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All Roads Lead to Dunkirk (part 1)

After going through Houses By Mail  I started checking out locations close to me without much success. I decided to tackle Dunkirk, NY because there were a couple of houses listed.

Facing pages with the 225 and the Sherburne. I wonder why my book decided to break right there. hmmmm.

I started with the #225 and Sherburne. After much time and trial and error, I started looking at real estate listings on Zillow and Trulia and decided to drop down on a certain street because the house for sale looked like the same era and the house next door looked like a Ray H Bennett "Raymond" model. This, fortuitously, was just the right area.

I virtually drove up and down the street armed with my trusty copy of Houses By Mail and stumbled across what looked like the #225 I was looking for on the corner of Woodrow and Taft Place! I went down Taft Place and found a second #225 and the Sherburne on the other end of the street. I shared by finding with my group of researchers, and Karen DeJeet observed the #124 on the other side of the Sherburne (I had forgotten about the #124 since I was concentrating on the #225 and Sherburne. I knew it looked familiar). Karen also found an Avondale across the street. The Avondale is not listed as a Dunkirk home in the book and since it has an enclosed porch, I didn't recognize it. The Avondale is one of Karen's favorite Sears models. Judith Chabot of Sears House Seeker contributed a #164 across the street from the first #225 I happened on.

Google screen shot of the short length of Taft Place, Dunkirk, NY. I mapped out the addresses and models. 

The weekend I found the Sears houses on Taft Place, Andrew Mutch of Kit House Hunters had a get-together with Sears research grande dame Rebecca Hunter. He told her of the Dunkirk discoveries and she knew them all and had a couple more to add.

Cover of the 1914 Sears, Roebuck Modern Homes catalog courtesy Judith Chabot, Sears House Seeker

All in all, between Karen, Judith, Andrew, Rebecca Hunter, and I, we found about eight or nine Sears and probable Sears houses, most which appeared in the 1914 Sears, Roebuck Modern Homes catalog as being built in Dunkirk, NY.

So where did this cluster of Sears houses come from? They were built by one man: John A. Stapf.

To be continued . . .

The Lay of the Land: Houses by Mail — The Rosetta Stone? The Book Every Kit House Lover Should Have.

Houses by Mail: A Guide to Sears, Roebuck and Company is book written by Katherine Cole Stevenson and H. Ward Jandl. Published in 1986, it is the encyclopedia of Sears homes! Organized by house style, it lists every Sears model known up until then. Basically one house per page with information reproduced straight from the Sears catalogs in facsimile. Each page contains a catalog image and description, alternate model names or numbers along with which catalog year for which (In the early years the houses were numbered. Many were given names later on), the years offered, floor plans, alternate floor plans, models that were similar, etc. Everything you ever wanted or needed to know arranged neatly and sensibly, and easily accessible (at fingertip, as my husband would say). It is indexed by named models and numbered models. Frequently there are locations listed and an occasional testimonial all reprinted from the catalogs. In indispensable resource. I have used mine so often, the spine is broken in multiple places and a signature has fallen out.

My beloved copy of Houses by Mail. You can see the signature sticking out. I'll have to dig out my book-binding glue.
Poor book 😢
The first thing I did when my book arrived in the mail was to go through and mark all the pages where houses were built in Western New York (in the broadest sense of the term).

Western New York locales mentioned in Houses By Mail are:
Niagara Falls (Niagara) — Argyle
Black Rock (a neighborhood in Buffalo) (Erie) — Arlington
Rochester  (Wayne/Monroe) — Hazelton, #164
Hamburg (Erie) — Silverdale
Buffalo (Erie) — #306
Addison (Steuben) — Concord (aka #114, #2021, etc.)
Lancaster (Erie) — Saratoga
Dunkirk (Chautauqua) #124, #164, #225, Sherburne
Covington (Wyoming)  Westly
I discovered that the places mentioned came straight from the original catalogs and therefore could more or less be considered authenticated once they were found.

. . . and then I started searching.

Bennett Better Built Homes Testimonials: Hard Nuts to Crack

I spoke about testimonials in the prior post for a reason. Most testimonials, especially in the form of letters that appear in catalogs, usually include the name and town of the happy customer and the model name of the more-than-satisfactory house. That would be and is normal. Not so the Ray H Bennett company. Nope — the Bennett Better Built Homes catalogs reprint the letter with just the enthusiast's initials and usually the town. Usually the model is referenced in the letter, sometimes mentioned outside the letter. Occasionally there will be initials and a town. Okay. That is doable. Sometimes, though, there will be initials and the model but no town. Really helpful. In the early catalogs you get the sense that most of the letters are about the lumber purchased from Ray H Bennett Lumber Company — no kit house involved. Sometimes a garage is mentioned. A year or two in, the letters are about houses ordered.

The same letters were reprinted for years! In later years, the letters are reprinted with no date. It doesn't make sense to reprint a letter dated 1921 in a 1930-something or later catalog. It is a challenge finding these testimonial homes.

Sometimes I get lucky with the initials doing a census search (yay for wildcard searches) and sometimes it is absolutely hopeless, and sometimes it's somewhere in between and I find the house by sheer luck and determination.

This is one of the successful searches:
Testimonial letter that appears in the 1923 Bennett Better Built Homes Catalog. Image:
Now to find A. A. MacN in Troy, NY. It wasn't too difficult. The MacN really helped. And here, in the 1930 census is one Albert MacNaughton at 114 Oakwood Ave.

Albert MacNaughton and family 1930 Federal Census.

Okay. I am looking for a Ray H Bennett "Madison." What does a Madison look like?

Bennett Homes "Madison" from the 1920 catalog. Image:
I track down the address to a dowdy four-square with all interesting exterior details erased with vinyl and an enclosed porch. Still recognizable it's definitely a Bennett Madison. The proportions are right and the windows match up with the catalog image.
114 Oakwood Ave Troy, NY courtesy of Google Maps

Doing a search for the address, I came across a real estate listing from 2007 still with photos!

Courtesy of Movoto real estate listing.

Style 680 newel post and Conesus door

Detail from catalog describing Conesus door. Courtesy
Main newell post# 680. (link to catalog page).
Photo courtesy of Movoto real estate listing. 

Style "B" bookcase collonade. (click link to catalog page)
Photo courtesy of Movoto real estate listing. 

Style "B" bookcase collonade. (click link to catalog page)
Photo courtesy of Movoto real estate listing. 
Mr. MacNaughton's letter appeared in catalogs #21 (1922), #24 (1923), #30 (1925), and #34 (1926)