Thursday, November 24, 2016

Gordon-Van Tine No. 140 -- Thanks, Atlas Obscura!

GVT model No. 140
Authenticated Gordon-Van Tine model No. 140 • circa 1916 • 5964 Shafer Road, Dansville, New York
(photo courtesy of Jeff Miller -- do not use photo without linking to this blog post as source)
Back in June (2016), Atlas Obscura did a nice little article in the blog section of their website, about Sears homes.  Writer Cara Giaimo contacted our Sears Modern Homes Facebook page, asking for interviews, and we happily obliged. The blog post especially featured our researcher friends Andrew and Wendy Mutch (Kit House Hunters), and my blog was mentioned, too. Then, just recently, on the Atlas Obscura Facebook page, they re-ran that article, and there was, again, a great response. So many folks commented to share their stories of Sears homes that they are aware of. 

GVT Standard Home No. 140 from the 1916 catalog
Gordon-Van Tine model No. 140, from the 1916 GVT Standard Homes Catalog.
Jeff Miller's GVT No. 140
(photo courtesy of Jeff Miller -- please do not use without appropriate citation,
and a link to this blog post as source)

Of course, the term Sears House has (erroneously) become synonymous with mail-order-kit-house, because most folks (who aren't as fanatical about them interested in them, as I, and my researcher friends, are) don't know that there were a number of major companies offering order-from-a-catalog-get-a-whole-kit-of-the-building-supplies houses.  Gordon-Van Tine was one of those companies. And, thanks to a comment from Jeff Miller, of Dansville, New York, we have this beautiful Gordon-Van Tine model No. 140 home to show you.
Montgomery Ward also sold kit houses, but Jeff's house has GVT blue prints!  
Somewhere along the way, Jeff had been told that his house was a kit house made by Montgomery Ward.  That's an easy mistake, because Montgomery Ward homes were actually made by the lumber company/mail-order-house company, Gordon-Van Tine. As a result,  both companies marketed many of the exact same homes, under different names.  But, we know that Jeff Miller's house in Dansville, New York, is a GVT (short-hand we use to refer to the Gordon-Van Tine company) model, because he has BLUEPRINTS! Yes, I wrote that in all caps, because, yes, I am REALLY excited to see blueprints for one of our mail-order houses :)
rebecca L. hunter montgomery ward
Leading researcher (and Renaissance woman) Rebecca L. Hunter, explains a bit about the history of Montgomery Ward mail-order homes, on her website,
I did a little research, looking through some Gordon-Van Tine catalogs, and found several similar houses to Jeff's.  However, his blueprints had "G.V.T. PLAN No. 14..." written on them (cut off at the 4), so it was clear that the model number must be a 140 or a 142 or something like that.  
Blue print for GVT model no. 140

I quickly found that the GVT catalogs after the Standard Homes 1916 catalog, all had model numbers higher than the 140s (for example, the GVT 1916 Ready-Cut homes catalog, mostly had model numbers in the 500s), so I was able to narrow my search to that year's catalog, which had numbers in the 100s and 300s.  
Gordon-Van Tine 1916 catalog standard homes
The GVT 1916 Standard (not ready-cut) homes catalog
I have scanned versions of many of the Gordon-Van Tine catalogs, but, thanks to, you can see quite a few of them online. Daily Bungalow's Flickr albums also serve as a wonderful resource of GVT, Sears, Montgomery Ward, and other house catalogs, as does their Antique Home website.  If you would like to peruse the numerous house catalogs available online, I have a list of them, categorized by company, and by catalog year, on this blog post of mine (the link is also always available in the links on the right side of my blog).

