The original house on our farm by the railroad tracks on Preble Rd. burned in December 1924. It was replaced by a house built from a Sears Roebuck kit. Grant and Elizabeth Woolston, who resided in New York City and were the owners of the farm at the time, ordered a kit from Sears Roebuck. Th ey were in the process of selling the farm and had actually put together albums of the farm as a selling tool when the original house burned down. The house they had built aft er the fi re was from the 1925 Honor Bilt Modern Homes catalog and was a bungalow named “The Sheridan.” Each home came with detailed instructions; each piece of lumber was stamped and pre-cut, so oft en family members and friends would help construct the home similar to a barn raising. Bill’s mother and father, Wally and Hilda Wright, were the fi rst ones to live in the house. Th ey worked on the farm for several years in a tenantshare agreement with the Woolstons and the deed from the Woolstons to his parents was recorded in April of 1936. Bill’s brother Paul, sister Marilyn, and brother Don were all born in the house. Bill was the youngest sibling and was the only one born in the hospital. After high school Bill worked for his father for several years before we purchased the farm from his parents. Sears Roebuck was in the business of mail-order house kits from 1908 until 1940. These houses were known as mill-cut houses, pre-cut houses, ready-cut houses, mail order houses or catalog homes. The kits included all materials needed to build a house except the foundation and were primarily shipped by railroad.
In the early 1900’s cities began to get crowded and as a result it was increasingly expensive to either own or rent in the city. Railroads and trolleys had become convenient travel methods so the suburban areas became an attractive alternative. Sears was not the first company selling these catalog homes – it was Aladdin Homes out of Bay City, Michigan and their Canadian company sold the first one in 1905. Aladdin’s American company sold homes from 1906 to 1981. Even when Sears came on board in 1908, there were several other companies in the business, including Montgomery Ward, but Sears became one of the leaders in this industry. Sears offered 447 different home designs over their 32-year span. About 70,000 to 75,000 house kits were sold by Sears but their sales records were destroyed in a fire so they have no record of the purchasers. To purchase a Sears home meant clear title to the lot, steady employment, and pre-payment at least equal to 2.5% of the amount of the material bill. Mail-order kits were more economical than the traditional built houses and Sears claimed that carpenter hours were reduced up to 40 percent. Although our house was not one of the more popular ones sold, it was an Honor Bilt Home which meant that the best lumber and building materials were provided and it was guaranteed that there would be no knots in the flooring. The Honor Bilt also featured cypress or cedar shingles. In the 1925 catalog there were 66 homes featured, including ours, along with 6 summer cottages, a hunter’s cabin and 9 detached garages. Sears not only sold house kits but had a barn and farm building catalog. Further, Sears offered financing for the homes and this became a significant part of the home sales business. It had been reported that when the depression hit, this hurt Sears and over 11 million dollars in loans were liquidated in 1935 and the last house sold in 1940. However, another article stated that the Sears loans were being repaid as a result of Franklin Roosevelt’s new Federal Housing Administration Program offering loans at a lower rate and this did hurt Sear’s business so they had to scale back their business.