|Our Family's 1911 Sears #110 (Silverdale) • 96 Hockanum Road, Northampton, Massachusetts
In 1911, my maternal great grandparents (both first-generation immigrants from Russian Poland) ordered a house from a Sears catalogue. They chose the #110, later known as the Silverdale. In 1911, Sears had not yet begun selling their houses as pre-cut packages (known as "kits"), but they did sell the blueprints and all of the needed lumber, hardware, windows, door knobs, screws, nails, shingles, floorboards, mill work, and kitchen and bathroom fixtures-- all as one big package, shipped by rail to a nearby railroad station, where it would be picked up by the buyer, and hauled back to the home site... to be constructed by a hired crew, or by the buyers themselves.
Descendants of my great grandparents still own and reside in this home, and this is where my mother grew up. The design of the upper floor was modified at the time of purchase of the blueprints, to accommodate two families, and, over its 100+ years of history, it has had several other additions and alterations, but it sits on the exact footprint of the #110 as shown in the Sears catalogue, and still contains many of the tell-tale signs of a true Sears #110. (Though we knew the story of our family home, our house has been authenticated as a Sears house by noted architectural historian, Rebecca Hunter, through shipping labels, visuals, and family history.) Our house has held its own against at least two major floods-- all the way up into the second floor of the house-- but sits today, having been lovingly cared for by my aunt and uncle, with the same patch of peonies that my grandmother planted many, many decades ago. It is one of the oldest authenticated Sears houses on our national database of over 7, 500 houses, and the oldest one that I know of, to have the same family still living in it. Here is the story of our family home.
(NOTE ON PHOTOS: All photos used here are the property of the blogger, and may not be used for any reason, without a direct, legible, link to this blog post. Many thanks to my cousin Martha for the wonderful family photos used here.)
In The Catalogs Through The Years
The No. 110 first appeared in the Sears catalogs in 1908, I believe, with a slightly different change to the front porch roof line, and offering turned porch columns. This price of $1,461 was not the price of the plans and materials, but actually was an estimate of what the finished product would cost, including an estimate for labor.
|From the 3rd edition 1908 catalog -- thanks to researcher Andrew Mutch, of Kit House Hunters, for the scan.
Here it is in my 1912 catalog -- no bathroom shown! Note the rounded porch columns, as an option.
|Still called the No. 110, here in the 1912 catalog. That price of $770 got you the plans and all of the supplies, not pre-cut.
The 1916 catalog is the first year that the house was offered as a pre-cut kit -- all of the catalog names begin with "264P___", and include a second price for the option of having all of the material "cut and fitted".
|Thanks to our friend at Daily Bungalow/AntiqueHome.org for the use of her scanned image.
And, finally, in my 1918 catalog, we see the house offered with the Silverdale name... with a bathroom!
Design and Alterations Through the Years
Here is the house back around 1940, before the back porch was enclosed, and before the master-bedroom addition above that back porch.
Here's my mom, Helen, standing in front of these porch steps in 1943:
|Helen Gross in front of the newly re-done porch, in 1943.
Here, however, is the house as it looked in 1940.
If you were able to look really closely here at the 1940 image, you would see that the house, at this date, still had the very tight, narrow, wooden planks, for its siding. At some point, shortly after this, it was re-sided with cedar shingling. I learned about this bit of info recently, from my cousin Peter Gross (pictured in the 1959 photo, below), while visiting the family in 2015.
You can see that the porch columns are different from the the 1943 (and current) porch columns. These rounded columns are what is shown with the house beginning at least in the 1912 catalog.
|The bottom photo is the Silverdale, as it was marketed in the 1918 catalog.
And, here is a photo of my mom, Helen Gross, in the 1930s, standing on that original front porch, next to one of the rounded porch columns. You can just make out the original porch railing, as well, with its turned balusters.
The comments on the image explain, as well, the 1960s kitchen expansion that caused the big bump-out behind that side entry door, and the expansion of the living room area to add an additional very small bedroom in the front of the house, which brought this side flush to the edge of the rest of the house.
