August 14, 2018

The Sears Home Leaderboard

Researchers have compiled a substantial list of Sears houses located all over the United States (over 10,000 to date).  I want to share with you the largest totals for communities in Illinois. Please note that these totals can change. We discover more houses daily; we lose houses to demolition or fire.

Here are the top six from Illinois:

Community          Number of Sears Homes
Elgin                                    213

Carlinville                            149
Rockford                             142
Aurora                                 117
Downers Grove                   67
Joliet                                    62

Elgin, Rockford, Aurora, Joliet

These communities were population centers in the 1920's and 1930's, and they experienced consistent growth.

Rockford in 1930 was the second largest city in Illinois behind Chicago. With a 1930 population of almost 86,000, Rockford was the 100th biggest city in the United States.

Aurora clocked in at almost 47,000 residents in 1930, and grew 28% over the prior decade. Joliet's 1930 census tallied almost 43,000 residents. Elgin had almost 36,000 residents in the 1930 census.

Many employers were based in these areas, and there was a healthy supply of well-paid workers with steady jobs who wanted to be homeowners rather than renters.

It's no coincidence that these four Sears house leaders have not experienced the magnitude of teardowns that other suburbs have.  They have not lost the same amount of early 1900's housing stock like Winnetka or Western Springs or other communities, some of which have entire blocks of homes decimated. This helps account for their relatively high number of extant Sears houses.

Sears established Modern Homes sales offices in areas in which housing sales were strong. There were sales offices in all four of these communities for many years. Sales office in town = more Sears houses.

Finally, the vast majority of Sears houses in these communities have been identified. Author Rebecca Hunter conducted full architectural surveys in Elgin and Joliet. Hunter and other local researchers have searched county records for Aurora and Rockford properties that Sears financed.  This detailed research resulted in the high tallies of Sears houses.

A Sears Westly at 626 May, Elgin. The house was built in 1927, and is authenticated by marked lumber in the attic. Photo from Realtor site.

Sears Westly.

In 1918, Standard Oil opened the first of four coal mines in the Carlinville area. The company wanted to ensure its workers had adequate housing and placed an order with Sears Roebuck for 156 houses. The houses were built as a new addition to the town of Carlinville, rather than near the mining areas, because Standard Oil wanted the workers to have the advantages of electricity, municipal water and sewers, and schools for their children. The blocks that contain the Sears houses were named the "Standard Addition" to Carlinville.

Standard Oil constructed 14 different models in the Standard Addition. The houses were further varied by modifying the roof and porch designs. Excerpt from The Bulletin of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, 1919.

The same Sears Madelia and Sears Carlin on North High Street, Carlinville. Still looking good! Image from Google Streetview.

Carlinville was prospering, and everything was looking up... until the mine closed in 1924. Carlinville had a population of 5,212 in 1920, and proceeded to lose 20% of its population after the mine's closure. 

However, the Sears houses are still standing as a memorial to those boom years. Of the 156 houses that Standard Oil built, 149 exist today.  Tours are often given of the Standard Addition if you happen to be in the area, and there are Facebook groups devoted to those Sears houses.

Downers Grove
Downers Grove in 1930 had a population of 8,977. However, the suburb grew an impressive 153% over the previous decade! Housing was needed desperately, and many new Downers Grove residents turned to Sears Roebuck.

Downers Grove resident Chuck Holtzen spent hours pulling the deed records from DuPage County, and she managed to uncover many Sears houses that were previously unknown. That research contributed to Downers Grove ending up in the top six locales for Sears houses in Illinois.

All the Western suburbs have a substantial number of Sears houses, including Lombard, St. Charles, Elmhurst, and Glen Ellyn. All these suburbs have also had a significant number of teardowns as well. We'll never know which of these suburbs officially had the most Sears houses, but Downers Grove has come out on top today.

Sears Elsmore at 5210 Grand, Downers Grove. Photo courtesy of Chuck Holtzen.

Are you interested in finding the hidden Sears kit houses in your community? Email me!

July 31, 2018

Sears Hamilton in West Chicago

702 Hillview, West Chicago. Photo from Realtor site.

Sears Hamilton from the 1923 Modern Homes catalog.

Sometimes you come across a Sears house that is cute in every way. This is the case with a Sears Hamilton in West Chicago. 

The Hamilton is a small cottage with jerkinhead (clipped) dormers, sold from 1922-1930. The county reports that this Hamilton in West Chicago was built in 1927, which is reasonable.

 "Sunlight comes in the window during the day and in the evening the firelight flickers on the hearth. There is an air of fellowship that makes this a real home," according to Sears. Photo from Realtor site.

"Six French windows flood this room with sunlight and air." Photo from Realtor site.

The living room of the Sears Hamilton, from the 1925 Modern Homes catalog. The fireplace design and mantel are the same as in the catalog.

 "This dining room breathes an air of hospitality, so dear to the heart of every home lover." Photo from Realtor site.

 The window seat is hinged, providing storage. The owners have knocked out the wall between the dining room and the kitchen. Photo from Realtor site.

The small room on the right that now houses an oven was once a teeny breakfast alcove. Photo from Realtor site.

 "The bedroom is comfortable, airy, and flooded with sunshine." Photo from Realtor site.

 Photo from Realtor site.

This is a hallway in the attic with original doors. This was an expensive add-on to the original house. Photo from Realtor site.

At the time of this writing, the Hamilton was just listed for sale. This one will go fast!

July 17, 2018

Montgomery Ward Homes: As Welcoming Today As 88 Years Ago

As much as the public obsesses over Sears kit houses, there are thousands of Montgomery Ward houses all over the country that are overlooked. Montgomery Ward sold high-quality homes that are still as welcoming today as they were 88 years ago.

Today we feature two Wardway models in the Northern suburbs.

Wardway Kenwood in Northfield

1549 Winnetka Rd., Northfield. Photo from Realtor site.

Montgomery Ward Kenwood.

This house in Northfield is a perfect match to the Montgomery Ward Kenwood, except it is lacking a clipped gable roof (a design option). The original front door and screen door remain.  The double window in the front has been replaced by a bay window, likely after initial construction.

The Kenwood has a triple window in the living room. Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Wardway Drexel in Deerfield

1044 Chestnut, Deerfield. Photo from Realtor site.

Wardway Drexel.

There have been many changes to the exterior of the house, but, believe it or not, this is an authenticated Wardway Drexel.

We see the original Montgomery Ward front door, but the vestibule has been streamlined. I think I prefer the new version.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Dante Mitrovi took out a mortgage for $5050 from Wards in November 1930 to build the Drexel. Dante was a Yugoslavian immigrant.

I'm not clear whether Dante ever lived in the house or whether he built it as an investment. Either way, by 1940, Dante and his family were living in Chicago.

Dante at age 72, volunteering as a coal miner at the Museum of Science and Industry. He was never a miner in real life; he worked for the railroad.

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