October 13, 2020

A Sears Westly in an African-American Neighborhood... in Lake Forest

147 Washington Road, Lake Forest. Photo from Realtor site.

Sears Westly.

When I think of Lake Forest, racial diversity is not what comes to mind. Today, 1.98% of Lake Forest residents identify as Black or African American.

However, Lake Forest has had a small African-American community since the town was founded in 1857.  Many early Lake Forest residents were anti-slavery or abolitionists, and, consequently, escaped slaves made their way there. After the Civil War, African-Americans continued to migrate from the South to Lake Forest to join their relatives and friends.

In the 1920's, Lake Forest was booming and doubled its population.  By that time, there were two neighborhoods that housed most of the African-American residents in town. One of them was near Washington and Illinois roads.

Bebb Jones, an African American, moved to Lake Forest from Town Creek, Alabama sometime after 1910. He married Viola Wynn and worked at various times as a grocer, druggist, and "fruit peddler".  After the birth of their third daughter, the Jones family decided it was time to buy a Westly model from Sears Roebuck in May 1920.

In the 1920's most Americans obtained mortgage loans from private individuals, local banks, or building and loan associations. However, black homebuyers were unable to get financing from these lenders due to racial discrimination. 

Consequently, Bebb Jones got a mortgage from Sears Roebuck. In 1920, Sears normally required a down payment of about 10% and offered customers an amortized loan with 6 percent interest for five years. The loan application was submitted by mail and Sears did not ask for the applicant's race, ethnicity, or gender.

The application for a mortgage loan from Sears Roebuck (1921). They did not ask for much information about the applicant. 

There were two floor plans for the Westly. The one that Bebb bought had stairs in the center, living room on one side, and dining room on the other.

The house retains some of the original millwork. Photo from Realtor site.

Living room. Photo from Realtor site.

Dining room with original leaded crystal window. Photo from Realtor site.


Front bedroom overlooking the sleeping porch. Photo from Realtor site.

Bebb and Viola divorced by 1930, although they had a son together in early 1931. Both of them died in 1933. The children went to Detroit to live with relatives.

September 29, 2020

The Sears Milford: An Unassuming Cape Cod

Sears rolled out several Cape Cod models in its Modern Homes catalogs beginning  in 1931. One of these was the Milford.

Sears Milford @ Sears Homes of Chicagoland

The Milford came in two floor plans.

Sears Milford @ Sears Homes of Chicagoland

One plan was two-and-a-half feet wider than the other.  (The architect of the Milford was Alexander H. Bacci.)

Cape Cod style homes are all over the place, and most were built from about 1930 until after WWII. How do you know if your Cape Cod or one in your neighborhood is a Sears Milford?

There are a few identifying exterior features of the Milford.

1. The front door has a dentil shelf above the door with four panes (although the catalog illustration shows more than four). The door frame goes almost up to the roofline. There are no sidelights around the door.

2. The four front windows are aligned with the top of the door.

3. The two dormers are set somewhat low, maybe a foot-and-a-half off the roofline.

4. The chimney is off-center in the middle of the roof for the larger plan with the interior fireplace (shown in the catalog illustration). For the smaller floor plan, the chimney will be on the side of the house.

Sears Milford @ Sears Homes of Chicagoland
Another view of the larger floor plan.

How about the interior identifying features?

1. The Milfords have a fireplace that came standard. The larger floor plan will have a fireplace on the inner wall of the living room. The smaller floor plan will have a fireplace on the outer wall.

2. The house has a center staircase. The larger plan will have a coat closet adjacent to the stairs.

3. In the larger plan, the kitchen will have a teeny breakfast nook on the outer wall.

4. Upstairs, in the larger plan, one of the bedrooms will have a chimney breast.

With these criteria in mind, let's check out some Milfords in the Chicago area!


Sears Milford @ Sears Homes of Chicagoland
1333 Ridge Rd., Wilmette. Built 1936. Discovered by Judith Chabot. Photo from Realtor site.

The Milford door. Four panes in the shelf above the door and dentil molding above that. Photo from Realtor site.


Sears Milford @ Sears Homes of Chicagoland
3918 N. Lincoln, Westmont. Meets all our external criteria. The chimney is on the outer wall so it must be the smaller floor plan. Photo from Realtor site.


Sears Milford @ Sears Homes of Chicagoland
915 N 9th St., DeKalb. Photo from Realtor site.

This Milford, built in 1937, is authenticated. A former owner reports that there is marked lumber in the house.

This house is the larger floor plan with the breakfast nook on the side of the house. The door leads to a pantry. Photo from Realtor site.

Chicago Heights

Sears Milford @ Sears Homes of Chicagoland
1223 Sunnyside, Chicago Heights. This Milford is picture perfect! Photo from Realtor site.

The wider floor plan can accommodate a coat closet next to the center stairs. That's an original Sears door with original La Tosca door hardware. Photo from Realtor site.

The living room has the expected interior fireplace. Photo from Realtor site.


Photo from Realtor site.


Does this look familiar? It looks identical to the Milford in DeKalb. You need a tiny table to fit in that nook. Photo from Realtor site.


A bedroom showing the front dormer. Photo from Realtor site.

Let me know if you spot any Milfords in your town!

September 15, 2020

It was a Perfectly Good Entrance

Montgomery Ward Maywood @ Sears Homes of Chicagoland
1404 N. River Rd., McHenry.

Montgomery Ward Maywood @ Sears Homes of Chicagoland
Montgomery Ward Maywood.

I have to admit, I have never seen a house with an entry gable that has had its front door removed. It looks like someone photoshopped it out. They even removed the window adjacent to the door. 

Montgomery Ward Maywood @ Sears Homes of Chicagoland
There's the new front door, which puts visitors directly into the living room. Capture from Google Streetview.

Homeowners move front doors for a variety of reasons, but I don't understand the benefit to moving this particular door. The only reason I can come up with is that the owners wanted easier access to the driveway, and so the side door now leads directly into the living room. That still does not explain why they didn't they leave the original front door intact.

Montgomery Ward Maywood @ Sears Homes of Chicagoland
Floor plan of the Maywood.

Montgomery Ward Maywood @ Sears Homes of Chicagoland
Interior illustrations of the Maywood. The drawing on the far right shows where the front door is on the McHenry house.

This Maywood is authenticated. Montgomery Ward gave a mortgage to Everett Hunter, Sr. in October 1930.  Hunter owned the Hunterville Park subdivision in which the house was built. Hunterville Park had the last riverfront properties still available on the Fox River in 1930.

Hunter also was the owner of the Everett Hunter Boat Company, a manufacturer. The company offered boat excursions in the summer to see the blooming lotus beds that blanketed Grass Lake. Thousands of tourists would come to see them. 

The Gladene, one of the Hunter Boat Company's excursion boats.

The lotus beds on Grass Lake. These plants were almost completely gone by the 1940's due to boaters on the lake. Today the lotus flowers are coming back thanks to preservation efforts.