Tuesday, February 21, 2017

In Other Words: A Nod to the Past With an Eye on the Future.


Prather's Sears kit home on Tremont Avenue
Many times we don’t even realize we’re looking at history because we live right in the middle of it.  For example, we may see The Vallonia,  Alhambra, Magnolia, Clyde, Westly, Bellewood, Sheffield,  and Brentwood around us and not even know it. What are they?

They are all names for specific Sears kit homes. Yes, that Sears.

From the early 1900’s to around 1940, Sears sold thousands of kit homes across the country. They were affordable, stylish, and well built. The styles ranged from simple to moderate to elaborate. Everything was shipped on a train to the owner - the frame, windows, the trim, cabinets, fixtures, plumbing, electric, nails, everything. All the owner or builder had to do was follow the instructions.

There are dozens of Sears kit homes in Fort Thomas. Dozens. Hiding in plain sight. But we don’t recognize then because there were so many different styles and some have been modified over the years and we se them as common stock.

Sears home owner and enthusiast, Don Prather, says, “They just loaded them up on train cars and shipped them all over the country.”  Don took me on a Sears home tour around town one afternoon. I was amazed at how many there are. His grandfather was a builder and realtor in Fort Thomas in the early Twentieth Century.

The Sears heyday for kit homes just happened to coincide with the expansion of Fort Thomas in the early Twentieth Century.  The city was near a major rail line, land was reasonably priced, and people wanted affordable housing.


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Maureen and Todd Barker live in a Sears kit home on Indiana Avenue. She says of their home that, “We knew when we bought it. The previous owners told us when we bought it.”  She enjoys living in the house because, “They are solid, unique, and have character.”  They live in a Vallonia model and she knows of at least three others in Campbell County.  Chances are, there are more hiding in plain view. Other companies sold kits homes as well - Montgomery Ward, Pease, Aladdin, Bennett Homes, and a few others. Sears, though, was the name that everyone remembered.


The Barkers' Sears home on Indiana Avenue

The Barkers have the original plans and literature.  Maureen chuckled at the description of the kitchen -  “Everything about this kitchen has been planned to win the lasting approval of the housewife.” There is no mention of earning the approval of the husband in the literature. They have updated the kitchen and some of the mechanics but the house is as it was built. It is a thoroughly charming home.

Recently, a home inspired by a Sears home was built in the old downtown section of Montgomery that fit right in with the existing historic buildings. Its modern inside is wrapped in the arms of the past. And that is what happened with the renovation of Highlands. The dignified exterior was kept intact while a modern interior was built. And that is what happened to many other homes in the city.  Our city is a nod to the past with an eye on the future.

And that strikes me as a metaphor for Fort Thomas. The city may have that comfortable established look and feel, but its heart is exciting and modern.  Let's keep that in mind as we celebrate our past at the Sesquicentennial festival this summer because what we build now will be the history of the future.

10 comments:

  1. Great lesson, Chuck..... Thinking about it, they are, as you state, homes we see or saw everyday but never realized their story.

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  2. Wow! Thanks for writing this article and sharing it with us. I had no clue that there was even such a thing as a Sears home. I pass that home on Tremont pretty much every day and who would have known?

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  3. I think Stephanie Graves home on Chalfonte is a Sears home.

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  4. How can you find out if your house is a Sear home! I live on Indiana too and have always wondered.

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    1. Check out searsarchives.com. All the homes are listed that they sold and many have drawings of the exteriors and floor plans. You can also look at your rafters or beams in your basement or attic for stamped numbers. These numbers helped the owner put the house together, much like Ikea furniture today.

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  5. When I moved on Ridgeway I was told by the elderly next door neighbor that the house was a Sears house.

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  6. My grandparents Sears home was more the model in the heading of the article. It was a wonderful home I grew up in. My grandparents bought it in 1945, the year I was born and it wasn't finished. They paid Five thousand for the home on 105 acres from Russell Belew in southeast Campbell county on Fender road. It burned in the eighties.

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  7. Years ago, my first home purchase was on Sherman, and I was told it was a Sears home. It was the perfect starter home!

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  8. The Sears catalogs are online. If you are interested in preserving your Arts and Crafts home peel back the layers starting with the vinyl siding exterior; you'll find beautiful cedar wood shakes underneath that can easily be prettied up with nail filler and fresh paint. Older homeowners bought quickly into the vinyl siding craze because they couldn't keep up with the maintenance on the homes -- but you can because you're young, curious, and dig vintage. There is a reason why your home was built with so many windows, a lovely backyard, and spots for books on either side of your fireplace. Comfy, cozy and well built. Research online or check out architecture books at the library. Your FT bungalow will thank you.

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  9. Wouldn't it be great to identify them (there's an FB group just waiting to be born, "Sears Homes of Ft. Thomas")and have a public driving tour, identifying the model at each site and an original blueprint/facade? oooo I'm shivering.

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