2014-07-25 / Community

Sears Homes seen throughout South Portland

By Craig Skelton
South Portland Historical Society


A home on Grove Avenue in South Portland is a “Sears Home.” Plans from the Sears catalogue appear on page 11. (Courtesy photo) A home on Grove Avenue in South Portland is a “Sears Home.” Plans from the Sears catalogue appear on page 11. (Courtesy photo) Sometimes the next story idea can literally be just around the corner. After polishing off a 22-pound turkey last Thanksgiving, a handful of 19 that enjoyed dinner at our home set out to walk off some stuffing. As we turned a corner an adorable bungalow on Osborne Avenue came into view and my sister, Jean, who offers an elective on housing design in her consumer science class at Brunswick High School, stated, “That is a Sears home.”

The obvious question out of my mouth was, “How do you know that?” Other than the distinctive “Craftsman” style, she indicated the decorative cinder block foundation is often a clue. She continued to explain that along with all the other construction material you would need to build a house, Sears catalogs also offered cinder blocks and cement. And it wasn’t just the flat-faced block, because a common distinction for a Sears home was often the decorative textured block look.


The Fullerton is one of many home designs offered by Sears. House kits came in labled parts, delivered often by rail. (Courtesy image) The Fullerton is one of many home designs offered by Sears. House kits came in labled parts, delivered often by rail. (Courtesy image) As we rounded another corner, she said, “I’ll bet there is a small garage on the other side of that house.” It was a style I called a four square colonial, on the corner of Baltimore Avenue. I’ve seen hundreds of homes like it throughout the city and would never have associated it with Sears until my sister mentioned it. I don’t know how she knew this, but she told us it was common for a catalog homebuyer to order a garage to go along with the house too. Before we got to the other side to see for ourselves, I already knew the garage was gone and told her it had fallen over a few years back. Like the style of the home, I had seen hundreds of garages like it over the years with the city and could still imagine the garage that once stood in place where a slab of concrete is now.

Based on what my sister was telling us, it looked like every home we walked by in the 1920s neighborhood off Anthoine Street was a Sears home. That just didn’t turn out to be the case. The more I started digging, the more I realized this wasn’t going to be a simple article where I’d pass along some interesting facts about a company with a name well known for department stores and a catalog.

Readers from a generation ahead of me probably already know that mail order homes were also associated with names such as Aladdin, Gordon-Van Tine, Lewis Manufacturing, Sterling Homes, Pacific Ready Cut Homes and Montgomery Ward.

Of all the names mentioned, Sears may in fact be the most recognized, and I found no shortage of information. The Sears Holdings website tells the story that its designers generally copied popular styles of the time, and if I tore off the cover page from a couple different company catalogs, you and I both would be hard pressed to know which company it was from. I asked a few homeowners if they knew whether they had an actual Sears home. Steve Connolly, who I thought owned a likely candidate, said no, his home on Anthoine was not one, yet he did point me to Christopher and Janice St. John on Grove Avenue. To my delight, Chris told me that they found a Sears label on the sill of a doorframe while renovating and adding on to their home. Chris believes it was the first owner of the house, Michael Reilly, who built it circa 1920.

Aside from the evidence found on the bottom of the door sill, Chris reports that if you poke your head up into the attic, the branding of numbers is visible on his rafters. The lumber delivered to the local rail yard from Sears was pre-cut and to make things easier for you to assemble the home, part numbers were branded onto the wood. A review of the many plans Sears offered brought us to the Fullerton, which careful comparison will reveal is not an exact match to their home as seen today. The Sears Holdings website did offer that it was not unusual for a home builder to stray from the plans, as it appears is the case with the St. John’s home.

Craig Skelton is a guest columnist and member of South Portland Historical Society.

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