This image of a 1925 Silverdale in South Charleston, West Virginia, shows what this side of the Silverdale normally looks like:
|You can read about this West Virginia Silverdale, here.
The Devastating 1936 Flood
New England experienced a horrendous flooding event in the freezing cold early months of 1936. Up and down the Connecticut River--which runs through "The Meadows", the land that made up part of the Gross family's farming acreage, and which splits Hockanum Road in Northampton, from Hockanum Road in South Hadley (location of another documented Sears house)-- homes, businesses, and full towns, were devastated by icy flood waters, reaching up to-- and into-- the second floor of many homes, including my mother's family's Sears No. 110 here on Hockanum Road.
Here is a synopsis of the event, from the Pioneer Valley History Network's website:
Historian David Parnell put together a 6-minute documentary about the 1936 flood, and its impact on the area. Here is a still photo, showing the well-known Round House on Conz Street, during the flood:
|You can watch Parnell's full video here.
Northampton's Forbes Library also has a short 7-minute video on You Tube that is actual 16mm footage taken around Northampton, during the flooding:
|You can watch this video here.
Here is my mother's Uncle Bill (Wladyslaw Gross), on the front porch roof of the Silverdale, with his boat turned over to dry out for a moment, during rescue events for the family, and other neighbors. My mother remembers going to live with cousins for the rest of the school year, as her family eventually worked to make their house inhabitable again. She remembers that the bridge was out, and that it took a very long time to get from Northampton to her cousin's house, having to detour around to take land routes somehow to get to the other town.
|In the top photo, of my mom's uncle, you can see the original wood plank siding on the house. It was later re-sided with cedar shingles.
In 1938, New England again experienced a horrific winter storm event, with one of the worst hurricanes in the history of New England. This resulted in flooding once again in Northampton, and the family's house was flooded up to the second floor again.
The Back and Interior of the
Sears No. 110 / Silverdale
on Hockanum Road
Here are a few final images showing how the house follows the Silverdale's footprint and floor plan, and some of the changes made over the years.
Here is what an un-altered Silverdale looks like from this back view. This one is in Pennsylvania:
And here is our family house, after changes that were made in the original building, and many years later, as explained in the comments on the photos:
|On the right, is a photo of the door of another Sears house -- same door! The dark door also has the original round doorbell, one of which was also on our family's front door, originally.
The Sears Shipping Labels
If there were any doubt about the origins of our family's house, they can be put to rest after seeing this: Sears shipping labels found on the back of window trim all over the house, discovered by my Uncle Ed Gross, as he worked to install new windows sometime in the recent decades of the life of the house. As a Sears house researcher, I always point out that shipping labels alone are absolutely not a definite indication that a house is a model from the Sears Modern Homes catalogs. Why? Because Sears also sold building supplies to folks who already had their own house plans. Still, Sears would figure out what you needed, and package it all up, and ship it to you, but that is not considered a Sears house -- not if the plans were not offered by Sears.
However... if those shipping labels are found on a house that, in other ways, follows the footprint and interior and exterior design of a Sears model, then, it is pretty much the final piece of evidence we need to authenticate a house. That's the case here with the house on Hockanum Road. Especially with this house, having had alterations made not only to the original design, but throughout its 110+ years of existence, only that front porch and entry area are clear indicators of the original design of the house being a Sears No. 110 / Silverdale. With this shipping label, and the detailed explanations of all of the alterations to the house, plus the main footprint being the same as for the Silverdale, and most of the interior layout, we know that the story passed down through generations by family members, is accurate. I've greyed out my great grandfather's name, but it said, John Gross on the shipping label.
|Click on image to go to Rose Thornton's blog post.
Residents of the Massachusetts #110 Through the Years
The house at 96 Hockanum Road was originally purchased from Sears, and built, by my mother's grandparents, both immigrants from Russian Poland, who came to the area separately, in the 1880s, and married in 1890. Their names were Jan and Franciszka Gross, names later Americanized to John and Frances.
Interestingly, Jan and Franciszka first lived in a house on the other side of the street, sitting at No. 96 Hockanum Road. When they built the Sears house, even though the house was across the street, they just transferred that house number to the new house! (The old house was actually physically moved to nearby Henry Street, I believe.)
