Foursquare houses: shipped to you in 30,000 pieces from Sears Roebuck

July 25 | Guest post by Rachel
House Under Construction
Photo by pixlfarmer. Used under Creative Commons license.
Foursquare. Popular recess game. Geographic announcement application. American classic. This is your Architectural Minute.

Time-travel back to the 1890s. You're in the heart of the Industrial Revolution and part of a growing middle class. The economy is recovering from depression and you've been hired at a new corporation in the big city. You are going to relocate, and you'll be sharing your new home with your in-laws, who have just immigrated from Europe. Turns out a lot of people are in your shoes and housing hasn't yet been built for this influx of city dwellers. Hey, I have an idea. You can mail order a no-fuss, pre-cut Foursquare!

Oh! You'll love this. The Foursquare is symmetrical and uncomplicated; it's pure geometry. A cube with a pyramid on top. These are post-Victorian times. No more irregular roofs or rambling floor plans with excessive hallways and stairways. Ornate is out. The Foursquare promises "honest" woodwork throughout; no frills.

Your city lot is small, but you'll maximize its potential with the Foursquare's space-efficient design. Two and half stories and a wide single story porch. Four is the number of equal sized rooms on the 1st and 2nd floor. You've also got a full basement and attic space built out with a dormer. Just select one of 20 designs in the Sears Roebucks catalog and your 30,000 piece home will be delivered by rail in two boxcars.

These homes will rapidly fill cities, suburbs and farms up until the late 1930s. Rest assured that your home will survive as a testament to fine American craftsmanship.

Time to time-travel again, a century later. The Foursquare is a comfortable boxy specimen on America's historic street-scape. Not overly fancy, but rich in woodwork and sporting sweet-ass porches for kickin' back and drinking lemonade.

  1. my Dad and I are a bit obsessed with Kit Houses, he even has a Sears catalog. Its awesome!

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  2. many tobacco farmers around my area purchased Sears & Roebuck kit homes to house their workers back in the day. A few are still standing, in dismal condition, but are still cool to venture into!!

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  3. I stayed in a Sears Roebuck house in E. Oregon from the 1800s which has been turned into a bed and breakfast. It was super charming. But the biggest bonus….. we were the only guests that night. I got to check out all the rooms!

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  4. Does anyone have pictures of what one of these four squares looks like today?

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    • I'd love to see how people have customized these over the years!

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    • Click the photo link in this article and it'll take you to a user's photo stream – and her updated foursquare. Or I'm sure a Flickr search will provide you with more Foursquare photos!

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      • Oh, I've seen these here in NJ! I remember the distinctive 4-windowed dormer. I had no idea they were kit houses!

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  5. My house is a Sears catalogue house from the 1930s or so!

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  6. i LOVE sears kit houses! there are only a few left in our city, and each one of them are so spectacular! love this post!

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  7. My husband's grandmother bought a Sears house for her family. Not a Foresquare, that's much too frilly for a working class family in the south, but a decent block house with porch and dug-out basement.

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  8. Just to clarify – foursquares were not always kit houses (like that flickr link posted above by Beth – that's more Arts and Crafts style) and not all kit houses were foursquares.

    Pardon my particular form of geek. I like reading old books full of house plans. ^.^

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    • True! I read one of the main ways to know if your foursquare was a kit house is by the numbering system on the studs in the wall! Or if the original hardware remained, it would be branded all the same from the original company, or you might have a paper trail.

      Old foursquares seem like massive sleeping giants. I was very surprised to learn they could be delivered by rail and built from a kit. They term 'kit house" doesn't seem like it would offer much in lasting quality.

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  9. I was born in a foursquare! Well, and then lived there until going to college. Something to sadly take into consideration… unless additions were made, that 8 room house does not include a toilet room, so one of the bedrooms was usually converted into a bathroom. :-D These houses are seriously nice. Lots of craftsman details, my parents' house has double size doorways between the hall, living room, and dining room, with big wooden columns. Very nice.

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  10. We live in a brick foursquare that was not a kit, and it's pretty faboo. I read in that Field Guide to American Houses or whatever that foursquares were great when housing developments were first happening because you didn't need an architect!

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  11. I bought a Four Square home in Jackson MI last year and although I'm an antiques nut, I knew nothing about them. My realtor knew nothing, the neighbors knew nothing. I was just starting on a mind bending trip through time. Now I tell every one about them I don't want the city to raze them! Jackson has hundreds of them each with unique features. But I can't find out if they are true kit homes (They don't have markings on the wood) or if they were built by local manufacturers for their workers. I 've gotten a local historian and a reporter involved. It is so much fun. Any info would be appreciated.

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