Thanks to the Internet, you can buy just about anything online and have it shipped to you in a few days or less.

The process is reminiscent of the early 1900s when people turned to mail-order catalogs to find things to buy. And — amazingly, for the time — they could even order homes via catalog.

Sears, once America’s largest retailer, was just one company that sold homes this way.

In its first catalog in 1888, Sears sold watches and jewelry. The catalogs proved to be popular, and over time different products were added and tested — including houses.

The Sears Modern Homes catalog debuted in 1908, and it offered all the material and blueprints needed to build a house. The pieces that arrived in the mail were meant to fit together sort of like Legos, so buyers could build the houses themselves or hire contractors.

Sears was not the first company to offer mail-ordered “kit homes,” but by the time the catalog was discontinued in 1940, Sears is estimated to have sold between 70,000 and 75,000 houses.

This Reddit user, who goes by the username RealHotSauceBoss, has been repairing his grandfather’s old house when he discovered the paperwork confirming that his grandpa’s own house was purchased from a Sears catalog in 1916.

The papers revealed so much fascinating information, not just about the house itself, but about how this process of mail-ordered houses was done.

As it turned out, the Sears catalog had a variety of house types to pick from. It was possible to buy everything from a bungalow to a multi-story townhouse. You could place a cash mail order once you’ve decided on a style. The house would then be brought to you in components, which would be carried to you via horse-drawn wagons, complete with pre-drawn drawings and pre-cut materials.

That sounds like an amazing way to build a house! And shockingly ahead of its time; it kind of sounds like a 21st-century type of scheme. Why did this system become extinct?!

According to Atlas Obscura:

The Sears Archives indicate that roughly 75,000 mail-order homes were sold between 1908 and 1940. The house of the Reddit user’s grandpa appears to be a “Model No. 137,” which went for about $1,200 in 1916. That equates to $27,000 in 2016, which is pretty extraordinary.

RealHotSauceBoss is working hard to restore the unique old mansion 100 years later. He claims that, despite its age, the house is in relatively decent condition.

He shared on Reddit, “It has held up remarkably well, all things considered,“Obviously the wood wasn’t treated back then so the exterior was in rough shape, but the house was structurally sound. To preserve the interior we essentially had to build a shell of HardiePlank over the old exterior, then we put storm windows over the original windows. The original roof was unrecoverable due to wear and leakage, so it was completely replaced. The basement is in unbelievably good shape considering that cement is a century-old! It continues to be a really interesting project.”

With the exterior almost completely renovated, it’s time to start working on the inside of the house, which is posing much more of a challenge than the outside did.

“We’re going to start working on the oven as soon as we can figure out how to get it back in the kitchen,” he wrote. “It’s cast iron and weighs several hundred pounds. The staircase to the basement is very narrow and we have no clue how it got down there.”

According to REalHotSauceBoss, the response to the project and the historical property on Reddit has been “amazing,” and he will continue to update his work online as he renovates the house. We’re looking forward to seeing what fresh discoveries he’ll inevitably make!

Sources: Sharesplosion, Atlasobscura, Npr

 

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  1. Original Anna

    I live near an old city and when shopping in it, it is fascinating watching these old houses one by one attracting young families putting their time and love into renovating these old houses. For years the darn city politicians would just tear down the houses because someone was kicked out due to not being able to keep up with the taxes and ending up in welfare nursing homes, etc., etc. The city ended up with rat infested bare fields used for garbage. A businessman showed up five years ago seeing a golden opportunity building a business. He worked with banks and the city’s new mayor and offered mortgages that would go to anyone willing to renovate old homes of their choice. Had to be a single family, no developers. The mortgages were cheaper and you got just as much money as for a brand new house. They could renovate themselves or hire a contractor. When they finished with their first tax payment the land was retitled to the family living inside the city on really prime land now and near stores and a brand new school system of new buildings and city playgrounds. The houses are large with rooms all over the place due to the original large families the houses were built for. The families love the space with modern kitchens and bathrooms and laundry rooms. Well some up grading did have to be done. It just needed someone, actually one person willing to work with banks and the city to envision and see the past and the future show up in the old section of the city and the rebuilding is just starting. The three old churches in the section of the city are filled with families again who are working on renovating the churches too with their spires and beautiful windows all cleaned, just adds to the neighborhood. One of my sons now lives there and worked his butt off fixing up his home and the furnishings to keep the atmosphere of the house. I love babysitting in his new home. Cities can be fixed for families to live in with the right leaders.

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