More information from researcher Rebecca L. Hunter,
Jeff shared several personal photos of his house with me, including some shots of the blueprints, so let's take a look (please remember to cite this blog post, and Jeff Miller, and link here as your source, if you share any of these photos). I'll post some catalog pages, too (click on any image, to enlarge):
gordon van tine no 140

blue prints gordon van tine no 140
Front and right elevation, GVT No. 140.
gordon van tine no 140
blue prints gordon van tine no 140
Front and right elevation, again --
... front and right of Jeff's house, shown below
gordon van tine no 140

gordon van tine no 140
Right side elevation, and rear addition.
blue prints gordon van tine no 140
Rear and left elevation.
gordon van tine no 140
You can see the side entry door here,
and the two small windows on this side, just as shown on the blue print!
Obviously, the back door now opens into the addition.
gordon van tine no 140
From the 1916 GVT Standard Homes catalog 
gordon van tine no 140 blue prints
And, here are the blue-print versions of those floor plans, shown in the catalog.  On the left, is the basement. That big thing in the center of the basement, with "arms" coming off of it, is, I believe, a FIRE-KING furnace, as shown in a page from that 1916 catalog, below.
Note the FIRE-KING Furnace, from this page of the 1916 Standard Homes catalog. (Source)
Let's see if we can get a closer view of each of the floor plans on the blue prints:
gordon van tine no 140 blue prints
First Story Plan -- note that nice, big porch that spans the entire width of the house.
 Here is a view of the entry hall and staircase, from the living room (indicated in yellow on the blue print below):
gordon van tine no 140
(click to enlarge)
gordon van tine no 140 blue prints first floor

Even though we know for certain that this house is a Gordon-Van Tine company house, it's fun to match interior woodwork to the offerings in the catalog. For example, here is the staircase, matched to a newel and baluster offered by GVT in their 1918 building supplies catalog:
gordon van tine staircase
Here is the 1918 GVT building supplies catalog, and you can find staircase options from pages 53-56.
And, here is the living room, looking into the dining room (indicated in orange on the blue print above):
gordon van tine no 140

Second floor:
gordon van tine no 140 blue prints
Second Story Plan
 And, cellar:
gordon van tine no 140 blue prints
Cellar Plan
Here are a few pages from that catalog, showing the details of what was offered when you bought your Standard Home from Gordon-Van Tine:

Who First Lived In This GVT No. 140?

I did have clarification from Jeff Miller that they do not know the year that the house was built (see conversation snippet, below). He told me that he could never find that information on the abstract for the house, nor in any paperwork related to the house, and it wasn't on the blueprints.  The county records say "1900", but when county assessor records say that for a house, it's almost always a guesstimate, given when there are no records on file for the exact year of build, but the guess is that it was in the very early 1900s. At least, that's what we've found time and again. I gave a "circa 1916" build year for the house, because I found the model in the 1916 catalog, and not in later years, so we know that it was not later than that.  But... was it before that? 
build date not found
This point was clarified for me in a conversation today with Jeff Miller.
If you follow my census research, below, you'll see that I have found that the house was almost definitely not yet built in 1915. Let me explain.

Jeff did tell me that he understands the land to have been in the name of the family whose farm gave name to the road: Shafer. And, that town lore says that it was maybe built as a wedding gift for the Shafer family's daughter.  Armed with that information, I did some searching on

The Shafer family in 1900, in Sparta Township, New York (where Dansville is).
What I found, was that the farm was owned by James Shafer, and his wife Rose.  I found that they had two children, a son, Carl, and a daughter, Eva (though she is listed as Allie in the 1900 census).  I learned from the 1929 obituary for Rose Shafer, that her daughter's married name was Eva L. Traxler, whose husband was Leonard G. Traxler.
1929 obituary of Rose Shafer, wife of James Shafer, Dansville, NY
Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY
November 2, 1929, page 12
Jeff Miller had also told me that the house next door to his No. 140, was the original Shafer family farm house. And... the 1920 census puts James and Rose Shafer living next door to (their daughter) Eva and Leonard Traxler. The census doesn't give street addresses, or even a street name, just that they live on a farm. So, I would say that the original family to live in Jeff Miller's Gordon-Van Tine No. 140, was Eva L. Shafer Traxler, her husband, Leonard Guy Traxler, and their little girl, Lena!

