Alton Historic Kit Homes Tour
Growing in influence in the early 1900’s, the Arts and Crafts Movement began a legacy of architecture and interior design that created gorgeous and practical homes still lived in today. The movement was started by William Morris, an artist and poet who lived in the 1800’s. Morris believed that the revolution of industry was erasing the skilled and expert level of design in architecture and every day products like furniture and household goods. To counter the mass production of cheap goods, the Arts and Crafts Movement was born, placing great emphasis on quality, practicality, and hand-made products built to last.
In 1908, the Sears and Roebuck Company began selling 40 models of kit homes – house plans and building materials that could be pieced together by, according to Sears, “even those with minimal carpentry skills in 90 days.” The kit homes ranged in price from $800- $5000- everything from 1-2 bedroom bungalows to gigantic six bedroom homes complete with servant’s quarters!
The houses came with an up to 75 page instruction booklet, weighed up to 25 tons in materials, and had on average over 30,000 individual pieces including structural pieces, exterior and interior details, built-in furniture, screws and nails, and could, for a higher price, come with heating, plumbing, and electricity! Customers could order and have their entire house delivered by train and had between 24-48 hours to unload the kit- a reason why many kit homes are found within only a few miles from railroad tracks. Kits varied in content, some being simple and others being more extravagant, but the Arts and Crafts Style in which they were made rejected the frivolous decoration and ornamentation of the Victorian era and opted more for cozy, simplified functionality.
The homes were extremely popular with middle class families being affordable, comfortable, and customizable. The original Sears catalogs were geared to advertise to returning World War I veterans and their families. Every detail of the house could be hand-picked from the catalog. Sears sold over 70,000 kit homes and the movement was successful enough Sears named their tool line Craftsman after it. Sears’ success led other companies like Gordon Van Tine, Lewis, Aladdin, Montgomery Ward, Sterling and Harris Brothers to also sell kit homes and Craftsman Style homes popped up across the country.
Craftsman Style homes paid attention to detail. Though the homes were based off similar plans, every structure became unique in its smaller features. Custom windows, fireplaces, brackets, beams, front porches, built-in furniture, doors and doorknobs- even paint- varied from build to build.
There are over 40 kit homes in Alton but, because of lost paperwork and building blueprints, some kit homes are difficult to verify. The Alton Historic Kit Home Tour features addresses and information about 19 Alton kit homes with 10 having original model pictures and information written by Rosemary Thornton. They may be toured by car or walking but are not open to the public and are private residences.
Use this link to download the Alton Kit Homes Tour
Follow these links for more information on Craftsman-Style houses and the Arts and Crafts Movement: