11 Franklin Terrace, Longmeadow, MA
Until the turn of the 20th Century, Longmeadow was primarily an agricultural community. That started to change when trolley service began down Longmeadow Street in 1896; people who worked in Springfield could then live in the pastoral Longmeadow but easily commute to work in the city by trolley car. Real estate developers started purchasing farm property and developing it into the many subdivisions that fill today’s Longmeadow. One of the earliest developments, Greenwood Manor, was on the former dairy farm of Franklin B. Allen. By 1911, Bay State Realty Trust had acquired the property and laid out the Greenwood Manor subdivision into over 400 lots.
From 1910 Map of Longmeadow
W. Clinton Read, a single man from Springfield, purchased four of these lots on April 12, 1912. But how was he to quickly develop these lots so that he could resell them? To build houses on them, Mr. Read, like many other people, turned to one of the most a trusted names in American business – Sears, Roebuck and Co.
Hampden County Registry of Deeds. Book 843, Page 249
Sears, Roebuck and Co. began as a catalog company, selling everything from watches to sewing machines, toys, groceries, farm equipment, clothing, kitchen stoves, furniture, building supplies, and eye glasses. The general merchandise catalogs were supplemented by specialty catalogs for items such as horseless carriages, motorcycles, and buildings. Sears promised quality products at reduced prices and many loyal customers consulted the convenient Sears catalog first when making a purchasing decision.
In 1908, Sears, Roebuck and Co. published its first catalog of Modern Homes kit houses. In addition to kits for houses, you could buy kits for barns, garages, outhouses, hen houses, cottages, and even a two-story, six-classroom schoolhouse (that did not include a bathroom). Sears was not the first or the only company to sell kit houses (other vendors included Aladdin and Montgomery Ward), but, because of its large existing customer base, Sears quickly became the industry leader. The 1912 catalog can be seen its entirety. Page 89 of this catalog encouraged real estate developers to buy multiple homes – “Greater Economy = Bigger Profits” – to create an economy of scale.
Modern Homes, Sears, Roebuck and Co., Chicago (1912 catalog). Page 89
Not only did Mr. Read follow this advice, but he purchased three of the Sears models shown on page 89 for his Greenwood Manor lots.
Modern Homes, Sears, Roebuck and Co., Chicago (1912 catalog). Page 90
31 Maple Terrace, Longmeadow, MA. Image from Longmeadow Assessor's Database.
Modern Homes, Sears, Roebuck and Co., Chicago (1911 catalog). Page 45
19 Berwick Road, Longmeadow, MA. Image from Longmeadow Assessor's Database.
A Sears Modern Homes kit arrived with an instruction booklet and the materials needed to build the house. Later Sears Modern Home kits included precut and numbered lumber pieces to further facilitate the construction of the house; however, this was not the case for these early houses. The 1912 kits did not include materials needed to build the house’s foundation, nor did they include labor, cement, brick, or plaster (but Sears gave you an estimate for the cost of these items). Household utilities, such as plumbing, hot water, and steam heat, could be purchased separately from Sears. Richard W. Sears understood that additional homes across America would increase sales in other Sears product lines because he knew that a family moving to a new home would need to furnish it, and that many families would turn to the Sears catalog to do so. To make it easier to purchase a home, in 1911 Sears started offering an "Easy Payment Plan" for the homes that it sold. The application form, which is not included in the online version of the 1912 catalog, asked 9 questions, only several of which involved the purchaser’s financial capacity. Financing terms were lenient.
Image from The Houses That Sears Built by Rosemary Thornton
An estimated 50% of new homeowners, including W. Clifton Read, financed their Modern Homes through Sears. On April 20, 1912, W. Clinton Read mortgaged Lot 176 (31 Maple Terrace) for $1,650, agreeing to monthly installment payments of $15. Walker O. Lewis, a trustee of Sears, Roebuck and Co., is listed as the mortgagor. Similar mortgages were recorded for Lots 178 and 248.
Hampden County Registry of Deeds, Book 839, Page 83
115 Belleclaire Avenue is also a Sears kit home. This house was highlighted in this 2015 article in The Republican. Sears, Roebuck and Co. stopped financing its Modern Home sales in 1933, and it unfortunately had to foreclose on many homes during the Great Depression when unemployed homeowners were unable to make their mortgage payments. It briefly closed its real estate offices around that time, then resumed home sales until 1940 when the Modern Homes Department closed its doors for good. Sears Modern Home Department records were then thrown out. So, what is it like to live in a Sears Modern Home? Mary Julia Tunstall, who lives at 11 Franklin Terrace, absolutely loves her house. "It was very well thought out," she says. In the summer, indoor temperature, cooled only with an upstairs window unit, is uniform throughout the house; winter heating is also uniform. Workmen who visit her home routinely admire the high quality of building materials. The solid doors, dense pine flooring, rope and pulley leaded glass windows, beautiful hardware, interesting visual angles and nooks and crannies, and very functional floorplan help to create a charming home that suits her perfectly. And she has recently learned that her home is quite rare - to the best of our knowledge, it is the only Model 196 Modern Home that has been authenticated.
Stratford Design hardware. Image courtesy of kithousebuilders.blogspot.com.
Inside door lock set, 11 Franklin Terrace.
Ornamental half mortise butts. Image courtesy of kithousebuilders.blogspot.com.
Ornamental half mortise butts, 11 Franklin Terrace. There may be other Sears Modern Homes in Longmeadow that have not yet been authenticated. If you think that you know of another kit home, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help you check it out. Many, many thanks to Andrew Mutch of http://kithousehunters.blogspot.com/ for his expertise and his generous assistance to my research endeavors. -Contributed by Beth Hoff, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member
Originally published July 21, 2022
Hampden County Registry of Deeds
The Houses That Sears Built by Rosemary Thornton
Longmeadow Assessors Database