1920 Sparta Township census for the Shafer and Traxler families.  Their daughter, Lena, was 7 in 1920.
But, in terms of build year, here's what is interesting: The 1910 U. S. census shows Eva and Leonard Traxler already married-- probably newly married, since she was only 20 that year, and their daughter wasn't yet born. And, they are shown living on some street that does not show the Shafers next door... so, the No. 140 was not built as a wedding gift... at least, not at the time of their marriage.
This is the 1910 U. S. census. The young Traxler couple are not yet living next to the Shafers.
The 1915 New York census shows both the Shafer family (James and Rose), and the young Traxler family, living NOT on the farm on Shafer Road, but on Stong Road, which is a little bit away from Shafer Road. So, it's possible that the Shafers did not move to a home on the family farmland property on Shafer road before 1915, AND the GVT No. 140, was apparently not built until after 1915, on that family land on Shafer Road.  I think that's pretty good, documented proof that the Miller's GVT No. 140 house was not built before 1915. 

The Shafers and Leonard Traxler are at the bottom of the page,
and Eva and little Lena follow, on the top of the next page, as shown below.
Here are Eva Traxler and her little daughter, Lena, at the top of the next page of the 1915 New York State census page, following the one shown above. All on Stong Road -- not yet on Shafer Road.

And, here is Shafer Road, showing where it is situated in relation to Stong Hill Road:

The Traxlers are buried in Greenmount Cemetary, in Dansville.

Other Similar Gordon-Van Tine Models
The 1916 Ready-Cut Homes catalog by GVT.
Gordon Van-Tine also offered a catalog in 1916 of Ready-Cut homes. These were models that you could buy as pre-cut kits (most were also offered as Standard homes, not ready-cut, at a lower price), and 1916 was the first year that GVT offered this service. In the Ready-Cut 1916 catalog, GVT offered a model that is almost exactly the same as the No. 140, but with a reverse floor plan, and a few other minor changes (closet placement, vent chimney placement, etc.). 

Ready-Cut model No. 519, on the right, was the reverse plan to the Standard Home No. 140. Both were offered in 1916.
(click to enlarge)
Here is how the floor plans compared:
gvt 140 gvt 519 first floor plans
There is an extra window in the back, on the No. 140, and a window added to the wall at the foot of staircase,
on the No. 519.  The placement of the vent chimney, and the entry into the kitchen from the dining room, are slightly different, as is the placement of the doorway into the living room, from the hall.
gvt 140 gvt 519 2nd Floor Plans
The location of the heating system chimney vent is different, as is the size of the closet for one of the back bedrooms.
GVT No. 547 • 1927
In the 1927 GVT Ready-Cut catalog, there was offered the very similar (at first glance) model No. 547... but, there are definite differences from the No. 140 and No. 519:
gvt no 547 compared to gvt no 140
From the 1927 Catalog, the Ready-Cut No. 547
(click to enlarge)
(Note that Wardway Homes offered the Jerome model in their 1924 catalog -- a match for the GVT No. 547. GVT manufactured the kits sold by Montgomery Ward under the Wardway Homes name, so both companies offered mostly the same models, but with different names.)

GVT No. 501 • 1916 Ready-Cut
The Ready-Cut 1916 catalog also offered the No. 501. It is more similar to the later No. 547, and, from the exterior, the only obvious difference is the size of the third dormer-side window (for the kitchen):
gvt no 501 compared to gvt no 547
GVT No. 501 from the 1916 Ready-Cut catalog, compared to the No. 547 from 1927.
(click to enlarge)
Here is a comparison of the 1916 Ready-Cut No. 501's first floor, against the 1927 No. 547's first floor plan. The differences are mainly the addition of a closet for the 1st-floor bedroom (in 1927), and the slight change in placement of the entry into the kitchen, from the pantry:
The second-floor plan of both the 501 and the 547 is almost identical, with closets indicated or shown, and the size of the bedrooms differing by three inches, for some reason:
2nd floor comparison between GVT No. 501 and No. 547

The 1916 Standard Home version of the 1916 ready-cut No. 501, was the No. 197... indistinguishable from its ready-cut twin, except for its reverse floor plan: 
GVT Standard Home No. 197 1916
From the 1916 GVT Standard Home catalog.

