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……….