Did you know that at one time, you could order an entire house from the Sears catalog? According to Sears Archives, in 1908, Sears issued its first specialty catalog for houses, Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans, featuring 44 styles ranging in price from $360–$2,890.
The first mail order was filled in 1908. Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes in 48 states through their mail-order Modern Homes program during the years of 1908 – 1940. Sears sold so many of these homes that they opened up their own mill in Cairo, Illinois in 1911.
Sears kit homes were shipped via boxcar and came with a 75-page instruction book. Each kit contained 10,000 – 30,000 pieces and the pieces were “marked to facilitate construction.” Yeah, right. All you had to do was unload it, schlep it to your building site, read that 75-page instruction book, figure out what went where, and put it together. Kind of like a giant 3-D puzzle. Or Lincoln Logs. But with a lot more sweat and potential for swearing.
Neighbors and friends usually helped build the house with a good old-fashioned roof raising party. Neighbor relationships have changed a little in this last century. I don’t even ask my neighbors to check my mail when I’m out of town.
Because my story takes place in 1904, my characters can’t live in an actual Sears kit house… the timing is just a little off. Nevertheless, this is the house that I pictured in my mind as the Johnson family home in Season of Forgiveness – but I added a second porch on the right side and flipped the kitchen to the other side of the building. That’s the beauty of writing fiction. It can be whatever I want it to be.
I can picture in my mind’s eye the porch littered with toys and seven rowdy boys slamming doors and racing up and down the steps. And of course, Emma’s roses would flourish beside the porch. I had a lot of fun creating this home in my story. I hope you enjoy it too.