Monday, February 20, 2023

Kit Houses in La Porte, Indiana: Part I

Sears Rossville/No. 171 • 408 Woodbine Street, La Porte, Indiana
This is the prettiest example of the farmhouse style houses in La Porte, I think.

Sears Rossville, 1918 Sears Modern Homes Catalog

We started looking around La Porte, Indiana, in 2015. I think that one of our researchers, Lara Solonickne (Sears Homes of Chicagoland), had run across an article in a 1912 edition of American Lumberman, a historic lumber trade journal available on Google books, and that got us started. 

The article mentioned Sears having sold 50 houses in La Porte, Indiana... but, interestingly, Sears had actually provided the funding and the houses, knowing that the area was in need of housing right away, and offered to have the houses paid for on time. Sears provided "capital and materials", on the condition that lots and foundations were already in place. The article explained that Sears had already sold five houses that were in the midst of construction, and these first houses were all of three different models, and at least 50 more would be built... with the possibility that a total of 200 might find their way to the streets of La Porte (it doesn't look like that happened).

April 17, 1912, American Lumberman, page 37

We looked around a bit, but only found a few possibilities at that time... I think that maybe Google maps Streetview wasn't great quality on many of the streets. We found and listed about three houses, I think... but didn't really focus on La Porte much more than that day in 2015.

Fast forward to this past summer --early August of 2022. Andrew Mutch ran across that same article in the American Lumberman, and posted in our group, asking if anyone was interested in looking for some of the old models that might be around. I think that we had only a handful of houses already on the list... a few Whitehall models, and a few Rossville/No. 171 examples, and that was about it. 

But, looking in Rebecca L. Hunter's Putting Sears Homes On the Map book, we found that she had provided the address for one of the houses, and had noted that La Porte had a neighborhood with about 20 Sears houses in it, around the area of that house. So, new member, Matthew, and I set about looking around, as I recall. Matthew opened our eyes about one major thing: the difference between the Sears Rossville (No. 171) and the Sears Greenview (No. 115). That opened us up to find far more houses.

This is what these two models look like, in the catalogs (these are from the 1911/1912 catalog):
And, to top it off, Gordon-Van Tine has a model almost the same.

Up until this point, we weren't really sure what the difference was between these two models. HBM (Houses By Mail) listed them both on the same page, not even showing the Greenview, just saying that it was pretty much similar to the Rossville, except for the turned porch columns. The floor plans of the two houses were not even both shown, and so, whenever we found one of these, we were never really sure which one it might be. You can see a little fancier decorative trim up in the gables of the Rossville, and an added porch section in the back, but newer siding, and porch enclosures in modern times, would mean that we probably wouldn't even see those items these many years after the houses were built. You can see that the catalog images show the cross gable connecting to the main roof a little differently, but the chimney is in the same place.... and, besides, these kinds of old farmhouses are pretty abundant in old midwestern towns, and 98% of them won't be Sears models. So... they weren't hopping out at us as we searched the streets of midwestern towns.

But... Matthew has a way of pulling everything together and spitting out a coherent comparative analysis... with visuals... that helps us see what we hadn't noticed previously. In this case, the problem was that we couldn't see the left side of these models, just by looking at the catalog and the floor plans. Let's take a look at a comparison of that side, for these two models:
You can clearly see a major difference on this side of the houses. 
Also, the front view shows us how the front porch roof connects to the house differently, across these two models. According to the catalog image, both models have only a partial porch at the front of the house. The Greenview/No. 115 cuts off abruptly, right in the middle of the front facade, even with the left side of the upper window, and it then has a straight slope porch roof jutting out. The Rossville/No. 171's porch roof (when it is a partial porch) connects to the house far to the right side of that upper window... and then has a wedge-shape side part to that roof, so that both models end the porch just to the edge of the front door, but with a very different treatment to the shape of the porch roof there. However, as you can see in the photos above, that showed the sides of the house, the Rossville/No. 171 often has a full front porch that ends up extending all the way to the left side of the house. We saw that on numerous Rossville/No. 171 examples in La Porte.

Another gabled ell farmhouse that we found quite a few of in La Porte, is the No. 159. This one, too, looks pretty much like just a taller version of the Greenview/115 and the Rossville/171, from the front and porch side of the house... so, it was another mystery, as to what to look for on the other side of the house. I'm sure it was Matthew who cleared up for me that the No. 159 has two full stories on that non-porch side of the house. In real life, with its two full stories, the whole house is a much taller house than the Rossville/171 or the Greenview/115.  Here is the catalog image, from the 1911/12 catalog:
The Sears Modern Home model No. 159 from this 1911/1912 catalog.
And here are two examples in La Porte. You'll also notice that the No. 159 was available with either clipped gables or peak gables, for the roof.

However, in La Porte, we've also found five examples* of houses that look like a great match for the No. 159, except for a closed pediment up in the front and side gable. If you don't know what that means, look at these two examples, and note where the orange arrow points... that little extra strip of roofing that makes a sort of closed triangle. That's not shown anywhere for this model, so we can't say for sure if these are examples of the No. 159, but it's likely... especially because we have found interior views of a couple, and we think we see Sears staircase balusters and newel. During the later era of pre-cut houses, we don't usually put homes on our list, if they have these kinds of design differences. But, in the case of the early, non pre-cut houses, when we know that a large number of houses were bought by a company (or offered up on spec, by Sears), we sometimes see that special versions were created for these neighborhoods, specifically. We've seen this in Carlinville, Illinois, and we've seen this with large orders of homes bought from Aladdin and from Gordon-Van Tine.  In fact, the No. 199 models here in La Porte, are somewhat tweaked in their design, but we still do think that they are examples of that model. So, I've added an asterisk next to the addresses of these possible No. 159 examples that have a closed pediment in the gable (and a porch style difference). It's also possible that some local builder just put together a similar design, to compete with the Sears houses being built in town, but, some of these examples are on blocks of streets that are lined with Sears houses from this early spec offering by Sears. So, they are likely from Sears.
side by side color photos from Streetview of  Sears Modern Home No. 159 with closed pediment detail
Here's the No. 159's floor plan:

Source: 1911/12 Sears Modern Homes catalog • floor plan for model No. 159

Floorplans for both the Greenview/115 & Rossville/171, 1911/12 catalog
I absolutely could not tell from these plans, that the Greenview/115's upstairs left side bedroom had a window sitting in a peak gable... but, looking closely, now, I see that there is no window indicated in that room, on the Rossville/No. 171, except a little one in the back wall.

The American Lumberman article referred to this area where the houses were being built, as the Fairview  neighborhood. However, the streets that are lined with these farmhouse models (and many other houses), are actually in the Lakeview neighborhood... so, we imagine that was a mistake in the article. 
This is the Lakeview area where we found most of the examples of the 115, 171, and 159, as well as a number of examples of the No. 181, and the early version of the Starlight model.

Other Sears houses were found dotting other areas of La Porte, but the biggest concentration of the early models, probably all from 1912, were in that Lakeview area. 
Also, considering that the article was published in April of 1912, all of these models would have been marketed only with their number, as no word names were given to the models until 1916. Additionally, at this point in the Sears Modern Homes program, the homes were sold/packaged only with standard-length wood, so none of the framing lumber would have been pre-cut (and, therefore, there would be no alpha-numeric stamps on the wood pieces in the house). Owners of these houses along the years may have, however, found paper shipping labels affixed to the back of trim pieces around doors or windows, or decorative moulding pieces. 
Shipping label image from my mother's family's 1911 Sears No. 110 (blog post here)

Other models in La Porte
Sears No. 181 / Whitehall
Another old model found predominantly in that Lakeview area, was the Whitehall / No. 181. This model began its life in the catalogs as the No. 181, and, in the 1911/1912 era, before it was referred to with the name, Whitehall, it was missing the closed-pediment pop-up dormer extension above the second-story bay windows. Here is the earliest version... and we found only one of these:
1524 2nd Street, La Porte, Indiana • earliest version of the Sears No. 181

