Did the title confuse you a bit? Usually I’m telling you all about Sears MODERN Homes, not Sears MODEL Homes. But today’s post is, indeed, about a home that was completely constructed by the Home Construction Division of Sears Roebuck, and was open to the public for two weeks.
Sears researchers have known for some time that in 1930, Sears constructed specific models in various parts of the country, to promote their home sales. Finding one of them is a “jump for joy” moment.
Locating this one was something of a group effort. Along my path of hunting for these great houses, I have made some valuable connections. One of them is with Sears homeowner, and serious researcher, Andrew Mutch, of Novi, Michigan. Andrew started researching kit houses a little while after I did, but has done some tremendous work in locating on line resources, mostly mortgage records, which in turn, has led to hundreds of Sears homes being located across the country. Many thanks to Andrew.
About a year ago, I discovered that the mortgage record books for Hamilton Co., were available for searching on line at Family Search. But they were confusing to me, as they were not indexed by the mortgagor and the mortgagee, as I had seen in other counties. That’s legalese for the buyer and the lender. Sears offered financing plans on and off during the years they sold house kits, so if a buyer took advantage of that program, Sears would record a mortgage in the buyer’s county, just like today. With a lot of time and perseverance, researchers can actually locate Sears houses from these types of records.
Anyways, when I realized that Hamilton Co. had indexed their records geographically, and not alphabetically using the buyer/lender format, I knew it could take years to go through them all, about 150 volumes. That’s where my friend Andrew comes in. He had just completed a year long process of doing the mortgage records for his area in Michigan, and had then moved on to some other areas he found on line, like Washington DC, so was very familiar with the search process.
When he finished up his current project, we started chatting about Cincinnati. We already knew that Cincinnati had hundreds of possible Sears Homes, due to the efforts of previous researchers, but no one had done much work in the way of officially documenting them with personal inspections or mortgage records.
So we decided to start hunting through all those books to see what we could see. Andrew, of course, had much more success than I did, though I was able to document a few homes we already knew about. Then we got some assistance from Judith Chabot, who researches Sears Houses, too, and things got going a little faster.
And along the way, Andrew found a mortgage record for a house in Carthage. He tracked down the address using the legal description, and found the house using some additional resources. Morton Road, apparently, had a name change somewhere along the way, so Andrew had a few extra steps on his research path. He then shared his find with Judith, myself, and another Sears House researcher, Lara Solonickne.
It was a Sears Elmhurst, a model that has always been said to be rare. Apparently there are more out there than originally thought, they just haven’t been located yet. Here’s the full color catalog image from the 1930 Sears Modern Home catalog, the same year as the ad I showed above.
About the same time that Andrew located the mortgage record for the house in Carthage, I decided to get a subscription to the Cincinnati Enquirer, which comes with full access to their newspaper archives, to see what might be found about the over 3,000 Sears Houses in that area. (See previous blog post.)
Imagine my surprise to stumble across an ad for the very same Elmhurst in the May 25, 1930 edition. Not only was the house advertised, but was written up in full detail.
By now, if you’re still with me, you’re probably wondering what this house looks like today. I can fix that, because I went to Carthage the other day and took some pictures.
It’s a beauty! And exceptionally well maintained, in keeping with the original design of the home.
It was a nice day in Ohio, for January, and I was fortunate that the current owner was outside doing a bit of yard work when I stopped by. Said owner was kind enough to let me get a good up close view of the house, and get pictures from all sides, which is really important to Sears House researchers. You can’t always get a good feel for what the house looks like on the sides from those catalog images.
The Elmhurt model has a distinctive feature on one side of the house. Three gable dormers.
The house is face brick, which means the brick is laid over the wood framing of the house, and has timbering over stucco for accent. I really like the diamond shape panes in the windows on this house.
The Elmhurst model was featured heavily in the 1930 Modern Home catalog. There were even some real life photos of the inside of an Elmhurst in Ohio. This one? I’ll bet! Here’s my reasoning for that determination. In the extensive write up about the house in the newspaper, the decorator that furnished the house was interviewed. That woman was Ella Lister Mayer. Here she is, also featured in the 1930 Sears Modern Home catalog.
Miss Mayer was sent to Carthage from Sears offices in Chicago to decorate the house for public viewing. In the article she states
Mrs. Engle wanted gray kitchen cabinets, so we set those off with orange and black
Here’s the interior photo of the featured kitchen in the 1930 catalog
Colors match up to the ones mentioned in the newspaper. Surely nobody else would have chosen that color scheme!
Here’s a couple more interior photos from the catalog, also most likely the same house.
Notice that lovely front door in the foyer. Nice current owner let me on the front porch to get a picture of it from the outside.
So, now you know about the Sears Model Home in Carthage. An Elmhurst.
The original owner, Robert H Engle, was the clerk in charge of a newly opened branch of the Post Office in Carthage when he built his Sears Elmhurst. I found a tidbit in the social section of the newspaper that referred to the Engle’s home as “Englewood”. It appears the Engle’s lived in the home until 1940. Robert Engle did a fabulous job of selecting the building lot for his Sears home. On a clear day, you can see forever from the back of the house.
My daughter Anastasia, who usually chauffeurs me on house hunting trips, got a great photo of the house, too, from the street area. The house sits up on a small hill, and I didn’t think to take one from down below. Just imagine the sun shining in those lovely windows on a nice sunny day in January. Heavenly.
Now, don’t you think that if Sears did an Open House of this Elmhurst for two solid weeks, they would probably sell this model to other folks around town? I think so. And apparently they did. Because Andrew, he’s the man, found a second Elmhurst in Cincinnati through a mortgage record. Well, sort of a mortgage record. We haven’t found the actual mortgage yet, but Andrew did find a legal notice in the newspaper from 1935 that connected the original owner of the house below to a Sears mortgage. Then, using the owner’s name in Ancestry.com, found the address.
This Elmhurst sits at the entrance to a neighborhood full of lovely 1930’s brick Tudor style homes. The entrance pillars to the neighborhood are on the corner of the front yard of this house. Another wonderful building site for one of Sears upscale models.
The original owner, Edwin C Trauth, was a sales manager for a company that manufactured fire extinguishers, according to the 1940 Census. Edwin passed away in the house in 1944, and in 1945 his widow sold the home.
How many more Elmhurst models are out there? We don’t really know. But we do know that this model was one that was selected to be featured in that 1930 Sears Home Construction sales campaign. Other models that were part of the same campaign are The Lewiston, The Colchester, and The Bellewood. So…..Sears House researchers……go find ’em. Check the archives of your local newspapers in 1930 and see if a Sears Model Home was built in your area. And let us know what you find. We’ll jump for joy!
Click here to read about a Sears Elmhurst that Andrew Mutch located in Washington DC
Click here to read about a Sears Elmhurst that Lara Solonickne located in Elmhurst, Illinois