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The Importance of Historic Designation

Sears Kit Homes in La Bertha Lawn Neighborhood of Melbourne, FLorida
Written by Lesa N. Lorusso

Historically Designated Sears Kit Home in La Bertha Lawn Neighborhood in Melbourne, Florida. Photo by Lesa N. Lorusso

It may seem that planned subdivisions and prefabricated homes were an invention of the 1950’s. Although the cookie cutter technique of community planning proliferated during the mid-century era, the true origins of planned communities in Florida actually predate Twinkies and Spam by several decades.

Florida, in fact, is the location of a few of America’s first fully planned communities. Why Florida? In a 1925 book, “The Truth about Florida”, author Charles Donald Fox explains that the early twentieth century boom in Florida eclipsed all other mass migrations, including the California Gold Rush in 1849 (2). In south Florida, Coral Gables was created in 1925 to include residential and commercial areas all built in the Mediterranean style, and now houses the historic Biltmore Hotel and nine properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places (3). Another planned neighborhood was built during the same time period on the eastern coast of the state in Melbourne, Florida known as the La Bertha Lawn subdivision.

Nestled behind the revitalized Historic Downtown Melbourne district, is the La Bertha Lawn neighborhood. Like Coral Gables near Miami, this area is a planned community built in 1924, just 31 years after Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway chugged its way into the Sunshine State. Many of the homes in La Bertha Lawn between 1908-1940 were Sears Kit Homes. 1908-1940 were the years that Sears made prefabricated homes that could be selected from a catalogue and purchased, “lock stock and barrel”, ready to be assembled on site. (…and you thought Home Depot and Lowe’s started the DIY revolution?!) The homes were shipped via railroad and contained 10,000-30,000 pieces with framing members marked to facilitate construction (2). Built on Sear’s reputation of quality, low prices and reliability, nearly 75,000 catalog homes were sold between 1908 and 1940 in 48 US states.

Image Top: Vernacular Sketch, Image Lower: Bungalow Sketch

In 1991, the State of Florida had 29 homes in the La Bertha neighborhood surveyed. Based on data collected from these surveys, there are over 6 different architectural styles in the community. The most prevalent styles are Frame Vernacular and Craftsman style or Bungalow homes (2). I recently visited a bungalow home within this subdivision on Palmetto Avenue that is proud to be a newly minted, historically designated example of a Sears Kit Home (4).

Photo by Lesa N. Lorusso
The owner of this home, Susan Miller, is an Interior Designer who has lovingly restored her property over the years and is overjoyed with the historic recognition. It was no easy task to obtain the designation proudly displayed on the front of the house that she purchased in 2002. The Sears Company sustained a major fire, which destroyed many records from the first part of the twentieth century. Also, the Sears Kit homes were very customizable making exact matches often difficult to ascertain. Ms. Miller strongly suspected that her bungalow was a Sears Kit Home for several reasons. The neighborhood’s architectural history and the home’s bungalow style were early clues. The deed to the home dates to 1930, and a neighbor insists that the home actually existed before 1930. In any case, this home was built of the style and in the time frame of Sears Kit homes. (Between 1908-1940) Next, the multi story home’s floor plans match very closely to a style known as “The Gordon” found on page 149 in the book Houses By Mail by K. Stevenson and H. Jandl. Lastly, enough of the original architectural features were also still present in the home including doors, hardware and metal roofing that Susan contacted the Melbourne Historic Preservation Board to inquire about her home’s official designation.

Photos by Lesa N. Lorusso

Thanks to the significant research efforts of Ed Browder from LittleJohn Engineering the home’s historical significance is now confirmed. This is a significant win for Susan Miller and for others passionate about maintaining historic homes and revitalizing older neighborhoods. As the economic winds shift over time, neighborhoods go in and out of vogue. An area that is now the “it” designation boasting the newest and best homes may be a run-down location in fifty year’s time. Official historic designations are emblems proudly displayed on building façade’s that declare the importance and validity of the structure and encourage others to join in the cause.