Thanks very much, Jeff Miller, for sharing your house and blue print photos with me, and allowing me to blog about them!

More Information About Gordon-Van Tine
If you are interested in more information about the Gordon-Van Tine company, here are a few links:

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Sears Sunbeam in Orlando, Florida

1901 e central blvd orlando fl sears sunbeam
Authenticated Sears Sunbeam • 1926 • 1901 E. Central Blvd., Orlando, Florida
I believe that it was researcher Lara Solonickne, of our kit-home research group, who first ran across a 1993 newspaper article about this Sears Sunbeam in Orlando, Florida, and added it to our national database of Sears homes. The article ran in the Orlando Sentinel, on February 13, 1993, and told of the history of the family who bought this house, and lived there through the 1990s: Robert and Kate Brown, and their children Charles and Dorothy.  I was researching the Sunbeam a bit the other day, and ran across this sale listing for the house, on Trulia. So, I thought I'd show off its beautiful interior in a blog post. All but this next photo of the house, are from that Trulia listing.

sears sunbeam orlando florida
The Sunbeam in Orlando, thanks to Google maps streetview.
See how nicely it matches the catlaog picture below.
sears sunbeam 1925 catalog
This is the Sunbeam as shown in the Sears Modern Homes catalog, 1925.
sears sunbeam 1925 catalog

History of the Sunbeam and the Elmwood
The Sunbeam was a 1920s model offered by Sears, recognized immediately by its four big front columns, squared off and tapered down from the top, and its wide shed-roof front dormer, perfect for the sleeping porch it housed.  This is a great house for Florida, I would imagine. A little further down, here, you'll see a photo of the bedroom that the sleeping porch dormer opens off from.  It was used as a children's bedroom by the most recent owners.

Before 1922, this model was known as the Elmwood.  It had an open sleeping porch up in that dormer, whereas the 1922 through 1925 catalog images of the Sunbeam show that as an enclosed dormer, with lots of window area.  There is also a very slight difference on the first floor:  the Elmwood had a little back porch off of the kitchen, and a back door from the back wall of the kitchen, led to that porch.  The Sunbeam's design did away with that little porch, and placed the back door at the base of the staircase in the center of the back of the house, where it lead to the basement. The blue arrows on the catalog images below, point out that difference.
sears elmwood 1921 catalog
Here is the Elmwood, with its open sleeping porch in the upper dormer,
as offered in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.
 Here is the 1921 Elmwood's first-floor plan:
sears elmwood interior 1921 catalog
The blue arrow points to the Elmwood's back door out of the kitchen,
leading to back porch stoop.
 And, here is the 1925 Sunbeam's first-floor plan:
sears sunbeam floor plan 1925 catalog
This is the Sunbeam, from the 1925 catalog, and the blue arrow here
indicates the changed placement of the back door.
No longer exiting from the kitchen, it exits from the landing of the stairway
that leads to the basement
(above which, is the stairway in the living room, that leads to the upstairs bedrooms).
The back door placement is the most obvious detail in the back, but you can also see that, if you get to see the interior of the house (and the kitchen hasn't been all re-done), you can note that the entry to the kitchen is different, too. Both have an entry from the dining room, but, for the Elmwood, that was the only interior entry. The other doorway just goes outside. The Sunbeam, however, has that entry into the refrigerator's nook, that leads to the stairs that go to the landing where the back door is, and to the basement.

Another difference between the Elmwood and the Sunbeam, pointed out to us by researcher friend Karen DeJeet, is the placement of the heating system's vent chimney (not the big fireplace chimney-- that's on the other side of the house), shown here (below) on the left side of the house, off of the kitchen. In the catalog floor plan, above, the red arrow points out that the chimney is placed on the exterior of the house, outside the wall of the kitchen. But, in the Elmwood's floor plan, that vent chimney is placed inside the wall of the kitchen (as pointed out with a red arrow on the Elmwood's catalog floor plan, above), so that vent chimney is not visible from the exterior of the house, as it is if the house was built during the Sunbeam years (1922 and after).
sears sunbeam visible heating vent chimney
The Orlando Sunbeam, with its heating system vent chimney visible on the exterior of the house.
The Elmwood / Sunbeam was a popular model for Sears, but it's hard for researchers to identify "in the wild", without interior views. Why? Because there is at least one almost-exact lookalike--- from the exterior. The Radford company, a very well-known plan-book company of the early part of the 1900s (plans only, not any building supplies), offered the Barnard, shown below:
sears sunbeam lookalike radford barnard
Thanks to Cindy Catanzaro for this Radford catalog image of The Barnard. She got it from researcher Rebecca L. Hunter (, and it is available in the Dover re-print book, Radford's House Designs of the Twenties ... which Rebecca has, Cindy has, and I have LOL.

If we take a look at the interior layout of Radford's Barnard (below), we see that the heating vent chimney is again not visible from the outside, because it is placed well into the interior of the house, along an interior kitchen wall (pointed out with the red arrow).  For researchers, this means that if we see a Sunbeam-style house out in the wild, and we see an exposed heating vent chimney, then it is most likely a Sears Sunbeam. If that vent chimney is not visible, it is either a Sears Elmwood, or a lookalike. If we can see the back of the house, however, we will know that it is probably the Radford Barnard, if we see a row of four small windows on the back, in the breakfast room (that breakfast room is mentioned, with excitement, on the catalog page above).

radford barnard floor plan first floor central staircase
Radford's first-floor plan for the Sunbeam lookalike, The Barnard (1920s).
The glaring interior difference between the Radford Barnard and the Sears Sunbeam or Elmwood, is the placement of the stairway up to the second-floor bedrooms. The Radford Barnard has that staircase right in the center of the first floor, so you see it as soon as you walk in the front door. The Sunbeam and Elmwood have that staircase at the back wall of the living room.
Radford Barnard central staircase
This is from a home that used to stand at 466 Phillips, in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. It looked like a Sears Sunbeam from the front, but the interior views shown in this sales video, showed us that it is most probably the Radford Barnard.  The property was bought and torn down, and a new home was built on the lot.
And, here are the two second-floor floor plans of the Sears models, the Sunbeam (on the left), and the earlier Elmwood, on the right. The only obvious differences are the placement of the door into the bathroom, and the location of the heating vent chimney:
sears sunbeam floor plan vs sears elmwood
Notice the placement of the door into the bathroom, and the location of the heating vent chimney.
This also shows that, on the right side, the fireplace chimney on the Elmwood, is slightly inset into the wall of the bedroom, whereas the fireplace chimney of the Sunbeam (left), is fully on the exterior of the wall.

The Orlando Sears Sunbeam
Let's take a look at the Brown family's Sears Sunbeam, as shown in recent real estate listings:
sears elmwood interior 1921 catalog
The Elmwood's living room, as shown in the 1921 catalog. Note the staircase to the left -- that's at the back wall, and the fireplace is at the right-side wall of the house.
sears sunbeam orlando florida
And here is that same view, in the Orlando Sunbeam.
In the living room, we see two other things that point to the provenance of this home: the colonial staircase newell (blue arrow) is shown in the Sears building supplies catalog; and we have the presence of two plinth blocks (red arrows), used to connect sections of baseboard trim.  Normally, plinth blocks are used in carpentry at the base of door trim molding, but Sears offered the plinth blocks as a way to easily join two pieces of floor molding that were at angles, or were different sizes. It made for a neat-looking transition, and was easier for someone who wasn't a carpenter, to connect pieces of molding.
sears colonial staircase with plinth blocks joining floor molding
Plinth blocks as joiners (red arrows); Sears colonial staircase, with colonial newel (blue arrow).

From the 1929 Sears Building Materials catalog.

