Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sears Ardara bought by a Feme Sole Trader

Sears Ardara model
Authenticated Sears Ardara • 1928 • 224 N. Jarrett Avenue, Rockledge, Pennsylvania
The bumped-out triple window is not standard, and the double window that would be on the back half, has been covered.
Sears Ardara model
Sears Ardara in my 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog
Have you ever heard of the term, feme sole trader ? I had not. But, apparently, it is a legal term used (at least in Pennsylvania, in 1928) for a married woman who takes on the responsibility of a mortgage in her own name, having declared that she is no longer supported by her husband.

This was the case, in 1928, when Anna Urban, and her son, John Urban, took on the mortgage for this nice little Sears Ardara model, on N. Jarrett Avenue, in Rockledge, Pennsylvania. Rockledge is in Montgomery County, near Philadelphia.

Let's take a look at this term, feme sole trader, to understand its origins and applications a bit further. 

One of the aspects of the feme sole trader status, is that a woman had to show that she was living separately from her husband for at least a year; that they had shared no marital relations during that time; that her husband had had no share in supporting her during that year; and that the woman and children were supported by the woman's own working, or by her own estate; or with the joint efforts of herself and her children. 
legal definition of feme sole trader
Definition source

In French, the term femme seule would translate as woman alone . The legal term feme sole surely originates in the Latin or French, then. Interestingly, in French, if you switch the placement of the words, and put seule before femme, it changes the meaning to a lone woman, meaning just one lone woman, not more than one -- some adjectives in French work that way, changing their meaning a bit depending on placement. While I'm in (French) teacher mode (which is my profession), here, let me also add that the pronunciation of femme, rhymes with mom. Many English speakers mistakenly assume that femme has a short-e sound, rhyming with phlegm or gem or hem. Remember the group, Violent Femmes? It drove me nuts hearing people pronounce that name. 

From an article on ThoughtCo.Com, by Jone Johnson Lewis; updated March 18, 2017.
In my research on this term, feme sole trader, I learned that the opposite term is feme covert ... meaning a woman who is attached, legally, to her husband, in terms of any involvement with contracts. She would need to have her husband's permission, or her husband's signature in place of hers, if she were in an ongoing marriage.  The website gives an example using two well-known, important women in American history: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony. Let's look at that example:
Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Feme Sole." ThoughtCo, Mar. 7, 2017,

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, about 1881, from the same article on
I was also interested to learn that in present day, in Missouri (where I live), a woman retains her status of feme sole even after marriage.  That surprises me, however, because, this past year, when my sisters and I were selling our late mother's home, which we had inherited in our own names, we were required by Missouri law to have our husband's signature giving up any right to the property. What??? Yeah, we were pretty surprised (and annoyed) about that. All we needed was a power of attorney from each of them, but, still... come on.... it was 2017. She was our mother. It was our house. I guess that means that, yes, we can enter into a contract on our own, but any property a married woman owns, if it is in the state of Missouri, she owns jointly with her husband, and it can't be sold without both parties agreeing.
From the same article on

What I don't know, however, was whether or not Anna Urban would have been given this mortgage, without her son, John (her husband's name had been John, too), being attached to it. Her name is the primary name listed, but the wording of the mortgage includes her son, John Urban, as an additional responsible party for the debt:

Snippet of the actual mortgage document. William C. Reed, Trustee, was one of the trustees for Sears, whose name we look for on mortgage documents. The names vary according to state, and year. I have found many Pennsylvania mortgages in Montgomery County, signed by William C. Reed, in the 1920s.

Other sections of the mortgage document, helped me locate the house. Mortgages and deeds do not give a street address. Sometimes, legal descriptions give ridiculous descriptions like, "starting at a point to the left of a deep ditch...", and then, "going 150 feet along the land of Bob McCrackle" (like we know where Bob McCrackle's land is, established, no doubt, in 1759 -- ha!). But, if we're lucky, the legal description includes a street name... if we're very lucky, there is a nearby cross street mentioned, too, so we can Google "drive" around the neighborhood, looking for a Sears house we recognize. If we are supremely lucky, a lot number will be given, AND the county will have a great, user-friendly assessor's website that has interactive maps and information that lets us use all of that information together, to pin down the house. That is true of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, so I was able to find this house without pulling my hair out.

