Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sears Wareham & Other Sears Houses In Colonia, New Jersey

Sears Wareham (No. 203)
Probable Sears Wareham (No. 203) • 453 Fairview Avenue, Colonia, New Jersey
Sears catalog image of Wareham model
Sears Wareham, 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog
Colonia, New Jersey, sits in Woodbridge Township, and is part of Middlesex County, New Jersey. I've only just started mortgage research there, but early work has led us to Fairview Avenue, where we find, in the space of two blocks, these Sears Modern Home models:
  • Sears Wareham
  • Sears Sunbeam
  • Sears Langston
  • Sears Starlight
  • Sears Vallonia
  • Sears Clyde
  • Sears Elmwood or Sunbeam
Not all of these houses have been documented (yet) with mortgage records, but several have. Records are a little bit challenging to access, in Middlesex County, but we're hoping to authenticate more, as research continues.

Sears Wareham
My most exciting find, was a probable Sears Wareham. To date, we have only one other on our National Database of Sears Houses In the U.S.. It was found by researcher Lara Solonickne, of Sears Homes of Chicagoland, via newspaper research. The home sits at 223 Route 28, Bridgewater, New Jersey, which is in Somerset County. The owners have found Sears shipping labels, so we have listed this as authenticated. It's a perfect match for the Wareham (though it now has an addition on the back):
Sears Wareham model kit house
Sears Wareham223 Route 28, Bridgewater Twp, New Jersey
We learned about this home's existence thanks to a 1989 Courier-News newspaper article, but we had to do some serious digging to locate the address.
Sears kit house 1989 Courier-News page 35 June 16
June 16, 1989, page 35, Courier-News 
Our Middlesex County Sears Wareham, was found because there are documented Sears houses across the street, and down the block. It is almost a perfect match, but it is missing one small upper window for a closet, and, for some reason (that we can never understand) a couple of first-floor windows on the right side, were covered over when new siding was added, or were never in place. But, the Wareham has some very distinctive features, and the one at 453 Fairview Avenue, Colonia, NJ, follows all of the patterns for the break in the roof, the placement of brackets, and the unusual placement of two windows almost touching the front door.
Sears Wareham or Sears No 203
The upper middle closet window is missing, and the pairs of windows -- which are for the two front bedrooms upstairs -- have the windows pushed slightly over toward the edge of the house. But, this model was not a pre-cut house, so owners tended to make more of these slight customizations for those "not cut or fitted" houses.

Sears Wareham or Sears No 203
Windows on the left side of the house are a great match, except for another small closet window being covered, or eliminated.

Sears Wareham or Sears No 203
The Wareham is the only model we know of, that has these two front windows almost touching the side of the front door.
Here is a closer shot of that door with its 2 windows next to it:
Sears Wareham or Sears No 203
The structures for the porch, and the triple windows-front door-double window setup, help us identify this house.
The Wareham was first offered by Sears in the 1913 catalog, as the No. 203. The name was changed to Wareham in the 1918 catalog (when all of the models were given a name, and were marketed principally through that... though the number was still included in the catalog listing), and was continued through the 1923 catalog. Let's take a look:
Sears No 203 in 1914 catalog
For a few short years, the models were all given the "264P" prefix. 

Sears No 203 floor plan

Sears No 264P203, Sears No 203, 1914

Sears Wareham from the 1923 catalog

Sears Sunbeam
Across the street from the Wareham, are two lots holding Sears mortgages signed by Sears trustee Walker O. Lewis, from July of 1923, for a company with the name of Blackwood & Schroeder, HRC.

Sitting at 450 Fairview Avenue, is a Sears Sunbeam. This model was first known as the No. 162, and then as the Elmwood, but 1922 saw some slight changes made, and the name changed to Sunbeam.

Sears Sunbeam black and white image from 1923 catalog
Sears Sunbeam in the 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog

2007 Google streetview image of Sears Sunbeam 450 Fairview Avenue Colonia NJ
Sears Sunbeam at 450 Fairview Avenue, Colonia, NJ • This 2007 Google streetview image shows the original look of the house, which matches the catalog image well. You can just see the two sets of triple windows flanking the front door. 

