Monday, February 27, 2017

Three Kit Houses In Fort Madison, Iowa: GVT Sharon, GVT Hudson, & Sears Strathmore

1231 Avenue B, Fort Madison, Iowa: Gordon-Van Tine Sharon model bought by Harold and Frances Noble
Authenticated Gordon-Van Tine Sharon model • 1935 • 1231 Avenue B, Fort Madison, Iowa
Gordon-Van Tine Sharon model
Today, I have three kit homes to show. This all started with this Gordon-Van Tine Sharon, in Fort Madison, Iowa.  I was just about to throw together a quick blog post about this authenticated GVT model that I found thanks to a mention of a real estate transfer, in an issue of the 1935 Des Moines Register, when I noticed that the house across the street looked to be a Gordon-Van Tine Hudson ! So, I thought I had better look around the neighborhood, and right down the street, I found what looks to be a Sears Strathmore. The catalog image to the right, is the Sharon as shown in the 1936 Gordon-Van Tine Book of Homes.   I was unfamiliar with the Sharon, but I know now, that it was first offered in the 1932 catalog, and appeared in the 1935 and 1936 catalogs, under the same name (1932 appears to be the year when Gordon-Van Tine changed the name of every house in their catalogs).

This home was built in 1935/36 by Dr. H. F. Noble.  A mention on page 45 of the June 2, 1935 edition of the Des Moines Register,  alerted me to a purchase through Gordon-Van Tine, and I was off to check for the address of Dr. Noble.  

Dr. Harold F. Noble Des Moines Register 1935

The Sharon model was offered as a one-floor, two-bedroom plan, or with a half story addition, containing two more bedrooms (Sharon B ).  The Lee County Iowa assessor's page for this house, describes it as having four bedrooms, so it looks like the Nobles opted for plan B.

Gordon-Van Tine Sharon floor plan
GVT Sharon floor plan, as shown in the 1936 Book of Homes.
Dr. Harold F. Noble lived here with his wife, Frances, and their son, Harold D., and daughter Jeanette.  Harold Noble was only 32 when he bought this house. 

The Nobles in the 1940 U. S. census ( Above them, at 1236, you see the Wallis family, who lived across the street in a Gordon-Van Tine Hudson.
The Nobles chose the reverse floor plan from what is shown in the catalog (GVT, like Sears, was happy to offer this option at no extra cost), so this last image (below), shows the side you don't see in the catalog image of the house.  I looks like they may have gotten a GVT garage at the same time!

Gordon-Van Tine Sharon in Fort Madison Iowa
1231 Avenue B, Fort Madison, Iowas • Authenticated Gordon-Van Tine Sharon

Gordon-Van Tine Hudson
As you can see from the snippet from the 1940 census, above, across the street from the Nobles, at 1236 Avenue B, Fort Madison, Iowa, lived the Wallis family: father Frank, mother Marie, son Frank, Jr., and daughter Carole.  The 1930 census puts them at this address, as does the 1931 City Directory, and the 1929 city directory has them elsewhere in town, and has no listing for a house yet at this address, so we can surmise that they are the first residents of the house.  The county assessor's records give a build date of 1929 for the house, so that fits in nicely, and must be accurate.  Their home looks to be a wonderfully kept-up Gordon-Van Tine Hudson:
Gordon Van Tine Hudson in Fort Madison Iowa 1236 Avenue B
1236 Avenue B., Fort Madison, Iowa • 1929 • Probable Gordon-Van Tine Hudson model
The Hudson should have four windows in the long side dormer, and our house does (by comparison, the smaller GVT Braddock has only 3 windows in that dormer).  We often see that side porch enclosed, as it is on the Fort Madison house.
Gordon Van Tine Hudson 1929 catalog
The Hudson, from the 1929 Gordon-Van Tine catalog,
from our friends at  

Gordon Van Tine Hudson in Fort Madison Iowa 1236 Avenue B
The images of the exterior and interior of this house in Fort Madison, are from the real estate listing at

Gordon Van Tine Hudson in Fort Madison Iowa
The left side of the GVT Hudson should have a side entry door, and two windows on the left side of the entry gable, as well as three windows in the big upper dormer.
The Hudson was on the cover of the 1929 and the 1931 catalogs, surrounded by beautiful, bright red. Here it is, shown on Daily Bungalow's Flickr album of the 1931 catalog:
Gordon-Van Tine Book of Homes 1931 cover from Daily Bungalow

The GVT Hudson has a TON of lookalikes.  This style house, in all kinds of variations, was offered by just about every U. S. kit company and plan-book company known to man in the late 1920s and 1930s (to see a Sears Cedars, for example, along with a long list of competing lookalikes by other companies, check out this blog post of mine).  Some have a chimney in front, and some don't. Obviously, the Hudson does, so that narrows things down. 

