Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A. M. Schiller's Testimonial Hawthorne

Authenticated Sears Hawthorne model • 4708 West Shore Drive, McHenry, Illinois
This is the missing house that everyone had heard of, but no one could find*, and now, suddenly, everyone knows where it is. 

Well, okay, not everyone. Just we Sears house researchers. And, a pretty savvy new owner, who researched her house to find out that she probably had a Sears Hawthorne. But... what she didn't know, is that it's a kind of famous Sears Hawthorne. It's a testimonial house, meaning that its original owner wrote in to Sears, with a photo, and a little blurb, telling how pleased he was with the quality and cost and final product. Here is August M. Schiller's letter to Sears:

This note appeared on the catalog page in 1913, with the Hawthorne.
And, here's that whole page, the first year that the Hawthorne was offered by Sears, in the 1913 catalog:
At first, before homes were given names, the Hawthorne was marketed as Modern Home No. 201.
The problem with showing this house in a blog post, is that it doesn't look much like the catalog image anymore... and, I don't have "the money shot"... the view from the front, left side, as shown in the catalog image above (Tami? next time you're at the house, can you get that for me? LOL). As you can see, the front porch roof has been removed, no doubt so that they could add that big dormer for the front upstairs room.  And, they've enclosed the porches, front and back.  

Nonetheless, we do know that it is THE August M. Schiller house. How? Take a look at this stone, that the owners found on the property:
One of the many photos shared with me by the current owner, Tami M. The house is beautifully situated on McCullum Lake.
Up until now, it was thought that this house was either gone, buried someplace so rural that we couldn't see it from the street, or altered beyond recognition as a Hawthorne. I understand that local historical societies had tried to help find it, too, to no avail. *The best that I had heard of, was a possible location ID made by an aerial search using Bing maps... but, that only vaguely identified a bungalow of similar proportions, and surely didn't provide a for-certain address (but it was good work, Rachel).... and, of course, it did not in any way tie that property to August M. Schiller. All we could all find for Mr. Schiller was that he was listed on the 1920 census as living on a farm in McHenry:
August M. Schiller was 62 in 1920, unmarried, a farmer, and had a housekeeper and a laborer living with him.
I found out about this house, because Tami contacted a couple of us, after seeing my comments on the Washington Post story and video about Sears homes (she contacted me, and researcher Lara Solonickne, who writes the Sears Homes of Chicagoland blog). The Washington Post video is a great little video, and in it, was interviewed the highly respected Architectural Historian, Rebecca L. Hunter. One of Dr. Hunter's books involving kit houses, is a 2004 publication called, Putting Sears Homes On The Map: A Compilation of Testimonials Published in Sears Modern Homes Catalogs 1908-1940 .  In this book, Hunter mentions August M. Schiller's Hawthorne on more than one page:

Page 26 of Putting Sears Homes On The Map

Page 27 of Putting Sears Homes On The Map

Here's the mention of the house on the Houses By Mail page (p. 246) for the Hawthorne.

Hunter's book, available here.
So, as I was messaging last night with Tami, the new owner, asking questions about the location of this, and the look of that, I quickly came to realize that this was not just A Sears Hawthorne, but the McHenry, Illinois testimonial Hawthorne.  To get more views of it, I looked up the address Tami gave me, on Zillow. VoilĂ ! Plenty of interior and exterior photos. Here are some of the real estate listing's photos. The last owners had put down wall-to-wall carpet over all of the original hardwood floors, as you can see.

Very spacious dining room, with that giant bay window.

French doors leading to the living room.

The staircase that leads upstairs.
The Hawthorne was a taller version of the Sears Avondale, with upstairs bedrooms.

I was pointing out a spot that, on the catalog image, has a small window.
On what we THINK is the actual photo sent by A. M. Schiller to Sears, there is a small window there, as expected. But, on the house as it stands today,  there is just one double side-by-side window there, of a kind  of old-fashioned style. The owner feels that the window is old enough, that it is probably original.  It's not that important, but, if the photo on the 1914 brochure, with Mr. Schiller's testimonial, is actually the house, then the original small window was removed.