2018 Google streetview image of Sears Sunbeam 450 Fairview Avenue Colonia NJ
The 2012 and 2018 Google Streetview images show a newly renovated home. Sadly, it has lost its trademark 5-piece Sears brackets, the bank of four windows in the dormer has been reduced to two, and the large, triple windows on either side of the front door, have been reduced to smaller doubles. The original Sears front door has been replaced, as well. We love to see Sears kit houses taken care of, but wish that renovations would respect the original character of the home.

Sears Langston
Two houses away, at 460 Fairview Avenue, is another lot with a Sears home mortgaged in July 1923. This house is a Sears Langston. The front porch has been enclosed, and one of the left-side windows covered over, as is the original window in the dormer. As a result, without a mortgage, we would only be able to guess that this is a Langston... or its 1925-introduced second version, the Gladstone . You can read about the evolution of this model, in this 2015 blog post of mine.

Sears Langston with enclosed front porch
460 Fairview Avenue, Colonia, New Jersey • 1923 Sears Langston

Daily Bungalow / Antique Home image of Sears Langston, 1923 catalog
Sears Langston in the 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Image courtesy of our friend at Daily Bungalow/Antique Home.

Sears Langston floor plan
Sears Langston floor plan, as shown in the 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog.
Image courtesy of our friend at 
Daily Bungalow/Antique Home.
To give you an idea of what the Sears porch columns look like, and what the interior of a Langston looks like, check out these Zillow listings:


Sears Starlight
The third 1923 mortgage for Blackwood & Schroeder, is for a house on the next block of Fairview. I could not figure out what model it was, because it is now a big, two-story four-square style, with a big, clipped-gable dormer, and a "skirt" (or "peplum", as I like to call it) of roofing all around it at the center. That matches nothing at all in the Sears catalogs. But, researcher Marie Vore took a good look at the side window patterns, and declared it to surely have been a Sears Starlight... originally. But, to look at it now, you'd never think that it was that modest, square, hip-roof bungalow, with a covered front porch. Let's see what we've got.

2-story Sears Starlight
Authenticated 1923 Sears Starlight (2nd-story added) • 487 Fairview Avenue, Colonia, New Jersey (Woodbridge Twp)

black and white vintage Sears catalog image of Sears Starlight, 1923
Sears Starlight in the 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog

right side comparison Sears Starlight against catalog image
There you go! A double-height Sears Starlight, with the front porch enclosed, and a the original dormer roof  used for the new front porch roof. We think that the lookalike roof dormer is a bit larger, and probably just added.
Here are some more views of the 1923 catalog images for the Starlight:
Interior views of Sears Starlight 1923 catalog

Sears Starlight floor plan

Here's a nice-looking 1929 Sears Starlight on Keith Street, in Chicopee, Massachusetts, that has some very nice original detailing visible, in the interior.

Sears Vallonia
Two houses to the left of the super-sized Sears Starlight, is another house with a mortgage. This home was built in 1924, for Alexander and Isabelle Brown, who took out a $4,000 mortgage with Sears, signed off on by Sears trustee William C. Reed. It has had an addition put onto the front, and new siding, but we can see enough of the sides to realize that it was, originally, a reverse-floorplan Sears Vallonia.
Sears Vallonia Colonia NJ
485 Fairview Avenue, Colonia, New Jersey • Authenticated 1924 Sears Vallonia

Sears Vallonia Colonia NJ
catalog image of Sears Vallonia 1923
Note the seven purlins (the sort of straight bracket-like pieces jutting out under the eaves). We see this on the Vallonia, but not on all bungalows. Some bungalows use exterior angled brackets, for instance. The similar Sears Sheridan, has fewer purlins. (Thanks, Andrew Mutch, for always reminding us of this!)

