Friday, March 13, 2009

Kit Homes

Today's Chicago Tribune has a profile of our town, Lombard, and the article mentions that there are a large number of kit homes here. Back in the first half of the 19th century it was not unusual to order your house out of a catalog. The manufacturer would then ship you the blue prints and all the supplies (as much as two train cars full!) to build it yourself.

Some of the features of my house (particularly the amateurish job done on installing the walls, lol) have made me wonder if it was built from a kit. But our house dates from 1949 and since Sears stopped selling kits in 1940 (and they were the only manufacturers of kit homes I had heard of) I figured our house couldn't be one. However, this article mentions several other companies; Gordon-Van Tine Co., Harris Brothers and Aladdin Co..

So I've started to do some research. Antique Homes has a variety of catalogs on file for kit homes spanning from 1903 to 1961. The Clarke Historical Library has all of the Aladdin Co. catalogs from 1908 - 1954. So far I haven't spotted my little house, but the catalogs are a treasure in themselves! If you like history, architecture, or just sleuthing around on the internet, I really recommend taking a look.


Lauren said...

One of my neighbors, one who has lived in the area for a very long time, remembers the day when the kits started arriving in our neighborhood. He says that every few days trucks would arrive with the next phase of the construction and before he knew it, the neighborhood had grown.

If you drive through our neighborhood you'll find many homes that look very similar to ours but everyone has put their own personal touches on the house over the years to make it their own.

In the construction projects we've been doing on our house, we've uncovered some of the bare structure and it is amusing to find "basement stairwell header," etc. printed on beams. If you go into our attic crawlspace and look at the back side of the wood panel walls, you'll see that the pieces are labeled "A1," "A2," ... "B1"... "C1"... etc. It's fun to uncover those little gems!

(Our house, I believe, was a Sears home.)

Kimberly Cangelosi said...

That is so awesome! If you look through the catalogs you might be able to find the page for your house - some are just grainy photos but some are beautiful, full color, artist's renderings that would look great framed. I think Sears might even offer certificates of authenticity or plaques or something.

I went poking around the basement yesterday and didn't find any numbering or labels on the exposed beams so it's looking less and less likely that my house was built from a kit.

I still want to know more about the history though. I'm thinking of visiting the local historical society.