The now-enclosed front porch.
Avondale or Hawthorne?
Let me give you a better idea of what the Hawthorne is supposed to look like, and how it compares to the very similar model, the Avondale. The Hawthorne is just pretty much the exact same house as the Avondale, but with an extra couple of feet of height built on, and a dormer added on the side, to make more room for upstairs bedrooms. Here are the two models, as shown in the catalogs:

The Avondale was the earlier model, offered starting in 1911, according to Houses By Mail. The very first time that the Hawthorne appeared in the catalogs was 1913... and it appeared right away with the letter from August M. Schiller, praising the quality, the service, and the fit of the model. So... how could Mr. Schiller have had the Hawthorne model already, before it was offered in a catalog? My supposition is this (and perhaps it has been the supposition of others, I don't know): I think it likely that Mr. Schiller approached Sears about buying the Avondale plan, but asked for customizations, to make it better able to accommodate upstairs bedrooms. As a result, the Sears architect created what became the Hawthorne, and Sears decided to just start marketing that model in the catalogs, as well. We know that Mr. Schiller's McCullum Lake stone is marked 1910, so he had the lot by 1910, and it probably wasn't long after that, that he ordered his house from Sears. So, I think that August M. Schiller's Hawthorne is actually the very first Hawthorne. Given the timing, this is the only idea that  makes sense.

So, we don't know the exact year that Mr. Schiller's house was built. We know it was in time to have his testimonial put into the 1913 catalog. But, that stone on the grounds is from 1910, so we know that he owned the land in 1910. There aren't any town records that show a building permit (I don't think), so it's hard to date this house exactly.

But...let's take a look at the shipping label that Tami and Dave found on a board in their house. This kind of label was stuck to the back of trim pieces, usually (like window trim, for example). The look changed a little over the years, for a variety of reasons, but the one in the McHenry testimonial house is the very oldest style. You see a reference, on the side, to "925 Hobart St."... that was the address of the Sears offices in Chicago. To the right of that, you see an order number, an invoice number, and the name of the person buying the house kit:
Schiller house shipping label

Now... my family's Sears model No. 110 (later called the Silverdale) was built in 1911. We also found a shipping label on the back of window trim. It, too, is of that very oldest style.
1911 Sears shipping label from our family's house in Massachusetts
 Here it is, next to the Schiller house's shipping label. Look at the Order Number. The Schiller house order number is 11872.  My family's order number is 19267. If those order numbers were given in sequential order, along the way from the start of ordering, then it would mean that the Schiller house was built before my family's 1911 house. So, this MAY show that the house was built before, or during, 1911. I can't say that for sure, but, again, it makes sense:

On the left, the No. 110's shipping label, from 1911 • On the right, the Schiller house shipping label, with an order number lower than the 1911 label.
Here Is The Hawthorne

Here are two other Hawthornes that we know of:
Probable Hawthorne in Highland Park, Michigan (thanks to Nigel Tate for locating this one for us).

And, another in Detroit. 
Here are closeups of the sides of our McHenry Hawthorne. These are all private photos given to me by the new owners, and may not be copied or used elsewhere without permission, and a link to this blog post.

The big dining room bumpout, and the side dormer.

The additional dormer on the other side, and windows for bedrooms and bath.

The back (which is actually the part of the house that faces the street,
because the front of the house faces the lake).
The porch has been enclosed, and there is a bump out bay window on the bedroom there. That is not shown on the catalog floor plan, but it is there, also, on the Pittsburgh Avondale on Third Street. Notice the extension in height here, under those super deep eaves.

Again, deep eaves, and the height extension given to the Hawthorne.

Enclosed back porch, deep eaves, extra height, and the dining room bay window bump out.
Oh! And the coordinated garage, no doubt from Sears.
And, the front of the house, with the front bay window of the front bedroom,
and the enclosed front porch, with the added wide front dormer.
The Origins Of The Avondale
According to Rosemary Thornton, in a blog post written in May of 2013, the Avondale began its life as a display bungalow built for the 1909 Illinois State Fair in Springfield, Illinois. These vintage postcards that she shows on the blog post, are from the fair, and show a Sears house fully furnished with furnishings from Sears.
What's interesting to me, is the wide open floor plan that we see in the photo of the interior. Especially because..... well, look at what the McHenry Hawthorne looks like at the moment... this is the same area of the house:
Looking from the dining room into the living room...
you can see the start of the staircase, to the left. Now, these are the original Sears joists, and they will remain. They are not tearing down the wall.

