June 28, 2012

The Cost of Building a House in Arlington Heights--in 1904

The Daily Herald today featured an article by columnist Margery Frisbie. She wrote about Henry Leark, who, in 1904, built his family's house in Arlington Heights near Walnut and Hawthorne streets. Leark paid for a house plan and then went to the local lumberyard to get the supplies for the three-room house. Frisbie wrote: "Leark built three rooms, which cost between $2,000 and $3,000 for lumber, roofing, sand, gravel and sewer tiles."

Let's contrast Leark's cost for his conventionally built cottage with the cost to build a much nicer Sears catalog house in 1909.

Modern Home No. 167 (later called the Maytown) was a popular model for Sears. "This is a well-proportioned house which affords a great deal of room at a low cost."

Modern Home No. 167 from the 1909 Modern Homes catalog.

In comparison to Leark's modest home, Modern Home No. 167 was an eight-room house with high ceilings. It featured an octagon tower, crystal leaded windows in the front parlor, and colored leaded art glass sash for the hall. The floors and trim were clear yellow pine, the siding was cypress, and the roof was cedar shingles.

With most of the building materials supplied by Sears, Modern Home No. 167 could be built for about $1573 (including labor, cement, brick and plaster).

This example clearly demonstrates the significant cost savings that homeowners could realize by buying a house from a catalog. Sears used economies of scale to provide top-quality lumber and materials for less. According to the Sears sales literature: "we buy raw lumber direct from the best timber tracts in America". Lumber was pre-cut to length and labeled for easy assembly. In the days before power tools, pre-cut homes represented an enormous savings in labor--no measuring or cutting--and no waste of lumber.

Sears and the other kit home manufacturers made it affordable for young, working-class families to have well-built, modern homes in neighborhoods like Arlington Heights.

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