March 21, 2017

Buying a Sears House in 1935

In the summer of 1935, Albert and Lila Schmidt were a young married couple in their 20's. Their son, Duane, had just turned one. The Schmidts were renting an apartment in DeKalb, but wanted a house of their own in which to raise their boy. Albert had a stable job as a driver of an oil truck and they felt the time was right to make the leap into home ownership.

Early in the summer, the Schmidts were visited by Ellwood H. May, the district manager of the Sears Modern Homes Division in Rockford. DeKalb was in May's sales territory, and he was there often meeting with prospective customers and knocking on doors.

After meeting with May, the Schmidts studied the Sears Modern Homes catalog to learn more about the available models and the process of working with Sears to build a new house.

The 1935 Modern Homes catalog that the Schmidts read through. Scan courtesy of Antique Home.

Lila wrote to May around August of 1935.


Lila wrote:
"We are considering building, possibly not until spring. We have picked out the Dover house page 33, and the Wilmore page 21 in [the] Sears book of homes. However, we would like to see these actual houses. Would you please mail to me the addresses of people who have built these two houses, within a radius of 100 miles, who would be willing to show us their homes?"

Wilmore or Dover? Dover or Wilmore? Both were affordable homes that Sears categorized as "Americanized English". How to decide?

In September, May himself took the Schmidts to see a Dover and a Wilmore, as he noted in an internal memo.

May wrote:
"I have been figuring with Albert Schmidt.... I showed them one of our Wilmores in Rockford and a Dover in Byron, Ill. They like the Dover and have sent 25.00 for a set of plans to Chicago."

The $25 served as a deposit on the house purchase. The Schmidts had decided on the Dover, but May was still "figuring" with Albert and negotiating the final price.

The Sears Dover the Schmidts purchased, located at 630 S. 1st St. in DeKalb. Photo from Realtor site.

Sears Dover.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

The Schmidts lived in the Dover at least until 1979.

I found a 2011 reference to the Albert and Lila Schmidt in a column written by Barry Schrader for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. He wrote:
"...I have been a popcorn lover since my uncle and aunt, Albert and Lila Schmidt, raised popcorn from the 1940s to the ‘60s in a plot south of DeKalb. They bagged it and sold it at their home and at their D-X service station at the corner of Fourth Street and Lincoln Highway. They have both passed away, but at the end of December their son, Duane, and his wife, Carol, gave me a surprise birthday gift – a two-pound bag of unpopped corn with the label 'Grandpa Albert’s White Popcorn.' "
"The label includes a photo of Albert in his captain’s cap, which I remember him wearing each time he gave us a ride on his pontoon boat at Lake Kegonsa near Stoughton, Wis. What wonderful memories, and I will cherish every kernel of that corn."

Photo from "Kernels of Popcorn Mystery Uncovered", Barry Schrader, DeKalb Daily Chronicle, January 11, 2011.  


Unknown said...

This is awesome history, thanks for sharing! I have a Sears Osborn and absolutely love it :)

SearsHouseSeeker said...

What a fabulous post, with such interesting supporting documents! It's so rare to have this kind of thing to include. Wonderful!

Sharid57 said...

This could certainly tie in with the discovery of Mr. May's business papers and records that you wrote about in January! I wonder if there are any more records of interest about the sale of this house still in that treasure-trove of information? Or, is that where THESE documents came from? 😏

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

Yes, Shari, those memos were in Mr. May's stash. There were many other notes about the transaction I didn't even share. May was meticulous about recordkeeping.

Sharid57 said...

And, so much the better for you!! Considering Sears dumped practically every SCRAP of paperwork and all documents regarding their kit homes business (dumb, Dumb, DUMB!!! 😱) after they stopped selling them, this must be like Manna from Heaven itself to find not only sales records, but those of a salesman who documented every single step he took in this business!! Rare indeed!

Sharid57 said...

Found this "not currently for sale" listing on Zillow. (Google Street View, of course, has the address wrong, as 617 S. 1st. Street.) It's quite a sales history! It was listed from May, 2008 to November 2009 beginning at something like $174,900.00!! It took several - almost monthly reductions in price until November, 2009, at $159,900.00, and then it was just taken off the market. Considering the times, right into the very beginning of that horrific recession, brought on during a period of heavily inflated real estate values that sunk like a concrete ship, it wasn't likely to sell at anything near that price anyway. The very next time it sold, it was 2014, and it sold for $81,000.00, reduced from $84,000.00. Probably an offer, and they took the money and ran with it.
There are 36 pictures in this listing, about half are duplicates, probably from a prior sale. The first set are the clearest and sharpest compared to the second, but carry a rather large, distracting realtor's logo banner across the top of each photo, probably to discourage "pirating" of their pictures. But the second set are free from that distraction, and it looks like you get a whole-house tour between all of them, including more views of the kitchen in the second half. The blue paint on the trim looks like it was done about 4 years ago, but didn't last very long, since the house doesn't show it at all in the Street View which says it's a 2017© date.
Very nice house - with what looks like a matching garage! It's a 1½ car model, with matching clipped-gable roofline. And ALL the house woodwork is still intact and NOT painted over! Yay!!

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

Shari, I only got one box of papers. There were dozens!!

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