There was a day when you could order literally anything from the Sears catalog, and I mean anything! In fact, you could even order a house. The town of Carlinville, Illinois, boasts the largest existing contiguous collection of Sears Homes.
After some research I learned from the blog Sears Home.org that Elgin, Illinois is home to the largest collection of Sears Homes. Carlinville has 152 homes in a 9-block area, while Elgin has more than 210 within the town limits.
Sears Homes Sold
Sears reports that they sold more than 70,000 Sears Homes in North America between 1908 and 1940. In early May, I had the pleasure of touring one of these amazing houses with my daughter Allison.
The Sears Company has been around since 1886. Founded by Richard Sears, a railway station agent from North Redwood, Minnesota, Sears sold goods on the side. In 1888 the first Sears catalog came out followed by the first general merchandise catalog in 1896. Sears began this lucrative business that turned into an empire. Nothing was ever quite the same again with the US mail!
Bob Cook’s Sears Home
Bob Cook is one of the owners of a Sears Home. A former Navy veteran that served on the USS Bennington, Bob moved to Carlinville, Illinois in 1998. “I renovated the dining room, living room and upstairs,” he shared.
Sadly, Bob’s wife Joyce passed in 2002. She wasn’t able to see all the work he did to renovate the home back to the Sears days. It took Bob four years of hard work to finish his Sears Home to the state that my daughter Allie and I saw when we toured in early May.
Details of Bob’s Sears Home
Bob’s pristine home is like most of standard Sears Homes with six rooms. His style is called the Whitehead and has been added on to over the years.
The kitchen once had steel cabinets. While Bob has changed this, his house still retains the original bay window in the dining room and bedroom. “The floors are oak and the woodwork are yellow pine.”
Bob painstakingly removed the white paint originally on the woodwork covering the beauty of the pine. “All the homes had open porches, but over the years, many have closed them in.”
Sears Home Story
Bob shared the Sears Home story in Carlinville. He related how so many Sears houses ended up in one place. It all began in 1918 when Standard Oil built a coal mine. “They purchased 500 acres of land east of Carlinville, they had a 77 acre tract for homes. The lots were 47 ‘ x 144’. Standard Oil ordered 156 homes from the Precut plant in Cairo, Illinois where they milled the woodwork and stamped them there too.”
Houses were priced between $1,300 – $4,000.
According to the Carlinville Chamber of Commerce
“Beginning in 1917, Carlinville saw its population grow by one-third when Standard Oil of Indiana opened two new coalmines. An influx of young European immigrants coming to work the mines caused the town’s population to swell from 4,000 to 6,000, creating a severe housing shortage.”
Building the Sears Homes
The Sears Houses changed all that. Bob Cook said the homes either had a basement or two-story design. The kits for the houses were delivered to Carlinville by rail.
There was a slight delay, before they could begin building. Bob explained they had to harvest thewheat. “There were two box cars for each home so the houses took 312 box cars. Teens helped unload the kits and horses and wagons brought them to the tracts.”
In a presentation to the Macoupin County Historical Society Group, volunteer tour guide Andrea Duncan talked about a woman, Mrs. Spaulding that oversaw the building of the homes. Andrea said she would ride around on a horse making sure all went well. When the horse died it is rumored that it was buried somewhere amongst the homes!
Standard Oil even provided the coal furnaces as well as the plumbing . “The houses face east and west with alleys in the back,” Bob added.
There were nine different styles of homes with one even named the Carlin in honor of the town of Carlinville.
After Standard Oil Closed the mine
For almost ten years the Sears homes housed Standard Oil employees. Then in 1926, Standard Oil executives decided they could buy coal cheaper than mining it. Sadly for the city of Carlinville, they decided to close the mine.
According to the Carlinville Chamber of Commerce this closure devastated the town. “The workers moved away, mostly to other mines, and abandoned the housing to the ravages of time and the occasional party-goers from nearby Blackburn University.”
Previously this area called “Standard Addition” was occupied, then all of the sudden was mostly empty. “During the Great Depression Era, all but five of these home were empty,” Bob said. “
However, Bob added that when these homes went up for sale that this was a great opportunity. “Twenty-three percent went to single ladies that bought them for $250 to $350.”
This was comparable to homes selling for $4,000, so what a buy!
While all of the houses are not in mint condition, this is a residential neighborhood that is quite historic. Bob said, One-hundred-forty-nine of the homes are left, one has been moved and six burned.”
Route 66 Blue Corridor Connection
This area is part of the historic Route 66 Blue Carpet Corridor Section of the Mother Road. The Sears Homes play a part in the festivals and history of this iconic roadway.
People come from not only Illinois, but from all around the world for the Route 66 and Sears Home History.
Sears Home Tour details!
Tours and information regarding the Sears Homes can be obtained by contacting the Carlinville Chamber of Commerce by calling (217)854-2141 or emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Carlinville stories
If heading to Carlinville, include a stop at the Carlinville County Courthouse, also called, The Million Dollar Courthouse! Carlinville’s spring and fall festivals feature the beautiful Anderson Mansion which is open at other times of the year as well.