1. For more information about Sears Kit Homes visit: www.searsarchives.com
2. Powerpoint Presentation, “Sears Modern Homes in Melbourne Floriday. LittleJohn Engineering Associates. April 17, 2012.
3. http://www.citybeautiful.net/index.aspx?page=324
4. Interview with Susan Miller, Sept 6, 2012

37 Responses

  1. Loriann DeMello

    I think this is one of the coolest things ever. I grew up in Westport, Massachusetts. It’s a small town near New Bedford and Fall River, which have many historic landmarks. Westport is a small beach and farm town, including gorgeous brand new million dollar homes to old, historic homes that are equally as beautiful. The house I grew up in was about 100 years old when we bought it. It really was a gorgeous home, and it was a treat living there. My Mom was always fixing things up and redecorating. My friends and I used to pretend it was haunted, while my Mom’s friends always talked about different aspects of it and how they would renovate and redecorate. After we sold it we had found out that where our home was located was not the original location; it actually came from across town and was picked up and moved! I can imagine how Mrs. Miller must love living in a historic home, for me growing up it really was a treat. It was much more fun than living in one of the newer homes.

  2. Joseph Hemler

    It is amazing that in the early 20th century people were able to order a house in pieces to their property. I had no idea that kit homes were invented that far back. The homes came in pieces ready to assemble to your property, There were many different styles of home to choose from out of a Sears catalogue.

    The fact that some of these kit homes are still standing today and are in great condition is unbelievable. I would think these houses would have been built as cheaply as possible but they have stood the test of time.

    I would like to know about the engineering that went into designing these “kit homes” and how many engineers worked on the first prototype. Kit homes are still available today and widely used.

    I think it is awesome that Susan Miller took the time and effort to restore her property. Unless I was told I would have never guessed that her home was ordered from a catalogue. it looks like a well designed an comfy home.

  3. Daniel MacLeod

    This is a very interesting topic and there is definitely a lot to learn from this information. The fact that the migration to Florida in the early twentieth century was larger than all of those more famous migrations is kind of hard to believe. I have never been to these neighborhoods that have been mentioned, but the way I see it in my eyes is that a lot of these houses would look the same. I mean apparently a good majority of the houses built in these neighborhoods, or at least in La Bertha Lawn, were the Sear’s Home Kit houses. I have a hard time thinking that even though they give you the option of “customizing” your home, a home that comes in a box already telling you how to build the house does give you much wiggle room to make it your own, without screwing up the whole house and it’s structure. With that out there, I feel like the Sear’s Home Kit took away the art and joy of architecture, the option to take a pre-made home is taking away the art. I know that the Sear’s Home Kits are a major bookmark in the very brief history of American architecture, but it is diminishing the pride that America has in their unique buildings. Now that the homes are “historic”, it makes me feel like there is a false sense of pride within American architecture. You look at the architecture in Europe and how unique it is, and how the country takes pride in that work, I find it hard to take pride in pieces of architecture that came in a box.

  4. Abdulaziz AlQahtani

    Just thinking of a house that comes to a kit, I still somehow can’t believe they use to do that back than. I was born in raised in Saudi Arabia, and form their history about architecture and engineers, we had really good engineers who managed to build homes that protects from sand storms and such but never thought of making house kits. However, the fact how people designed these homes in kits and such kind of ruins the historical moment that it builds it reputation due to the fact that these houses wasn’t engineered in a unique style. Although, its amazing how people back in the early 1900’s thought of such a thing where you buy a kit and all you have to do is put the pieces together like a puzzle. The “sears kit” has its positive side but also its negative side. Its positive side is the fact how the houses can be built easily, cheaper, and also it been tested so you would know and also trust it. However, its negative side is that, you can’t actually call it your home cause there isn’t any pride that you had on it, I for my self, can not call my home a home unless I actually designed every piece of it and construct the way I can call my house, a home. Although, I still think its pretty amazing how people can think of such thing back then.

  5. ahmed almazrouei

    It seems that it wasn’t too easy to design and build a house on that time. I would like the Puzzle Game if it would give me a nice home like this one. I couldn’t believe that the kit homes are still there because they were so cheap and they are still standing that is amazing. They are a story of success and hard job because people use to ship them by railroad and they contained 10 to 30 thousands pieces.

    In my opinion, the most important thing about the Kit Homes is that they were movable and so cheap at that time. Also, they were available for more people who can’t buy or built expensive homes. It is nice to have more choices always. I am sure that this choice was not so famous and to many people think bad about it, but at this moment so many people believe on it as a good choice at that time.

