Sears Catalog Homes Come to Life in Virginia’s Eastern Shore
Few places within the U.S. are as remote as the Eastern Shore of Virginia. A four hour drive from Baltimore, or a long and pricey toll bridge ride from the Hampton Roads, that thin strip of land happily takes you back a few decades to a simpler time when the only Amazon was in Brazil and homes were priced in the four-figure range. One of the highlights of the Eastern Shore is Cape Charles, a hamlet home to about 1100 residents nestled upon the Chesapeake Bay. Rustic sand dunes and calm waters make for gorgeous scenery and are inviting to those who crave beach life but not the attitude that comes with it. A short walk away are several blocks of stately homes, many of which are now summer rentals. Georgian, neoclassical, and Romanesque brick architecture greet curious visitors who can find shade in the towering magnolias that beg you to sit under them and sip lemonade. For me the highlight of Cape Charles were the Sears Catalog homes. Before Amazon.com and Home Depot, Sears Catalogs brought goods, services, and home improvement projects to Americans who lived in far flung rural areas. In the thirty years before World War II, Sears had over 350 designs of pre-fabricated homes that could be assembled piece by piece with the assistance of a 75 or so page manual.
One of the homes is 3 Randolph Avenue (pictured below), a bungalow built from a ready-to-assemble kit that would have made Ikea shoppers blush. Exposed rafters and brackets at the eaves are among the distinguishing features.
A block away is 109 Randolph Avenue (pictured above, click to expand), a home that would blend in well in Baltimore’s Roland Park or Los Angeles’s Hancock Park, but this brick Sears Catalog bungalow boasts stained glass windows with amazing wood details.
These homes’ understated beauty is a lesson from which we can learn even today. Prefabricated homes can be beautiful, customized, easy on budgets, and efficient. Imagine being able to order one on Amazon.com.
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