Q: After reading your paper’s recent article about the history of Sears and the 70,000-plus kit homes the company sold in the first half of the 20th century, I’d be interested in researching such homes in the Belleville area. Where could I turn?
Marianne Buettner, of Belleville
A: I am unaware of a comprehensive list of Sears homes in the metro-east, so let me recommend perhaps the foremost expert on the subject, Rosemary Thornton.
For more than 15 years, Thornton’s vocation has been to travel throughout the country identifying and documenting the once-popular home kits that Sears began selling in 1908. Over the next three decades, an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 kits in 400 styles would be sold, ranging from simple shotgun-style houses to the $5,000 Magnolia.
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“A few weeks after the order was placed, two boxcars containing 30,000 pieces of house would arrive at the nearest train depot,” Thornton wrote in her first book, “The Houses that Sears Built.” “The kit included 750 pounds of nails, 22 gallons of paint and varnish and 20,000 shingles for the roof and siding.”
For a while, the idea boomed. In fact, the greatest concentration of Sears homes may be just up the road in Carlinville, where Standard Oil, which owned a coal mine, spent $1 million building 156 Sears homes for its workers, according to Thornton. Alton apparently was another hotbed. But it was never a big moneymaker, and Sears shut down its Modern Homes Department in 1940.
For more information, you can check out “The Homes That Sears Built,” and “Sears Homes of Illinois,” which should be available through the Belleville library. The Hayner Library in Alton apparently has a non-circulating list of Alton Sears homes. You might also try to contact Thornton directly through her website, www.searshomes.org.
What future national park was first noticed because it whistled?
Answer to Sunday’s trivia: When King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden invaded Bavaria in 1632 during the Thirty Years’ War, he threatened to sack and burn the entire city of Munich. But, as one popular story goes, he was a fan of the Malbock wheat beer produced by the Hofbräuhaus brewery in Munich. So, after much negotiation, he agreed to leave the city intact if the citizens released their hostages — and hand over some 600,000 barrels of Hofbräuhaus beer.