Jan and Franciszka went on to have, I believe, five children: four sons and a daughter. Sadly, three of those children died (Stephen succumbed to influenza in 1918, I believe; young Edmond died from an accidental shot from a hunting rifle; and little Jenny died from an illness at a young age). Jan, himself, later committed suicide, and Franciszka died some years later from a horrific event which saw her burned as a result of cleaning a mattress outside, using a flammable liquid. Somehow a spark was ignited, and the mattress whooshed into flames, and fell over on Frances. This was all witnessed from inside the house by her daughter-in-law, my mom's mother, Martha Petroski Gross.
Jan and Franciszka's remaining sons, Julian and Bill (William, or Wladyslaw), married and continued the family's life in the Sears No. 110. Bill first married a young woman from Salem, Bertha Luzienski, and they had a daughter, whom they named Hildegarde (Hilda). Shortly after Hilda's birth, Bertha died, however. Bill then re-married, marrying Julia Petroski, the sister of his brother Julian's wife, Martha (my mom's parents were Julian and Martha).... so the two Gross brothers, married two Petroski sisters. In short time, Bill and Julia decided to move on to live at their own house, having some children of their own, but Hilda (my mom's cherished cousin) more-or-less stayed on to live with my mom's family, at the Sears house at 96 Hockanum.
That left Julian Gross, and his wife, Martha Petroski Gross, to raise their family in the Sears No. 110/Silverdale. My mom, Helen, born in 1924, was their first child, and they raised, in total, five children in the family house. My grandfather Julian died of an illness related to his profession of cattle butchering (which he ran out of the family house, where there was a special "meat market" in place, in the back of the house, as well as outer buildings devoted to the business), when my mom was a young teenager, sometime after the first flood.
That left my courageous grandmother, Martha Petroski Gross -- herself from a family of Polish immigrants -- to "buck up" and take over the family butchering business, while raising five children on her own. She also was forced by eminent domain laws to sell off a large portion of the family's lands in "the Meadows", for pennies on the dollar, to allow for preventive measures to be taken to help guard against future flooding of the area. My grandmother was a no-nonsense woman, who loved her family, and simply had no choice but to carry on after losing her husband and much of their land. She had loving brothers (uncles whom my mother adored) who stepped in to help as much as they could, as well. I believe that her life was a far cry from what she expected it to be when she proudly graduated, with honors, from high school -- something really to be admired for a woman in the 19-teens. Her father had emigrated from Poland, leaving his wife and first child (my mom's Uncle August) there, as he worked to get settled in America. He first made his way to Wisconsin, and then his wife and son came from Poland to live with him there, where they continued their family. My grandmother, then, was born in Wisconsin. Eventually, the Petroski family moved to Leverett, Massachusetts, and had a farm there. There is so much to tell about these strong, hard-working people! But I will shorten it to say that my mom, Helen, lovingly remembered spending Sundays at the Petroski family farm in Leverett.
My mom, Helen Gross, lived in the Sears house her whole life, until she left in 1953 to marry my father, and become Helen Gross Chabot. The rest of her siblings married and moved out, but her youngest brother, Ed Gross, moved back into the Sears house, with his wife, Marion, in the 1950s. They lived there, raising four children (my cousins!), with my Grandmother Martha, until she finally moved to her own small apartment probably in her 70s or 80s. Gram continued to work even then, being a companion and helper to a somewhat wealthy elderly woman in town... who was actually younger than she was! Gram (Martha Petroski Gross) lived to the age of 102, actually close to 103.
Throughout the years, Uncle Ed (everyone called him Edge, actually) worked as a carpenter, and made many of the changes to the house, himself, and also served on the Northampton town council, and even ran for mayor of Northampton, at one point. When he passed away in 2015, I would say that most of the town knew who he was, and came to pay their respects to the family. The Gross family has been in Northampton for generations, now.
