Cape Charles Mirror Report – by Wayne Creed
NOTICE: Postponed until next Saturday October 3rd due to the impending rain and wind storm.
“Walking through town one sees increasing numbers of recently restored commercial buildings and houses, both large and small, as well as many others waiting for helping hands.” (Cape Charles Historic District Guidelines, page 4)
“The town’s building fabric, ranging from small vernacular workers’ houses of the 1880s to architect-designed commercial, municipal, and residential buildings of the early twentieth century, is remarkably well preserved. Architectural styles represented include the Queen Anne, Gothic Revival, Neoclassical, Colonial Revival, Bungalow, American Foursquare, Spanish Colonial Revival, and Art Deco styles. The town is also noted for its collection of late Victorian and early-twentieth century vernacular dwellings. The integrity of the town’s physical plan and architectural fabric together help to make Cape Charles one of the best preserved towns of the period in Tidewater Virginia.” – David A. Edwards
In 1906, Frank W. Kushel, a Sears manager, was given responsibility for the catalog company’s unwieldy, unprofitable building materials department. Sales were down, and there was excess inventory languishing in warehouses. He is credited with suggesting to Richard Sears that the company assemble kits of all the parts needed and sell entire houses through mail order. In the same year, the Aladdin Company of Bay City, Michigan, offered the first mail order kit homes. In 1908, Sears issued its first specialty catalog for houses, Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans, featuring 44 styles ranging in price from US $360–$2,890. The first mail order for a house was filled in 1908. As Sears mail-order catalogs were in millions of homes, large numbers of potential homeowners were able to open a catalog, see different house designs, visualize their new home and then purchase it directly from Sears.
Altough Elgin, Illinois has the largest known collection of Sears homes in one community with more than 200 identified houses from Sears, Cape Charles may have one of the highest ratios. In our small town, we boast 16 kit homes.
This year, the Cape Charles Historic Home Tour is going to focus on these Sears Kit Homes. According to Planner Larry DiRe, the authentication process can be a bit daunting, and as of this printing, the true number of kit homes in Town has not been confirmed. To authenticate a Sears Home, the documentation process can involve:
-Checking Stamped lumber: Most easily found in unfinished spaces like a basement or attic, framing members were stamped with a letter and a number. However, these stamps were not used on lumber shipped before 1916, when Sears first started offering pre-cut lumber.
-Checking Sears column arrangements: A number of Sears models had a common column arrangement on the front porch. While this arrangement was not unique to Sears, it is a possible indicator of a Sears house.
-Noting Five piece eave brackets: Several Sears models with eaves brackets used a 5 piece design that was primarily found on Sears houses.
-Possession of the Original paperwork for the house including blueprints and letters of correspondence from Sears.