Helpful information available on this mortgage document! 

One of the pages of information about each house, showed the lot #... this is just the one we needed!
The wording on the mortgage shows that Anna and her son, John, were responsible for the $4,000 mortgage. The Ardara kit, without a garage, sold for $1, 957.00. What would bring the mortgage up to $4,000? Well, there were additional charges for plumbing, heating, wiring, and electrical fixtures-- and those were offered with a few different options from which to choose, with prices varying. There were also options that could bring up the price, like sheet plaster and plaster finish, instead of wood lath -- that was available for an extra $142.00. Storm doors and windows were available for $66.00. Screen doors and windows, with galvanized steel, could be added for an additional $40.00. And, an upgrade to oak for the doors and trim, came at a price of an additional $96.00.  
Sears Ardara model
The price of the Sears Ardara in 1928, as an "already cut" and fitted kit. Anna Urban opted for the house without a garage.
cost shown in Sears catalog for plumbing heating electric
Click to view a larger image. You can see that there were a few options in each of the categories.

Sears early version of drywall or sheetrock -- Goodwall sheet plaster
Sears offered, even in 1928, an early version of what we now call drywall, or sheetrock: Goodwall Sheet Plaster.

Sears Modern Homes catalog showing additional options listed for the Ardara, in 1928
These are the additional options listed for the Ardara, in 1928.

what came standard with the Sears Ardara, in 1928
And... here is what came standard with the Ardara, in 1928.
However, all of that wouldn't come up to an additional $2,043. So, we can assume that Anna Urban and her son chose to include construction costs into their mortgage. In the early 1930s, Sears advertised that they would even arrange to engage a contractor for you, but, probably in 1928, the Urbans would have arranged that themselves... Sears allowed for the cost to be rolled into the full mortgage, though. The only thing that the Urbans needed, was to have a paid-for lot already in their names.

Thanks to Google maps, we have a few views of Anna Urban's home -- sorry, no beautiful, clear, in-person shots, or real estate listing views--and, the assessor's website also has a good shot, though it's a bit over-lighted with bright sunlight. We always recognize the Ardara by that big, gracefully-curved porch roof, and nice big colonial style columns. The model also always has a pair of sidelights around the front door (the skinny glass window-like area all along the side of the door), which lends the entry a nice, bright, welcoming feel.

The tops of the windows also have an unusual little strip of window panes, going along horizontally across the top of the windows. The Google map photos I show here, of Anna Urban's Ardara, are from 2015. They show that horizontal window-panes strip still being in place above the windows. But, the more current, assessor's photo, shows those to be gone. They must have replaced the windows. That's a shame. The catalog image also shows a curved sort of trellis ornamentation over each of the front windows... it's rare for us to find those still in place, but we do, sometimes-- not on the Rockledge Ardara, however. And, obviously, Anna Urban opted for the non-garage version.

Sears Ardara model in the catalog

Sears Ardara model
This chimney is for a fireplace that must have been added to the "music room", which is just to the left, as you enter the house. The living room is the rest of the front of the house.

Sears Ardara model
Chimney for a fireplace in the music room. 

Sears Ardara model
See? No more strip of window panes going horizontally across the top of the front windows.
Sears Ardara model

The Ardara has a little bumped-out area for the kitchen, at the back of the house, which normally has a double window in it, but the house on N. Jarrett Avenue looks to have lost those windows to a siding job, and/or kitchen re-do. There also looks to be a bump-out style window added in the dining room, where normally those windows would be flat into the wall of the dining room.

