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A look at local history: Collingswood family is living history in Sears Kit Home

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Sears Kit Homes were offered from 1908 to 1940 in the old Sears Catalog, and there are many examples of these homes (comprised of 10,000-30,000 pieces of precut lumber) in Collingswood. Jessica Todd and Daniel Brill live in an ‘Americus’ model with their children. (Kristen Dowd/08108)

While holding the future in her arms, Jessica Todd was thinking about the past.

After her second child was born four years ago, the Collingswood mother stayed up at night to nurse her baby daughter and it was during those quiet hours when she wondered about the history of her beloved house.

“I googled our address and a blog post came up. It was just a guy who likes Sears Kit Homes,” Todd said about the SearsHouseSeeker blog that informed her they lived in a Sears Kit Home.

The model, built in 1929, is called the “Americus.”

“From what I understand, we are the third or fourth owners,” Todd said. “The first two owners were in the same family, the daughter bought from the dad.”

Sears Kit Homes were offered from 1908 to 1940 in the old Sears Catalog.

These Sears homes were actually a kit of 10,000–30,000 pieces of precut lumber. The wood was stamped and a 75-page instruction manual, which included the spacing of the 750 pounds of nails, was used by the homeowner to construct the house piece-by-piece.

Sears advertised “a man of average abilities could assemble a Sears kit home in about 90 days.” Sears estimated a kit home would save 30 percent of the cost of a home built by conventional construction.

The Americus model cost $2,674 in the 1920 Sears Catalog.

Over 370 designs, including Cape Cods, Colonials and Tudors were offered. About 70,000 kit homes were sold in the 32 years they were offered. 

Jessica and her husband, Dan Brill, bought their Collingswood house four years ago. They renovated for a year and moved in three years ago.


Jessica Todd and Daniel Brill and children Juniper, 4, and Amelia, 8, pose in front of their Collingswood home, which was built from a Sears Kit Home in 1929. (Matthew Shinkle/08108)

The SearsHouseSeeker blog stated that Charles F. Kurtz was the first owner of the Todd’s house and was, “perfectly satisfied in every way.” When Sears was in the kit business, a comment and a photo by the buyer were typically included in the catalogs.

“I have never come across ones that are my model, but I kind of can look at places and think that they might be,” Todd said about looking for other Sears Kit Homes in Collingswood. “They have that very efficient type building look to them.”

The Americus was described in the blog as a “squared-off, Craftsman-meets-four-square-meets-Italianate style.”

Sears Kit Home researcher Rosemary Thornton wrote that the first method to certify if your home was a Sears Kit was to “look for stamped lumber on the exposed beams/joists/rafters in the basement, crawl space or attic.”

Thornton also advised to inspect the back of moldings and trim for shipping labels.

“When we took the house apart and put it back together you could see all the numbered lumber,” Todd said.

The Sears Kit Homes had unique five-piece eave brackets. However, as the SearsHouseSeeker noted, “unfortunately, when folks change the siding on these beauties (which were usually originally made of wood clapboard, cedar shake, or stucco), they often do away with the beautiful, distinctive brackets that stick out and support the wide eaves.”

“We wanted to keep it as close to the original as we could,” Todd added about their renovation, “but by the time we got it, a lot of the original stuff was gone.

“Like a bracket that was in the soffit of the house and they were already gone,” Todd continued. “I had dreams of trying to find them and put them back up there, but if you’ve ever done a renovation, by the time you get to stuff like that, you’re out of money and out of energy to do it. But one day we hope to get those brackets.

“Some of the window casings are original, but other than that and the basic structure of the house, most of it is new,” Todd said.

Sears shuttered its kit home building in 1940, according to Thornton, because of the Great Depression, federally sponsored mortgage programs and the designs becoming more complex.

The Todd’s house at 418 Woodlawn Avenue was on the Collingswood home historic tour a few years ago.

“It was great, we got a lot of people through and it was all great feedback,” Todd said. “It was almost empty when we showed it because we just moved in and so nothing was really up on the walls and things weren’t completely finished, but it was fine.

“I wasn’t there,” Todd added with a laugh, “I told my husband I was getting out. I couldn’t hear people talk about my house. This is my house that I love, that I’m never leaving and I don’t want to hear a single bad thing about it.”

“I love all that,” she said. “I love history.”

And in their Sears Kit Home, the Todd Family is living in history.

KEVIN CALLAHAN
Kevin, a published author of three novels, is in his 36th year writing sports, travel and outdoor stories, focusing in and around South Jersey and Philadelphia. After 33 years writing for the Courier Post, the 58-year-old embarked on a freelance writing career with the release of his trilogy – The Black Rose, The Fish Finder and The Chess Game in 2017.

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