From the Sears catalog to the historic sites list

October 31, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Think of historic sites in Howard County, and pre-Civil War-era homes in Elkridge and the 172-year-old Savage Mill come to mind.

But last week a 1921 prefabricated house in Ellicott City joined the more than 600 historic homes, bridges and monuments on the county's historic sites list.

"It's an important part of Americana," said Ellicott City developer L. Earl Armiger, who is buying the four-bedroom house, a product of a Sears, Roebuck & Co. mail-order catalog.

The box-like house with dormer windows in the 3900 block of Old Columbia Pike outside historic Ellicott City is a rare example of a "catalog home," said County Councilman Darrel Drown, who nominated the house for inclusion on the inventory.

"We think it's one of the few remaining" Sears houses in the county," Mr. Drown said.

Another Sears home in historic Ellicott City is owned by Frank and Mattie Taylor, who praised the craftsmanship of their 1920 house in the 3500 block of Church Road.

"It has nice big beams," said Mrs. Taylor, whose husband's grandparents built the home 74 years ago. "We've never had a crack anywhere."

Mr. Armiger and his wife, Mary, will use the $350,000 house they are buying as an investment property.

According to a reproduction of a 1910 Sears catalog, building materials for the house cost $861 and could be assembled for about $2,000.

Between 1908 and 1940, Sears manufactured and sold thousands of the prefabricated homes through its mail-order catalog. Components of the houses were shipped by railroad throughout the nation and assembled on site.

In Howard County, the pre-cut homes arrived at the B&O Railroad Station on Main Street in Ellicott City and were transported by horse and wagon to various sites, where local craftsmen assembled them.

"In the early part of this century, Sears, Roebuck was one of the major suppliers" of homes, Mr. Armiger said. "There were not homebuilders building volume housing like there are today."

The house is historically significant also because it exemplifies the transition from rural farmhouses to the modern subdivisions of post-World War II, said Mr. Armiger, who has done research on Sears homes since encountering the Old Columbia Pike house earlier this year.

"As people lived further and further away from the city, merchandising companies provided housing through mail order," Mr. Armiger said. "This was a very unique joining of merchandising and housing" industries.

Including the current owner, Sal Casciaro, three families have lived in the white-shingle house over the past 73 years.

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