August 14, 2018

The Sears Home Leaderboard

Researchers have compiled a substantial list of Sears houses located all over the United States (over 16,000 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                                    209

Rockford                             173
Carlinville                            149
Aurora                                 142
Downers Grove                   67
Joliet                                    57
West Chicago                      57

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, West Chicago, 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!


Unknown said...

And I could not have done much of my research without the help of you Lara!! Thank you!!

Architectural Observer said...

This is fun data! It really helps to put things in perspective and illustrates just how important Sears' (and other kit manufacturer's) houses were to America's twentieth century growth. Its sad to think about how many have been lost. The continuing teardown phenomenon is evidence that despite greater awareness of the value of historic houses, many people still prefer massive square footage and temporary fads to modest, but superior, older houses of quality. Thanks for calling attention to these assets!

Lara said...

Thanks for reading!

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