Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Gordon-Van Tine Certificate For a No. 535 In Ooltewah, Tennessee

Authenticated Gordon-Van Tine No. 535 in Ooltewah, Tennessee
Authenticated Gordon-Van Tine No. 535 in Ooltewah, Tennessee
I don't have much to say about this house, except how excited I was to learn about it today, from its owner. The story behind her owning it, and the story about how it came to be built, are why I love learning about kit homes. As our newest researcher described it, our searching for these houses is like a big, non-stop treasure hunt. And, with a treasure hunt, even if you had nothing whatsoever to do with finding the treasure, when it appears in front of you, it's a special thing. 

The thing that we were treated to with this house, was that the owner, Rebecca, shared with us a certificate. A certificate from Gordon-Van Tine, signed by E. C. Roberts, the then president of Gordon-Van Tine, authenticating this house as a No. 535 model by his company. I've never seen a certificate like that from GVT (as we call the company) -- I don't know if any of us who love looking for these houses, has seen one before. But, it's pretty cool... and, here it is:
20 year guarantee certificate from Gordon-Van Tine company for Uriah Figgins' house in Ooltewah TN, signed by E. C. Roberts
Mr. Figgins' 20-year guarantee from Gordon-Van Tine
I guess the certificate is just a guarantee of quality... a publicity piece, in a way. I'm sure that they had no idea, that almost a hundred years later, there would be people who would look at this as an amazing find... but, there is always a great little thrill when you find authenticating documentation for a kit house. When we find a mortgage, or find shipping labels for a house that matches the catalog offerings, or see blueprints, or... come across something like a certificate that was awarded at the time of purchase, in 1925... the house we're looking at takes on a bit of a new dimension. There's no denying it's a kit. We aren't just making an educated guess. We aren't going to be proven to be mistaken. It's kind of like seeing your ancestor's immigration papers, signed by the Tzar of Russia... it's not like I didn't know my great grandfather came from Russia... it's not like I didn't know he sought citizenship here... it's not like I didn't know he was an immigrant... but, seeing the actual historic papers tying him to his history, like this little guarantee of quality, made a different kind of connection for me.

That signature at the bottom of the certificate, by the way, is "E. C. Roberts". E. C. Roberts was the president of Gordon-Van Tine in 1925, when this kit was ordered. And, E. C. Roberts was the reason that this very model was offered by GVT, because he lived in one himself, beginning in about 1909 or 1910. He must have hired an architect to design his house for him... and, then, in 1916, probably to recoup some of that cost, he decided to offer the plans for this same house, in the Gordon-Van Tine catalog of Ready-Cut homes. The model even graced the cover, and we've seen many examples of it around the country. I'll show a photo, below, of that original house (first marketed as the No. 560), and show how it appeared in the catalog, but if you'd like to read about E. C. Roberts and his house, you can find that blog post here.

Here is Mr. Roberts' house, as it stands today:
Home of E.C. Roberts Davenport Iowa, Gordon-Van Tine president, 918 E. Locust St
And here it is, as offered in the 1916 Gordon-Van Tine catalog:
GVT No. 536 GVT No. 560 shown inside 1916 Gordon-Van Tine catalog as home of president of Gordon-Van Tine Co

GVT No. 536 GVT No. 560 shown on cover of 1916 Gordon-Van Tine catalog
You can see the full catalog here, on Archive.org.
But, let's get back to Mr. U. F. Figgins and his house!

The U. F. of Mr. U. F. Figgins, stands for Uriah Frances... Figgins. And it was Mr. Uriah Frances Figgins who, at about the age of 78, ordered this house to be built, as a wedding gift for his new bride, Maude. Maude was considerably younger than Uriah, at 36, and was the postmaster of their town, Ooltewah, Tennessee (had been, since at least 1922). They married on June 30, 1925, and, the next year, had a daughter, whom they named Roberta. Roberta lost both of her parents at an early age... Uriah, her father, passed away when she was not quite a year old, and her mother passed away in 1938, leaving Roberta the lone heir, at age 11. Here is how it was all explained to me by Rebecca, the woman who now owns--and cherishes-- the lovely home in Ooltewah:

It was originally purchased by Uriah Figgins. He bought it as a wedding gift. He was 78 and his bride was 36. Uriah was a Civil War veteran. They had one daughter, Roberta, who lost her father at 11 months and her mother at 11 years old. Roberta's aunt raised her and the two of them lived in that home. Roberta was my grandmother's best friend and they lived next door to each other. Roberta never married or had children and she and I were very close. When she passed away she left the house to me because she knew how much I loved it.

