February 15, 2009

Mail Order Homes


by Vickie McDonough

Can you imagine the fun of scouring the Sears catalog for your next home? Or purchasing a brand new house for less than $1000? What about going to the train depot to await the arrival of your new home?

Between 1908 and 1940, more than 100,000 houses were sold through Sears’s Modern Homes program. Sears wasn’t the first company to sell mail order homes, but it was the largest. Architects designed 447 different houses, and each of the designs could be modified in numerous ways, such as reversing floor plans, building with brick instead of wood siding, and many other options. Homes could be bought with or without bathrooms, although it would seem a wise investment to add such a feature.

Sears house still standing in Guthrie, OK

Families picked out their houses according to their needs, tastes, and pocketbooks. Entire homes would arrive by railroad, from precut lumber, to carved staircases, down to the nails and varnish. Sears provided all the materials and instructions.

In 1908, houses ranged from the very simple Model No. 115, which cost $452 to $1,096

To a middle-priced home like Model No. 137,

which cost $1,140 to $1,342

To the very large three story Model No. 154, running from $2,287 to $2,702

It’s hard to know the impact these mail order homes had on America as people left the crowded cities to move to smaller towns or out in the country, but it is an interesting part of American history.

Have you ever seen a Sears’ house, or do you know of one still standing in your town?



Susan Page Davis said...

Interesting, Vickie! I believe there is one of these in a town about 10 miles from me. The old floor plan catalogs are great to look at and give you an idea of what "typical" houses were like.

carla stewart said...

Very cool, Vickie. I think it was an old Sears house that some friends of ours in the Panhandle bought. They moved it to a new location and added on to it, but kept a lot of the original ideas.

Jackie said...

My friend's grandmother still lives in her Sears' home on their farm near Genesee, Idaho. I've been inside and down into the basement. It's wonderful!

Lena Nelson Dooley said...

Kathleen, there are two of these homes in Hamilton, Texas, southwest from Fort Worth. One is more like a cottage, but the other one is a two story one.

A friend of mine was a minister there for several years, and we drove down to visit them several times. He showed them to us.

There are also two homes built right after the civil war.

Kim Vogel Sawyer said...

My parents lived in a Sears kit home in Wilmore, Kansas, in the early 1980's. It was a wonderful two-story with an open, winding staircase, gorgeous fretwork between the parlor and dining room, and lovely woodwork throughout--a very unique home full of charm and character. When they moved from Wilmore, they wanted to take the house with them, but Wilmore sits in a valley and it wasn't possible. They still miss that house.


Interesting post - I'd like to know more about these homes. Hell, I'd like to buy one.

Vickie McDonough said...

Isn't it amazing that so many of the Sears homes are still standing. It's a great statement about quality.

We put together a swing set once that took 12 hours. Imagine how long it would take to put a house together.