The Chimney and the Front Upper Window
If you see a front-chimney house of this style, the first thing to look at is the space on either side of the chimney... is there just one window there on the second floor, or is there a pair of windows, one on either side of the chimney? THAT is the first distinguishing feature of the two GVT models of this style: there is only ONE upper window on the front elevation.  Here is our Fort Madison house, as shown on the county assessor's page. Thank heavens they had a shot of the house without all of that foliage surrounding the chimney. Clearly, there is only one window!
Gordon Van Tine Hudson in Fort Madison Iowa
Lee County Iowa tax assessor's photo of 1236 Avenue B.
Note the two windows on the side of the entry gable,
the side entry in the middle of this side of the house,
and the evenly-spaced three windows in the upper dormer on that side.
A very common lookalike to the GVT Hudson, is the 1926 C.L. Bowes Ankerton (offered in 1928 as the Home Builders Chenee).  On first glance at the front, they look like the same house. But, the Ankerton/Chenee has a little extra window up there to the left of the chimney:
CL Bowes Ankerton Home Builders Chenee lookalike to GVT Hudson GVT Columbia
Upon any kind of closer inspection, you'll note a number of other differences, but when you've just come across a house that you think might be the GVT Hudson, the window issue is the first thing to look for.

Another issue to notice, is the shape of the chimney.  Both the GVT Hudson (and the smaller Braddock), have a straight-sided, evenly-tapering chimney, with no bends or bottle shape (for lack of a better term).  This is helpful to distinguish it from the one lookalike that I know of that ALSO has only one window up there on the second floor: the CL Bowes Camanche (later known as the Home Builders Devore).  Notice that the Camanche/Devore has a sort of bottle shape to the chimney, so the tapering effect is different than on the GVT house. 
Home Builders Devore 1928 Daily Bungalow lookalike to GVT Hudson GVT Columbia
Image provided by our friends at Daily Bungalow: in the 1928 Home Builders catalog.
Gordon-VanTine Interior
From the realtor photos, we can see that the house at 1236 Avenue B has the layout of the Hudson's floor plan.  Notice, in this first double-image photo, how the fireplace and entry door and window fall just as they should, and,  though you can't see it in this first photo, the staircase is just there where it's indicated in this interior photo that is shown with this house, beginning with the 1932 catalog.
GVT Hudson living room GVT Columbia living room 1936
Living Room image from the online 1936 catalog.

GVT Hudson floor plan GVT Columbia floor plan 1936
And, here is the floor plan, as shown in the 1932, 1935, and 1936 catalogs (Hudson/Columbia).

GVT Hudson interior GVT Columbia interior GVT newel and a staircase
The stair newel and balusters are exact likenesses to that shown in the 1936 catalog!
GVT Hudson = GVT Columbia
The links I included above, for the 1936 catalog, will not actually take you to a catalog page for the Hudson... they take you to the catalog page for the Columbia.  That's because, beginning in 1932, all of the GVT homes had their names changed (except, of course, for those introduced that year, like the Sharon ).  The Hudson, became the Columbia:
gordon van tine hudson becomes GVT columbia in 1932
Though this is the new name of the Hudson model beginning in 1932, this image is actually from the online 1936 catalog.
GVT Braddock = GVT Raleigh
And, the smaller, slightly different GVT Braddock, had its name changed to the Raleigh, beginning in 1932:
gordon van tine braddock becomes GVT raleigh in 1932
From the 1936 catalog
Colorful Gordon-Van Tine Kitchens and Baths
The 1929-31 Gordon-Van Tine catalogs featured color pages showing off the beautiful color schemes GVT designers had planned for you, especially for your kitchens and baths (all of these images are from Daily Bungalow's online Flickr album of the GVT 1929-1930 catalog, available here):

This image shows Color Scheme A in the kitchen, and Color Scheme D in the bathroom. (source)

GVT Color Scheme A (source)

GVT Bathroom color scheme D (source)

GVT Kitchen color scheme B (source)

GVT Kitchen color scheme E (source)
So, it's possible that our GVT Hudson on Avenue B had these gorgeous colors originally.... or... there was still "Bathroom Color Scheme F: All panels, casework, and trim-- Ivory", and "Kitchen  Color Scheme C: All panels, casework, and trim -- Light Gray."

Sears Strathmore
And, finally, hidden away behind foliage that makes it hard to see this house well, down the street, at 1335 Avenue B, is what definitely looks to be a Sears Strathmore:

Sears Strathmore 1932 1335 Avenue B Fort Madison Iowa
1335 Avenue B, Fort Madison, Iowa: Probable Sears Strathmore.
Lee County records give 1932 as the build year for this house (and that's the source of this image).

Sears Strathmore 1932 catalog Daily Bungalow
Many thanks to our friends at / Daily Bungalow
This is from the 1932 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Strathmore 1932 1335 Avenue B Fort Madison Iowa
Everything looks correct for the Sears Strathmore • 1335 Avenue B, Fort Madison, Iowa
The only differences we see, are:
1-- The very small front window on the left elevation, which was for the front lavatory, is missing
2-- The side entry door is gone, making for a larger kitchen window.
3-- The Fort Madison house has a built-in, below-level garage.  My guess is that, with entry available through the garage (and no real space left to put a side porch for a side entry), the side door was eliminated.

Sears Strathmore 1932 catalog Daily Bungalow
Strathmore catalog image on the left; Fort Madison house on the right.
Sears Strathmore 1932 catalog
Sears Strathmore from the 1932 catalog at (click to enlarge)

Sears Strathmore 1932 catalog Daily Bungalow
According to the Fort Madison City Directory, and U.S. Census records, it was the Wright family who lived here in this Sears Strathmore: Howard, his wife Margaret, and their son, Emerson.
Howard Wright Margaret Wright Emerson Wright Fort Madison Iowa 1940
The Howard Wright family in the 1940 U.S. Census (
According to the 1940 Census, and the 1939 City Directory, Howard Wright owned his own Car Dealership, called Wright Motor Company.
Howard Wright Margaret Wright Emerson Wright Fort Madison Iowa 1940
Howard Wright's profession, as listed on the 1940 U.S. Census

Howard Wright Margaret Wright Emerson Wright Fort Madison Iowa 1939 Wright Motor Co
Though this 1939 City Directory shows Howard Wright running his own car dealership, previous city directories showed him to be working for the Sheaffer Pen Company, where Frank Wallis also worked. 
Sheaffer Pen and Pencil Company
One thing I learned from researching for this blog post, is that the famous Sheaffer Pen Company was begun in Fort Madison, Iowa, and remained there in full force until 2006, when its parent company, BIC, closed down the Fort Madison plant.  Both Frank Wallis (resident of the GVT Hudson ), and Howard Wright (resident of the Sears Strathmore ), worked for Sheaffer Pen Company in the early 1930s.

Here's Frank Wallis, in 1929 and 1931:
Frank Wallis Fort Madison Iowa 1929 city directory Sheaffer Pen Company
In 1929, Frank Wallis was an assembling manager at Sheaffer Pen

Frank Wallis Fort Madison Iowa 1931 city directory Sheaffer Pen Company
In 1931, Frank Wallis is shown as Department Manager at Sheaffer Pen
And, here is Howard Wright, in 1931, before moving to his Sears Strathmore, and opening his own car dealership:

Sheaffer Pen Company was begun by Iowan Walter Sheaffer, who developed and patented the system of a refillable fountain pen with a lever, in the 19-teens.  This invention was enormously popular, and led to a new standard in fountain pens around the world.  Sheaffer's main plant was in Fort Madison, Iowa, where he lived.

The University of Iowa's Biographical Dictionary of Iowa has a very informative page about the development of the pens and mechanical pencils we have all come to know, that were first developed by Walter Sheaffer, and marketed at Sheaffer Pen and Pencil Company:

The "White Dot" lifetime pen with gold nib, was the gold-standard fountain pen developed by the Sheaffer Pen Company.
sheaffer white dot fountain pen advertisement 1937
1937 Sheaffer Pen Advertisement (source)

sheaffer white dot fountain pen
The Sheaffer White Dot "Lifetime" fountain pen (source)
Sheaffer Pens:

  • For information on the history and collectible value of Sheaffer pens, click here.
  • To see many vintage Sheaffer pens, click here.
  • To read more about the history of the Sheaffer Pen Company, click here, or here.
  • To learn about the Sheaffer Pen Museum, in Fort Madison, Iowa, click here

Gordon-Van Tine

  • For more information on Gordon-Van Tine, visit Dale Wolicki's
  • Visit the side bar Archives to see other Sears and Gordon-Van Tine homes 

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