I ran across Maude and Uriah's marriage certificate, from June 30, 1925:
marriage record Uriah Figgins and Maude Whittenburg Figgins

marriage record Uriah Figgins and Maude Whittenburg Figgins
closeup of the upper portion of Uriah and Maude's marriage certificate

Uriah had, of course, been married previously. For a man of 78 years of age, that would not be a surprise. He was married first to Sue Berg, in 1874:
marriage record Uriah Figgins and Susan Berg Figgins
1874 Marriage certificate of Uriah Figgins and his first wife, Sue Berg.
Uriah had several children with Sue, but she passed away in 1901. Uriah had been a widower for many years when he married Miss Fannie Maude Whittenburg... he must have been so pleased to be beginning a new chapter in his life-- and, so, wanted to mark it with a fine new home.

family tree of Uriah Francis Figgins and wife Maude Figgins and wife Susanna Berg Figgins
This excellent family tree resource was provided to me by Rebecca, the owner of Roberta, Maude, and Uriah's home.

Maude and Uriah's daughter, Roberta, lived in her parents' home, after their deaths, with her aunt, who was Belle Whittenburg, Maude's sister. Belle had already been living with them in the Gordon-Van Tine house, in 1930, along with Maude and Belle's brother, Charles Whittenburg. The 1930 U. S. census shows us the family all residing together in the house:
Fannie Maude Whittenburg Figgins and Roberta Figgins 1930 US census Ooltewah TN
Snippet from the 1930 U. S. Census. You can see that Maude (whose real name was Fannie Maude [Whittenburg] Figgins) was shown to be 40 years old, little Roberta was just three, and Belle, Maude's sister, was 43.
I ran across this listing showing F. Maude Whittenburg being appointed as U.S. Postmaster in Ooltewah, in 1922... with the notation, "Name changed by marriage to F. Maude Figgins,  ...1925", on Ancestry:

F. Maude Figgins as US Postmastr in Ooltewah TN
From Ancesty.com
And, here is the new family, sadly, without Maude, in 1940:
Roberta Figgins and Belle Whittenburg US Census 1940 Ooltewah TN
The 1940 U. S. Census for Ooltewah, Tennessee, showing that only Roberta Figgins, and her aunt, Belle Whittenburg, were left living in the house. Maude had passed away in 1938.
The Various Versions Of the Gordon-Van Tine No. 535
In 1925, when this home was built, there were two floor plans available for this house: the No. 535, and the No. 535B. We can tell by the arrangement of the staircase, that Maude and Uriah's house was the original floor plan, not the newer B version. The B version's staircase goes up straight from the first floor, but the original floor plan has a stair case that turns. Let's take a look:
Gordon-Van Tine No. 535
From the 1926 Gordon-Van Tine catalog.

Gordon-Van Tine No. 535
The original, No. 535, floor plan

Gordon-Van Tine No. 535 floor plan
The No. 535B floor plan, with its straight staircase.

Gordon-Van Tine No. 535
Up in the corner, we see a drawing showing the straight-line staircase of the B floor plan.
Gordon-Van Tine No. 535
Here, though, is the turned staircase of Uriah and Maude's No. 535 -- that's the original floor plan.

Gordon-Van Tine No. 535
You can see the turn a bit better in this shot.
(Look at that lovely gold hook on the newel!)
Gordon-Van Tine No. 535
And this is a view of a home in Webster Groves, Missouri, that we believe to be a Gordon-Van Tine No. 535, as well (built in 1922). This shows how different the staircase looks, compared to the straight staircase of the B floor plan. If you'd like to read about that house, go here.
In 1919, the No. 535 was shown in color in the catalog:
Gordon-Van Tine No. 535 in 1919 catalog
Here's the full 1919 catalog online, at Archive.org