Here it is in the 1911/12 catalog:
Source: 1911/12 Sears Modern Homes catalog, model No. 181, earliest version

By the time of the 1914 catalog, the model had been tweaked, to add the peak gable, closed pediment pop-up dormer over the upper bay windows.  You can see that La Porte, Indiana is mentioned as one of the "built at" locations:
Sears No. 181 (264P181) in the 1914 Sears Modern Homes catalog

We've found eleven examples of the Whitehall/ No. 181 in La Porte. Here's a nice example, on Weller Avenue:
Sears Whitehall / No. 181 • 904 Weller Avenue, La Porte, Indiana

The No. 199
We found four examples of what we believe to be the model No. 199 (the predecessor to the Sears Edgemere), in its earliest design, but with a little bit of tweaking to the design. This model does not usually have a front porch (it normally has just a covered stoop in front of the front entry door), and it does not usually have the main entry door right on the front of the house. But, all of the examples in La Porte seem to have both of those features. This model is distinguished by its skinny, starting-at-the-ground bump-out on the left side, to accommodate the interior staircase. The La Porte examples also include a side entry door there, that is not shown in the catalog. The 1918 catalog page for the Edgemere, mentions La Porte as a "built at" location for this model.
Here are two in La Porte:

Here is the No. 199 in the 1911/12 Sears Modern Homes catalog

The No. 217 / Starlight
We've put eleven houses on our list that we are pretty confident are the early version of the Starlight... the No. 217. The 1911/12 catalog shows the No. 217 already, and it is always shown in the catalog with a little flat-roof (shed roof) dormer, instead of the hip-roof dormer with 3 windows, that we see when it is marketed as the Starlight, later on. However, all of the examples in La Porte have either lost their dormer, or have an early version hip roof dormer, with just one window (and a couple have the later dormer)... and we know that Sears offered that option, because the 1920 catalog shows a testimonial example in Detroit, with that option. I'll post that image, and then show the 1913 catalog image, because it mentions LaPorte as a built-at city.
Thanks to Sears Homes of Chicagoland, for this enlarged image of the little testimonial example in the 1920 catalog.

This image is from the 1913 Sears Modern Homes catalog re-print, available here, through Google books.

Here is one of the eleven examples in La Porte:
374 Hawthorne Street, La Porte, Indiana • Sears Modern Home No. 217 (early Starlight)
This house is nestled in between a No. 159 on the left, and a No. 199 on the right, but there are several other models on that same stretch of street, including some Rossville/No. 171 examples.

This early version of the No. 217 was not shown with an in-house bathroom. We certainly imagine that the houses have been retro-fitted with one, at this point. Beginning in 1916, the catalogs showed an additional floor plan that did have a bathroom:
Again, thanks to Sears Homes of Chicagoland for the scan from the 1916 catalog.

The rest of the examples of Sears houses in La Porte, that we have found to date, are one-off examples, so were probably individual purchases by the original homeowner, or a few spec houses by the realty company mentioned in the American Lumberman article. 

Andrew spotted these two houses right next to each other, on W 11th Street: a No. 126 and a Sears No. 172, later marketed as the Hazelton:
Sears Modern Home No, 126, on the left, at 808 W 11th Street, La Porte, Indiana

On the right, Sears Modern Home No. 172/ Hazelton, at 810 W 11th Street, La Porte, Indiana

Here are both of these models in the 1911/12 Sears Modern Homes catalog.
To see the catalog image with descriptions and floor plan, click here for the No. 126; here for the No. 172

On another block of W 11th Street, there is an example of the Sears Modern Home No. 168 (Matoka):
506 W 11th Street, La Porte, Indiana • probable Sears No. 168/Matoka
Montgomery Ward offered an almost identical "lookalike" model to the No. 168, so we can't be 100% sure this is Sears... it could be the Montgomery Ward version