Sears Ardara model floor plan
Sears Ardara model floor plan

John, Bertha, and Anna Urban
This house was built in 1928, when father/husband John Urban was no longer with the family. But, the 1920 census shows the Urban family still intact, with husband John Urban still alive, and living with the family. John and Anna (Annie) were in their late 30s, and their children (Madeleine, John, and George) were living there, along with Annie's mother.  We can also see that both John and Anna were born in Hungary, and arrived in the U.S. in 1903.
John Urban family 1920 US census Rockledge PA
Snippet of the 1920 U.S. Census (from

I believe that this is the marriage record, in 1906, of John and Anna Urban:
marriage of John Urban and Anna Roerich

In January of 1930, the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper included a marriage license notice for young John Urban, living at 224 N. Jarrett Avenue, to marry Bertha Clayton. He was 21, and she was 20.

marriage announcement John Urban and Bertha Clayton
Made available by
The 1930 census, then, showed that newlyweds John and Bertha were living in the house with Anna, and her youngest son, George. Daughter Madeleine must have married and left home.  The census now lists Anna Urban as a widow... but, I don't think that she was, at the time of taking out the mortgage with Sears, because I have seen other Pennsylvania mortgages of this same era, wherein the woman is referred to as a widow ("Jane Creeger, a widow", for example). Since Anna was referred to as a "feme sole trader", there must have been some other explanation for that status. Somehow, husband John was still alive, but, for some reason, no longer in her life. Between then, and 1930, he must have died*. Or, Anna simply listed herself as a widow, for the census questionnaire.

Anna Urban, John Urban, George Urban, Bertha Clayton Urban, 1930 US census Rockledge PA
Snippet of the 1930 U.S. Census (from

*EDIT, June 2021:
I have had the good fortune to have been contacted by Anna and John's great-grandson, Ken Pepper. He was excited to see his family's story, and the family Sears house, written about. He explained to me (as we see, also, in the comment left by GoldBug), that John Joseph Urban, Anna Roerich Urban's husband, did abandon the family some time before 1928. I don't believe that anyone knows the story of why.

Anna's son, John, named after his father, was, indeed, the co-owner of the house, and he is the one who built the house, with help from his brother, George (another son of Anna and John Joseph Urban), who lived nearby. As it turns out, John Joseph Urban (the man who left the family), was a carpenter, and he had trained his son, John, in his craft. Here is a photo of the Urban family, when John Joseph Urban (seated in the center) was still with them:
The Anna Roerich Urban family: Madeline, George, John Joseph, Anna, son John
The Urban family, before 1928 (and before the Sears house was built):
Left to Right: daughter Madeleine, son George, John Joseph Urban, Anna Roerich Urban, son John.

This color photo is son John Urban (Ken Pepper's grandfather), with his wife and daughters, with grand-son Bill on his lap.
Marjorie Susanne Bertha John Urban Virginia
In the center, we have John Urban, and his wife, Bertha, to the left. Their daughter, Marjorie (Ken Pepper's mom) on the left end, their daughter Virginia (Dolli) on the couch, to the right, and, on the floor, to the left, with the pink skirt, is their third daughter, Susanne. Their son, another John, is not pictured (the little boy on his grandfather John's lap, is Ken Pepper's cousin, Bill, and the little girl on the floor, in the light pink organza dress, is Bill's sister, Lynda. Both are Dolli's children.)

Front porch of the Ardara, Bertha Urban holding baby Virginia next to sister Dorothy Clayton Stewart
Bertha Clayton Urban, holding her newborn daughter "Dolli" (Virginia), standing with her sister, Dorothy "Dot" Clayton Stewart. On the porch of the Ardara (circa 1931) 

Front porch of the Ardara, John Urban JR holding infant baby Virginia "Dolli"
John Urban (son of John and Anna), holding his new baby, Virginia "Dolli",  on the porch of the Ardara

My most sincere thanks go out to Ken Pepper and the family of descendants of Anna and John Urban, for sharing these priceless family photos with me.

Also, note to GoldBug: Ken Pepper and his cousins would love to be in touch with you, to connect about your joint family. If you would like to contact me through my blog (I won't publish the comment) with your email address, I will be happy to forward it to Ken Pepper. 

Other Ardara Examples Around The U.S.
We have found a good many Ardaras around the country-- 41 as of today-- but, for small Sears models, it is far outnumbered by the Rodessa and Vallonia, even though it was offered for at least 10 years (Houses By Mail says 1919-1929-- though HBM is sometimes off by a year or two on either end). Lets take a look at a few that we have found.