Here's the view from the living room into the dining room and kitchen. Only the kitchen wall is actually removed, making a place for a big island there, looking out into the dining room space. Again, this wall between the dining room and living room will be left in place, presumably still with the French double doors.

Looking from the space of the new island, sitting in the spot where the kitchen wall was.
Now, I know that this will just destroy the hearts of some "purists". But, listen. The house needed modern insulation. It needed new wiring. It needed new plumbing. And... frankly... have you ever had plaster walls? They are a big pain. The crack easily, they chip easily, and they aren't easily repaired if those things happen. And you can't hang anything on them, because you can't very successfully drill and screw into them. So, don't begrudge the new owners the drywall that they'll be putting up. The original Sears joists and rafters are still in place. The original Sears hardwood flooring has been once again revealed, and will be refinished to new beauty. The original Sears staircase is still in place. I assume that the original floor moulding and crown moulding will be replaced, as well. (And, remember... Sears didn't supply plaster for the kits, so it's not Sears plaster that was removed. Ha!)

And... I know that some of you will absolutely hate that the old kitchen cabinets were removed, and the new kitchen will open to the dining room. Well, I'm not with you on that. I look at it this way (and no offense meant to men, in general): the Sears architects were men. Men didn't do the cooking. They didn't know how dreary it is to be locked away in a hot kitchen, while everyone else is gathering in the living room, or watching the news, or watching something interesting on TV. They didn't know what a good layout was for working in a kitchen. Anyone who has a nice island in the middle of their workspace, knows how incredibly helpful that space, in that place, is. I have an open space looking out from my beautiful kitchen, with its (new) solid, natural cherry cabinets and beautiful granite, and I love love love it... because, when I am prepping a meal, I can enjoy the nightly news, instead of staring at a darn wall. And, while I'm cleaning up after dinner,  I can also enjoy tv shows that others are enjoying (while they are NOT toiling in the kitchen). And, there is space for my family and guests to sit OUTSIDE of my work space (because I hate to have people in my way when I'm working in the kitchen) to share their company with me while I prepare our meal. I love an open floor plan, and I love a beautiful, open kitchen. And, so, the new owners of the August M. Schiller Hawthorne should be able to enjoy theirs.

Well, we know for sure that the newels are Sears newels, but they don't quite match what was offered in the 1912 building materials catalog.
A view into the upstairs.
I want to thank Tami and Dave, the new owners, for contacting me, and sharing so many great photos with me. I hope they will share photos when the interior is all finished -- I'll be sure to write a new blog post to show off the new look of the famous August M. Schiller testimonial Hawthorne, in McHenry, Illinois.

I'll leave you with this beautiful view... this is what August Schiller got to see every night, looking out from his Sears Hawthorne.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Sears Elmhurst in Sewickley, Pennsylvania

front facade of Sears Elmhurst 412 Edgeworth Lane Sewickley PA
Probable Sears Elmhurst • 412 Edgeworth Lane, Edgeworth, Pennsylvania (Google streetview image)
Yes, we've found another Sears Elmhurst 

Thanks to a reader of our recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, by Stephanie Rittenbaugh, with photographer Stephanie Strasburg, I learned of one new Sears house in Sewickley, and then checked out a tip to look in this neighborhood of Edgeworth, where I discovered this fabulous Elmhurst, on Edgeworth Lane. This suburb of Pittsburgh is called Sewickley, but the neighborhood is known, more specifically, as Edgeworth. 

sears elmhurst in 1929 catalog
Here is the Elmhurst, as it appeared in the 1929 special brick supplement of the Sears Modern Homes catalog.
(Image courtesy of our friend at Antique Home / Daily Bungalow).
The Elmhurst was first offered in that 1929 brick supplement, and continued to appear in the catalogs until at least some of the 1933 editions.  

A key element to look for when identifying the Elmhurst, is the set of three pointy dormers along the roof line of the left side elevation of the house. Through the trees in this neighborhood, you can just make out the dormers:
3 side dormers of Sears Elmhurst 412 Edgeworth Lane Sewickley PA
Left side elevation of the Elmhurst at 412 Edgeworth Lane.