  6. Chelsea Pushman

    This is one of the more touching articles I have read on the blog. It is amazing to see that there is appreciation for things in Melbourne, Fl. I have grown up here and all people do is complain. So it is exciting for me to hear that Florida and Melbourne have established some of the first planned communities.

    It is very interesting to learn that homes during the 1900s could be ordered right out of a Sears Catalog! As I sit here reading the blog I am talking to my friend’s mom and she confirmed that her grandmother use to have one, that is so cool! You might think that choosing to make your house from a catalog may not be a strong and sturdy home but it’s amazing that they still stand today!

    It seems that society has moved away from small, simple, durable and reliable to bigger, more technological, more difficult than easy to use and not as durable as things may have been in the past. Homes today are all built mostly the same, unless it is custom designed. Which kind of makes you think….. Homes from the past are more unique than today.

    One last thing…the best part about this article is that the woman’s house was proved to be the style she claimed it to be. I think it is very interesting that we can “prove” what kind of style a home may be without a concrete blue print. I pass by downtown occasionally when I go to the beach, I want to check this community out.

    Thanks for sharing this blog post.

    Chelsea Pushman

    1. Gregory Wostrel

      @ Chelsea, you know, that strange dynamic of locals (natives) to a town being all grumpy about everything is so common. I grew up in a delightfully beautiful town (Gloucester MA) that has so much to enjoy – yet many life long residents would frequently miss the wonderful things right in front of them. Particularly teenagers – but I think that is a universal phenomenon. :-)

  7. Jessica Derrick

    What an interesting concept to be able to choose your home out of a catalogue and have them bring it to you. Although I know some communities today home owners are able to look through optional floor plans and decide on their custom choices; it sounds as if what was happening back then was different than that. I just can’t imagine what it would be like flipping through a catalogue to choose your house.
    I’m sure it was very difficult to renovate the structure while keeping its historic roots. It must have been an amazing accomplishment for her finishing the house and receiving historic recognition. It is important that people continue to put effort into restoring these homes because it is such an interesting piece of history which would be a shame to loose.
    I think the idea of planned neighborhoods taken off since it was first developed, it seems now that every suburb needs to be carefully planned to appeal to future buyers, and to keep current residence in the area. It is very easy for most families to move around until they find the right neighborhood, and this can be very hurtful to surrounding businesses because they will be losing clients. The planned communities lead to a lot of societal changes, and allowed for the development of cities.
    It’s true that communities go through phases, but I think the best communities are those that home owners take pride in their community and their home and allow for it to develop in a positive way.

  8. Lara

    Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that is not a Sears Gordon.

    The Gordon was first offered in 1931. If the home was built before 1931, then it is not a Sears Gordon.

    Additionally, the door is flush on a Gordon. The fenestration on the chimney side is wrong. This house has a clipped gable roof and the Gordon does not have one.

    This is not a Sears model that I recognize.

    www. sears-homes.com

  9. Jessica Hook

    It is amazing to me that something that was bought through a catalog and delivered in thousands of pieces has become something historic in our society. I am sure that there are many homes, especially in this area, that are sears catalog homes. I am from North Carolina, and I do not know of many homes like this, from this time period. I am sure that there are plenty like it all over the United States. There are so many homes all over the country that are the same style as these catalog homes. Over times I am sure that it has just become a very popular style of home and people tended to design their homes to be like these because it was a popular style. Especially if there were many homes that looked like these homes in the area. People tend to copy others if they like what they have or have done.
    I think that in this day in age that buying a home from a catalog would still be very popular because of economic situation the United States is in right now. I am sure that it is less expensive to purchase a kit home than it would be to build and design one from scratch. Although I think that in today’s time people want to be more unique with their homes when they are built or when they are looking to purchase. There are still many communities today where all of the homes look alike and are not able to be told apart. Usually neighborhoods such as things are less expensive to live in because they are not very unique and the home owner is really not getting something special or better than the others that are in the same community.

  10. Gregory Wostrel

    It’s is a fascinating article – I love it.
    My wife and I have vacationed in the area (Titusville) twice in the last year and we saw many quirky, wonderful homes all over, nestled between the sprawling cookie cutter developments that are all to common everywhere (it’s easy to imagine that it is unique to Florida, but there is plenty in Connecticut, where I live now – just more trees and hills to hide them).
    Florida has some wonderful style of its own and it’s a pity that more people don’t see it.
    Thanks, Lesa, for pointing it out in this, and other articles.

