Written by Susan Myers Mount Dora Buzz Historical Columnist
Back in the day, Sears Roebuck offered more than just clothing and household items in its catalog. It also sold unassembled homes.
One of the first Sears kit homes in Mount Dora was built around 1922 by Charles Edgerton, owner of the Lakeside Inn. He ordered the plans from the Sears catalog, and all of the building materials for the home arrived by train and were easily transported across the street to the building lot at 352 Alexander Street.
From 1908 to 1940, Sears, Roebuck & Co. helped build neighborhoods across the United States. The Chicago-based retailer sold around 75,000 “kit” homes to middle-class families who hoped to realize their dream of home ownership. Anyone with cash and access to their catalog could select from the 400 styles of homes available, from Craftsman to Cape Cod, that could accommodate their budget and family size.
The idea of selling kit homes arose due to a large surplus of building materials in their warehouse. An employee of the company suggested bundling the materials into a ‘kit’ home which would allow them to capitalize on the increasing number of middle-class people and World War 1 veterans who were eager to own a home. Each house was given a name, such as Magnolia or Alhambra, which increased their popularity. The materials were packaged into cartons and shipped along with instructions on assembling the home. All one needed was land and someone with basic building skills to finish the job. The public embraced the concept, and Sears homes were soon found across the country.
In the early 1920s, the members of the Mount Dora Improvement Society agreed to build a house to help foster the growth of Mount Dora. Most likely, Edgerton, who built the home for his niece and her husband, did so for this purpose. In 1939, Stanton and Laura Child from Brooklyn, New York, purchased the house from the Edgerton estate. The Childs had been coming to Mount Dora since 1920 and stayed at the Lakeside Inn for several months each winter.
Mr. Child was an industrial engineer and inventor who owned several companies, including the Stanton M. Child, Inc. engineering firm and the Ramp Buildings Corporation, which he founded with a partner. As an inventor, he held many patents, such as the first engineered ramp design for multi-level parking garages, sliding casters for chair legs, and removable locking wheel casters.
After moving into the house, the Childs purchased the land across the street and demolished the old R.C. Tremain and Son Hardware store to enjoy the colorful sunsets from their home. Mr. Child eventually deeded that land to the City for a public park initially named Child Park, but in recent years renamed Sunset Park.
After Child’s death, Oscar and Alma Stephens purchased the home. Oscar operated Stephens Cleaners, a laundry and dry cleaning business located on Fourth Avenue behind their house. Oscar arrived in Mount Dora, around 1918, after serving in the Army during World War 1. He served in the famous 42nd (Rainbow) Division and incurred injuries on three occasions. Fifteen doctors agreed that Oscar would not live very long and released him from military service.
The former corporal disagreed with their diagnosis and was determined to live. The Mount Dora Topic story, dated November 18, 1943, states that upon Oscar’s arrival, “He drank the good water, looked at the beautiful sunsets, and decided he was not ready for a bugler to play taps for him.” He purchased a business, married, started a family, and became a commander for Mount Dora’s American Legion Post. He, along with other post members, was instrumental in placing a military memorial in Pine Forest Cemetery.
The first business in this home was Odom’s Tailor Shop in the 1970s. The tailor shop was well known for making draperies, slipcovers, and alterations on clothing. Clarissa Odom Bryie continued in the tailoring business, which her mother, Mamie Odom, started.
In 2007, Bryie sold the home to Main Street Leasing Company, and recently a new business, Maw’s Mountain Moonshine, opened in the historic house. We are fortunate that a handful of historic homes remain in the downtown area, especially this Sears kit home. Other homes were relocated or demolished and replaced with parking lots.