January 22, 2019

A Stately Sears No. 123 in Brookfield

A couple years ago, I had a goal of predominantly featuring old (1908-1913) Sears houses on this site. However, the early model Sears homes are tough to come by in the Chicago area.

Part of the reason is that Sears Roebuck simply didn't sell as many kit houses in that time period, as the Modern Homes business was still getting off the ground. Additionally, Sears did not offer mortgages before 1911, which complicated purchases for customers since they needed to pay cash for a house or find financing from a local bank. 

I think another reason we rarely see old Sears models is that houses built from 1908-1913 in the older suburbs tended to be located in areas that were part of of suburban downtown redevelopment efforts and were consequently razed. And, as a matter of course, many houses over 100 years old in residential areas tend to be demolished and replaced by McMansions or new construction.

I've found pre-1914 Sears houses in places like the Norwood Park neighborhood of Chicago, Glencoe, Des Plaines, Woodstock, and now, Brookfield.

4160 Raymond Ave., Brookfield. Capture from Google Streetview.

No. 123 from the 1914 Modern Homes catalog.

In the early days, Sears didn't have names for their houses--they had numbers. I was looking for a house in Brookfield, and inadvertently stumbled across this stunning No. 123.

That's supposed to be a "fancy" leaded glass window in the living room, according to the catalog, but apparently it's been replaced. The house came standard with cypress siding and cedar shingles. Capture from Google Streetview.

The No. 123 was not the most expensive house Sears was selling at the time, but it was definitely one of the more expensive models. The house featured two staircases, a large reception hall, and a large kitchen and pantry. Sears advised that the first floor bedroom could also be used as a library.

Four bedrooms on the second floor and a bathroom. No outhouse needed!

This No. 123 in Brookfield was one of the first Sears houses sold in the Chicago area. It is located in the Congress Park area of town. 

Henry and Nellie Zwergel purchased it in 1909. Sears said that the price of the house was $1,073, and if you hired a contractor to build it, the cost would be $2,578. Henry was a retired "day laborer", but apparently he had some bucks.

Henry died in 1910, and Nellie died in 1919. However, four of their adult children continued to live in the house. Three of them passed away in 1949. The fourth, Gertrude 
Zwergel, sold the house in 1951, and she died a few years afterwards. So the Zwergel family owned the house for 42 years altogether.

There is one other No. 123 in Illinois, and it is in Joliet. Author Rebecca Hunter located this one.

617 Buell, Joliet. Capture from Google Streetview.

The No. 123 in Joliet was built around 1916. The original owners were retirees Charles and Ida Schmuhl. 

January 8, 2019

Wave Your Flag for the Sears Betsy Ross

Sears sold the Betsy Ross for 10 years. At around 700 square feet, the house was simply adorable with pretty accoutrements. 

As Sears said: "When painted white with green shutters and window boxes and set off with the red and white of the brickwork, what could be more delightful?"

The Sears Betsy Ross. I told you it was adorable. 

The Betsy Ross, at about 700 square feet, has a nice size living room and two bedrooms. A fireplace came standard as well as a breakfast nook with a coffered ceiling.

A 1921 newspaper ad featuring the Betsy Ross.

Let's take a look at some Betsy Ross houses in the western suburbs.

Downers Grove

1416 Warren, Downers Grove. There's the "sunshine" detail above the front door. Photo courtesy of Chuck Holtzen.

Side angle.

From this angle, we see that this house is a super-close match to the Betsy Ross illustration. Photo courtesy of Sue Smith.

This house is not an authenticated Betsy Ross, but I would say with 99% certainty that it is one.

The comfortable living room. According to Sears, you could fit all your furniture and a piano. That's the original fireplace mantel from Sears Roebuck. The Betsy Ross is a sunny house! Photo from Realtor site.


345 Hamilton, Elgin. I took this photo right after a snowstorm.

According to research conducted by author Rebecca Hunter, this Betsy Ross was built in 1927, and it is authenticated by stamped lumber in the attic. Elgin has eight Betsy Ross houses.

This undated old photo (courtesy of Elgin Bungalows) shows the chimney flower box!! It's more of a flower shelf on this house, but it's still awesome.  You can also see the original shutter with the clovers.

North Aurora

325 N. Lincolnway, North Aurora. Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Closeup of the casement windows. Photo from Realtor site.

This original Sears door also has the original Stratford door hardware. Photo from Realtor site.

This Betsy Ross backs up to the Fox River. I will guarantee that Sears delivered this house by barge. They often did that since it was more affordable than rail. Photo from Realtor site.

December 11, 2018

The Top Five Articles of 2018

Once again the holiday season is approaching and with it, the end of another year. It's time to reveal our top five most popular articles of 2018 and what you, the readers, enjoyed most.

Five Most Viewed Articles

1    The Sears Home Leaderboard -- This article has the most views by far. What communities in Illinois have the most Sears houses... and why?

2    A Neglected Sears Verona -- A dilapidated Sears Verona in Lombard is saved by a new owner. This house will be a showplace after it's restored.

3    This is How You Get it Done -- A Downers Grove resident takes charge and develops an accurate list of Sears homes in town. We'll take a closer look at a Sears Aurora in Downers Grove--a rare model never seen on the internet before.

4    A Montgomery Ward Not-a-Kit House -- Glen Ellyn has many lovely kit houses, but one of the well-known houses in town was built using materials from Montgomery Ward. Do the owners know?

5   What Else is Hiding in Rockford? -- A Rockford resident devises a new way to find Sears houses and discovers two previously unknown models.

We invite you to join us in 2019 and see even more Sears homes in Chicagoland. Happy Holidays!

The Sears Christmas Book from 1937. Scan from Wishbookweb.

For the Sears house connection to "A Christmas Story", click here!

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