Here is the catalog image of the No. 168 / Matoka:
See this page of the Sears Modern Homes 1911/12 catalog for full-page description, price, and floor plan

The No. 1232 / No. 175
I am really (really!) excited about this find... and I really hope it is one: a Sears No. 1232, later marketed as the No. 175 (in 1913). I've always seen this one in the catalogs, and thought it was kind of ungainly in proportions, but we hadn't found one before this one... this is a pretty good match, though not perfect, but, in the days before pre-cut, we are more likely to see some modifications to the models.
301 Weller Avenue, La Porte, Indiana • probable Sears Modern Home No. 1232 / No. 175

1911/12 catalog image for the Sears Modern Home No. 1232 • click here for floor plan, price, description

Pre-Cut Era Kits In La Porte
Let me add, at this point, that the term kit is one that the mail-order companies never used -- they just talked about selling the blueprints and all of the building supplies together... they didn't give that concept a name. And, today, there are some of us who feel that the term kit is only correctly applied to the pre-cut houses, but others of us, feel that the term kit can (and should) be applied to these package deals... blueprints and all of the supplies, whether with pre-cut lumber or not. Whatever you call it, beginning in 1916, Sears began offering their houses with pre-cut framing material. Not all models were offered that year, as pre-cut, some models were offered with a choice of pre-cut or not-pre-cut, and some models were never offered with a pre-cut option. The following houses in La Porte are later models that were likely bought as pre-cut kits, because they were offered some time well past 1916, and are in neighborhoods with other newer houses (later than the 1912 Lakeview neighborhood).

The Uriel or Conway
There are two examples of this model, in La Porte. Originally marketed as the Uriel (1920-1925) the floor plan was 34-feet wide. But, beginning in 1926, the name was changed to Conway, and over its years, it had a 34-feet wide option (same floor plan as the Uriel), and then two different 36-feet wide floor plans. One of the examples in La Porte (the one on Bond Street) is 34-feet wide, so it could be either a Uriel or a Conway; the other example, on N Fail Road, was originally a 36-feet wide house (now greatly expanded), so it is definitely a Conway. We could try to go by the build year given on the assessor website, for the possible Uriel, but those dates are notoriously incorrect. So... either way, it's a 34-feet wide floor plan of this model.
Here is the Uriel or Conway at 408 Bond Street. 
Sears Conway, at 7102 N Fail Road (image from this real estate listing). The home has been heavily modernized inside... some of the wood flooring may be original, but that's about it.

The Uriel and Conway in the catalogs. 
To see floor plans for the Uriel, click here. To see floor plans for the Conway, click here.

The rest of these models are singletons, from the mid 1920s to early 1930s. You can find catalog images for these models, in the links on the table at the end of this blog post:

324 W Johnson Road • Sears Jewel, Jewell, or Wilmore (depends on the year). There are many very close lookalikes to this model, so we aren't always confident that they are from Sears, when we spy them in the wild, but this house has Sears curlicues on the hinge end of the decorative iron strapping. There is another possible example of this model at 1201 K Street, but we really have no way of knowing if it is the Sears version.
Also on W Johnson Road, we have new information from Nancy, who contacted me to let me know that she grew up in the Sears house shown below, a Sears Cedars model, built originally by her grandfather and father. Her grandfather owned farmland all along this stretch of road, before the houses were built here, and her father eventually sold off the land lot by lot, with several lots then having a Sears model built on them, including the Sears Wilmore/Jewel shown above (see the comments section at the end of the blog post, for full information). Thank you, Nancy! 
front view color photo of green house, Sears Cedars model, 3511 W Johnson Road, La Porte, Indiana
Sears Cedars model, 3511 W Johnson Road, La Porte, Indiana
The Cedars was first offered in 1928 or 1929, then shown through 1932, so it would have been built by 1932. The Cedars normally has a small extension on the side of that doorway vestibule, but we've seen other (documented) examples without it.