You may have noticed that this model is shown with a full, two-story sun porch on the side... though, in the 1916 catalog, it was shown with only a first floor sunporch on the side. Well, the house had several transformations, and was available not only with those two options, but also with the option of having no sun porch on the side (marketed as The Glencoe ). At one point, I decided to sit down with the catalogs, and clarify what all of the different versions were called (because this two-story sunporch version was first marketed as the No. 560... then as the No. 535... but then the B floor plan was added... and then the No. 536 was offered... and then the Glencoe), so I did just that, and wrote up my findings in a blog post. You can read that blog post here, but here is a summary:
Gordon Van Tine No 535 vs 536 vs Glencoe
That sums it up! And, to add more interest to the story, each of the models had some slight change to the floor plan.
More Information
If you are interested in more information, try these links:

Dale Wolicki's informative website showcasing the research he has done on the Gordon-Van Tine company

A previous blog post of mine about another authenticated No. 560 or 535, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Another previous blog post of mine, about the Glencoe version, located in the city of St. Louis, Missouri. That blog post, near the end, explains where the Gordon-Van Tine plant was located, in St. Louis (the plant was often mentioned in the Gordon-Van Tine catalogs, but I had a heck of a time locating it... until I realized that it was not listed by the Gordon-Van Tine moniker).

I would like to extend warm thanks to Rebecca Hope McNabb for sharing her home, and its history, with me, and allowing me to write about it. Rebecca, I wish you a lifetime of happiness in your special Gordon-Van Tine home!



Monday, January 15, 2018

Customizing A Sears House: Vallonia in Westerly, Rhode Island

left and front view of customized 1933 Sears Vallonia in Westerly Rhode Island
Authenticated customized Sears Vallonia, Westerly, Rhode Island • 1933
Original home of Achille V. Piccolo, Jr.
Sears Vallonia in 1932 Sears Modern Homes catalog
Sears Vallonia • 1932 Sears Modern Homes catalog
Rarely are we treated to a set of blueprints for a Sears house. But, even more rare than that, is when the blueprints come with an entire set of letters of correspondence with Sears, regarding the purchase of a new homeowner's Sears house. In the case of this wonderful Vallonia model in Westerly, Rhode Island, the letters with Sears outline a number of customizations that the homeowner requested, as well as discussion all along the process, about everything from door sizes to support columns in the basement. I have all kinds of things to share with you in this blog post, so let's get to it!

The Vallonia is probably our number-1 most-often found Sears house around the country-- we have over 375 on our national database of Sears houses. This could be for several reasons:
  • It was offered for a very long stretch in the catalogs, from about 1921-1940
  • It is very distinctive, with those porch columns, and so, easy to recognize out in the wild
  • Bungalows seem to have been a very sought-after style of home
Our customized Vallonia in Westerly, Rhode Island has a number of changes:
  • Taller second floor
  • Looks like a taller dormer
  • No dining room bumpout on the side we see as our left, when facing the house
  • House widened by two feet
  • Trademark Vallonia Sears porch columns not used
  • Some extra windows
  • Interior changes (hallway & staircase locations, and added French doors)
Vallonia Model
Before we look at what is different about this customized Vallonia, let's take a look at what we normally expect to see on the Vallonia.

The Vallonia, when introduced in 1921, had no side bumpout, had single windows in the peak on each side, and had two small, boxy windows in the dormer. In 1923, the bumpout was added, the peak windows were doubled, and the windows in the dormer were upped to a triple... three slim, taller windows. This makes the dormer look a little bigger, though I'm not sure whether or not it is.

Early vs later Sears Vallonia model infographic
Vallonia in 1921, and in 1925. (Click to enlarge)
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

Early vs later Sears Vallonia model infographic
Vallonia's new bumpout, and window changes, beginning in 1923. (Click to enlarge)
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.
The elements that we always expect to see, are:
Sears Vallonia model infographic-- expected elements
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.
  • On the porch, the front door centered, with two windows on one side, and a single on the other
  • The "trademark" Sears porch columns
  • Three purlins (similar to rafter tails, these are support pieces that stick out of the structure at the ends) on the dormer, as well as a notched edge on the flat area of the front of the dormer... the barge board area
  • Three purlins on the eaves of each part of the roof, leading to the center ridge board, at the peak
  • A big thing: The roof line is straight down, front and back, with no "break"... no bend 
If (like most of us) you aren't 100% sure of what purlins, rafter tails, and barge board are, here are a couple of helpful infographics:

source

Source



Now, I must add, that when a house has been re-sided with vinyl or aluminum siding, often the purlins and the notched edge of the barge board, are lost.  The deep eaves are often cut down to closer to the house, too. Often, the windows in the dormer are replaced, and we can't tell whether there were originally two or three there. Sometimes, even the beautiful trademark Sears porch columns are boxed over in vinyl (oh, the horror!). Sometimes, the house is built with brick veneer, and so a different look is given to the porch columns, as well. But, we always recognize the centered front door, with double windows on one side, and a single on the other... well... except that, on occasion, that single is changed to a double! Ha! But, usually, there is enough left in place, that we can pick out a Vallonia on a first glance.

Let's take a look at a few, around the U.S. (click on any, to enlarge):

Early Sears Vallonia
1922 • Testimonial Vallonia, in Abington, Pennsylvania.
This is an early one -- no bumpout on this side, and a single, boxy window up in the eave,
but the purlins are all there.

later Sears Vallonia, with bump out for dining room
1925 • authenticated Vallonia, in Batavia, Illinois.
 Note the bumpout, the double windows above it, and the triple windows in the dormer.
Also, because the columns have brick veneer, no trademark porch column tops!
The purlins and the notched barge board are in place.

later Sears Vallonia, with bump out for dining room
1926 • Authenticated Vallonia in Berkley, Michigan
All kinds of expected elements present here, though the windows in the dormer were changed.

later Sears Vallonia right side windows
1932 • Authenticated Vallonia in Beacon, New York.
Double windows up in the peak, and an extra little window up there, off to the side.
This is the non-bump-out side, which, other than the double window in the peak, looks like the earlier version.
Triple windows in the dormer, which also looks a little higher than the earlier dormer.

Customizing the Westerly, Rhode Island, Vallonia
Here, on the left side, we see that there is no bumpout for the dining room, on our Rhode Island Vallonia. Actually, the blueprints show that, instead of bumping out just the dining room, they enlarged the whole house a bit, by pulling out that whole side two feet. Also, the red lines here all show how much taller the house is. Note the extra space above the double windows in the peak, which normally sit high up in that area. Also, the height of the dormer is increased--there is much more space than usual, in that area above the windows. There is an additional little window upstairs, on the side, and the porch columns are nice, simple, chunky craftsman style:
customized 1933 Sears Vallonia in Westerly Rhode Island
The Westerly, Rhode Island Vallonia's exterior customizations:
 taller dormer, taller peak, taller house, change in porch columns, no bump out.
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.
The Westerly Vallonia has tongue-in-groove wood on the ceiling of the porch, and lots of nice, original support pieces under the porch roof overhang:
Sears Vallonia porch overhang
You can see a nice close-up view here, of the porch ceiling, porch roof overhang support pieces,
and the non-standard porch columns of the Westerly customized Vallonia.
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

Sears blueprints for customized Sears Vallonia 1933
This area of the blueprints, shows that Sears blacked out the lines of the bumpout, and drew in a new wall line, in black. (Click to enlarge)
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.
The right side of the house, however, isn't much altered. It does, of course, show the same extra space above the upper double windows, and, there is another little window added on this side, up there, too, just as on the left side.
front and right side of customized 1933 Sears Vallonia in Westerly Rhode Island
We still see the expected centered door, with double windows on one side, and a single on the other.
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.
Inside the Westerly, RI Vallonia
The blueprints show us that the access to the hallway, and to the staircase, was changed for this house. Instead of having two openings in the side wall of the dining room-- one leading to the staircase, and one leading to the hallway-- our Westerly house has the staircase entrance moved elsewhere, and you walk right into the hall, as soon as you enter the house... instead of walking into the living room. Let me show you what I mean.

