Kit / Catalog Houses - Table of Contents....... Styles of Architecture
Sears and 'Kit' Houses
By Francis R. Kowsky
Excerpt from Intensive Level Historic Resources Survey: City of Buffalo: Broadway-Fillmore Neighborhood
Sears, Roebuck and Company and other mail-order catalogs offered designs that reflected popular American architectural styles of the first four decades of the twentieth century. From 1908 to 1940 Sears offered approximately 450 ready-to-assemble designs ranging from mansions to bungalows ...
Other national companies active in the mail-order business included Hodgson Company, Aladdin Homes and Montgomery Ward.
Sears houses were ordered by mail and delivered by train. These mail-order houses became popular because they filled a need for sturdy, inexpensive, modern homes during a period of rapid suburbanization in America.
In the Buffalo area, the biggest local supplier of ready-cut homes was Ray H. Bennett Lumber Co., Inc of North Tonawanda. In Bennettís Small House Catalog 1920 the company boasted about their designs as being more attractive and impressive than average homes. The catalog offered more than fifty designs of houses that were previously constructed.
Bennett Homes emphasized economy of construction through standardization of materials. Bennettís solution for excessive costs of home-building was the replacement of the traditional hand method of manufacturing with labor-saving machines. The company had a huge modern mill in the heart of the lumber market with lumber-docks on one side and main-trunk railroads access on the other side.
Builders during this period commonly purchased designs with the intent of re-using them. This practice is evident in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood as a few blocks contain rows of houses with the same or similar designs. The west side of Gibson Street stands out for its concentration of similarly designed, two-and-one-half story houses that were built by developer Frank Ruszkiewicz in the second decade of the twentieth century.
Excellent, largely-intact examples of "Kit" houses are located at 1060 Smith Street, 26 Strauss Street, 33 Sweeney Street, and 261 Woltz Street