side by side color images from Streetview, of Sears Lynnhaven 333 W Johnson Rd Laporte Indiana
This appears to be a Sears Lynnhaven, also on W Johnson Road. There are many "lookalike" models to the Lynnhaven, offered by other companies, so it's often hard for us to say for certain, but the original window and door patterns, and the placement of the front dormer, are correct for the Lynnhaven, and given the number of other Sears houses on the street, it probably is a Sears model.

color side by side Bing map views of Sears Lakecrest/Marion 325 W Johnson Rd Laporte Indiana
Probable Sears Lakecrest/Marion. This model was first offered as the Lakecrest (1931-33), but had a name change to Marion after that, and was offered through 1940 as the Marion.

Sears Clyde bungalow, 1002 C Street

Sears Claremont (looks to have Sears curlicues on the door's iron strapping) • 1542 1st Street

Sears Oakdale bungalow on the left, 707 E Jefferson Avenue • Sears Hamilton bungalow on the right, at 709 E Jefferson Avenue

Sears Maplewood, 1910 Indiana Avenue (has Sears curlicues on the iron strapping)

Sears Hammond model, 369 Hawthorne Street. The fun thing about this find, is that it is in the Lakeview neighborhood of 1912-era homes, but it is a 1930s-era model. Andrew Mutch is the one who noticed it, and figures that it is likely a home bought by a next-generation family of one of the early Sears models that dot this street. There's a link on the chart to Andrew's blog post about how to identify this model.

Sears Barrington model (now greatly added onto), 2108 Woodlawn Drive, La Porte, Indiana
The door handle hardware on this door, is the Sears LaTosca design, sold only by Sears, and it looks like there are Sears curlicues on the front door's decorative iron strapping. Though there are many "lookalike" models to the Sears Barrington, we are confident that this is the Sears model.

grey house streetview Sears Tarryton model at 1601 5th Street, La Porte, Indiana
Sears Tarryton model at 1601 5th Street, La Porte, Indiana

Table of Sears Houses in La Porte, Indiana
This table provides a Streetview link for each house (or, occasionally, a real estate listing link), and, for houses I've shown, but not provided a catalog image of, you'll find a link to a catalog image, as well. 

