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The Lay of the Land: A Testament to Testimonials!

There are many ways of finding and authenticating mail-order or plan books houses. Mortgage records, deeds, property transfers are pretty reliable if they can ultimately be traced back to a mail-order company. Some companies like Sears, Roebuck and Ray H Bennett offered their own financing. Less reliable are oral histories ("my grandfather built this house, blah, blah, blah.") unless they are backed up with paperwork. Sometimes the millwork, hardware or fixtures can be enough to authenticate a house within reasonable doubt, especially when a house design is unusual or unique or with no known clones. There are certain models every kit house manufacturer and his brother seem to have a version of (Sears Jewel/Wilmore, I'm looking especially hard at you!) and you can only really authenticate it with paper or specific millwork, hardware or fixtures, room dimension and build year.

One of the most fun ways (at least for me) are TESTIMONIALS!  Testimonials pop up everywhere — mail-order catalogs, newspaper advertisements, special advertising media like posters, postcards, and flyers. Sears utilized all of the above. In the back of their current catalog, they frequently had a special spread of photos and testimonials of houses built by John Q Public.

Two-page testimonial spread from the 1921 Sears, Roebuck Honor Bilt Modern Homes catalog. Photo from

(I've looked numerous times in the LaSalle section of Niagara Falls but can't find it. It might have been torn down, of course.) Photo from
The ads and special sales slicks were usually regional also which enables a "collector" like me to search for a certain area. One of the original Sears house researchers, Rebecca Hunter compiled a good number of testimonials in her book,  Putting Sears Homes on the Map: A Compilation of Testimonials Published in Sears Modern Homes Catalogs 1908-1940.

Manufacturer Gordon-Van Tine published a special brochure just of testimonials called, Proof of the Pudding!  Local North Tonawanda roofing and shingle manufacturers Creo-Dipt and Weatherbest published fully illustrated catalogs with photos of actual homes with the owners' names, cities and what was used on the homes. These all make it easier and more likely to find the houses.

Creo-Dipt catalog. I traced the house in the photo to 920 Highland Ave, Pelham Manor, NY
 I'll have more of all of these in the future. Stay tuned.

A Sears Love Fest on Love Road

When Sears, Roebuck ceased their mail-order home operation around 1940 (the year of their last mail order kit-home catalog), that didn't mean that they left the housing market all together. They just shifted focus. I'm not going to go into the history here but will send you over to Sears Homes of Chicagoland and to the blog post, Yes, Virginia, Sears Homes Were Built After 1940. 

The Niagara Frontier was one of the numerous areas chosen for a new Sears, Roebuck Home Club Plan community, specifically the sub-division Grandyle Village in the town of Grand Island in Erie County. 

Not a history nor geography lesson but opposite North Buffalo and up to Niagara Falls and Canada, the Niagara River splits in two and voila! you get a 33.3 square mile island before the Niagara reconnects further north. That is Grand Island. Most of Grand Island remained underdeveloped for decades (my husband says that he only remembers Fantasy Island, an amusement park, and sand flies on Grand Island when he was a kid). To this day there is no ferry or boat service connecting it to the mainland. In 1935, however, a bridge was built on the southern end of the island connecting it to the Town of Tonawanda and rapid development or planned development of the area started and in 1936 the sub-division Grandyle Village was born.
Buffalo Courier-Express February 2, 1936

Buffalo Courier-Express October 24, 1937
Development didn't happen over night and Sears, Roebuck got involved in 1940-1941, choosing Grandyle Village as a perfect location for its "Sears-Home-Club-Plan". (Full page advertisement in the Niagara Falls Gazette 1941 — click here to see full-page ad).

Buffalo Courier-Express May 11, 1941

Buffalo Courier-Express May 12, 1941
Ad in Buffalo Courier-Express August 10, 1942
That perfect location is a 2 block stretch of Love Road between East Park Road to Stony Point Road. Out of 56 planned houses, one has to presume that all 50 houses advertised were built. Not all of them survived the march of time.

Google view of Love Road. All of the houses with the exception of one are the Sears-Club-House-Plan houses.
There were about 8 styles offered and Love Road seems to have about 5 different style built. 
1520 Love Rd. Photo by Sarah Mullane.
{A very old woman came out of the 1520 Love Road when we were there. DH and I spoke to her. It was her parents' house and I was trying to get more information from her, but she would only talk about property taxes (too high) and wanting to move someplace cheaper.}

1519 Love Rd. Photo by Sarah Mullane.

1608 Love Rd. Photo by Sarah Mullane.

1626 Love Rd. Photo by Sarah Mullane.

1619 Love Rd. Photo by Sarah Mullane.
1518 Love Rd. Photo by Sarah Mullane.
For more photos of all of the Sears, Roebuck houses on Love Road, Grandyle Village, please click on the link below or under "Photo Albums to the right.

A Sears Westly in Williamsville

Even though Sears, Roebuck didn't open their first office in Buffalo, NY until 1929, their houses had a presence (albeit small) in Buffalo and her surrounding towns and suburbs for at least a decade if not more before that.

One of the prettiest and most popular houses Sears offered was the Westly, a bungalow with a balconied dormer, "Sears" columns, and the well-known (though not exclusive to Sears) 5-piece brackets. The Westly first appeared as #264B206 in 1913 and made its last appearance in 1929. It is first called The Westly in 1918. 1920 seems to be the transition year as it is offered with two floor plans — the default floor plan has two windows on the second floor in the rear of the house while the earlier floor plan with four windows on the back is offered now as alternate plan. Eventually it will only be offered with the two windows.

From the 1916 Sears, Roebuck catalog.
From the 1923 Sears, Roebuck catalog. 
Well in Williamsville, a small village located in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst, there is a very pretty, charming Westly.  Our friend Mark told us about it because a friend of his, a ceramic professor at Daemen College, purchased the house in 2004, restored it and sold it a few years later. According to Mark, his friend has the Sears, Roebuck documentation so I can pretty much safely say it's been authenticated. It's on a corner lot in a particularly quaint part of Williamsville. In true Buffalo style, the dormer balcony has been enclosed but you can still see the original windows behind the outer glass. County and town records put the build year as 1922. It is the earlier version with the four windows on the second floor rear.  It is located at 178 Arend Ave.

Sears Westly 178 Arend Ave. Town of Amherst Assessment photo. (So pretty in the snow)

Photo Sarah Mullane 

Photo Sarah Mullane 

Side view. Photo Sarah Mullane 

Four windows on the second floor rear makes it the earlier version. This house has an addition. Photo Sarah Mullane 

Enclosed dormer. Photo Sarah Mullane
Enclosed dormer. Photo Sarah Mullane

You can really see the original windows and siding. Photo Sarah Mullane
Detail of bump-out, dormer, and columns. Photo Sarah Mullane

Detail of bump-out, dormer, and columns. Photo Sarah Mullane

Bump-out. Photo Sarah Mullane
Porch detail. Photo Sarah Mullane

Column details. Photo Sarah Mullane

Porch detail. Photo Sarah Mullane

Column detail. Photo Sarah Mullane

Mark's friend says that there are many Sears houses in the immediate area, but I have only found two Ray H Bennett houses in the surrounding blocks. More on those in another post.