The early Vallonia's first-floor layout, had the access to the staircase, in the kitchen. The access to the hallway was from the dining room-- but, you walked right into the living room, when you opened the front door:
early Sears Vallonia floor plan

Post 1923, the "later" Vallonia (which means, for most all of its life as an offering in the Sears Modern Homes catalogs), both the access to the staircase, and the access to the hall, were from openings in that inner wall of the dining room:
later Sears Vallonia floor plan

In the catalog, Sears describes the access area for the stairs, and how, if you order plan A (no finished bedrooms upstairs), this will be set up as a closed door in the dining room, with stairs leading to the attic. But, with plan B (Mr. Piccolo's house is a customized version of plan B), they describe the bedrooms, sewing room, and closets you will have upstairs:
Sears Vallonia second floor option


The 1940 catalog shows this kind of view of the floor plan, which really gives the best indication of what the standard layout was:
Sears Vallonia floor plan
Sears Vallonia in the 1940 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears blueprints for customized Sears Vallonia 1933
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

Sears blueprints for customized Sears Vallonia 1933
Mr. Piccolo's blueprints, showing Model No. 13049B
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

We can see these two dining-room openings, for stairs and hallway, in a real house, here in this Vallonia in Cincinnati, that was recently for sale (6336 Coffey St, Cincinnati, Ohio):

Sears Vallonia dining room 6336 Coffey St Cincinnati Ohio
This is the dining room on the Cincinnati house. You can see the entry to the stairs, on the left here, and the entry to the hall, on the right. One change in this house, is that the living room -- which is the big, open space to our right, has been extended in this house, by taking over the front bedroom. If you look at the floor plan, above, you see that there should be a bedroom in that part of the front of the house. 
First of all, here is the Cincinnati Vallonia's extended living room. The front door should normally be opening up to walk right in to a wall on the right side. This house in Cincinnati, opens up into a big living room space.
Sears Vallonia living room 6336 Coffey St Cincinnati Ohio

This Vallonia in Hyattsville, Maryland, has the expected size living room, so this is what  you'd normally see when you walk into a non-customized Vallonia:
Sears Vallonia living room 4621 Burlington Rd, Hyattsville, MD 20781
The normal size living room on a "regular" Vallonia, should be like this.
There is a bedroom on the other side of the left wall.
 (source )

 Sears Vallonia living room 4621 Burlington Rd, Hyattsville, MD 20781
And, this is that same house, so we see how the living room heads into the dining room,
and that's the kitchen, behind the dining room.
Here is how Sears showed the Vallonia's living room, in the 1929 catalog:
Sears Vallonia living room in 1929 catalog

Here is another Sears Vallonia, showing the two doorways off of the dining room, one for the stairway, and one to lead into the hall:
Sears Vallonia dining room, 81 Holland Avenue, White Plains, NY, showing standard doorways of of dining room. (Source)
But, in Mr. Piccolo's customized Vallonia, in Westerly, Rhode Island you enter the house right into a hallway, not into the living room, and there is a set of French doors on the left, to access the living room... and the wall on the right, here, is the left wall of that front bedroom.

interior of customized 1933 Sears Vallonia in Westerly Rhode Island
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.
As you walk further into the hallway, there is a doorway on the left, leading into the dining room, and an opening on the right, leading into a continuation of the hallway... where you find the bathroom, and the entry door to the back bedroom. The mirrored door at the end of this section of the hallway, is to a closet, under the stairs.

interior of customized 1933 Sears Vallonia in Westerly Rhode Island
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

See? Here is the "jog" over to the right, so you can get to the bathroom, and head into the back bedroom, and get to the staircase:

interior of customized 1933 Sears Vallonia in Westerly Rhode Island
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.



interior of customized 1933 Sears Vallonia in Westerly Rhode Island
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

interior of customized 1933 Sears Vallonia in Westerly Rhode Island
All around the house, Mr. Piccolo opted for clean, simple, New England lines, I'd say.
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

Sears blueprints for customized Sears Vallonia 1933
I labeled the blueprint section for you, to show you where the French doors are, and all of the red arrows move you through the hallway sections... and, I've circled the bathroom and the back bedroom. Now, the purple arrow shows where the entry to the staircase is... so, you're entering it from the hallway, just before going into the back bedroom.
(click to enlarge)
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.
Full shots of pages of the blueprints, again, the black marks were from Sears, showing changes in the width of the house.
Sears blueprints for customized Sears Vallonia 1933
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

Sears blueprints for customized Sears Vallonia 1933
Black marks indicating the 2 extra feet of width.
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.
Sears blueprints for customized Sears Vallonia 1933
That's the Honor Bilt seal!
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.
 A. V. Piccolo, Jr.
As mentioned, the current owners of this house inherited not only the blueprints, but pages and pages of letters from Sears, responding to questions and requests from the man who was to be the new homeowner, Mr. Achille V. Piccolo, Jr. 

