country" kind of porch look, and went, instead,
with the simpler, more elegant square porch column that Sears offered. 
sears saratoga front porch
Sears Roanoke
A few houses down from the Saratoga, sits a big home from the early 1920s: a probable Sears Roanoke model.

1410 spencer avenue new bern nc
1410 Spencer Avenue, New Bern, NC • c. 1922 • probable Sears Roanoke
If you compare this home to the catalog view, you'll see that the front porch columns are not the standard brick look of the catalog image, but I'm sure that changing them to wood must have been an option. You can see that the base of the porch columns is actually painted brick.  You'll also notice that the cute side porte-cochère has had its standard pergola-design roof changed to add a peaked gable roof. But, if you look closely at the center double windows above the front porch roof, you'll see that the catalog shows a space between those windows only about the size of the width of one of those windows.  The actual house at 1410 Spencer, shows a space twice that size. This is a concern for documenting this home, however, information at this link, from a realtor, states that this home was built from a Sears kit by his aunt and uncle. He gives the build year as sometime in the early 1930s, but the Roanoke was not offered much after 1922, and that is the build year given on the application for placement on the National Register of Historic Places (pages 27-28).

sears modern homes catalog 1922
The Roanoke as shown in my 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog.
I found this home on a 2013 Zillow listing-- take a look at the porch columns. The two center columns (which are not present on the catalog image, but which might have been necessary if the original buyers opted for a slightly wider, enlarged version) were not of the same style as the two outer columns, and look to have been updated since then... so those center columns are not original to the build year of the home.

sears roanoke for sale
Close up of the front elevation, as shown in this Zillow listing.
A few interior photos show placement of windows, fireplace, and rooms, that match the catalog floor plan:
Side entrance from porte-cochère, shown between the Dining Room and the Living Room.
Living Room's fireplace and side window fit.
Left side view. Are we missing a first-floor side window?
The upper windows fit the 2nd floor plan (not shown).
And, information from page 29 of the application, tells us that this home may have been ordered by a teller for the National Bank of New Bern, W. Herman Bland.

Sears Maywood ?
There is one house mentioned on the application, that gives us pause. It is right across the street from the possible Roanoke, sitting at 1401 Spencer Avenue.  The application states that this house is a possible Sears Maywood. And, on first, quick glance, it looks very similar. However, there is one major differing factor: the roof of the side dormers, that are such a characteristic element of the Maywood, and of its "lookalikes" (and there are many, by numerous plan book companies).

The Sears Maywood should have flat-roofed dormers. This house has a different style of roof over those dormers.  We see this other style on a Standard Homes model "lookalike" to the Maywood, and on an American Home Builder "lookalike" (American Home Builder was a product of the Radford company, another major plan book company).

1401 Spencer Avenue, New Bern, NC
Catalog depiction of the Sears Maywood.
Source for American Home Builder image:
November 1923 catalog on
We just can't say for certain about this house.  Was it possible to order that dormer from Sears, with a different porch roof? Not sure. Other dormers had options with similar changes. Who knows?

The Peter B. Sandbeck Book

Lara Solonickne points out, in a comment below, that it was author Peter B. Sandbeck, in his 1988 book, The Historic Architecture of New Bern and Craven County, North Carolina, who revealed these historic homes in New Bern, along with a large number of other kit homes.

sears saratoga in rolfe iowa
Read about this Rolfe, Iowa Sears Saratoga, in one of Lara's blog posts at Sears Homes of Chicagoland.