  11. Drew Lacy

    Wow, how awesome that Susan Miller was able to confirm the historic relevance of her house! Going from a hunch about the home’s historic origins to proudly displaying its certification on the front wall of the home must have been a very rewarding journey.

    It makes you wonder how many people live and work in historic buildings, but never know. I am a native of the Palm Bay and Melbourne areas and have been through much of the two cities throughout my life, and I wonder how many structures I have passed by without a second thought that have a much greater back story than “Here’s some concrete slabs we threw together.”

    The idea of a “kit home” is interesting, but ultimately not too far off from where we are today. The home I live in now was built a little over ten years ago. Two or three years back, I went to a friend’s house in another part of Palm Bay. When I first came in, something felt very…familiar about the whole affair. It did not take long before I realized that her home had the same exact floor plan as mine!

    So while we no longer purchase these homes from catalogs to assemble ourselves, we do tour other homes to decide upon identical floor plans.

    If Charles Donald Fox were to rewrite his “The Truth About Florida” book today, I wonder what he would have to say about the way modern Florida homes are constructed. Our main focuses have become hurricane proofing and keeping the heat out (and the cold in), but in the process, we have lost some of what can make a home unique.

  12. Amber Maiwald

    My family and I picked one of our houses, so to say, out of a catalog too. We got to choose the style of the house and change the floor plan a little bit to fit our wants. Unlike the Sears Kit Homes that were being purchased between 1908-1940, our home did not consist of 10,000-30,000 pieces and it was not shipped via railroad. It came in about 6-7 parts on semis. The construction workers put the house together in a very short amount of time. It was like they were putting together a children’s jigsaw puzzle. I remember that I found it really awesome to be able to pick our house out of a catalog. That must have been what it was like for the people who got to pick out their Sears Kit Homes. I also find it a little odd that Sears was the main manufacturer of these homes. Today, I think of Sears more as a place to buy tools, not to pick out materials to build a home. Maybe if the Sears Company didn’t have the fire, they would have turned out to be more like a Home Depot or Lowe’s. Because many of the records were burnt, many people probably don’t know that they are living in these kinds of homes. I think that it would be really cool to live in one of these homes not only because it is historical, but also because it would be really cool to say that I live in a Sears Kit Home and then tell people what that means to see the reaction on their faces. I think that this is a really cool idea and I’m glad that this idea still exists to an extent.

  13. Giovana Soares

    Who would imagine that Sears was the one to start the DIY revolution? I actually thought these model homes were pretty interesting and researched a little more about them. The Sears Catalog Homes (also known as Sears Modern Homes) were definitely popular, and they included Sear’s latest technology, like central heating, electricity, pluming, and insulation. They even helped increase fire safety. Sears made more than 370 designs available, but because they offered financing plans, right after the great depression the payments had to go up and people did not keep up with these payments. Unfortunately in 1934 Sears had to liquidate 11 million dollars and in 1940 they closed the Modern Homes Department.
    These homes could easily have their own “mini architectural style” if we could keep track of them. Unfortunately during a corporate house cleaning or a major fire, all documents about the location of the homes were destroyed and now the only way to find these 370 different styles of the houses is to go hunt one by one. And I am happy to know that Susan Miller was able to confirm her home’s historical significance through extensive research. It should be very fulfilling to know that you own something that is part of history, whether is just a house in an older neighborhood, or a pencil that wrote an important letter, or a guitar played by someone famous. Nice post!

  14. Emily Windsor

    Cookie cutter houses are starting to become big in the city near my hometown. My family always makes fun of them because we are from the country and so we like big yards and having a different house compared to our neighbors. I never knew that this was actually considered a technique in architecture; it makes sense now that it would be, but when I first saw them al I saw was houses completely identical so it looked like the all lacked originality, which I thought architecture was all about. It is strange to think that so many things originated in Florida including the “cookie cutter” houses as we call them now. I have never thought about buying my house out of a catalog, my family is kind of against it; they are all builders and they think that buying a home like that will make it more likely to fall apart if it comes with “ready to build on site” anywhere near the name. I find these types of homes different from the norm and I like to look at them, but my family has influenced me a bit into the way of thinking “look but don’t touch” or in this case “look, but don’t buy”. I find it interesting that the La Bertha neighborhood has six different architectural styles because the cookie cutter neighborhoods that are starting to come out back home are all identical and we now have three neighborhoods and all have basically the same homes inside. I am really glad that Susan Miller was able to get the historic confirmation that she wanted.