Ardara in Olean, New York
One of my favorites, is this one in Olean, New York, at 701 Main Street. It has the front porch enclosed with lots of glass, to keep that airy, open look, and it even has the curved trellis shapes above the windows -- and the horizontal strip of window panes along the top of the windows. And, of course, this is one of the few that we have found, with a garage. This house was found by researcher Sarah Mullane, who writes about her finds in her blog, Catalog Homes of Western New York.

Sears Ardara Model
Probable Sears Ardara at 701 S Main Street, Olean, NY

Sears Ardara Model
Probable Sears Ardara at 701 S Main Street, Olean, NY

Sears Ardara Model
Probable Sears Ardara at 701 S Main Street, Olean, NY
Ardara in Schenectady, New York
Another New York State example, is this one, in Schenectady, New York, located by researcher Andrew Mutch, of Kit House Hunters blog.  Everything looks to follow the pattern of the Ardara, though the front windows are replacements, and the curved trellises are no longer in place. It looks like they opted for an after-build detached garage, with breezeway:
Sears Ardara Model
Probable Sears Ardara at 1415 Grand Blvd., Schenectady, New York
Ardara in Lansdale, Pennsylvania
This is another authenticated, 1928 Ardara, which I found the mortgage records for using the same methods--though Andrew Mutch had found a real estate listing for it in 2016. Lansdale is also in Montgomery County, and the original owners of this Ardara, were Charles B. Snyder and his wife, Anna Snyder. They had a $4,400.00 mortgage, so-- similar to Anna Urban and her son. They must have included some higher-end finishes.
Sears Ardara Model
Authenticated 1928 Sears Ardara • 2223 Bethel Rd, Lansdale, Pennsylvania

Sears Ardara Model
This view shows you the music room, on your left as soon as you come in the front door.
In Anna Urban's house, there is a fireplace in that room.
Ardara in Norwich, Connecticut
This Ardara was for sale not long ago, and so we get to see a bit of the interior--- enough to show a slightly different look to the entry of the music room, with nice colonnades added. The staircase is visible, too.
Sears Ardara Model
Music room of a Sears Ardara in Norwich, Connecticut

Sears Ardara Model
See the door hardware on that door, to the left?
That's the Stratford design hardware from Sears. It was standard with the Ardara.
Sears Stratford design door hardware
Stratford design hardware in the 1928 catalog.

Sears Stratford design door hardware
Closeup of Stratford door hardware, from another Sears house.

Sears Stratford design door hardware
Stratford design door hardware on a house in Illinois.

Sears Ardara model
Probable Sears Ardara, 55 River Avenue, Norwich, Connecticut
Ardara in Wareham, Massachusetts
This Ardara , in Wareham, has a modified look to the front porch roof. The interior still has beautiful, original hardwood floors, and the photo below shows them off nicely. Thanks go out to Kristen, the current owner, for sharing these with us on our Sears Modern Homes Facebook page.
Sears Ardara model Wareham MA

Sears Ardara model
There are those three, big windows on the right wall of the house, for the dining room.
This house was probably bought for, or by, a worker at the nearby New Bedford and Agawam Finishing Company, also known as the Bleachery. Read more about it, here.

Ardara in Scotia, New York
And, one last Ardara -- this one, again, found by researcher Andrew Mutch -- at 109 Sacandaga Road, Scotia, New York.
Sears Ardara model
Probable Sears Ardara • 109 Sacandaga Road, Scotia, New York

Sears Ardara model
Probable Sears Ardara • 109 Sacandaga Road, Scotia, New York
That's it! I hope you enjoyed our tour of Ardaras around the U.S., and learning about the term, feme sole trader.

Now go out there and repeat: femme • mom • femme • mom • femme • mom....


  1. Fascinating legal tidbits! Nice little homes, too.
    Femme Mom Femme Mom Femme Mom

  2. Well I learned something today! Never seen "feme sole trader" before.

  3. Anna Urban was my great grandmother. The poster is spot on when they said they believe she was not widowed. John Urban abandoned the family and disappeared. No one knew what happened to him until someone in our family found a death record for him in California. The original bathroom cabinet from Anna's house is still in my parents' house in Pennsylvania.

    1. Wow, that's very interesting! Thanks so much for commenting about that part of your family's history.
      Judith Chabot (Sears House Seeker)


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