Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Sears House in Bismarck, Missouri

Train Station in rural Bismarck, Missouri
I ended up in Bismarck, Missouri quite by accident.

I had planned for myself, a fun little outing, visiting three rather rural counties outside of St. Louis: St. Francois, Ste Genevieve, and Jefferson. My mission was to visit the Recorder of Deeds in each of these counties, and look up historic mortgage records, to see if I could find any Sears houses. None of this research can be done online in Missouri -- you have to go in person, and you get to look through the big old mortgage index books. 

The historic mortgage deed (Trust deed) books in Ste. Genevieve County, Missouri
In Missouri, mortgages are filed as deeds-- as Trust Deeds (also: Deed of Trust). These deeds are different than Warranty Deeds, QuitClaim Deeds, or Grant Deeds ... and this is an important distinction for those of us doing mortgage research. Why? Because it helps us know whether we need to look in the Grantor list or the Grantee list, for our Sears trustees.  (To learn the subtle difference between a mortgage and a Deed of Trust, click here.)

The nicely organized books, close up. These are not index books, though... these are where copies of the actual Trust Deed can be found, once you've figured out which book and page you're looking for.
It's a little complicated, but the bottom line, in terms of searching for Sears mortgages, is this:

  • In a MORTGAGE state (like Ohio), you look in MORTGAGE INDEX books ... and, you look in the MORTGAGEE column for the name of our Sears trustees 
  • In a TRUST DEED state (where "mortgages" are filed as Deeds of Trust), you search the trustee names in the GRANTEE column. 

Sometimes, the book you get to search in is alphabetized by the Mortgagor (the buyer), and not by the Mortgagee (where our Sears trustee's name is). That means that we have to look through EVERY PAGE of the book.

Other times, you're lucky enough to come upon a book that alphabetizes by the Mortgagee... that makes searching for the Sears trustee's name much, much, MUCH faster.

Note that you're not looking for "Sears", you're looking for one of the designated trustees that signed mortgage papers on behalf of Sears -- they changed depending on region, and decade.

To complicate matters further, in TRUST DEED states, different counties label their books differently. In Missouri, in St. Louis County and St. Charles counties, for example, the index book you need is called, Inverted Index.  In St. Francois county, the shelves are labeled, Mortgage Index books, but you actually pick up a big, huge book that is simply labeled, INDEX, and, inside it, you find two sections... one listed by Grantor name first, and one listed by Grantee name first (the latter is the section we need to look in).
St. Charles County, Missouri files their mortgage/Trust Deed indices in books labeled, Inverted Index  or DIRECT INDEX.  I used the Inverted Index, which is alphabetized by the lender's last name [the Sears trustee, listed as grantee ] ). Sometimes, the index you need is on microfilm, instead -- that's a pain in the neck (literally) to search through.
If you're lucky, you come upon a county that has all of the index records in a computerized database (they're only accessible in that office, though, not via the Internet), and then you don't need to specify much more than the name you're looking for!
This is in Ste. Genevieive county. It's the computerized list I pulled up, when I did a search for the last name, Lewis . I told it to show me that name in any Grantor or Grantee column it came up in, in a certain date range. I could have narrowed it down by giving a specific first name, or even just the first letter of a specific first name. 
More complications: Deeds ≠ Trust Deeds
If you're ever doing this yourself, another very important thing to note, is this: a Trust Deed (for a "mortgage" loan) is not the same thing as the other group of deeds: Warranty Deeds and QuitClaim Deeds and Grant Deeds.  These types of deeds establish who owns the land freely and outright (Warranty Deed), or they establish that some kind of change was made to the names on the deed (QuitClaim Deed). Here's an excellent explanation, from this source:

Why do we need to understand this, as historic mortgage researchers? Because THESE deeds are not the ones you need to be searching through. Looking through an index of THESE deeds, will not net you Sears trustee names. Sometimes, though, you find the name SEARS (or some variation like Sears Roebuck, or Sears & Roebuck) in these listings.... only, it should appear in the GRANTOR column, not the GRANTEE column. It's not all that important, if you happen to be using a database that includes every kind of deed -- including Deeds of Trust -- but, often times, when you find Land Records online, they may offer a Deed search that goes back far enough for our Sears mortgage years. But, if that Deeds database is only including Warranty, Grant, and QuitClaim deeds, then it won't help you.

Whew! Just be sure which kind of state you're researching in, and be sure you're looking through the correct set of books.

Back To My Adventure
So, the unfortunate news from my 200+ miles of travel yesterday, is that I did not find ONE SINGLE mortgage record, in all three counties.

But, I did find a very cool Sears house -- just driving along the road! And, the funny thing is, that I had no business being on the road where I ended up running across this Sears house.

