Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward (which for some reason in Montana we called “Monkey Wards”) catalogs were a staple in my childhood. When back-to-school came around, I could order one piece of clothing — usually a cardigan sweater set.
The rest of my time with the catalogs was spent paging through the pet section where you could order anything from a golden hamster to a monkey. I was sure if I begged hard and long enough that my parents would order me a donkey or a “trained pony with a saddle” (I thought that its coming with a saddle was a good angle) with a price tag of about $300. That never happened.
Sears, which began as a mail-order business for watches and jewelry, offered its first catalog in 1886. The company grew rapidly by selling a wide range of merchandise at reasonable prices to residents of small towns (like my hometown) where retail outlets were limited. At its peak, the Sears catalog offered over 100,000 items on 1,400 pages and weighed 4 pounds! It has been said, “Sears taught Americans how to shop” and became a symbol of American capitalism.
Indeed, beginning in 1908, the company offered its boldest product line ever: houses. Continuing until 1940, dozens of “kit homes” were highlighted in the Sears Modern Homes Catalog. A customer could select from models such as The Woodland, The Sherburne, The Alhambra or The Magnolia with price tags ranging from $600 to $6,000. The kits came on rail cars with all precut framing lumber and everything else needed to build the home down to the doorknobs. Sears promised that with only rudimentary carpentry skills, the new homeowner could put the kit together in less than 90 days.
I have a friend who always identified their home in Murtaugh, Idaho, as a “Sears” house. It sat close to the railroad tracks, which makes sense because that is how the kit arrived. Her home was No. C102, The Hamilton, which originally sold for $1,379.00. She says of the home, “I loved that house; it felt like a mansion. It wasn’t perfect or glamorous, but it was to me. I loved the front porch and the balcony. It stood the test of time. With all the strong winds we’d get, it always felt solid.”
My first idea of writing about Sears houses came to me because I was told there was one on Highway 20 here in Mazama. However, I was not able to confirm that it was. In my investigational manner, I learned that there was a Sears house on the Cassal Ranch that was eventually torn down. Winthrop resident Terry Karro Maves lived in the house at one point. She said that Calloway Cassal, who owned the property and built the house, identified the model as “The Hollywood.”
The Hollywood sold for $2,351.00. The ad in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog described the house: The charm and homelike aspect of this bungalow will appeal to you. It has received honorable mention in leading architectural magazines. The arrangement of the rooms conforms to approved bungalow style.
The kit included all the material to build the six-room house including mill work, lumber, lath, shingles, flooring, porch ceiling, finishing lumber, buffet, kitchen cupboard and medicine case, building paper, eaves trough, down spout, sash weights, hardware and painting material.
Another Winthrop resident, Mary Pat Bauman, lived down the road from the Cassal Ranch Sears house in year 2000. At that time, a dude-riding program was operated out of the ranch house property. The wrangler who ran it, Stephanie Anderson, introduced Mary Pat and her husband, Rick, to riding. She has fond memories of sitting on the front porch with a cold beer and listening to the chamber music festival coming from the nearby barn.
During this time, Merrill Corporation owned the house and property as well as Freestone Inn. Stephanie operated a sleigh ride program for the Freestone. She hooked up Herb and Hank, a Percheron/Quarter Horse team, and took guests from the Inn to the old house for cocoa and cookies.
When Merrill sold the 1,200 acres to the Trust for Public Lands and a few parcels were privately purchased, The Hollywood met its demise, leaving only memories of Richard Sears’ vision of middle class families moving into new houses they built themselves and, of course, filling the houses with new things bought from Sears. Brilliant.