You'll notice that two houses have a ? after them... these are houses that strongly resemble the Sears model, but about which we are not fully confident:
  • In the case of the Avondale, it looks almost just like one, but it is about 2.5 feet shorter in width than it should be... perhaps it was altered to fit the lot?
  • In the case of the Elsmore: This is a built-at location for this model, and was identified by researcher Rebecca L. Hunter as the Elsmore in this town... and we don't find another anywhere else... but it looks possibly too short in height, and the front gable is perhaps too small, and there are several other anomalies about it. We just aren't convinced... though we'd love to be, if anyone has any documenting information for us.   
SEARS MODEL (links to catalog images)ADDRESSAUTH?LINK
Avondale/ No. 151 ?303 Scott StNoStreetview
Barrington2108 Woodlawn DrNoReal estate listing
Cedars3511 W Johnson RdYesBing map
Claremont1542 1st StNoZillow listing
Clyde1002 C StNoZillow
Conway7102 N Fail RdNoRealtor listing
Elsmore ?1109 Scott StYesStreetview
Garfield512 Grove StNoStreetview
Grant or Hampton528 Allen StNoStreetview
Greenview/ No. 115202 Holcomb StNoStreetview
Greenview/ No. 115204 Holcomb StNoStreetview
Greenview/ No. 115206 Holcomb StNoStreetview
Greenview/ No. 115208 Holcomb StNoStreetview
Greenview/ No. 115210 Holcomb StNoStreetview
Greenview/ No. 115212 Holcomb StNoStreetview
Greenview/ No. 115302 Holcomb StNoStreetview
Greenview/ No. 115304 Holcomb StNoStreetview
Greenview/ No. 115306 Holcomb StNoStreetview
Hamilton709 E Jefferson AveNoStreetview
Hammond369 Hawthorne StNoStreetview
Hampton1106 I StNoStreetview
Hazelton810 W 11th StNoStreetview
Josephine1222 Weller AveNoStreetview
Josephine1512 US-20NoStreetview
Lakecrest or Marion325 W Johnson RdNoBing map
Lynnhaven333 W Johnson RdNoStreetview
Maplewood1910 Indiana AveNoStreetview
Matoka/No. 168506 W 11th StNoRE listing
No. 1011532 2nd StNoStreetview
No. 126808 W 11th StYesStreetview
No. 1591008 Weller AveNoStreetview
No. 159372 Hawthorne StNoStreetview
No. 159402 Kenwood StNoStreetview
No. 159403 Woodbine StNoStreetview
No. 159407 Greenleaf StNoStreetview
No. 159407 Kenwood StNoStreetview
No. 159612 Weller AveNoStreetview
No. 159415 Woodbine StNoStreetview
No. 159421 Kenwood StNoStreetview
No. 159423 Hawthorne StNoStreetview
No. 159*912 Weller AveNoStreetview
No. 159*1012 Weller AveNoStreetview
No. 159*1112 Weller AveNoStreetview
No. 159*423 GreenleafNoStreetview
No. 159*371 Hawthorne AveNoStreetview
No. 1232 / 175301 Weller AveNoStreetview
No. 181/Whitehall1104 Weller AveNoStreetview
No. 181/Whitehall1120 Weller AveNoStreetview
No. 181/Whitehall1524 2nd StNoStreetview
No. 181/Whitehall395 Hawthorne StNoStreetview
No. 181/Whitehall402 Melrose StNoStreetview
No. 181/Whitehall415 Kenwood StNoStreetview
No. 181/Whitehall604 Weller AveNoStreetview
No. 181/Whitehall712 Weller AveNoStreetview
No. 181/Whitehall720 Weller AveNoStreetview
No. 181/Whitehall904 Weller AveNoStreetview
No. 181/Whitehall1802 Andrew AveNoStreetview
No. 199365 Hawthorne StNoStreetview
No. 199419 Woodbine StNoStreetview
No. 199376 Hawthorne StNoStreetview
No. 199412 Woodbine StNoStreetview
Oakdale707 E Jefferson AveNoStreetview
Rossville/No. 171366 Hawthorne
Rossville/No. 171370 Hawthorne StNoStreetview
Rossville/No. 171373 Hawthorne StNoZillow listing
Rossville/No. 171384 Hawthorne StNoStreetview
Rossville/No. 171407 Woodbine StNoStreetview
Rossville/No. 171408 Woodbine StNoStreetview
Rossville/No. 171410 Kenwood StNoStreetview
Rossville/No. 171415 Hawthorne StNoReal estate listing
Rossville/No. 171419 Greenleaf StNoStreetview
Rossville/No. 171379 Montrose StNoStreetview
Rossville/No. 171380 Melrose StNoStreetview
Rossville/No. 171395 Woodbine StNoStreetview
Starlight605 E Maple AveNoStreetview before flip
Starlight1532 Weller AveNoStreetview
Starlight212 Bach StNoStreetview
Starlight411 Woodson StNoStreetview
Starlight818 Ohio StNoStreetview
Starlight363 Hawthorne StNoStreetview
Starlight368 Hawthorne StNoStreetview
Starlight374 Hawthorne StNoStreetview
Starlight803 Fairfield StNoStreetview
Starlight403 Greenleaf StNoStreetview
Starlight411 Greenleaf StNoStreetview
Starlight411 Woodbine StNoStreetview
Starlight423 Woodbine StNoStreetview
Starlight424 Woodbine StNoStreetview
Tarryton1601 5th StNoStreetview
Uriel408 Bond StNoStreetview
Wilmore/Jewel324 W Johnson RdNoStreetview
Kit Houses From Other Companies
In a second blog post, I'll show the several probable kit houses that we've found in LaPorte, Indiana, from other companies. We've found examples from the Wardway, Gordon-Van Tine, Harris Homes, and Ray H. Bennett companies. 

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