Sears’ presence in Colorado Springs goes way back — to what may be first kit home in the country
More than 100 years ago, Carey Pelto’s house on West Pikes Peak Avenue was ordered from a Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog — an early version of what would become a nationwide phenomena.
The pale yellow, two-story house in Old Colorado City, purchased by John M. Clear just after the turn of the 20th century, is possibly the first Sears kit home built in the country.
Standing in his kitchen on Friday afternoon, Pelto unfolded a packet of yellowing, faded paperwork labeled in capital letters, “SPECIFICATIONS AND BILL OF MATERIALS FOR MODERN HOME,” with a list of each item purchased and its corresponding code from the Sears catalog. Including materials and labor, the house was expected to cost $2,771.
John M. Clear’s testimonial about his house built from a Sears kit in Colorado Springs. This was first printed in a catalog published in fall 1911 or spring 1912.
Sears wasn’t the first company to sell kit homes, but it was the most prolific.
“Entire homes would arrive by railroad, from precut lumber, to carved staircases, down to the nails and varnish,” says a Sears website documenting the company’s history. “Families picked out their houses according to their needs, tastes, and pocketbooks. Sears provided all the materials and instructions, and for many years the financing, for homeowners to build their own houses.”
Sears filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week, buckling under its massive debt load and staggering losses, raising questions about whether a smaller version of the company that once dominated the American retail landscape can remain viable, or whether the iconic brand will be forced out of business.
Sears, which started as a mail order catalog in the 1880s, has been on a slow march toward extinction as it lagged far behind its peers and incurred massive losses over the years.
“It’s a tribute to the people who lived here before that they kept this stuff around,” Pelto said.
Carey Pelto stands in the living room of his early 1900s Sears, Roebuck and Co. kit home Friday in Old Colorado City. The two-story home on Pikes Peak Avenue was purchased by railroad engineer John M. Clear in 1908 and is believed to be one of the first kit homes — if not the first — sold by Sears.
He found references to a man named John Clear of Colorado Springs buying the country’s first Sears kit house, but the date the house was built appears to predate the time Sears kit homes were first produced.
El Paso County assessor’s records say the house was built in 1908, but according to Pelto, the deed says 1910.
More than 100,000 homes were sold from 1908 to 1940 through the mail-order Modern Homes program, the Sears website says. The first specialty catalog for houses, the “Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans,” was issued in 1908, featuring 22 styles ranging from $650 to $2,500. The first bill of materials was sold for a complete Modern Home in 1909.