“Is it true that you could once buy a house from a catalogue?”
“Do I have a kit house?”
“How can I identify which house I have?”
During my years as a historic preservation advocate, at event after event, I think that these are the questions I have been asked the most frequently.
Though last year, nearly 81% of the American population shopped online, the novelty of a whole house arriving on a train intrigues. I find the picture of a family waiting at the station in excited anticipation of hearing the toot of the train signalling the arrival of their first home, to be most endearing. Who would not wish to be a part of this story?
Sadly, Sears, the primary outlet for these homes, destroyed their sales records during a routine corporate house cleaning, so finding information on individual houses today can entail quite a bit of patient research. Adding to the mystery, the various companies that offered these homes often copied plan elements or even complete designs with only small changes from one to other. As a result, there are a number of models from different manufacturers that look similar or identical to other models. Determining which company manufactured your home may well require extensive searching.
So much has been written on kit houses that I have chosen to just be a reference librarian here & point you in the direction of the wealth of information that already exists on the subject. Whether you are merely curious, or have the burning desire to uncover whether you have a kit house or not, these references should provide you with what you need.
BOOKS ANSWERING THE QUESTION, DO I HAVE A KIT HOUSE
The Houses That Sears Built; Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sears Catalog Homes
by Rosemary Thornton
From the author:
“When you have finished reading The Houses That Sears Built, you will be your community’s expert on Sears homes. You’ll learn how to identify Sears homes from the inside, outside and from courthouse documents. You’ll learn the interesting details of Sears homes’ construction.”
Also by Rosemary Thornton
Finding the Houses that Sears Built; A Guide to the 60 Most Popular Designs
Thornton explains, “If you learn how to identify these 60 designs, [of the almost 400 designs offered] you’ll discover about 90% of the Sears homes in your community.”
And perhaps one of these is yours!
introduced by Rosemary Thornton & Dale Patrick Wolicki,
California’s Kit Homes:
A reprint of the 1915 Pacific Ready Homes Catalog
Houses by Mail: A Guide To Houses from Sears, Roebuck & Company
by Katherine Cole Stevenson & H. Ward Jandl.
This definitive field guide for identifying Sears homes tells their curious story & provides meticulously researched material to aid in identifying Sears houses across the U.S.
The book features nearly 450 house models with more than 800 illustrations, including drawings of many houses & floor plans & gives advice on how to return them to their original charm.
These books are available from several book sellers. I recommend searching the titles to find out who might have them currently in stock. The prices are all over the place, so my advice is to keep looking until you find one that is most affordable.
ONLINE SOURCES OF INFORMATION ON KIT HOUSES
Sears Houses in the U.S.
Historic homes that were sold as kits, and shipped to homeowners by rail.
These researchers maintain the National Database of Sears Houses, authenticating each entry through public records or other primary sources data. They have a page with a list of blogs that provide information about houses in specific areas of the country.
Wikipedia has an extensive article on kit houses, including information about:
Delivery & construction
Kit house companies
with an authoritative bibliography & excellent linked references.
If all the above fails, there is a group page, The Original Sears Kit Homes Group on Facebook- Since 2009, that you can join. Should you discover that your house is a kit house, but it was not made by Sears, I invite you to start a group that covers the other manufacturers. I think that people would flock to it!
And finally, visit my playlist of curated videos on YouTube. They contain huge amounts of information & some cool images. My favorite one is presented by the state architectural historian at the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, Devin Colman. His in-depth, scholarly talk is very thorough but easy to comprehend, & he shows many illustrations. This is a man who clearly has a strong background in historic architecture & presents the kit house phenomenon against the culture & the technology of the times.
to see a boatload more images of kit houses, visit my Pinterest page.
My fingers are crossed for you that you can discover the source of your house. Please keep me posted & let me know of any helpful resources that I have omitted.
I would love to feature your house & your story on the blog.
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