The house was in Bismarck, Missouri (where I have never been before, in my life). But, I ended up driving through Bismarck because I took a wrong turn (and, before you say, "GPS!" take note that there was no cell coverage in this rural area). You see, fearing that cell coverage might be spotty where I was headed, I looked up my destination using Google Maps, before leaving the house, and I jotted down the directions (yup, the old fashioned way). That usually works great. I was headed to Farmington, Missouri, and, I had noted, "take 32 SOUTH when it veers off of Highway 67"... only, the first option I came upon for Highway 32, was "32 West". Uh oh. That meant that my two options would be 32 West or 32 East... and that there wouldn't be a 32 South. Damn! I tried to visualize the map I had looked at, in my head, but all I could see was that there were two highways, both headed DOWN on the map... and I didn't recall whether 32 was left or right of the first highway, 67. So, I took 32 West. And, I immediately pulled into a strip mall parking lot (oh my heavens, rural Missouri is SO full of ugly strip malls), to see if my Google map would work. It did, and I took a quick look, and determined that WEST was the correct direction (no, it wasn't).

So, I happily drove (and drove and drove and drove and drove) down the pretty little 2-lane road that is Highway 32 West. I saw views like this...

...and like this...

... and I thought, hmm... this is kind of scenic! But, gee... I've been to Farmington before, and I don't remember traveling on this kind of road to get there.

After about ten miles, I came upon one of the go-through-it-in-a-flash little towns (turned out to be Bismarck), and saw this...
...and this...
...and this...

But, most importantly, what I suddenly caught in my peripheral vision, though much further away, was THIS:
Especially because of THIS!:
You've got it! The tell-tale column supports for the porch of a Sears Osborn!
I wish there had been a camera on me, to catch my eyes popping open, and my jaw dropping, as I shouted out, "Whoa! Is that an OSBORN!?" I immediately turned left on the next street, Maple Street, and toured back a block to Pine Street... and drove down, and saw it: my very first, in-real-life Sears Osborn.

It's pretty much of a mess right now, I have to say. It was bought in 2012, but it's sitting there right now, overgrown, with the paint peeling off, and the porch screens buckled in, and it has ominous-looking paper signs posted on it here and there. I couldn't read them all, but I caught enough to know that I shouldn't get out of the car and get closer: "PRIVATE PROPERTY-NO TRESPASSING".

I really, really, really hope that the new owner is going to do something with it... but, it's six years later, and it's not looking good. Here are the photos that I took, to show its current state:
909 Pine Street, Bismarck, Missouri: A probable Sears Osborn

Google map streetview shots from 2013 show a kinder, gentler look:

About the Sears Osborn
The Sears Osborn was an early model. It was offered first as the No. 264P244, in 1916, then became the No. 244, and finally was given the name, Osborn. It remained in the catalogs through 1929, with no changes to the floor plan (I believe).

Sears Osborn (No. 264P244) in the 1916 catalog, thanks to our friend at Daily Bungalow/Antique Home.
See those exaggeratedly-pointy peaks? We've also seen Osborns with a simpler pointy peak, but this is the classic view we love. Our Osborn in Bismarck has these peaks!

The floor plan:
Sears Osborn floor plan.
As is often the case in these 19-teens and 1920s homes, the Osborn was designed with a sleeping porch. This picture from the catalog, shows the sleeping porch, explaining that it was located behind the back bedroom of the house:

Some years, the Osborn warranted inclusion among the color pages of the catalog, as it did, here, in the 1918 catalog...
Sears Osborn, in the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.
It's thought that the Osborn's design was based on California bungalows, hence the reference, "From The Golden West".
... in which we were also treated to color photos of the interior of the Osborn:

Over the years, thanks to real estate listings, we've sometimes been treated to actual interior views, like the living room and dining room of this Osborn, in Villa Park, Illinois:

Lara Solonickne of Sears Homes of Chicagoland, put together a great blog post about this house, in April of 2017. Check it out, here.

I'm sure that the interior of our Osborn at 909 Pine Street, in Bismarck, Missouri, is not in any kind of condition like the beautiful home in Villa Park. But, I hope it's not as bad as this Osborn, in Roseland, Illinois:
Read about this home, at Sears Homes of Chicagoland.
Who Lived Here?
Well, I don't know who lived here -- that's the real answer. In fact, I don't know for certain when the house was built. But, I do know that the census shows that folks living all along Pine Street, in 1930 and 1940, were solidly working class. Among them there were workers for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, a number of workers in an Oak Flooring Mill, a Mechanic in an Auto Repair shop, a maid in a private home, the owner of a gas station, and one family's daughter was a grade-school teacher in the public school.
These are snippets of some of the residents of Pine Street, Iron Township, Bismarck City, in the 1940 US census.
The 1930 census doesn't include street names, but shows similar occupations of the residents.
It's interesting to note that the house at 909 Pine Street was just a stone's throw away from the railroad tracks... just a block or so from the train station, in fact:

And, I did find a few real estate listings from 1988 and 1991, in the Flat River, Missouri, "Daily Journal"--but, no mention of an owner's name:
1988 real estate ad for the Osborn at 909 Pine Street, Bismarck, Missouri