  15. David Scott

    I had no idea that the true origins of planned communities in Florida were actually innovated before other genius creations as you mentioned such a Spam and Twinkies. This scenario reminds me of the current situation in Palm Coast, Florida, which has been named as one of the most quickly developed cities in the United States. Those statistics used were based on the city’s closely monitored demographics and not just some promotional statement. Just like the La Bertha Lawn neighborhood, Palm Coast was built as a residential specific city with some minor commercial areas for the local businesses. Palm Coast is actually located in Flagler County, which was named after Henry Flagler. This shows another connection of Palm Coast to the article’s comparisons of La Bertha Lawn to Cora Gables.
    I am sure that people in Palm Coast did not buy their homes from some home materials supplier, but a good percentage is prefabricated just like the La Bertha Lawn homes with similar style in architecture related to a mixture of variegated eclectic styles.

    Though, Palm Coast is a fairly new city compared to the age of the homes in the La Bertha Lawn neighborhood, I am sure in a couple of years when prefabricated homes will be a thing of the past, homes such as those will have as much historic significance as Susan Miller’s home. I hope that the prefabrication company does not sustain a major fire catastrophe, but something known would occur that would make the homes seem more than just another suburban area being developed.

  16. Rachel Shoemaker

    The house in this article looks more like a Gordon Van Tine #620. If the homeowner checks her floorplan with that of the Gordon Van Tine #620 I think she will find a much closer match.

  17. Mark Hardin

    Your house looks like a Gordon Van Tine model #620 from the 1927 catalog.

  18. Rachel Shoemaker

    I noticed that the house on the immediate left of Susan’s Gordon Van Tine #620 is a Gordon Van Tine also. It is a model called the Hollandale.

  19. Rachel Shoemaker

    Well, how interesting! I believe you have THREE Gordon Van Tine houses all together. I bet that empty lot had a GVT too. The corner house is a Gordon Van Tine #613 (pg 24 in the 1928 catalog) the garage in the back is a #107 (same catalog page 127). Susan’s house is a #620 like I mentioned last night (same catalog pg 25) and the house on the left is a #539 (same catalog pg102)
    If you can find a Gordon Van Tine catalog from 1928 you can see all of those houses and garage. I would be happy to email you high resolution images otherwise.

  20. Eighty Percent of the People Who Think They Have a Sears House Are Wrong. | Sears Modern Homes

    […] week, friend and indefatigable researcher Rachel Shoemaker discovered a blog about a “Sears House” in Melbourne, Florida. Rachel took one look at the house featured in the blog and realized, it was not a Sears House, but […]

  21. Brevard Kit Home Receives Special Interest

    […] order kit homes read about the kit home featured in the “Florida Preservationist” article “The Importance of Historic Designation” published Jan 6. It seems that the adorable home in the La Bertha Lawn neighborhood near […]

  22. Brock Heruth

    Its so great to read articles that are written about the area where you live. I definitely love that this is a residential home. It makes the project seem so much more personal. Commercial spaces seem to get so complex with regulations and codes that it starts to lose the history. The stories behind these houses are what make them so great. I would much rather know the story about all of the little things in a house than the general story of a whole town. I cant imagine how much work it would take to bring an old home back to its glory days while still maintaining the legal work and structural preservation.

  23. Jennifer Garcia

    I found this article very inspiring, I mean I would have never thought prefabricated homes went back that far in history, not only that but that Sears made them! It’s very fascinating how many designs they had as well. I can’t imagine the adventure it’d be to put together a house with so many pieces, seeing were everything goes or working as one of the craftsmen that puts the houses together and being able to travel from city to city. I find that pretty surprising considering how much Sears has changed over the years (it’s mostly all interior sales now). I can’t imagine how many people would still order their homes if the prices were still reasonable. The house is beautiful and it’s great that Mrs. Miller was able to restore it to its original state and keep its historic purpose alive. The house is great and it’s crazy to even think how many storms it’s withstand and we see newly built houses now a days that are torn down with one storm. That goes to show how sophisticated building was even then, and we think we know it all now that we’re in the future. Planned subdivisions don’t surprise me with the time, even though everyone was migrating I think everyone also yearned for a place to call home and wanted a community.

