Friday, March 29, 2013
The Sears House ~ Ellen O'Connell
The story I’m currently working on (as yet untitled) is my first sequel and features a hero and heroine who were children in 1881–2 in Beautiful Bad Man. That puts the new story up to the turn of the century, later than anything I’ve done in the past.
In researching, as usual I went off on interesting tangents, and one of the most interesting was finding out about the Sears house, a little later still, but such a historical tidbit I can’t help but share.
Starting in 1908 and ending in 1940, customers could mail order complete houses from Sears, Roebuck and Co. through what was called their Modern Home program. Sears shipped via rail everything single thing needed to build the house of your choice right down to the nails. (I can’t help but wonder—did you get the exact number of nails needed? Did they make an allowance of some percentage for bent and ruined ones?)
The illustration included here (which is now in the public domain) is for House #115. I don’t know if you’ll be able to read it on your screen, but the price for this house is $725. In the Sears archives, I found prices ranging from $452–$2,906 for different models sold in the 1908–1914 time period.
Sears destroyed its records of sales of these houses after discontinuing the program, but during the years of the Modern Home program, the company sold between 70,000 and 75,000 houses in 447 styles. The customer could choose to have central heating and plumbing packages with his house (or order an outhouse).
Lumber was shipped precut and fitted. The houses included a new framing system that made building easier. Drywall and asphalt shingles were new building materials that superseded the previous plaster and lathe walls and wood or tin roofs that required more expertise to construct.
The houses were of excellent quality and some are now designated as historical buildings. Since there are no longer records, a house has to be identified as a Sears house nowadays by certain identifying marks or characteristics.
I see modular houses clogging up the highways as they’re transported by truck along the highways sometimes, and in remote areas of Colorado modulars are more common than“stick-built” houses, but somehow the idea of prefab houses being shipped so long ago and put up by their new owners the way barns were raised in the good old days tickles my fancy. I really wanted these houses to fit in my time frame and include one in the story, but darn it they came along a little too late.