So, the family home stands, now, with Gross family members still living there. My wonderful Aunt Marion -- who will tell you with a laugh that she just married into this Gross family, and never even was consulted about whether or not she wanted to live in the Gross family house... my uncle having just announced one day that he was moving the family back into the house! -- still lives there, with her son, Peter. Pete has two children with busy lives away from the house, and my cousins Ed Jr., Martha, and Sara, all keep the family going with their busy lives, children, grand-children, and now great-grand-children. All still in and out of the Sears No. 110 / Silverdale on Hockanum Road. I, myself, was just there last week!
Here are a number of images that illustrate the early part of the story of the Gross family, and their life in the family Sears house:
|My maternal great-grandparents, Jan and Franciszka, purchased and built the Sears #110 in 1911.
|This is the family of Franciszka (Frances) Kejnowska, who married Jan (John) Gross in 1890, the same year that she arrived in the United States. John had arrived in 1888.
The yellowed out last name on the census records, was Gross.
|Bill Gross first married Bertha Luzienski, from Salem. She died in 1918.
|We've seen various spellings of the maiden last name of Bertha: Luzenski, Luzienski, Luzenenski, Luzeneuski. We're not 100% sure what her given first name was... it may have been Americanized to Bertha.
|My mom's mother, Martha Petroski, before she married Julian Gross.
wedding photo of my mother's parents, Julian Z. Gross and Martha Petroski Gross.
Again, the whited-out family name on these records, is Gross.
Martha Petroski Gross and her sister, Julia Petroski, married brothers in the Gross family. Julia was Bill Gross' second wife, his first wife, Bertha Luzienski (sp?) having died shortly after their little daughter Hilda, was born.
|Another wonderful family photo (thanks, Martha M.!), circa 1959, showing the back of the house, pre- enclosure of the back porch, and pre-2nd-floor addition above the back porch.
Three women of the four generations of strong women who have lived in the Gross Homestead
Here is a great family photo from 1992 in the yard of the Sears No. 110/Silverdale: from left, my grandmother, Martha Petroski Gross (daughter-in-law of the original owners/builders of the house), who raised her family here; her daughter, my mom, Helen Gross Chabot, who grew up in the house; and her daughter-in-law, my Aunt Marion Pritchard Gross (who married Ed Gross), who raised her family here and still lives in the house today.
|Left to Right: Martha Petroski Gross, Helen Gross Chabot, Marion Pritchard Gross
The Gordon Van Tine #167:
a Silverdale / #110 Lookalike
Browsing through the Gordon Van Tine (GVT) 1916 catalogue on archive.org one day recently, I came across a Silverdale lookalike! The GVT model is called the #167, and is almost an exact duplicate in floor plan and design, of the Sears #110/Silverdale. There are two noticeable differences:
• A spot on the left side of the house, where there is a small window (on the GVT model) looking into the front vestibule of the house, where there is a full-size window on the Sears model.
• The front porch roof is a 3-part roof on the GVT model, but a 4-part roof on the Sears model (this also alters the placement of the entryway onto the porch).
I had read a blog post by Rose Thornton (noted researcher of Sears Homes and Wardway Homes, and author of several books and websites on these subjects) in the past, about a house she identified as a Silverdale, in Hettick, IL. When I came across this GVT #167, and compared its image to the one Rose posted on her blog, I noticed that the Hettick, IL house she was showing, had the two characteristics that would distinguish it as a GVT, instead of as a Sears Silverdale.
I left a comment on her blog, bringing this to her attention, and she graciously replied that she felt that the house in Hettick is most probably a GVT #167, and not a Silverdale. To read Rose’s blog post on the Hettick, IL house, clickhere. To see the GVT 1916 catalogue page showing the #167, clickhere. (To read a newer blog post [March 2015] about ANOTHER company's Silverdale/110 lookalike, click HERE.)
Here is a 2019 Google Streetview shot of the house, really showing its Silverdale lines:
This blog post was put together with love, by Judith E. Chabot, great grand-daughter of Jan Gross and Franciszka Kejnowska Gross, grand-daughter of Julian Z. Gross and Martha Petroski Gross, and daughter of Helen Gross Chabot.
For more information on who we are, and what we do, visit our website: SearsHouses.com