Historic kit homes sprinkled throughout Northeast Michigan | News, Sports, Jobs


Courtesy Photo
This photo provided by Bruce Michaud shows the Alpena Trinity Episcopal Church rectory, a kit home, at 135 S. 1st Ave.

ALPENA — Across America for the better part of the 20th century, the nation experienced significant population growth around cities and major urban regions.

With the nation’s 1900 population just above 76 million soaring to a 1950 base of over 161 million, housing needs became an important factor.

During that period, a multitude of kit home manufacturers blossomed across the nation. Many of those firms were located in the Midwest.

Research from the Kit House Hunters website indicated a number of communities with significant numbers of kit homes. Those ranged from Hyattsville and Tacoma Park, Maryland to Hampton Manor, Ossining, and Yonkers, New York.

In Michigan, major kit home communities are located in Ann Arbor, Berkley, and Waterford.

Courtesy Photo
This photo provided by P.H. Hoeft State Park shows a Sears or Aladdin kit rental cabin at Presque Isle County’s P.H. Hoeft State Park.

Andrew Mutch of Kit House Hunters said metropolitan Cincinnati appears to have the nation’s most significant Sears Home concentration.

The kit home consumer viewed a multi-page print catalog to shop for a home, cottage, garage, or barn. In most instances, the kit home was delivered to cities and villages via a railroad line. The do-it-yourself project arrived on a railcar with all the needed components from lumber, bricks, roofing, nails, and electrical and plumbing fixtures to paint and other important construction items.

With the how-to instructions, the builder had all the items numbered so he or she knew what connected to what and went where. Some might relate it to a Lincoln Log or Lego set from their youth, but on a much larger scale,

In Michigan, there were a number of significant kit home manufacturers located in Bay City. The more well-known national kit home distributors of Sears and Montgomery Ward were located in Chicago, Illinois.

A unique company was Columbus, Ohio-based Lustron Homes. Their design was large exterior and interior steel panels bolted together. The panels were similar to those used on White Castle restaurants. Research indicated there is a Lustron Home in St. Ignace at 100 Truckey Street.

Kit homes ranged from 700-plus-square-foot, one-story residences to 2,000-square-foot-plus. Less land purchase and utility needs, 1920 and 1930 catalogs showed kit homes’ base prices generally ranged from $2,000 to $10,000.

Research revealed Northeast Michigan offers a large number of kit homes. Most of those were from the Sears, Aladdin, and Liberty manufacturers. The majority were constructed in the 1920s and into the 1950s.

In some instances, current owners were aware their home was a kit, but could not accurately identify the manufacturer.

In Presque County’s P.H. Hoeft State Park is a rental cottage. In a conversation with Samantha Freel of the park and Mary Ann Heidemann, of Rogers City, they both believe the cottage is a kit home designed either by Sears or Aladdin.

Records indicate the structure was constructed in the late-1920s and most likely underwent expansion in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The Camp Michigan and Michigan Department of Natural Resources websites state the wooden structure, with three bedrooms, is a Sears Rodessa model.

In Rogers City at 376 E. Orchard Ave. is a bungalow-style residence owned by Karen and Terry Larson. The Larsons stated their home is a 1920s Sears Osborn model. In describing their home, they especially liked the design and placement of their fireplace. They stated that, when they took possession of the home in 1998, the fireplace was never used. With chimney improvements, they put the fireplace to full use.

“The wooden floors and trim were untouched and in pristine condition,” Karen Larson said. “With the exception of new cabinets, countertops, and plumbing fixtures, the kitchen and main washroom remain original.”

Terry Larson now uses the former sunporch area as his office space.

Doug McDonald and his wife, Jane, reside at 7344 Smith Road in Millersburg. He offers the account of his grandfather having a kit home delivered in 1922 by the Detroit and Mackinac Railroad to this Millersburg site.

Constructed was a 24-foot-by-30-foot, two-story home. In 1933, a 16-foot-by-20-foot kitchen and washroom were added to the home. When 1938 arrived, the Rural Electric Authority brought power to the residence, replacing the home’s carbide gas lights,

In Alpena at 135 S. 1st Ave. is Trinity Episcopal Church’s rectory. The multi-story wooden residence is currently occupied by the Rev. Bill McClure and his wife.

