October 13, 2020

A Sears Westly in an African-American Neighborhood... in Lake Forest

147 Washington Road, Lake Forest. Photo from Realtor site.

 
Sears Westly.

When I think of Lake Forest, racial diversity is not what comes to mind. Today, 1.98% of Lake Forest residents identify as Black or African American.

However, Lake Forest has had a small African-American community since the town was founded in 1857.  Many early Lake Forest residents were anti-slavery or abolitionists, and, consequently, escaped slaves made their way there. After the Civil War, African-Americans continued to migrate from the South to Lake Forest to join their relatives and friends.

In the 1920's, Lake Forest was booming and doubled its population.  By that time, there were two neighborhoods that housed most of the African-American residents in town. One of them was near Washington and Illinois roads.

Bebb Jones, an African American, moved to Lake Forest from Town Creek, Alabama sometime after 1910. He married Viola Wynn and worked at various times as a grocer, druggist, and "fruit peddler".  After the birth of their third daughter, the Jones family decided it was time to buy a Westly model from Sears Roebuck in May 1920.

In the 1920's most Americans obtained mortgage loans from private individuals, local banks, or building and loan associations. However, black homebuyers were unable to get financing from these lenders due to racial discrimination. 

Consequently, Bebb Jones got a mortgage from Sears Roebuck. In 1920, Sears normally required a down payment of about 10% and offered customers an amortized loan with 6 percent interest for five years. The loan application was submitted by mail and Sears did not ask for the applicant's race, ethnicity, or gender.

The application for a mortgage loan from Sears Roebuck (1921). They did not ask for much information about the applicant. 
 


 
There were two floor plans for the Westly. The one that Bebb bought had stairs in the center, living room on one side, and dining room on the other.


 
The house retains some of the original millwork. Photo from Realtor site.

 
Living room. Photo from Realtor site.



 
Dining room with original leaded crystal window. Photo from Realtor site.


 


 
Front bedroom overlooking the sleeping porch. Photo from Realtor site.


Bebb and Viola divorced by 1930, although they had a son together in early 1931. Both of them died in 1933. The children went to Detroit to live with relatives.







1 comment:

Architectural Observer said...

I can't help but wonder if some of the original porch components might still be in place beneath the later siding. Great backstory, though somewhat tragic. It would be interesting to find what percentage of minority home buyers bought kit houses simply as a way of attaining financing. This Westly is looking loved after what appears to be a recent renovation.

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