Home Delivered by Sears

 

Written by David Chapman in the December 2018 Issue

sears

As I write this column, I have a party of three checking into our most popular Airbnb home in downtown Edmond. The party of three are all academic researchers from Coventry University; one from Switzerland, one from Northern Ireland, and one from Coventry, UK.

The house they are calling home for a two-week period was rumored to be a “kit home” when we purchased it several years ago. We have renovated the home, adding central heat and air, exterior paint, new electrical, plumbing, and roof. Interior changes and updates were made while trying to keep the 1915 charm of the old kit home. We believed the charm and history were worth preserving.

Before there was Amazon and the Internet, there was Sears & Roebuck and the Catalog. I continue to be amazed by the variety of things purchased on Amazon, but long ago, in the pages of the Sears Catalog, you could even buy a house. Between the years of 1908 and 1942, the Sears & Roebuck company sold more than 70,000 of these Sears Catalog homes, which were built in locations all over the country.

The houses, which were shipped on railroad boxcars, came as huge kits containing everything needed to build a home; lumber, siding, doors, windows, shingles, and even some fixtures. Local owners normally provided plaster, brick, plumbing, electrical fixtures, heating systems, and labor. This led to a bit of customization, that frankly makes it more difficult to tell if a home is definitely a “Sears” home or some other kit home that was sold during the time frame.

Kit homes required access to the railway for delivery, however many were shipped via horse-drawn carriage or in later years trucked to owners. Locations, such as Edmond, that have good access to railway were natural candidates for these kit homes cutting much of the transportation costs. The Airbnb home we own near Hurd and Broadway would have been a natural location for a kit home being within 50 feet of the railway negating the need for further transportation beyond the railcar.

The current demise of the Sears & Roebuck Company is particularly sad to me considering their contribution to the built environment in the way of kit homes, appliances, fixtures, and tools. I still remember the family’s excitement when the Sears & Roebuck catalog filled the mailbox. I am proud to have invested in a bit of the history, and made it possible for yet another generation to experience a kit home, ordered out of a catalog, delivered by railcar, built by a community, and still in service today.

ChapmanDr. J. David Chapman is an Associate Professor of Finance & Real Estate at UCO. [email protected]

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