Made to Order: Kit Homes in Raleigh
Can you imagine ordering your home from a catalog and having it shipped to you in pieces? Pieces that you were responsible for putting together? Although it seems overwhelming, kit homes, also known as "mail order homes," were a popular option for thousands of families across the nation in the early 20th century.
Sold by familiar retailers such as Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Montgomery Ward, kit homes were unassembled houses that were delivered by boxcar. A set of blueprints and an instruction book accompanied an order, and the lumber was already cut to size and stamped with letters and numbers for the builder to match up. Kit homes reached the height of popularity in the 1920s and today can be found in large cities and small rural towns. The trend significantly impacted the development of residential communities and allowed many the chance of homeownership thanks to its cost- and time-saving measures and the generous financing packages offered by kit home purveyors.
Raleigh has an excellent collection of Sears kit homes, as well as others from Aladdin, Harris Brothers, Montgomery Ward, and Sterling Homes. Several neighborhoods inside the beltline--Cameron Park, Mordecai Place, Boylan Heights, Glenwood-Brooklyn, and Five Points--developed alongside the kit home industry and are dotted with reminders of this uniquely American architectural phenomenon. Curious about where exactly to find Raleigh's kit homes? The exhibit includes a map showing the locations of identified models. You can also view current photographs of our city’s best examples paired with their historic catalog pages.
Co-curated by the museum and the Raleigh Historic Development Commission, Made to Order is currently on display. For further information regarding the exhibit, contact the museum at 919.996.2220.
Can't make it to the museum? Check out this exhibit guide or visit the web sites below for more information!
Sears Archives, learn more about one of the most popular and well remembered kit home sellers
Sears Modern Homes, a blog by kit home historian Rosemary Thornton
National Trust for Historic Preservation Library Collection, courtesy of the University of Maryland
Clark Historical Library, courtesy of Central Michigan University