Achille Piccolo, Jr., was born in 1909 in Westerly, of parents who had come to the United States from Italy --his father, in 1899, and his mother, Margherita, in 1903. His father worked as a granite cutter, and they all lived together in a house on this same street, at a different house number ... so, you'll see that the letters from Sears, are directed to Achille (A.V. Piccolo) at 52 Ledward Avenue, because that is where he was living with his parents at the time... the house itself, when built, sat at No. 40 Ledward Avenue, though it now has the house number 26.

Here is a photo of Achille, with his parents, probably around 1914, considering his age (the Ancestry account that made this family tree, labeled this as approximately 1924, but Achille would have been 15 by then, and he surely is not 15 in this photo). That's little Achille, in the center, flanked by his parents:
Piccolo family Westerly RI circa 1914
The Piccolo family, on Ledward Avenue, Westerly, Rhode Island, circa 1914.
Achille appears to have been an only child. And, his parents must have been very proud to have been able to send him to college. There are several images of him from "The Cauldron-1930" a college yearbook from Northeastern University, in Boston, shown in a family tree on Ancestry.com. I'd like to thank Thomas Marchisa, for sharing this publicly on the Marchisa-Toman family tree.
Achille V. Piccolo Jr Westerly RI college yearbook 1930
Achille V. Piccolo, Jr., in 1930, three years before building his Sears Vallonia.

Achille V. Piccolo Jr Westerly RI college yearbook 1930
From the 1930 edition of The Cauldron, from Northeastern University, in Boston.

Achille V. Piccolo Jr Westerly RI college yearbook 1930 banking club
That's Achille, up there on the left, back row. This was the Banking Club.
Throughout the 1940s and into the late 1950s, Achille is listed in city directories still at the address of his Sears Vallonia. I believe that he worked as an accountant in the tax department for the state, working in Providence, and living in Westerly. His father, Achille V. Piccolo, Sr., passed away in September of 1934, and his mother, Margaret (Margherita) came to live with him in the Sears house. Probably in about 1937, he married the former Edna Coon.

Letters From Sears
To begin his process, Mr. Piccolo must have met with Sears, perhaps at their Boston office, and outlined all of the customizations that he wanted. He also chose to have the house sent "not cut and fitted", so the lumber was not pre-cut and labeled, as it would be, if it were a standard kit. We are not certain, but I suspect that it may have been more common, if you customized the size of the house, to have not-pre-cut lumber... it just makes sense, because otherwise, Sears would have had to have re-set all of the machinery to cut just for your changes. Perhaps they did do that, but I just suspect that they did not... and, here is a case to support that thought. It was also less expensive to get not-cut-to-fit wood, but you still would end up with labor costs having your carpenter, or a sawmill, do that for you.

This seems to be the first letter from Sears-- outlining the special choices Mr. Piccolo made, and addressing the payment issues. It is dated May 15, 1933 (for all of these letters, click if you would like to see a larger version).
buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.


This letter outlines some more of the interior options for the house:
buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
La Tosca door hardware!
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

La Tosca hardware inside customized 1933 Sears Vallonia in Westerly Rhode Island
And, here it is: La Tosca door hardware on the house, and in the catalog.
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.
Sears house interior door option from catalog
This is the style of interior doors that was ordered, though this door is actually from a Winona in Affton, Missouri.
interior door option with mirror from Sears catalog
And, here is the mirrored door that was chosen for that hall closet, under the stairs.
Mr. Piccolo opted for the Valley Forge group of lighting fixtures. I can't find them in the catalogs, but the owners sent a photo of the dining room chandelier, which is original.
buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Click to see the full letter.
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

original Sears chandelier in dining room of 1933 customized Sears Vallonia
This is from the Valley Forge group of lighting fixtures.
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

Here is a chandelier from the Valley Forge group lighting fixtures, in the 1936 General Merchandise catalog, but it differs somewhat from the one in the house. Perhaps there was a simpler version offered in 1933:
From page 509 of the Spring 1936 general merchandise catalog No. 172L.
Lumber specs and other issues, such as the ordering of the French doors:
buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Click to see full letter
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