In the 1929 brick supplement, Sears lists all of the supplies that would come with the kit-- but, they make a point of reminding buyers that they did not ship plaster, cement, stucco, or brick. Those were to be obtained locally, and I understand, that Sears would arrange that for you with a local supplier.

1929 catalog listing Sears Elmhurst specs listing
From the 1929 brick supplement catalog, about the Elmhurst
The standard choice for door hardware for the Elmhurst, was the LaTosca design, but I have seen an Elmhurst in Secane, Pennsylvania, that looked to have the Narcissus design hardware. Our house here in Edgeworth might have either of these two Sears door hardware choices.
Sears Narcissus door handle from 1930 Building supplies catalog
The Narcissus design door hardware on a house in the DC area,
thanks to DC Realtor, Catarina Bannier.

Sears LaTosca door hardware from 1930 building supplies catalog
The La Tosca design, as seen on a 1930 Sears Gladstone in Pennsylvania,
and in the 1930 Sears Building Supplies catalog.
Our Edgeworth Elmhurst has the customized feature of a tuck-under driveway, which required that the right-side elevation of the house be extended to cover that area:
right side elevation showing tuck-under garage of Sears Elmhurst 412 Edgeworth Lane Sewickley PA
The Edgeworth Lane Elmhurst sits at the corner of Edgeworth Lane and Nichols Place. This side of the house is visible from Nichols Place.
Who Lived Here?
I'm not 100% sure who first lived in this house on Edgeworth Lane... in part because I'm not certain of when it was built. The Allegheny County assessor's real estate records give a 1930 build date. While that's possible, I have to say, once again, that Pittsburgh area build dates almost all seem to end in a 0 or a 5... and have often been found to be wildly wrong. We think that they are mostly all just guestimates. So, since I did not see this house address on the Edgeworth Lane section of the U.S. Census for Sewickley, and I didn't find a mention of any owners until about 1935, I'm thinking that it may have been built as late as 1934 or 1935, by Robert H. Denehey, and his wife, Alma Wahl Denehey.  We know that they lived here in 1935 (thanks to the Pittsburgh City Directory of that year), and that they moved to the Pittsburgh area in 1934 (thanks to a Harrisburg Telegraph newspaper article in June of that year) and that Robert was a Publicity agent for the Pennsylvania Railroad. They had moved to Sewickley from the Philadelphia area, with their daughter, Mary Alma Denehey.
Robert Herr Denehey - early owner of Sears Elmhurst 412 Edgeworth Lane Sewickley PA
Robert Herr Denehey, from a family photo published on Ancestry.com
by Allison Sidel.

Rober Herr Denehey transferred to Pittsburgh
Newspapers.com source
The Deneheys married in November of 1916, and, in 1917, the Harrisburg Telegraph announced the birth of their daughter, Mary Alma Denehey.
Mary Alma Denehey birth annoucement Harrisburg Telegraph 1917
Harrisburg Telegraph, November 3, 1917, page 4
In September of 1936, the Pittsburgh Press posted this about Mary Alma Denehey, saying that she was graduated from the Winchester(-Thurston) school, and then, later in the year, posted that Mary Alma was headed to Briarcliff Junior College, in Briarcliffe, New York.  Mary later married, and became Mary Alma Denehey Comer.
Mary Alma Denehey graduation annoucement Pittsburgh Press 1936

Mary Alma Denehey Briarcliffe annoucement Pittsburgh Press 1937
Unfortunately, a family tragedy hit on the night of Mary Alma's graduation in June. Her grandfather, William R. Denehey, who was in town with his wife for their grand-daughter's graduation, suffered a fatal heart attack in the Denehey home on Edgeworth Lane. The others had gone out for a drive, and, upon their return, found the elderly Denehey unresponsive on the floor of the living room.
death of William R. Denehey in Harrisburg Telegraph June 1936
Other Sewickley Sears Houses
One house usually leads to another: so far, we've found, in Sewickley, a probable Crescent, Glen Falls, Newark, Puritan, Vallonia, Sherwood, and Stratford (the brick Mitchell ).

Other Elmhurst Examples
We've found, now, about 19 Elmhurst examples. 

You can check out the list of all that we've found (with links to see many of them), on this blog post at Kit House Hunters, by researcher Andrew Mutch.