And The Winner Is…

It started out in 1913 as a contest.

Sears invited 100 “up to date farmers” to submit their plans for a “modern farm house for the 20th Century.”

Mr. Selck of Evansville, Wisconsin won first prize with his design, which came to be known as The Hillrose (Modern Home #189). In addition to having his creation featured in subsequent catalogs, he also won $50 – in gold.

Second prize ($35 in gold) went to W. L. Richardson of Cambridge, Iowa. His house (Modern Home #184) didn’t last long enough to be granted a name (1918), and in fact, was gone by 1916.

Despite 14 years of wandering and researching, I’ve seen only one Sears Hillrose and that was in Prophetstown, Indiana (near West Lafayette) and it was less than 20 years old.

The house was re-created several years ago by architectural  historians who studied the old pictures and floorplans shown in a Sears mail-order catalog. The Hillrose in Prophetstown is part of a museum exhibit that offers an interpretive display of a working farm.

The first floor of the house is true to the catalog image and to the time period. The interior is filled with period furnishings, appliances and even ephemera. An old Sears catalog sits on an end table in the front room of the Hillrose. The second floor is thoroughly modern, not open to the public, and is used as administrative offices.

In 2005, I traveled to Prophetstown to see this recently built Hillrose “in the flesh” and to give a talk on Sears Homes.

Originally, it was planned that I’d give the talk in the front room of the Hillrose (with space for 30 attendees). Not good. These talks – even 10 years ago – often drew 100+ visitors.

The only option available at the last minute was the barn. And it was a real barn, with real critters and hay and implements.

That evening, at 7:00 pm, I addressed about 90 people, four goats, six cows and several chickens. In the barn.

This newly built Hillrose was a pricey little affair. The 1916 Sears catalog showed the house offered for $1,649. More than 90 years later, the Hillrose’s contemporary cost exceeded $1 million, due to the expense of re-creating an early 20th Century farm house.

And now Prophetstown has a real treasure and a tourism attraction that will endure for decades to come.

There’s a real-life Hillrose in Brandy Station, Virginia!

Read Part II here.

Click here to see inside the Hillsboro in Prophetstown.

To read more about this Hillsboro in Indiana, click here.

Want to learn more about to identify a Sears House? Click here.



I wonder what an "out of date" farmer looks like? This image came from a promotional brochure, dated about 1914. Take a moment and read it in its entirety. It's fun!


First prize

Modern Home #189 was the prize winner, and garnered $50 in gold for Mr. Selck of Evansville, Indiana (1914 catalog). Fine house (with more than 2,000 square feet) for a mere $1,473.


house hosue house

W. L. Richardson of Cambridge, Ohio won $35 in gold for this design (1914 catalog).


First prize winner

Apparently, Sears asked for a letter from the first prize winner.



And the second-prize winner, too.



Aladdin was actually the originator of the business of selling kit homes via mail-order catalogs, but what's a little promotional puffery between friends?.



A comparison of the two houses - side-by-side.



I guess the woodshed was the thing that carried the day.



A panoramic view of Modern Home #189, showing not only the house, but outbuildings and livestock.



A closer view of Modern Home #189 (The Hillrose).



A close-up of the Sears kit barn, as shown with The Hillrose (above).


Round barn with

I love that dormer atop not just the round barn but the silo, too.



Chicken House #221 is shown next to the Hillrose.


Long shot

Here's a long view of the 2nd prize winner. He has a chicken coop, but it's not the #221. He has a vehicle, but it's only one-horse power. He has an outbuilding, but it's a little milk house.


house 1916

Second-prize winner got cheaped out on the chicken house.


house house

Nice little milk house, though.


Even though Ive never seen a 1910s Hillrose, they are out there - apparently (1916 catalog).

Even though I've never seen a 1910s Hillrose, they are out there - apparently (1916 catalog). Alvado, Ohio can't be that big. It can't be too tough to find a big old Sears foursquare in little old Alvado. Perhaps a kind-hearted Avacadoan will find this Hillrose in their town and snap a photo for moi. Or maybe someone in Griffith will embark on this mission of mercy. One can hope. I need a picture of a Hillrose.


However, I dont know if any of these homes were ever built.

However, I don't know if any of these homes were ever built. Good news is, this house is so distinctive, it'll be easy to spot! In addition to being an L-shaped foursquare (yeah, really), it has an offset porch, small vestibule, pedimented porch roof, big gabled dormer, oversized eaves and a dainty-looking horse in the front yard.


The Modern Hillrose in West Lafayette is a real dandy.

The Modern Hillrose in West Lafayette is a real dandy, and it's the only Hillrose I've seen.


From catalog side

A view of the Hillrose from the same angle as the catalog.


My favorite view of all

My favorite shot of the Hillrose, showing the barn in the background.


Just a little archival storage tip: If youre going to

Just a little archival storage tip: If you're going to collect rare Sears House ephemera and sell it on eBay, don't cut it up into tiny bits and then laminate the whole caboodle with thick plastic. This photo here is to help explain why images 1, 4, 5 and 6 look like they were scanned through wax paper. Because - actually - they were. Special thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for purchasing this rare brochure and sharing it!


To read Rachel’s wonderful blog, click here.

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