  24. Justin Champion

    I lived at the corner of Waverly and Melbourne Ave for 7 years so this area has a place in my heart. All the old buildings and homes, it’s the true historic area of Melbourne. The Sears homes have always intrigued me because they were really the beginning of the manufactured home. Its sad that so many of these homes have been modified or torn down. This area of Melbourne is very run down and really needs more people like Susan Miller to buy and restore these beautiful pieces of history and return this neighborhood to its former glory! This restoration process is long and tedious but when finished is worth all the time and hard work.
    These planned neighborhoods are very interesting to study and read about, as they were the first and are the benchmark for where we are today and why we as Americans live in neighborhoods. Its also very interesting that Melbourne was one of these benchmark neighborhoods. The location is strange until you understand that Melbourne Florida is the halfway point from Jacksonville and Miami and that the train in the early 1900’s had a huge part to play in the evolvement of this city.
    Melbourne needs to embrace this history and preserve this downtown area and all the older homes in it. They have already been working on the downtown city area and it would be great to see the surrounding areas clean up, preserved and made into something that the people of Melbourne will be proud of!

  25. Corinna

    Lessa after reading your post Brevard Kit Home Receives Special Attention, I now know that this home is not a Sears kit home but a Gordon Van Tine model #620. None the less I still find these mail ordered homes extremely interesting. I never really thought of homes as being built from kits until Hurricane Katrina came along and the cottages-prefab kits were used to replace the FEMA trailers supplied as well as the tiny home kits some people choose to live in due to the lifestyle it provides- with its low impact on the earth’s resources.

    After doing some further research from the resources provided within the post I found some very interesting information on Sears Kit Homes. According to the Sears Archives, “Sears helped popularize the latest technology available to modern homebuyers in the early part of the twentieth century. Central heating, indoor plumbing, and electricity were all new developments in home design that Modern Homes incorporated, although not all of the homes were designed with these conveniences” (searsarchives.com). I personally would love to tour one of these homes just to see all of the original materials used and I think it would be interesting to see the various layouts and styles offered.

    I also looked up the Gordon Van Tine Homes and found these to be quite charming- all of the effort and time it must have taken to create these homes just amazes me. I looked at the catalogs and was really impressed. According to the Gordon Van Tine webpage, “The catalogs themselves were expensive to produce, requiring extensive preparation and specialized printers, particularly for color illustrations. The 140-page catalog was beautifully illustrated with informative descriptions and stylish model homes” (gordonvantine.com).

    Works Cited

    “Gordonvantine.com Home Gallery.” Gordonvantine.com Home Gallery. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2014.
    “What Is a Sears Modern Home?” What Is a Sears Modern Home? N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2014.

  26. Danielle Elkins

    What an interesting article- I honestly never knew such a thing existed! What a neat thought that way back then people could practically order their entire houses from a catalogue and have them shipped right to them. They are such quaint cozy little housed too. It reminds me somewhat of what our modern Ikea is for furniture, how you can look through their catalogue and then have ready to assemble furniture shipped right to your door. I wonder if these kit homes were an affordable option relative to having a home build the more traditional way? I am curious as to what the motivating factor was in people purchasing these homes- was it the ease, the affordability, or just the “fun” factor of being able to look at great pictures in a catalogue and pick which one you liked? I also wander about the durability of these home and their construction? For example, Ikea furniture is known to have great style, and offer something that can’t really be found anywhere else, but they are also known for not having the best quality pieces. I have always loved how Florida (and even Brevard county specifically) has such an abundance of great buildings filled with history and stories to tell. It is very neat that an interior designer purchased and moved into the kit home in Melbourne, and was so passionate about having it researched, recognized, and restored. A very interesting article that showed me something I never knew was out there.

