The Mail-Order House

There are at least 75,000 Sears Roebuck homes — some tiny, some grand — in every corner of the country. And most owners don't even know their secret.

All the homes in Carlinville, Ill. came in the mail, ordered from the famous Sears Roebuck catalogue and delivered to your door, CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell reports. Well, actually, delivered to the place where your door would be, after it arrived along with all the other packages.

In 1919, the Standard Oil Company, needing homes for the miners in its new Carlinville mine, ordered the entire town from Sears. It was a Carlinville neighborhood that first got Rosemary Thornton hooked on Sears home history.

"Every house in Standard addition is a Sears home, 152 Sears homes in a 12-block area," she says.

From 1908 until 1940, Sears offered 370 models to choose from. Houses available ranged from the modest "Starlight" to the stately "Alhambra." One option was a sweet little bungalow, called "the Osborn."

"It was one of their best selling homes," says Thornton. "I've seen 'Osborns' all over the country."

After you picked out the house of your dreams, Sears would mail it to you in 30,000 pieces. The kit included 750 pounds of nails, 27 gallons of paint and varnish, 10 pounds of wood putty, 460 pounds of window weight, 27 windows, 25 doors and a 75 page instruction book.

By following the instructions, you could build "the Collingwood," "the Chatham," "the Maytown," "the Vallonia" or "the Chelsea." A home could be brought for $500 and up.

Sears Roebuck promised that a man of average abilities could build one of their homes in 90 days.

"I've always called it my little Dagwood Bumsted house," says Sears homeowner Pete Greenwell.

Greenwood had no idea when he bought his home, in Kirkwood, Mo. that it came from Sears until a previous owner knocked on the door.

"[The previous owner] was cleaning out her attic, and she found a blueprint," says Greenwell. "They belong to this house and Sears built it in 1931."

So, do you have a Sears home? One way to tell is to look for a Sears stamp on the wood used to make the house in your attic or basement.

Today, of course, packages arrive on your doorstep all the time. Imagine, then, that once upon a time, a package containing your doorstep — along with 29,999 other pieces of the American dream — arrived in the mail.

A marvelous secret that may even be hiding in the floorboards of your very own home.

Note: If you know a location of a Sears Home, Rose Thornton, author of "The House That Sears Built," would like to hear from you. Email her at thorntonrose@hotmail.com.


(Original Episode Airdate: May 18, 2003)
The all new
CBS News App for Android® for iPad® for iPhone®
Fully redesigned. Featuring CBSN, 24/7 live news. Get the App