It was the ultimate in wish books. It was the way rural America shopped. Few households were without one. The newest edition, each season, was anxiously awaited.
What was this magical book?
Why the big, fat Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog. With it’s 1,000 pages or so, it was a way of life for many in the United States for decades.
It came into existence in the late part of the 19th century and catered to generations of families until mall shopping madness caused its sad, nostalgic death. I imagine almost anyone 70 or older has memories of items ordered out of that world-famous catalog.
Although it was well known for top-quality farm implements and work clothes for men, a man could also order a suit of evening clothes elegant enough for attending the opera.
The lady of the household could order anything from canning supplies to whalebone corsets. Or perhaps a wedding dress packet for her daughter complete with dress, veil, petticoats, stockings and shoes.
What many people don’t know, or have forgotten, is the Sears catalog’s incredible choices included houses. Yes, that’s right, houses — the kind you live in. And Englewood still has one that came in the mail.
Flipping through the catalog, to the house section, you would have found several models of homes to choose from. Over the years Sears Roebuck claimed they offered houses in 450 different styles. From the turn of the century to the end of World War II, Sears stated they sold 100,000 mail-order houses across the county. Montgomery Ward, Sears’ longtime rival, also sold mail-order houses.
A building boom happened when GIs returned to America after the war and continued for several years. During that boom, it was easy to find a builder, and therefore there was no longer a need to mail away for a house.
A Sear’s catalog ad in 1926 offers a drawing of one of its models and explains, “The Sheridan is a popular type of bungalow, planned to give the utmost livable space for its size, 28 by 38 feet. All the materials are high grade. Porch extends across the entire front of the bungalow. It may be assembled or closed as a most desirable room.”
Small it may have been, but even for 1926 the price was very fair. The Sheridan Bungalow model sold for $2,245, delivered to your nearest railroad station. The house was “already cut and fitted,” in other words, ready for someone to assemble it. An “easy-payment plan” was offered.
This was considered a five-room bungalow. Sears said it could be put on a lot 32 feet wide. For not much more money, Sears would send you a second floor which included three bedrooms.
For $5,300, you could have bought the same house and Sears would have come and put it together for you. The higher price included all labor and materials, plumbing, electric wiring and also lighting fixtures — and in cold areas a heating plant.
The houses were shipped by rail out of Chicago where they were pre-cut and packaged. Pieces were numbered for easy assembly.
Englewood’s mail-order house that remains was probably built in 1926 or ‘27. It was most likely delivered to Venice and possibly brought to Englewood by barge. It was bought by the Green sisters who, had it assembled here by locals.
At one time there was also a Sears house in Grove City.
“My husband George and I bought a big house in Grove City,” said Lois Dixon Alston. “You turned on Downing Street to get to it. It was two stories. It was a Sears Roebuck house, I understand.
“I think the house had served as the Grove City Post Office at one time, maybe after the Grove City Hotel burned down, because it had those little cubicles for sorting mail in it, and I think there had been a store in it once too.
“You know, I think there used to be two on Green Street in Englewood. I know one is still there, but I think maybe one burned. Anyway, those houses had fine work in them. From what I’ve been told, our house was brought in on a big flat boat, you know the raw materials all cut up, ready to be put together. The pieces on those houses were numbered and sure enough we did find some numbers on the wood in the house.”
Eventually the Alstons moved, and the house sat empty and vandalism started occurring. They feared someone might set the house on fire, so they had it torn down.
The old historical mail-order houses, that remain, are much sought after. They were built with wonderful craftsmanship, top-grade materials and architectural details that are so often lacking today.