  27. Sandra Fox

    I found this article fascinating, the ability to build your own home from a kit is amazing. I spoke to my 84 year old mother about this, amazed that the materials for an entire home could be delivered right to your doorstep. She assured me it was true! Back then anything and she said I do mean anything could be purchased from the Sear’s catalog, up to and including a brand new put it together yourself home. Understandably it is hard to verify a Sear’s kit home, not only because of the lack of documentation from that era, which was between 1908-1940, for Pete sakes they were busy building their own homes, they certainly didn’t have time to stop what they were doing to officially register their hard work. Also, once it arrived the final construction lie completely in the hands of the new owner. I can just imagine the variations that occurred. These were homes that definitely took on the personalities of their new owners. I’m sure some people followed directions to the tee, reading and rereading everything through thoroughly before even picking up the hammer. Then there are people like me that like to think that directions are just the manufactures suggestion on how to put their product together. I plan on visiting the La Bertha Lawn neighborhood to see for myself these beautiful little homes that were built with love and pride by the owners own hands.These home represent the idea of the American dream becoming a reality for so many people.

  28. Bradley Hoe

    I found this post to rather uplifting. It is nice to see these homes being recognized for their historic value. It is fascinating to learn about the historic homes and sites in Brevard County. I had no idea that one of the first planned communities in the country is located in Melbourne. I find the kit homes from the early twentieth century to be amazing architectural feats. The fact that a home that came in thousands of pieces and could be constructed by a homeowner, if they had construction knowledge, could last almost ninety years in Florida, is amazing to me. However, these homes couldn’t survive it if was not for dedicated individuals like Susan Miller. It is great to see someone who cares so much about preservation that they will spend their time and money making sure it gets the recognition it deserves. Without people like Susan Miller many of these homes would go unrecognized and get torn down to make room for a new housing development or big box store. It makes me wonder about how many other kit homes are out there. As time goes on these homes will have even greater historical significance. They are a reminder of a time when things were built to last. You have to wonder if the homes built today will be around in the next hundred years. The ways things are today are any indication it doesn’t look like that will happen. I just hope that we can learn from the past and preserve more of these homes for future generations to enjoy.

  29. Jeanne Diehl-Shaffer

    I agree with you about the committment that some people have to preserve our past. It is a passion that few have. As resources decline and more awareness to the amount of old building materials being dumped into landfills, I believe more developers/designers/architects will become advocates for preservation and re-use of our old structures.

  30. sabian salkey

    Wow that is crazy that there are kit homes from the 1930’s that are still around. It is also really cool that people like Susan decided to buy them and fix them up so they stay alive. I did not even know that back then you could buy a house from a Sears catalog, have all the parts delivered to you, and then you make it yourself. And that you could even customize the house the way you want as well, if you wanted to, I thought that was really cool too. If only today’s houses were simple enough as to where someone could make it themselves and customize it as well, that would be something. There really isn’t houses that you can buy out of a catalogue like back in the 1930’s but now a days there are similar model house that eventually get used repeatedly. So these customizable made to order kit house would really make everyone’s houses unique. And I am pretty sure if Sears still did this or if Home Depot did this today they would make a lot of money, but then again I am pretty sure a lot of construction business would go out of business as well so there are pluses and minuses on both sides of the scenario. All in all this was an interesting article. I live in Palm Bay but Downtown Melbourne isn’t really that far from where I live, so I actually might try to go over there and take a look at some of the houses in that area.

  31. Tiffiny Ruehman

    I believe that the “cookie cutter” neighborhoods that Florida has tells a story of our progression especially in the 20th century. Historic designation is a critical step in preserving our heritage for the past as well as the future. Some day down the road, a house that we have lived in may be up for designation based on age, and unique style of the period it was built in.
    I love the historic parts of Downtown Melbourne, Eau Gallie, and Cocoa.
    I believe that it is an absolute plus when neighborhoods such as La Bertha Lawn still exist and are being renovated to its otiginal beauty. I can’t even imagine how excited it would be to own and restore it to its proper glory. I especially love the old Framed Venacular style. Maybe some day when my husband and I retire, I will get one of these homes and restore it all to original. That is an absolute dream and passion for me. Sometimes newer isn’t always better.
    Through reading this blog post I also realize how hard it is sometimes to pin-point exact styles and manufacturers of homes. Fires and other natural disasters are usually the cause of the missing documentation that is necessary for verification. It is my hope that with our current technology that researching will become easier for this process. I also hope that we have learned to keep better records so future generations can learn the importance of different architectural styles.
    I really enjoyed reading about this little tucked away neighborhood that is so rich in historic value for my generation and the ones to follow.