Adjusted size of sills, and choice of lally columns instead of girder posts:

buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

These are lally columns, vs girder posts, in case you didn't know (I didn't):
lally columns vs girders

girder posts image

buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
And another letter regarding the change to lally columns, and their extra cost.
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.
 Sears also sent a blueprint of the layout of the pipes in the house:
Sears blueprints for customized Sears Vallonia 1933
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

Sears blueprints for customized Sears Vallonia 1933
There is Mr. A. V. Piccolo's name, right there on the corner of the blueprints!
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.
As I noted earlier, the house is taller than the standard Vallonia:

buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Regarding the addition of French doors.
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.
Along the way, Mr. Piccolo must have requested extra copies of plans, to submit for building permits and electrical permits. Sears responded patiently, but seemed to feel that what they had already sent should be enough for the permit department, but, nonetheless, they sent along extra copies:
buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.


And, this one is pretty humorous... clearly, the Sears rep thought that the requirements that Mr. Piccolo felt that the building inspector expected, were not necessary (but, they'd meet them, nonetheless): "You certainly must have a fine building inspector to do business with insomuch as his requirements are more severe than the city of Boston and surrounding towns, and, in fact, any other community in which I've done business." Ha!
buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
See close-up below, of section regarding the "fine building inspector"
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

And, something that we did not know that Sears would do: they asked you to put a sign in your yard, I assume saying something like, "Another Sears house being built here!" (I don't really know what the sign said, of course. ;) )
buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

As you probably understand, Sears was meticulous in providing exactly what the homeowner needed, to build the house according to their instructions. So, they provided the correct amount of nails, screws, and bolts, and told you where to use them. If you (or  your carpenter) used, for example, the bolts, in the wrong spot, you wouldn't have what you needed, when you got to where those bolts had been intended. That seems to be the case in Mr. Piccolo's house, as there is one letter addressing his apparent request for more bolts:
buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

On July 3, they sent another letter regarding the bolts, and they addressed the door issue... finally deciding that 7' doors had actually been ordered, and would be sent:
buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
So, they finally agreed to send the 7 foot doors.
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.
 Looking at the original order, there were several 7' doors ordered.

buying a house from Sears--letters from Sears
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

You also see mention of a small, "plumbing access door" (indicated above, with white arrow). Here is that plumbing access area:
plumbing access door inside 1933 Sears Vallonia
It's wonderful how even access areas to get to plumbing, were detailed in nice wood.
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.
And so it went. Letters and clarifications and visits from the Sears rep -- and why not? When you are paying for a home, and you've made certain requests, you deserve to have those requests met. We don't know if every homeowner had so many letters exchanged with Sears, but, certainly, since this was a customized house, there were more issues to be discussed. I have letters regarding paint colors, and samples of building materials, and price lists for plumbing fixtures, and instructions to homeowners on how to measure aspects of their house, to be sure that they were ordering the correct size of the Hercules heating system-- the owners even have the original catalog sent by Sears, outlining the Hercules heating system options. Mr. Piccolo kept it all... and we are incredibly grateful for that.
samples of plaster backing and rocklath from Sears
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

buying a house from Sears plumbing prices
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

measuring for a Heating system from Sears
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

Heating system from Sears

buying a house from Sears--Hercules heating system catalog
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

buying a house from Sears--Hercules heating system catalog
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

buying a house from Sears--Hercules heating system
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.

The "new" owners of this wonderful Sears home, told me that the house remained in the Piccolo family until 2000, and that they then bought it in 2011. I can't thank the current owners enough, for sharing all of this with us. They sent image after image, and even re-shot a few letters that I couldn't quite see clearly. This is the first blog post that I know of, where this depth of background has been shared, regarding the complete process of ordering a home through Sears, and I am thrilled to have been able to present it.

So... one last look at Mr. Piccolo's customized Vallonia, on Ledward Avenue, in Westerly, Rhode Island:
front view of customized 1933 Sears Vallonia in Westerly Rhode Island
26 Ledward Avenue, Westerly, Rhode Island
Please do not use any of the images posted here, without a clear and direct link to this blog post.