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.



1 comment:

Shari Davenport said...

Wow! What an incredible comparison! I'll bet you 100 to 1 that the Mrs. was just livid when she got a gander at one of those catalogs, or worse yet, one of her friend's houses built from a Sears kit, knowing how much that cost them, showing her in considerable detail what kind of palatial splendor she could have been mistress of had he just LOOKED around and saw this catalog, or even one a year or two later!! Eight rooms - a separate kitchen, dining room and parlor, plus leaded glass windows, beautiful floors and trim work, walls and stairs, a lovely full indoor bathroom and plumbed kitchen, big cellar holding the central heating boiler and her laundry tubs, on a sturdy foundation, a nice big porch and even a TOWER room upstairs!
But NOOOO - instead she's stuck in a three room cottage (at best) that cost twice the price!! If that's not grounds for divorce, I don't know what is! I suppose since he did buy gravel and sand and sewer pipes, there was some kind of plumbing in there, but I bet not. like. this??!
On the other hand, if they both really did want just a three room cottage, how much would that have cost if they'd bought one out of a Sears catalog? I bet it wasn't as much as $1,000 a room!!!

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