Recently I was asked how many Sears Houses there are in Cincinnati. I certainly didn’t have an answer to that question off the top of my head, because there are LOADS of them. So I spent a couple of days doing some maintenance on our “National Database of Sears Homes in the United States”. I do that a couple times a year to keep on top of it. I made sure all the Ohio entries had a County listed, and in Hamilton County, I also make sure there is a neighborhood attached. Since Cincinnati is so large and has so many Sears Houses, it’s pretty much the only way I can print off a list of a smaller area when I am heading there for a day trip.
After updating that I was pretty comfortable answering the question about the number of houses there. The Cincinnati area has the most Sears Homes located to date of anywhere in the United States. Nowhere else even comes close. So……that brings up another question.
It’s a simple answer, one that has been known for a really long time, way before I started tracking down these houses.
Norwood Sash and Door.
Since I love old newspapers, and I love Sears Houses, I thought now would be a good time to share some of the things myself, and others on my research team, have learned about the Sears, Roebuck / Norwood Sash and Door connection using articles and ads found in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
In 1914, Sears, Roebuck and Company started a millwork plant in Norwood, Ohio. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the Cincinnati area, Norwood is an enclave, meaning it is a city that is completely surrounded by another city. In this case, Cincinnati.
On line resources say Sears bought the factory, originally The Standard Mills Company, in 1912, but the 1914 notice in the Cincinnati Enquirer appears to be when it “officially” became the millwork plant for the Sears Modern Home department. I say this because just three weeks later, Sears was advertising houses in the Enquirer that were also offered in their mail order catalog.
Sears was proud of their new millwork plant, and invited the public to come see what they had to offer. Like free catalogs of house plans and building materials.
While the rest of the United States had to get their building materials from Sears by mail order and wait for shipment by rail, in the Cincinnati area you could order direct from the factory and get prompt delivery.
Of course if you wanted your catalog in the mail, you go ahead and send in this coupon……or……you could just call them.
At this point, ads only mentioned Norwood Sash and Door, and not Sears, Roebuck, even though the catalog shown was published by Sears.
The factory was expanded twice in the next several years, once in 1918, and again in 1920.
In 1921, a display area was opened downtown, with a model kitchen, and other assorted products. Housing was in demand!
Later in 1921 was this ad for the Rodessa model. It was offered at a great price, and you could buy it on an easy payment plan. This was a very popular model in the Cincinnati area. To date, over 50 of them have been spotted all over town. In the small print, there is also mention of a Norwood Sash and Door office in Dayton, but again, no mention of Sears, Roebuck. We do know that at this point, you could get a mortgage directly through Norwood Sash and Door, something that only happened in a select part of Ohio. We are also pretty confident that Norwood Sash and Door allowed local home buyers and builders to open in house credit accounts, as we have numerous Sears Kit Houses in Cincinnati documented with a recorded Mechanics Lien. Those would have been in situations where you had a balance due but didn’t pay your bill.
In 1924, Norwood Sash and Door enlarged their showroom downtown. Business was booming!
Wouldn’t it be great if some of those miniature models showed up somewhere!
It was all about the houses, folks.
Later in 1924, some of the ads were showing Sears, Roebuck again instead of Norwood Sash and Door. The reasons for this back and forth is not clear.
The very same ad above was published a couple weeks later, with Norwood Sash and Door as the company.
In 1925, two important things happened. One was that the construction of the Sears Aurora model on Grand Vista Ave. was started for the head of Norwood Sash and Door, J J Mc Hugh, who had been transferred to Cincinnati from Sears corporate headquarters in Chicago. As far as we know, it is the only Aurora model ever built.
The other important thing was that Sears, Roebuck would move their display office from the second floor of the Carew Tower to a first floor storefront on West Fourth St. Still downtown, but much better access for walk in foot traffic.
Heavy advertising continued throughout 1926. One thing I notice is that the prices in the ads in the Cincinnati Enquirer appear to be a bit less than what was in the regular Sears Modern Homes catalog that was mailed to customers across the United States.
This next ad does specifically mention that this Kilbourne is offered at a “wholesale, direct from the factory” price.
This ad from 1928 shows actual homes built in the Cincinnati area. I think we have located all the homes shown in the ad.
In 1929, several Sears Homes were completed and open to the public for inspection.
Before 1929, customers would order the plans and building materials from Sears, then hire a contractor to build their home, or if they had skills, build it themselves. In 1929, Sears, Roebuck started their Home Construction Division, and would now take on the contracting of the house for you.
This new Home Construction Division resulted in Sears hosting Open Houses of homes they had built in various cities across the Midwest in 1930. One of them was in Cincinnati.
Also in 1930, Sears, Roebuck was kind enough to give us some idea of how many houses had actually been built in the Cincinnati area.
My research team has discussed this number on several occasions, and what we have decided is that we don’t really know what Sears considered “Cincinnati”. Just like today, it could have been a pretty good size sales region that included points north, like Hamilton, Middletown, and Dayton, and south, over the river in Kentucky. If that was the case, that number is much more believable.
After the big Open House sales push across the Midwest, which was surely planned in late fall of 1929, things began to go bad for the home building business, due to the stock market crash, and resulting bank problems.
It’s unclear exactly when, but sometime in 1930 or early 1931, Sears would close their display storefront downtown and move the Cincinnati Modern Home Office back to the Norwood Sash and Door factory, where it all started in 1914. Ads also got much smaller, and simpler.
Sales and advertising still continued, even during the lean building years.
1933 brought the completion of two high end Sears Homes, a Jefferson model, and a Lexington model, both of which were featured in the newspaper.
By 1935, J J McHugh had been transferred back to Chicago and Sears took ownership of the unique home built for him during his years at Norwood Sash and Door. When Sears sold the house it made the newspaper.
All is quiet in the newspaper until 1938 when a few small ads show up.
Marketing to renters. There were probably lots of them after the stock market crash.
A model home was built across the river in 1939, proving that the Sears Cincinnati area spread across the state line.
In 1940, there is a not so subtle shift away from home building as Norwood Sash and Door looks to get some orders from the Department of Defense. The last Sears Modern Homes catalog would be published in 1940, though sales from it continued in a few areas for a couple more years.
1941 brought labor union troubles to the factory but in 1942, Norwood Sash and Door got that big Government contract it had been hoping for. This shift pretty much ended the Sears Modern Homes building department.
Thanks to those of you who are still here reading what must be my longest post ever, but once I got started I wanted to see it through to the end of the Sears, Roebuck / Norwood Sash and Door connection.
What’s left now is the answer to that question from the beginning……how many Sears Houses are there in Cincinnati? LOADS!
I’ll tell you in my next post.