 1991 real estate ad for the Osborn at 909 Pine Street, Bismarck, Missouri. I wonder if it ever sold in 1988, or if this is the same owner, still trying to sell?
Closing Up My Adventurous Day
Of course, because of my wrong turn, I got to see this fabulous Sears house, and that was a real thrill. You'll laugh when I tell you that I didn't stop there... I continued driving west on Hwy 32, for ANOTHER ten miles. I really was thinking that I had to be going in the wrong direction (especially when I saw the sign, "Welcome to Washington County" -- I was headed to St. Francois County!), but things were getting seriously rural, and there was just no where to pull off or turn around. I wasn't able to check my iPad's Google map until I got to Caledonia... another ten miles west of Bismarck! I then realized that, when I turned off onto 32 West, I had only been about 8 miles from my real destination of Farmington, Missouri... but, now I had to first drive 20 miles BACK again to that original junction of 67 and 32. Ha! But, I got to drive past my Osborn again, so all was good.
Here was my 20-mile detour! 40 miles, since it had to be round trip! 
I did do my research in Farmington, at the St. Francois County recorder of deeds. Zero mortgages. And then I hopped back in the car and headed 25 miles east, to Ste. Genevieve County, a historic town along the Missouri River, with important French founding families, and 18th century homes of these French settlers. I had a nice little buffet lunch in the restaurant across the street from the courthouse (where the recorder of deeds is located): The Old Brick House. It's touted as the first brick building west of the Mississippi, and dates from 1785. I was the only person having lunch!
900 South 3rd Street, Ste. Genevieve, Missouri (on the Ste. Genevieve website)

Inside the Ste. Genevieve County courthouse, I only needed about 15 minutes to wrap up my second fruitless research stop of the day. Zero Sears mortgages.
Ste. Genevieve County's Courthouse and Offices,
Ste. Genevieve, Missouri
As I was leaving, I realized that I could maybe hit the Jefferson County courthouse, in Hillsboro, on my way home (with a little bit of detour). I got there 30 minutes before they closed, and had enough time to haul out the several huge index books of Deeds of Trust -- enough to show me that Jefferson County had no Sears mortgages, either.
Here's where I trekked to, from my home in St. Louis County... with a little dip into Washington County, too!

I'm beginning to wonder if there might not have been another Sears trustee that we haven't found yet. If we find one, I'll let you know!


  1. What an adventure!! Sweet house you found, but in need of attention (it's really gotten overgrown since '13), sadly. And I'm so glad that you love this detailed kind of investigating!

  2. I love these kind of adventures. Glad you finally got to see an Osborn in person, and I hope it makes it out of that jungle alive. Good information on the deeds and mortgages!

  3. Thank you for mentioning that not all mortgage records are available online and thus you may have to visit the County Office. Too bad you only found one house after an entire day of research and driving, and too bad it was not in the best of appearances.

    1. So few counties have their historic mortgages available online! And, of course, as we well know, you and Rebecca Hunter have traveled all over the country researching on site. It's rewarding research -- frustrating when you come up empty.

  4. From the early 70's to around 1981-82 my grandparents owned the house in Bismarck Bill and Ruth Halbert

  5. I've lived in Bismarck most of my life. They've cleaned that house up a bit since your post. I hope someone will restore it. I've been in that house, but I was a toddler at the time, So I don't really remember it well. My dad was friends with the owner, Bill Halbert, mentioned in the previous reply. That was the early 70s.

    I was telling my step dad about this blog post. He said he used to live in a Sears house in Iron Mountain, about 5½ miles from Bismarck. It's a very small town. Less than 20 homes. Not to be confused with the nearby small City of Iron Mountain Lake. There's a row of small houses there that he said are all Sears houses. They are on Trap Rock Road, off Highway N. All of those houses were moved years ago. Trap Rock Mine expanded, and they were concerned that their blasting might send rocks flying into the houses. So the mine paid to move them. My step dad went to the old Iron Mountain School through 8th grade, when it closed. He went to high school in Bismarck. He said large rocks from the mine blasting occasionally landed in the school yard. The school was just across highway N from the mine entrance, but all that's left now is the stone fence. There are a couple of homes where the school used to be.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, and for this info! I rushed to Google maps to see if that area was visible on Streetview, but, sadly, it is not. The best I could do was an aerial view of the rooftops. If I am ever down that way, I will be sure to take a detour to Trap Rock Rd.

  6. I'm the guy who commented on1/12/2020. I pass the old house on my walks pretty frequently. It never got restored. About a year or so ago, I noticed signs on the front door that I figured were because it had been condemned. I also noticed there was a hole in the roof.
    I walked by today. They've begun demolishing it. The yard has finally been cleaned up and mowed, so I could see it better. The foundation is about to cave in. Some of the walls are really leaning. It was beyond saving, I guess. I snapped one last picture, before it's gone.

    1. Ohhhhh, that's a sad end to this great little Sears model. We just love the Osborn. Thanks so much for keeping me updated.

  7. I grew up in this house in Bismarck at 909 Pine St. Im not sure but i think we lives there from 1964 or 65-1972


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