Before my father’s death on June 10, 2011, I’d never heard of Lake Mills. Heck, before my father’s death, I never knew I had an Aunt Addie (who lived and died in Lake Mills)! And I most certainly never knew that she’d been shot (allegedly) by her famous, wealthy, older husband Enoch.
While making plans for a trip to Lake Mills, I learned that it’s a little more than two hours north of Chicago. My first thought was “Sears Homes!”
And indeedy do, I’ve already learned of three kit homes there in Lake Mills.
The first is from Sears, the second is from Gordon Van Tine and the third is from Montgomery Ward. In fact, Gordon Van Tine was the supplier of Wardway Homes (which explains why Montgomery Ward and GVT catalogs were identical).
Mail-order kit homes were just that – kits ordered from a mail-order catalog. These houses arrived as 12,000-piece kits (yes, 12,000 pieces) and came with a 75-page instruction book that told the wanna-be homeowner how all those pieces and parts went together. Sears (one of six kit home companies doing business on a national level) promised that a “man of average abilities” could have the house assembled and ready for occupancy in 90 days!
Each kit included everything you would need to finish your dream home, including 750 pounds of nails, 27 gallons of paint and varnish, 10 pounds of wood putty, 72 coat hooks, roofing shingles, door knobs, lumber, windows, flooring…well you get the idea. It really was a complete kit.
The houses were delivered by train and most kit homes could fit in one well-packed boxcar. Today, these early 20th Century catalog homes are typically found within 1-2 miles of railroad tracks, just because the logistics of hauling all those pieces of house was so problematic!
And one last fact – about 90% of the people living in these homes had no idea about the unique origins of their home until I knocked on their door (or blogged on my website) and told them! My raison d’être is to help folks learn more about this historically significant (and nearly forgotten) piece of America’s architectural heritage.
And thanks to Dawn Stewart and Sandy Spann of Lake Mills, Wisconsin, for supplying these photographs of the three kit homes in Lake Mills, Wisconsin! And thanks to Rebecca Hunter for telling me about the Newbury!
Enjoy the photos below! And leave a comment! 🙂
To learn more about how to identify kit homes, click here.
Sears Newbury, as it appeared in the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog.
Notice the swoop in the roof as it extends over the wide front porch. On the rear, there's a small cornice return, and it's on a different plane that the front roof.
The Newbury in Lake Mills is hard to see due to the mature vegetation, but that bellcast (swooping) roof is easy to spot. And you can see the small cornice return on the rear. Sears kit homes came with 12,000 pieces and the Newbury was "Ready Cut" meaning that all framing members were pre-cut and ready to nail into place. However, masonry was not part of the kit and was obtained locally. The catalog page shows a stone chimney but this Newbury has a brick chimney. That's an inconsequential difference. (This photograph is courtesy of Sandra Spann and can not be used or reproduced without written permission. Copyright 2011, Sandra Spann.)
To read more about this Newbury in Lake Mills, click here!
As seen in the 1921 catalog, this is a very unusual house, and the house in Lake Mills is a beautiful match with only one difference - that original railing across the dormer is missing.
And here's a photo of Gordon Van Tine Home #705 in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. It's a beautiful house in wonderful condition and a spot-on match to the original catalog picture! Look at the windows on the side, and how they're just the same in both the Lake Mills house and the vintage catalog picture. My oh my, that does indeed warm the cockles of my heart. Photograph is courtesy Dawn Stewart (copyright 2011) and may not be used or reproduced with written permission.
These mail-order kit homes (such as the GVT 705) could be ordered "reversed," and what's shown above is the mirrored image of the catalog page (note page number on upper right). This really is a beautiful match to the house above! These catalog images are from the 1921 Gordon Van Tine catalog.
Just in case you wanted to see them side by side.
Check out this floorplan!
The next one is Montgomery Ward #123 (shown below). This house is really distinctive, mainly because of that second floor bay window!
Montgomery Ward sold about 25,000 kit homes during their 20+ years in the kit home business. Not surprisingly, the majority of these homes are probably within a 300-mile radius of Chicago (where Montgomery Ward was located).
Look at the window! The house in Lake Mills (on Water Street) is a very good match to this catalog image (1914). Note the placement of the window directly beside the front door. And also note those supersized cornice returns on either side of that second-floor bay window. The front porch has a hip roof, with three round columns. All these features are also in evidence on the house in Lake Mills (see next photo).
Easy as 1-2-3 to identify! This is Montgomery Ward Home #123, in Lake Mills, WI. Photograph is courtesy Dawn Stewart (copyright 2011) and may not be used or reproduced with written permission.
Now this next one…I’m not so sure about. Read the caption below for more info.
Do you think you have a kit home in Lake Mills (or nearby)? Leave a comment below!
This one, I'm not so sure about. I found it whilst driving via Google Maps and made a note of it, but when I went back to get a better look, I couldn't find it!
To learn more about Wardway Homes, click here.
To learn about Addie Hoyt, click here.
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