The early 1900’s was a fluid, dynamic period in American history. World War I left America less isolated and more conscious of its relationship with England, Europe and the larger world.
Migration from the farm to the city, and the dramatic impact of new innovations such as radios, appliances and automobiles radically changed the face of America. It was also the beginning of the Roaring 20’s, a time of “fun, fashion, and frolic”.
At this time, America was also experiencing a housing boom; newly formed households led to “first time” home owners moving from apartments seeking homes with green lawns, gardens and a driveway – maybe even a garage for the family automobile.
The prospect of owning a NEW home was an exciting opportunity to select an appealing architectural style and floor plan – and to envision how the family would live in a newly developing community beyond the farm and the congested cities. Across the country – including Bexley – the creation of the American suburb was well underway.
HOUSING DEVELOPMENT IN BEXLEY
Early development in Bexley was concentrated in two areas: housing centered around Capital University, and the “Bullitt Park Addition” (two hundred acres of estate lot development north and south of East Broad Street.)
Prior to 1910, building a new house meant buying a lot, securing an architect or builder/carpenter, and then financing and constructing the house. This pattern changed after 1910 as a different option came into play: the developer/builder concept.
Major real estate investor groups, such as the Dominion Land Company and the Ohio Land Company, were formed to raise capital, buy properties, install street lights and utilities, and create lots for sale, often including constructing and selling homes.
One such group was the Hansberger Marion Beery Company which purchased property just east of the Bullitt Park Addition – on which they developed lots, and also designed and constructed houses for sale. The street, Bullitt Park Place, was an early such project and included houses constructed between 1915 and 1920, in styles popular for the time.
In later developments, such as Cassady Avenue just south of Broad Street, the firm changed their housing designs to include more Colonial Revival, Tudor, Georgian and Dutch Colonial styles, thus incorporating architectural features that were found on the larger and more expensive Bullitt Park Addition estate homes.
SEARS CATALOG HOUSING
In 1908, another option became available for building a new home: selecting and purchasing a home from a catalog.
While many companies, such as Montgomery Ward, entered into this market, Sears, Roebuck & Co. became the most recognized and trusted operation to offer this option. With over 1,400 pages, listing 100,000 items, the Sears catalog was immensely popular, with over 20% of Americans becoming subscribers – it truly was the Amazon Prime of its day. It is estimated that 70,000-75,000 Sears home construction kits were sold between 1908 and 1942 – when both a fading market and the need to re-direct building materials to the war effort brought an end to this enterprise.
Comprising approximately 370 house plans and 44 distinct architectural styles, house construction kits generally ranged in cost from $360 to $2,900. Later, more elaborate construction kits such as the Magnolia, a majestic 10 room, 4 bedroom, 2 ½ bath design cost $5,140.
House kits were delivered by rail – typically requiring two box cars for the roughly 30,000 parts in total and weighing over 25 tons.
Most of the kits were sold in the East and Midwest because of the more extensive rail system already in place. All lumber was pre-cut, and clear construction plans were designed for ease and simplicity of construction – estimated to take “90 days” to complete, either by the owners themselves, or a local builder/carpenter.
Home kits did not include plumbing, electrical or heating components – which were contracted locally or provided by Sears at an additional cost. Additionally, any needed masonry was to be obtained locally – to minimize the cost of shipping.
This new concept in home building
brought about innovations in
construction materials and interior
features helping to simplify
construction, such as utilizing:
~ Basic balloon framing
~ Nails replacing pegs
~ Plaster board replacing plaster
New, modern interior features included:
~ Built-in china cabinets
~ Closets in all bedrooms (v. wardrobes)
~ Mirrored closet doors
~ Dining nooks
~ Built-in ironing boards
~ Telephone niches
~ Medicine cabinets in the bathrooms
The catalog also provided an array of options for the prospective homeowner, such as higher-grade finishes, a garage or a porch. As a result of the success of the Sears kit homes and the broad availability of exterior styles and floor plans, the Sears’ designs were widely copied by local builders and carpenters.
SEARS CATALOG HOMES IN BEXLEY
Selecting a Sears catalog home was surely an exciting adventure, virtually walking through house floor plans, reviewing architectural styles, and selecting special home features – such as “fold down beds” in the living room.
All house designs were marketed with American names, such as Bradford and Washington. The majority of the house plans were three bedrooms, one bath, about 1,000-1,400 square feet in size, and were designed to fit on a 40’ lot — the typical lot width in South Bexley — or a wider lot utilizing, as needed, a rear alley to access the garage.
Over time, new architectural styles became available and gained in popularity. While the original styles were based on a much simplified Queen Anne, each succeeding decade saw the introduction of new styles:
Arts & Crafts
Research has determined that 205 Sears kit houses have been identified in the Columbus area. Nine examples of Sears homes have, so far, been identified in Bexley – in addition to three kit houses by other companies – two by Gunnison and one by Aladdin Pomona. After 1916, a Sears kit home could be identified by stampings on the attic or basement lumber, and after 1930 an “SR” could be found cast into bathtubs or on the underside of the kitchen or bathroom sinks.
The nine identified Bexley Sears homes are:
(Please remember these homes are owned by families like you. Please respect their privacy.)
The three other kit homes, including manufacturer, style (as available) and year built, are:
- 278 N. Cassingham — Gunnison — 1948
- 328 N. Remington — Gunnison — 1938
- 167 N. Cassingham— Aladdin, Pomona – 1922
These are the known “kit” or “catalog” homes. Do you live in a Sears kit home? If you think your house might be a Sears home, contact us and we will be happy to help find the answer.
Written by Lawrence Helman, Bexley Historical Society Trustee
Contributing research by Stacy Grossman, Bexley Historical Society Vice President
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