  32. amna murshed

    Very interesting topic, I never knew that people could choose and purchase a house from a catalog. The history of Florida amazes me EVERYTIME!!!
    It is fascinating that Florida was one of the first places that people started to plan a whole community, specifically Melbourne. A valuable fact I didn’t know.
    I always love to historic and old places in Melbourne, Cocoa Village, Titusville, and many places in Florida in general. The history is very interesting, from how and why it was built, to where it stands today as a historic reminder of how The USA has progressed.
    I am very fond of the old Framed Venacular style; I believe it has its own personality and it expresses that by its beautiful architectural features.
    Not everyone is interested in historic preservation; that’s why I think its great that Mrs. Susan Miller is interested in restoring her house to its original designation. She was keen to learn about the history about her home; she even contacted the Melbourne Historic Preservation Board. Eventually, Ed Browder from LittleJohn helped Mrs. Susan Miller learn the history about her home and confirmed.
    I think that we should learn to always to keep a backup of important documents and records after losing so many records from the fire that burnt The Sears Company.
    I enjoyed reading the history of the sears kit homes; I hope one day the homes are restored to its beautiful and original purpose and design. also, I am very encouraged to learn more about historic preservation.

  33. Chelsea Patrick

    Personally, when I think of a subdivision or a “cookie-cutter” home, I am automatically turned off. Perhaps it’s because the first homes that come to mind are those that are built today, mirror images of each other and only 5 feet apart. As I’ve been learning, subdivisions of the past are actually quite beautiful and full of character. Kit homes are a perfect example. Coming in a wide variety of styles and layouts, one could find the perfect home for themselves at a relatively inexpensive price. It is great that there are still kit homes being restored today. They are a big part of our past and possibly a model for our future. Recently, I have been interested in researching modern kit homes. I would love to build my own home one day. However, I am passionate about sustainability and would want all the materials to be recycled and LEED approved. I also don’t need a large amount of space. It seems only right to look at kit homes, or homes that have been modeled with these ideas in mind. Imagine if modern kit homes came with sustainable amenities and features, were designed with aesthetics in mind, and also more inexpensive than building a home from the ground up. This would pose a major competition in the housing market and would force people to think about the environment. It would also urge current home owners to follow the trend, and make their existing homes more sustainable. I think the kit homes of the past are gorgeous and also a model for what we could be doing in the future.

  34. Jennifer Scites

    This is a very interesting topic that until reading this article, I didn’t know too much about. I didn’t know that it was possible to customize and purchase a house from a catalog. It amazes me even more how much history we really have in Florida, specifically Brevard County. Even more fascinating is that Florida was one of the first places that people started to plan a community. The fact that these kit homes from the 1930’s remain standing to this day, shows that things back then were built to last and built with pride. These days it seems quantity instead of quality is sadly a way of life for some builders. Kit homes were a stepping stone to building the communities we have in our neighborhoods today. I personally would not want to live in a community because I feel the houses are typically too close to one another and I prefer more land with the houses further apart. I also like that all the kit homes seemed to have their own charm and each one looks unique. Most houses these days in communities look very similar with no character of their own. The house in the article is beautiful and the fact that Mrs. Miller was able to restore it to its original condition and at the same time not lose its historical relevance, is truly amazing. Mrs. Miller took so much pride in her house from start to finish, until finally receiving historic recognition. If only everyone took such pride these days!

  35. Michelle Musick

    This is one of the more touching articles I have read on the blog. It is amazing to see that there is appreciation for things in Melbourne, Fl. I have grown up here and all people do is complain. So it is exciting for me to hear that Florida and Melbourne have established some of the first planned communities.
    It is very interesting to learn that homes during the 1900s could be ordered right out of a Sears Catalog! As I sit here reading the blog I am talking to my friend’s mom and she confirmed that her grandmother use to have one, that is so cool! You might think that choosing to make your house from a catalog may not be a strong and sturdy home but it’s amazing that they still stand today!
    It seems that society has moved away from small, simple, durable and reliable to bigger, more technological, more difficult than easy to use and not as durable as things may have been in the past. Homes today are all built mostly the same, unless it is custom designed. Which kind of makes you think….. Homes from the past are more unique than today.
    One last thing…the best part about this article is that the woman’s house was proved to be the style she claimed it to be. I think it is very interesting that we can “prove” what kind of style a home may be without a concrete blue print. I pass by downtown occasionally when I go to the beach, I want to check this community out

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