By: James Pruitt
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
Owning a home has been part of the American dream for decades and in the early years of the 20th century a novel idea helped many achieve that dream.
The introduction of the kit home added around 100,000 units to the housing marking between 1908 and 1940 (give or take a few years). The kit homes are a testament to the desire of home ownership and the need for one company to desperately move product from its building supplies line.
The company is Sears and its goal was to find a way to move excess product quickly. The result was 100,000 units built between 1908 and 1940 and scattered across the nation.
According to www.searsarchives.com/homes/chronology.htm, the story begins in 1906 when Sears considered closing its unprofitable building supplies department.
Frank W. Kushel (formerly manager of the china department) took over the building supplies department having realized supplies can be shipped directly from the factory, thus saving storage costs.
The first catalog of home plans came out in 1908 and proved popular. Even though the models were not groundbreaking in their design, their low cost was the key selling point. The needed supplies for a home could be shipped by rail to the customer and either they or a contractor would build it.
Now, more than a century after the first kit homes were built, identifying them takes but a small amount of research. One local man has developed a passion for identifying the homes in the area.
Dave Marihugh’s interest began in 1987, when at the age of 14, he began to appraise homes while helping his real estate agent mother. By the time he was 21 he had appraised homes in 53 counties in Ohio, he said.
One day after moving back to the area, he was appraising a home just north of the railroad tracks on County Road 6, north of U.S. 6 and on top of a hill was a Sears home.
“This woman opened my eyes to the Sears world,” Marihugh said.
He began did some research and learned that in the towns that experienced a boom in the late 1910s to 1930, there were a lot a Sears homes or kit homes, especially those near railroad tracks.
Ohio cities with heavy concentrations of Sears homes are Cleveland, Columbus (the east side) and Cincinnati.
The homes hold their value as most people don’t know they have one and most don’t know who built the homes anyway. Local records are hard to come by in some cases because they have been lost to fire, he said.
The homes were built in the time before zoning or building codes, so some homes will have walls in bizarre spots, Marihugh said. The interiors had oak or other hardwoods on the first floor with pine trim and pine with ash trim on the second, he said.
“Very indicative are the bump-outs, like on an RV,” Marihugh said. “You see those in dining rooms with a window seat.”
But according the Sears archive site, there is no telltale way of being sure. There isn’t a registry of Modern Homes.
The best way is to have documentation such as a bill of sale, blueprints, an instruction manual and stamped and labeled beams that correspond to the instruction manuals can help verify your house is a Sears house.
Even having Sears-stamped materials is not evidence by itself as people purchased materials without buying the whole house. Or the owner could have built the home before the Modern Homes program began in 1908.
The best way to identify a potential Sears house is to find when the house was built (and hopefully the name or catalog number) and then to search the Sears archives’ Images of Homes link by year and number or name for the appropriate house. Remember that a Sears house could have been modified in numerous ways, including a reversed floor plan.
James Pruitt may be reached at