image depicting parts of a pitched roof
Purlins, Rafters, Joists, Ridgeboard (source)
floorplan of Sears Vallonia 1923
The Vallonia's flloor plan, as shown in the 1923 catalog.
The price of the Vallonia in my 1924 catalog, is just shy of $2,000 (and the 1923 price was just a touch over $2,000), but the Browns took out a $4,000 mortgage. That would have included extra costs like plumbing and electric, but the Browns no doubt also wrapped in the cost of construction, as was a very common practice.
Sears Clyde
Across the street from the super-sized Starlight, and the added-onto Vallonia, is what appears to be a Sears Clyde, that has had an addition added on to the side, making it look like a little ranch, instead of like a shotgun bungalow. I don't have a mortgage for this one (yet), but I'll bet it had one. Note the five-piece brackets, that are so often seen on Sears models.
Sears Clyde bungalow Colonia NJ
Probable Sears Clyde at 480 Fairview Avenue, Colonia, New Jersey

Catalog image of small Sears Clyde
Sears Clyde in the 1923 Sears Modern Homes catalog
If we put this Bing maps view on top of the catalog image, and chop off the house a bit, on the right, you can see how it's a Clyde:
Sears Clyde bungalow
Looks like it must be an enlarged Clyde, don't you think?
I know that I had some help from the research crew on this one-- Andrew Mutch, I think.
Floorplan of Sears Clyde bungalow

Here's a closeup of those brackets. We call them 5-piece brackets, because the first two pieces are the L shape that attaches to the house, the third piece is the center stick that juts out, and the 4th and 5th pieces are the two pieces parallel to each other, into which that center stick inserts itself:
Sears Clyde with five-piece brackets
Five-piece Sears brackets, on 480 Fairview Avenue

  • Here's a Sears Clyde in Mount Vernon, Ohio, in pretty original condition, whose floors are original, but they need a good refinishing! There's some really nice original woodwork in here.
  • Another Sears Clyde in the middle of a renovation at sale time. Floors look to have been painted over, but ignore that, and you'll get a good look at the interior of a Clyde. This one is in Columbus, Ohio.

Sears Elmwood or Sunbeam
The final Sears house on Fairview Avenue, is this undocumented house, that may be an Elmwood, or may be a Sunbeam. There are normally ways to tell the difference, but we'd need to have an unenclosed front porch, and / or some interior views of the living room. Sears changed the model name in 1922, and all of the houses on these two blocks of Fairview seem to have been built in those first few years of the 1920s. So... hard to say. Also, the assessor's office gives a 1915 build date, but those are often wrong (sometimes they reflect the date that the lot was built, or they were mis-read from an old, hand-written document.... this could have been 1925, for example). But, as researcher Karen DeJeet has pointed out to us, the Sunbeam has an exterior chimney on the left side, for the furnace vent... the Elmwood has that enclosed inside that wall. This house does not have that chimney. However, to complicate things, there are a couple of very close lookalike models from plans-only companies (not kits), that also do not have that exterior furnace vent chimney. So, more research is needed. For now, here are photos of a possible Sears Elmwood or Sunbeam, at 473 Fairview Avenue:
Sears Elmwood or Sears Sunbeam
473 Fairview Avenue, Colonia, New Jersey • Possible Sears Elmwood or Sears Sunbeam
This is the side where we should see an exposed furnace vent chimney, if this is a Sunbeam.

Sears Elmwood or Sears Sunbeam

Sears Elmwood or Sears Sunbeam

Look at the cute little five-piece brackets that were made to support this bay-style window of the enclosed front porch!
Where Is Colonia, New Jersey?
Growing up in Plainfield, New Jersey, I can't say that I had ever heard of Colonia. But, I have heard of Woodbridge, and Colonia sits in Woodbridge Township, in Middlesex County. I left Plainfield in 1972, but I do remember that Woodbridge had a very nice, big mall when I was growing up. It was one of the first big enclosed malls, built in 1971, according to this website -- it's apparently now called Woodbridge Center (and, a visit there "is sure to delight the entire family" Ha!)

I like this little image created for Colonia Middle School. It gives you a rough idea of where to find Colonia:
Colonia Middle School image of Colonia NJ on map of State of NJ

But these two state images, from Wikimedia Commons, zoom in on Middlesex County, and then highlight where, in that county, we can find Colonia:
Map of NJ with Middlesex County and Colonia NJ indicated


We think that Middlesex County is chock full of Sears houses. I'm hoping for continued research in June. You know I'll be back with more!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Sears No. 154 and Sears No. 167 In Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Sears No. 154 • 93 Livingston Avenue, Pittsfield, Massachusetts • 1914
Sears No. 154 in the 1914 Sears Modern Homes catalog
Well, now, I am pretty darn excited to present this one: another two-family building by Sears, a No. 154. This is only the second on our National Database of Sears Houses In The U. S., and the first I've ever seen. I've run across it in the catalog, and always noticed it, because there is a very similar house nearby where I live. I found this totally by accident, trying to track down the second house I'll be showing in this blog post: a testimonial No. 167, also in Pittsfield.

It appears that this No. 154 was built by Arthur W. Hunt, as he is listed as living here, in the 1915 Pittsfield City Directory, and is shown in an edition of the 1914 Berkshire Eagle newspaper as being granted a building permit in the "Double and 2 flat house" category.

1915 Pittsfield, Massachusetts City Directory (Ancestry.com)

And, in the 1920 census, we get to see the listing for the entire Hunt family, including Arthur's wife Mary, and their children, Webster, Hazel, and Carl:
1920 U.S. Census for Pittsfield, Massachusetts (Ancestry.com) • click to enlarge

There appears to have been a G.E. (General Electric) plant in Pittsfield, or nearby, as I've noticed numerous city directories listing that as the place of employment for various residents. Arthur W. Hunt is listed in 1915 as being an employee of G.E., but in the 1920 census, he is shown to be a house painter.

Let's get a look again at the catalog listing for the No. 154:
Sears No. 154, a two-family structure, in the 1914 Sears Modern Homes catalog.


The house is set back nicely from the street, with other big houses around. It's a nice street, here in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Inside, the building is split into two households, with the same, spacious layout on each side, providing 3 bedrooms, a sewing room, and a bathroom upstairs; a parlor, a dining room, and a kitchen, downstairs:
Sears 2-family building, model No. 154

The catalog shows that this model sold for $2,701.00 in 1914, and that it could be built for a total of about $4,950.00, "including all material and labor". This model would not have been pre-cut, as it was offered before Sears began offering its kits that way, in 1916, 
Building cost for the Sears No. 154, in 1914
Further info followed the information on the basic price, and I see that "sliding doors" are mentioned as being between the stair hall and the parlor, as well as between the dining room and the parlor. I'm wondering if "sliding doors" means what we call "pocket doors"? I was just recently trying to pin down whether or not Sears ever offered pocket doors on any of their early models. I think they did!

Walter H. Smith's Testimonial No. 167
I ran across this house, because I was looking for another house in Pittsfield, an early Maytown... from back when it was listed as the No. 167. The 1913 catalog shows a little testimonial letter, from Walter H. Smith, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, saying that he could "safely say" that he had saved $250 by buying from Sears. His letter says that he was "now living in my new house built from your plan No. 167", but I'm not sure that he lived in the house for long, because it was hard to pin him down to an address. But, I did find that his father lived on the lot next to this white No. 167, at 54 Ontario Street, and also found newspaper mentions of Hazel Smith living at 54 Ontario Street, so I'm confident that this is Walter H. Smith's testimonial 167. It also appears to be modified to make it into a two-family building. It has a side door, which we have seen now and then on Maytowns, but it is not shown on the floor plan.

The No. 167 in the 1913 Sears Modern Homes catalog, with Walter H. Smith's testimonial.


54 Ontario Street, Pittsfield, Massachusetts-- testimonial house of Walter H. Smith



And, not far away...
I was born in Massachusetts, so I have heard of Pittsfield my whole life, but my first kit home experience with Pittsfield, was finding another testimonial kit house there, the Gordon-Van Tine No. 535 of Helen Hall-Mayberry and her husband, Dr. Frank Mayberry. I wrote about that one in 2015-- here it is:

There was a building boom around 1914-1916, in this neighborhood, I'd say. These three houses are only blocks apart, in fact, and all built in that time period:


That's it for Pittsfield tonight! We've got just two other Sears houses found in Pittsfield, both authenticated through mortgage records. There's a Berwyn on Burke Ave, and a Starlight, on Perrine Avenue, both built about 15 years after these other three. I'll bet there are more kit houses in Pittsfield... do you know of one? Leave me a message (and please provide contact information).