Tuesday, August 2, 2011

the 1921 build-it-yourself Sears home

Across the street from Hosbrook Park, a little wildbird and flower preserve (with a geocache), in a suburb of Cincinnati called Madeira, there is a fairly nondescript average yet attractive little house. I really wouldn't have paid much attention to it but it had a plaque in front of it out by the street and I am drawn to those things like a bird to seed in my quest for history.
This house I learned was built from a kit purchased from a Sears & Roebuck catalog for $1,704 in 1922!

Between 1908 and 1940 Sears sold 75,000 homes like this across the country to folks eager to leave the crowded cities and become first time home owners. Sears supplied the nails, boards, screws, paint, shingles and windows via the new-fangled railroad system but the masonry was done locally to keep the prices lower. Each kit came with a 75-page instruction book and contained 10,000 - 30,000 pieces. Sears would finance the kit homes for 25% down at an interest rate of 6%. The average American income in the 1920's was about $1200, so it would take more than 25% of your income to afford a home like this. The idea was you could build it yourself with a lot of help from friends like a barn raising or contract someone to do it for you in less time but at a slightly higher cost. Sears even numbered the boards to make it easier to build any one of their over 300 different designs through the years.

This particular home is the 1921 Crescent model and was originally built by the Fournier family in 1922. It is known as the Miller House for its second owners who bought it in 1948 and lived here until 1998. The house has 5 rooms with a solarium, an attached greenhouse and a fruit cellar. The garden in back was a pond at one time where the original owners kept an alligator.
The Great Depression caused a lot of people to default on their loans and the sales also declined forcing Sears to discontinue their Modern Homes department in 1940. In 1998, a few years after Bruce Miller died, his widow Elizabeth generously gave it to the Madeira Historical Society to use.

Many people still live in these homes today but since they are not the original owners many have no idea it was a kit home. One way to check is to first find out if your home was built during these years. If it was, look for shipping labels on the back of mill work and moulding as well as stamped numbers on exposed wood on staircases and joists.

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