June 25, 2024

Sorry, Not a Sears Magnolia in Batavia

In 1990, Thomas A. Mair published a book called Batavia Revisited. In it, he wrote that the house at 223 Batavia Avenue was a Sears Magnolia.

233 Batavia Ave., Batavia. Claimed to be a "Sears Magnolia". Photo from Mapquest.

The Sears Magnolia as it appeared in the Modern Homes catalog

I don't see even a remote resemblance, but many locals in Batavia insist that the house was changed over time. By "changed", they mean the front entrance looks completely different, all the windows have been altered, the pillars have been removed, the dormers changed from one to two. Is it impertinent to suggest that just maybe this house is not a Sears Magnolia?

An excerpt from Mair's book in the local paper.

Evidently, Mair heard from someone that the house at 223 Batavia Avenue was ordered from a catalog and he assumed it must have been a Sears model and the Magnolia was close enough.  As researcher Andrew Mutch wrote: "In the context of the millions of houses that were sold between 1908 and 1942, Sears houses make up a tiny fraction of that total. If a house is identified as being from Sears, it should match the catalog image or be pretty darn close. "

In 2005, author Rebecca Hunter dropped a truth bomb and informed the Batavia Historical Society that the house in question was actually a Vernon model from Sterling Homes of Bay City, Michigan. 

This is a proper identification.  The house in Batavia has a reversed floor plan, so the porte-cochère is on the right side rather than the left.

Did Hunter's identification put an end to the misinformation? Of course not. Since the book was published, the myth of the house on Batavia Avenue being from Sears Roebuck continues to be propagated even in 2024.

The Vernon was about 2,250 square feet and had four bedrooms. The Vernon was an upscale house, but not in comparison to the Magnolia. The price reflected that--the Magnolia cost about twice as much as the Vernon.

Few interior photos are available. The Vernon holds offices today. The entry hall was probably dark originally which is why fluorescent lights have been installed. Photo from attorney Brad Covey's website.

Photos of a Vernon from the Sterling Homes catalog. I think this might be the Vernon in Bay City, Michigan that was built around 1914.

Photo from attorney Brad Covey's website.

In April 1921, Ira E. Seymour purchased the plot of land for $3,500. It is doubtful that the Vernon was included in that price since the price of the base house with no upgrades was significantly more than that.

Ira had recently been named the president of the Household Journal Co., a publisher. 

Ira and his wife Maisie chose the Vernon from the Sterling Homes catalog, and the house was completed by 1922. 

Ira died in 1932, but Maisie and two sons continued to live in the house. The Seymour family owned the property until at least 1973.

Batavia has a notable number of Sears houses (23) in addition to the Sterling Vernon. Many of these houses have been authenticated through mortgage and deed records.

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