From the 1929 Sears Building Materials catalog.
You can see the use of plinth blocks shown on two other authenticated homes, in previous blog posts: this one, about an Americus in Pittsburgh; and this one, about a Brookwood in St. Louis.
sears sunbeam orlando florida
This shows the 3 front windows on the right side of the front of the house,
and the front entry door, next to them.
The dining room is on the other side, also having three windows onto the front porch.
sears sunbeam orlando florida

sears fireplace mantel
The fireplace you see in the Orlando Sunbeam
matches the "Colonial Design Brick Mantel" shown in the catalogs.
sears colonial design brick fireplace mantel from 1929 catalog
From the 1929 Sears Millwork and Building Supplies catalog.

sears sunbeam dining room 1921 catalog
The Elmwood's view into the dining room, from the living room,
as shown in the 1921 catalog. This image shows a built-in with an upper set of glass-door cabinets (those aren't windows in the center), but the Orlando Sunbeam has a shorter buffet.
sears sunbeam orlando florida
Here are the three front windows of the dining room, and the built-in buffet,
flanked by two small windows (that is the left side wall of the house). 
sears sunbeam orlando florida

sears sunbeam orlando florida
This is the same layout as is shown for the Sunbeam.
Notice that, if this were an Elmwood,
there would be a back door here,
instead of a window (and closer to the corner of the wall). 
sears sunbeam orlando florida sleeping porch in dormer
This is that wonderful, big front dormer... the "sleeping porch".
sears sunbeam orlando florida
Here is the front bedroom, with the "sleeping porch" opening up off of it. 
sears sunbeam orlando florida

sears sunbeam rear view
If this were an Elmwood, that back door would be over to the right,
close to the corner, and there would be a back porch stoop off of it.
The back stoop with overhang that you see here,
are not shown on the Sunbeam's catalog image.
If this were a Radford Barnard, you would see a row of four small windows,
to the left, where the Barnard's breakfast room is. 
sears sunbeam lookalike radford barnard rear view
This is the Glen Ellyn property that we suspect was a Radford Barnard.
Note the series of small windows where the breakfast room is
 on the Barnard floor plan.
These windows are not on the Sears models.
sears sunbeam orlando florida
Wonderful screened-in front porch of the Orlando Sunbeam.
Here  you see the front door, in the center, the three front windows of the living room
(on the far side of the front door),
and the start of the dining room set of three windows,
here between the Adirondack chairs. 
sears sunbeam orlando florida

sears sunbeam orlando florida

The Brown Family
The couple who built the Orlando Sunbeam in 1925/26, were Robert S. Brown, and his wife Kate. Robert worked "on his own accord" as an upholsterer (according to the 1930 and 1940 census), and Kate raised their two children, Charles and Dorothy.
The 1930 census tells us that both Robert and Kate were born in England, in the early 1880s, and both emigrated to the United States in 1906.  They must have been married about three or four years later, as the census tells us that they were 26 and 27 when they married.
Source:'s synopsis of the Brown family, from the 1930 census.
The article in the Orlando Sentinel, tells us that daughter Dorothy married in 1938 (and, so, of course, she is not shown as a resident in the house, in the 1940 census report for this address), and that she and her husband, Fred Bush, moved back into the Sunbeam after her parents passed away in the early 1970s.
From the Orlando Sentinel article.
Though the article mentions Dorothy Bush moving back into the house in 1983 after her parents had died, that may be an error, as Robert and Kate Brown died in 1973 and '71, respectively (image from
Other Sunbeams and Elmwoods
While we have a number of Sunbeams and Elmwoods on our national database of Sears homes, few are definitely authenticated. However, Lara of Sears Homes of Chicagoland, has written about one of each:
• To read about a 1917 Sears Elmwood in Glenview, in the Chicago area, click here.
• To read about a  1923 Sears Sunbeam, in Villa Park, in the Chicago area, click here.
• To read more about the Radford plan-book company, click here.

For more information on who we are, and what we do, visit our website: