It’s not really a contest. But there is a winner. And, like the majority of Sears House researchers expected……the winner is Cincinnati! By a landslide!
But, what’s this contest all about?
Since 1986, when the National Trust for Historic Preservation published a field guide to houses purchased as kits through the Sears Modern Homes catalogs, historians and plain old regular folks have been scouring neighborhoods looking at houses. And, attempting to match them up to the models sold by Sears.
But, street surveys are tedious and sometimes fruitless, when it comes to Sears Houses, because you can’t actually authenticate one if you are looking at it from the sidewalk or through your car windshield.
Sure, you can identify possibles. I’ve done that with hundreds of houses. But to properly document a Sears House, you need to get inside to look for Sears markings on the lumber. Or you can get yourself down to the County Offices to look for deeds, mortgages, abstracts, or anything else your local officials might have on file about a house. Some of these documents are starting to be digitized, making it easier to research from home.
Through the years since 1986, when the field guide I mentioned, Houses by Mail, came out, it’s been something of a contest among researchers to learn the city which had the most Sears Houses built.
Here’s a short list (in no particular order) of the cities we have learned have trainloads of Sears Houses. (Sears kit houses were delivered by rail).
- Elgin, Illinois – more than 200 – located and documented by Rebecca Hunter, many by personal inspection of the interiors. No small task.
- Carlinville, Illinois – 152 – all in one neighborhood – The Standard Addition
- Washington DC – more than 200 info about those
- Oakland Co, Michigan – more than 300 info about those
- Aurora, Illinois – Here’s their list
But…….back to our contest winner.
In the early 1990’s, a lovely lady named Bea Lask did a ton of research on the Sears Houses in Cincinnati, and identified more than 500. Since then, other researchers have added and added and added to that list.
You would think we could just ask Sears how many houses they built, and where. But modern day Sears isn’t the same Sears that sold houses through mail order catalogs. You know, that merger thing with Kmart in 2004.
And even before that, Sears didn’t know how many or where they sold their house kits. Seasoned Sears House researcher Rosemary Thornton tells us that Sears discarded all their records on house sales shortly after they closed their Modern Home Department in 1940.
But now, with additional resources becoming available on the internet, we are getting a clearer picture of how many Sears Houses really were built in Cincinnati. And, folks, it was way more than 500.
I’ve been spending some time going through the archives of some Cincinnati area newspapers from the years Sears sold houses, 1908-1940. I’ve been finding some really great ads, articles, finance notices, mortgage filings, that apply not only to Sears, but to Norwood Sash and Door, which was owned by Sears during the house years. I’ll be sharing some of that stuff in a later post.
But…here’s what you’ve been waiting for, all you Sears House watchers.
The landslide number – 3000
I know, I know. I know what you’re thinking. Cindy is nuts. No way were there 3000 Sears Houses built in Cincinnati. And you’re right about part of that. There weren’t. There were more than 3000. How do I know.
Sears told me.
This ad from 1930 states that over 3,000 Sears Houses had already been built in the Cincinnati area. And Sears sold house kits for 10 more years.
Amazing, isn’t it. Of course, we’ll never find them all. But the first 500 or so have already been located. The search goes on……….
It’s going to be hard to top that!
I doubt we’ll ever find an area that comes even close to that number. And with the new resources we’ve located recently, we are well on our way to documenting loads of them. This should make Sears House researchers jump for joy!
I live in Cheviot, which is a suburb of Cincinnati. One local TV station did a segment on Sears Kit Houses. Cheviot had at least 17 different types of Sears Kit houses. Many are the Hamilton or Collingwood, but the Rodessa, Barrington and a Uriel are in the neighborhood. A professor from Mt Saint Joe’s likes to walk in Cheviot and identified many of them. I hope someone that likes research would come to Cheviot to see how many we have in our area. I may have a very upgraded Rodessa in brick with a fireplace. There are other Rodessa’s in Cheviot and I can see the same design pattern just more upgraded. It was built in 1931 and sat empty for 6 years before it was purchased during the Great Depression.
Yes, Denise, Cheviot is loaded with Sears Houses. A lot of them of have already been identified, but I’m sure there are lots more to find. I know of the professor from Mt St Joe’s. We’ve been in touch. I’m of the opinion that every Sears House has a story to tell,, like yours. I’ll let you know when I get to Cheviot myself. I would love to do a drive by of your house. Thanks for following along!
Wow, wow, wow! What a find!
Have I told you lately that I just love your blog? 😉
Yes. Yes, you have. 🙂
Wow! That’s amazing! Great find, Cindy!
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I think that number makes sense. If you assume that of the 60,000 built, say 8% were from Cincinnati area (who knows what that encompasses or how Sears defined that), that could be right.
Nice find! I enjoyed this post.
That’s right, Lara. We don’t really know how large of an area Sears was talking about when they say “Cincinnati”. But I have some ideas on that, due to some other things I’ve found recently. We’ll be discussing that in our small group, I’m sure.
We have a benchmark now. Only 2,500 left!
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We better get busy! 🙂
Cindy, I love your blog!!
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Excited to have subscribed to your blog. Very fun.