In the early 1990s the Town of Herndon’s Heritage Preservation District was accepted into the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Register of Historic Places.
The Heritage Preservation District (sometimes referred to as the Historic District) is a geographic area in the town of Herndon that was created in the 1980s for the purpose of protecting its remaining historic structures, some of which had been previously lost to demolition in earlier years. However, the maxim “not everything old is historic” was widely accepted.
Under a grant from the Virginia Department of Historic resources, Frazier Associates from Staunton, Virginia, was hired by the town to conduct an architectural survey of the historic properties within the town limits. According to the town’s Heritage Preservation Handbook, the findings of that survey indicated that “of the 245 properties that were surveyed, 83% of them were considered contributing to the historic character of the community.” Also, “All of these structures were constructed between 1855 and 1940, but the majority was built from 1890 to 1920.” It was from this survey information that the town’s historic district was determined.
The registration form to the National Register of Historic Places was written in 1990. Within that form, four Sears and Roebuck homes were identified: 647 Spring St., 908 Elden St., 652 Jefferson St., and 691 Monroe St.
Additionally, in 2001, Kathryn Holt Springston, a Smithsonian Sears house expert, made a presentation about Sears homes to the Herndon Historical Society. In her presentation she identified two other homes in Herndon that are Sears homes: 1010 Grant St. and 644 Spring St.
The Sears, Roebuck and Company was formed when Richard Warren Sears and Alvah C. Roebuck joined forces in the 1880s. By the 1890s, their catalogs were commonplace in American homes. The Sears, Roebuck and Company had a Sears Modern Homes program in which they sold pre-cut kit homes between 1908 and 1940 by mail order via their Sears, Roebuck and Company catalogs. They sold between 70,000-75,000 homes, offering a wide range of sizes and architectural designs. They had a selection of approximately 400 different designs ranging from small bungalows costing $450 to large two story homes priced at $4500. Sears also offered kit barns and out houses. These kit homes usually saved the homeowner between $500 and $2,000.
These home kits were typically shipped by railroad box cars, a convenience for Herndon residents, since a railroad bisected our town. The shipments not only contained the lumber but also contained other supplies such as the nails, paint, shingles and a detailed instruction manual. In the early years they even shipped foundation materials, such as brick or concrete with a concrete block making machine. Once the kits arrived, the homes were often times assembled by the homeowners, friends and relatives, or by hired contractors.
There are no “typical” Sears houses since the company offered so many styles. Some claim that there are different ways to identify a Sears house. Some of those ways may include: every piece of wood in a Sears house is numbered, so homeowners could look for stamped letters/numbers on exposed beams, joists or rafters in their basement, crawl space or attic; the back of millwork (such as, moldings and trim) might have shipping labels: Plumbing fixtures might be marked “SR” (Sears Roebuck) or “R;” and, the house must have been built between 1908 and 1940.
However, one historian, preservationist and Sears home expert warned that not all of those identification techniques may be accurate. Springston said:
“Sears sold almost everything in their stores and catalogues — including fixtures and wood. Therefore, even if you found a sticker marked SR or R, all you know is that that piece came from Sears — it has nothing whatsoever to do with a kit house. I have found there are only a few certain ways to positively identify a kit house. One is to do a deed search and hope they noted the architecture as Sears. And the other is to measure it, as all kits were precut; all houses of the same model (of the same year, etc.) are going to be the exact same size! Of course, you have to allow for renovations, etc.”
Regarding the Herndon Sears homes that were identified in Herndon’s 1990 National Register of Historic Places application, 647 Spring St. was built circa 1918-1927 and is an example of an American Foursquare style home. It is a simple frame, two-story home with a front porch with Doric columns and hipped roof.
The home at 908 Elden St. is a one-and-one-half-story Craftsman style bungalow home that is listed as being “reputed” to be a Sears home. It was built around 1920-1930. It has triangular roof braces, nine-over-one sash windows, brown shingles and Doric porch supports.
The home at 652 Jefferson St. is another Craftsman style bungalow, recorded as a “documented” Sears house. It was built around 1930. It has a gable roof with a wide overhang and triangular decorative brackets. The exterior walls have decorative stick-style framing. The entire house was reported to have been preserved in very original condition.
The home at 691 Monroe St. was built circa 1890-1915. It is symmetrical two and half story house, described as being vernacular Victorian. This former home now houses the American Carpet & Rug store.
As mentioned, Springston also identified two other Sears homes. One was 1010 Grant St.. This home was built circa 1908-1920 and is described as being a “Maytown” model Sears house. The other Sears home she identified was 644 Spring St. This English cottage home was built circa 1933-1934 and is described as being a “Lewiston” model.
An OoCities.org website identifies 640 Spring St. as being a possible Sears home built circa 1920-1924, called the Robinson House. The website said, “Although the design does not match any of the [Sears] ‘modern home’ plans that were sold in the 1920’s, there are many details such as the breakfast nook and kitchen, including a table and benches, which … suggest that it may have been a Sears house (or that it may have been built using blueprints from Sears).”
The Town of Herndon is lucky to have several Sears homes, and we may have even more than we know about. These homes represent a unique aspect of early 20th century American history. If you live in a documented Sears home in the Town of Herndon, please contact the Herndon Historical Society at HerndonHistoricalSociety@gmail.com.
About this column: “Remembering Herndon’s History” is a regular Herndon Patch feature offering stories and anecdotes about Herndon’s past. The articles are written by members of the Herndon Historical Society. Barbara Glakas is a member. A complete list of “Remembering Herndon’s History” columns is available on the Historical Society website at www.herndonhistoricalsociety.org.
The Herndon Historical Society operates a small museum that focuses on local history. It is housed in the Herndon Depot in downtown Herndon on Lynn Street and is open every Sunday from noon until 3:00. Visit the Society’s website at www.herndonhistoricalsociety.org, and the Historical Society’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/HerndonHistory for more information.
Note: The Historical Society is seeking volunteers to help keep the museum open each Sunday. If you have an interest in local history and would like to help, contact HerndonHistoricalSociety@gmail.com.