According to former church Rector Bruce Michaud, who resided in the home from 2002 to 2008 with his wife, Maggie, “The apparent Aladdin Homes residence was built in 1927.”

They admired the quality of the home’s construction.

“We had a friend come in to do some wallpapering and she was impressed how square the corners were,” he said.

Michaud commented that the home’s entrance offered a majestic wooden stairway set back nearly 20 feet from the front door.

Owned by the City of Alpena, 130 Prentiss St. is now a city park. Former Alpena resident William G. Bunting stated his father, John Bunting, had a Liberty ranch-style residence constructed on that site during 1954 and 1955. At 10 years of age, he helped his father with the home’s electrical wiring.

The younger Bunting commented, “The house was well-insulated and -built.”

On the shores of the Thunder Bay River at 6302 Bolton Road is a single-story Liberty Home. Alpena resident Keri (Grzendzicki) Johns revealed that, in the late 1950s, her paternal grandparents built the kit home on a wooded site. Her husband, Larry, described the residence’s floor plan of approximately 1,000 square feet offering two bedrooms, kitchen, and living area, with a single washroom. Her parents later purchased additional lots and constructed a new home adjacent to the Liberty Home.

The family is in the midst of remodeling the kit home.

At 131 W. Oldfield St. in Alpena resides longtime resident Nancy S. Thompson in a Sears house. The residence is constructed on a former Besser Co. foundry site.

Moving there in 1977, she learned from the deed that the multi-story brick home was built in 1933. It was near a railroad spur which unloaded the kit home. Thompson stated she continues to love the home’s woodwork and comfortable steam heat.

Prior to Thompson occupying the Oldfield Street home, Roger and Lillian Bartlett owned the residence. They, too, loved the home’s quality, coved ceilings, and woodwork, along with the sunroom and full basement.

“When we purchased multiple acres in Ossineke, I wished our lovely kit home could have been put on wheels and moved to this new site,” Lillian Bartlett said.

As a memento of their Oldfield residence, Lillian and Roger obtained scrap construction hardwood from the Sears home and crafted it into a bookcase, which sits in their Ossineke home.

Some followers of the Alpena County, Michigan History Facebook page believe there are several kit cottages located on Alcona County’s Hubbard Lake.

The websites of kithousehunters.com, kithouse,org, and searshouseseeker.com offer a wealth of research information.

In addition, Central Michigan University’s Clarke Historical Library offers extensive information.

There must be many more kit homes across Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency, and Presque Isle counties with stories to tell.

Jeffrey D. Brasie is a retired health care CEO who frequently writes historic feature stories and op-eds. He is a former Alpena resident and resides in suburban Detroit.

Do you live in a kit home? Techniques to identify

∫ In an exposed area such as an attic, basement, or crawl space, look for stamped manufacturer names and or numbers on framing.

∫ Manufacturer stamping may also be found on original plumbing or electrical. For example, on the underside of sinks or bathtubs.

∫ You can visit manufacturer web sites to see if you have similarities of floor plans and exterior design

∫ Wooden millwork may offer shipping labels

∫ Reach out to your local register of deeds to determine if the original deed or building permit might offer insight.

∫ With prior owners or well-established neighbors, inquire if they have any home history knowledge.

∫ Finally, research with local libraries or historical societies.

Source: University of Maryland Research Libraries

Regional U.S. kit homes manufacturers

∫ Aladdin Homes, Bay City, 1906 to 1961

∫ Bennett Kit Homes, North Tonawanda, New York, 1902 to 1935

∫ Lewis-Liberty Catalog Homes, Bay City, 1902 to 1950

∫ Gordon-Van Tine Homes, Davenport, Iowa, 1907 to 1947

∫ Harris Homes. Chicago, Illinois, 1913 to 1960

∫ Liberty Homes and Lewis Manufacturing, Bay City, 1925 to 1973

∫ Lustron Steel Homes, Columbus, Ohio, 1947 to 1950

∫ Montgomery Ward – Wardway Homes, Chicago, Illinois, 1910 to 1931 (subcontracted with Gordon-Van Tine)

∫ Sears Modern Homes, Chicago, Illinois, 1908 to 1940

∫ Sterling Homes, Bay City, Michigan, 1915 to 1971

Source: kithouse.org and kithousehunters.com

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