Good afternoon, everyone, and thanks for coming out on what might be the first snowy day of the year, and thanks to the Egbert Benson Historical Society of Red Hook for inviting us here. My name is Olivia Klose and this is my colleague Chris Brazee, and we will be presenting on Ready-Made Red Hook and catalogue houses in the early 20th century. We know Red Hook’s bicentennial is fast approaching, but we wanted to take you back not 200 years to the founding of the Village, but rather 100 years to a period in which Red Hook, like much of America, was just beginning to experience the onset of suburbanization. An important influence on the architecture of this period was the mail-order kit homes sold through the catalogues of companies such as Sears Roebuck. Red Hook has a significant number of houses from this time, many of which may well have arrived in a tidy package on a box car. In investigating Red Hook’s early 20th century houses, we were lucky enough to stumble upon the story of a man named Frank Cooks, a builder who lived here in Red Hook and built dozens of houses more than 80 years ago, and that gave us a golden opportunity to show how the history of the mail-order house took place right here in Red Hook.
Now that we’ve given a general description of catalogue houses in the early 20th century... We’d like to give you an architectural tour of Red Hook... And show you some of the houses that were constructed in the town during that period. Like any tour it helps to have a guidebook. Olivia and I were fortunate to have a very good one, a scrapbook of the buildings constructed by Frank W. Coons, Contractor and Builder in Red Hook. The scrapbook is now part of the collection of the Egbert Benson Historical Society... Although it had an interesting history before landing in the archives upstairs. It was created in 1932, apparently by Frank Coons’s wife, Edna, who was an avid scrapbook maker It eventually wound up in Virginia with Coons’s granddaughter, who mailed it back home to Red Hook in the 1990s.
Unfortunately we don’t have a complete biography of Frank Coons... But we do know he was born in 1890. According to the 1920 census he was a farmer... But the scrapbook tells us that by 1921 he had started on a second successful career as a builder of houses... And was active in Red Hook at least through the 1950s.
The scrapbook contains snapshots of scores of buildings built or remodeled by Coons from the 1920s through the 1950s. Handwritten notes detail the year of construction, the original owner, and the general address. The scrapbook illustrates over 70 buildings... Located not just in Red Hook but throughout Dutchess County and the surrounding counties. Olivia and I were fascinated by these photos of the Coons buildings and set out to see if any of the houses were still standing.
To our great delight, we were able to find nearly all of the houses Coons built here in Red Hook. On the following slides we’ll take you on a tour of these houses... Showing “then and now” photos of many of his commissions in town. In order to tie Coons’s story into the larger history of catalogue and mail-order houses... We’ve organized our tour by general building types and architectural styles... And then attempted to match each house as best we could with models from Sears catalogues and other mail-order companies.
The first type of house built by Coons was the bungalow- he even chose the type for his own house. Characteristics include small scale, low-pitched roofs with deeply overhanging eaves, exposed rafter ends, porches with heavy columns, dormers, and rustic materials like shingles and cobblestones.
This is Frank W. Coons’s own house, which was his first commission. It was completed around 1922... And closely resembles the Brandon Model, seen here from the Sears catalogue of 1920... As well as a similar model from the Harris Brothers from 1918. Another model from Gordon Van Tine isn’t quite as close, but still shares a similar roof profile and distinctive porch columns.
Most architectural history books define a true bungalow as being only one or one-and-a-half stories tall. This house for Frank Jacoby may therefore be called a semi-bungalow, a term used in Coons own scrapbook. It is very close to the Lancaster offered by Bennett Homes, a smaller catalogue firm located near Buffalo.
This house was built for O. H. Lewis and is perhaps a more text book example of a bungalow. Like the jaunty Sunshine by Aladdin and the almost identical Aberdeen model from Bennett Homes... It has a long, low profile with rear extension, and a low porch with four columns.
The Rodney Clum bungalow was one of three houses built by Coons adjacent to the historic Clum farm house in Upper Red Hook. The Sears Valllonia, seen on the lower left, is a pretty close match to the Clum house. The houses have an almost identical side-gable roofline, a gabled dormer in the center, and projecting rafter ends that become a decorative feature of the house.
A second important type is the Foursquare... Also known as the Box and the American Basic house. It was a prevalent building type found throughout America during the heyday of the mail-order house... And is widely considered a building type indigenous to early 20th century American suburb. The Foursquare gets its name from its shape, which is basically a two-story box with four rooms on each floor. Foursquares usually have a hipped, or pyramidal roof, with a center dormer... And most have a full or half-width front porch. The foursquare is generally considered a building type rather than an architectural style, since a wide variety of detailing could be applied to the general form of the foursquare.
The Ralph Moore house on the left, and the Crockwell house on the right are nearly identical... Although a close examination of the details shows subtle differences... Such as the placement of the chimney... The treatment of the porch columns... And the differences in the original siding. Every mail-order company offered similar foursquare models... But the Ames from Gordon Van Tine and the Bellevue from Montgomery Ward are the closest matches that we were able to find.
This another house from the Clum farm subdivision in Upper Red Hook. We’re actually not 100% clear if Frank Coons built it... Although the scrapbook indicates that he later owned it and worked on it. The original two-tone siding, with clapboard first story and shingled second story, was a typical feature of many foursquare designs... Including model 566 from Gordon Van Tine’s 1920 catalogue.
The Henry Shaw residence in Upper Red Hook has many elements of a typical foursquare, Although we were unable to match it to any catalogue design, particularly because of the grand warp-around porch. This house is located at the top of a rise facing west across the Hudson and probably has views of the Catskills... So it seems likely that this would be a case of an experienced builder adapting a popular plan to a particular building site and for the needs of a particular client.
The Colonial Revival style house was probably Sears’s most popular house design, after the bungalow. The Colonial house of the early 20th century was usually two stories tall with a portico entrance and a side wing, with windows and doors treated symmetrically. Shutters at the windows and side lights at the entrance were popular decorative features. The Colonial house was meant to evoke patriotic associations with America’s early history, and was a good choice if you wanted to identify yourself as old American stock, even if you or your parents were really fresh off the boat.
This is the James Rifenburgh Sr. House, now the Gas Light Inn, and an excellent example of the Dutch Colonial style, which was a subset of the Colonial Revival. The hallmark of the Dutch Colonial Revival style is the gambrel roof, which you can see on the Rifenburgh house. The house is very similar to the Sears, Gordon Van Tine, and Bennet kit houses seen below, which all sported WASPy names like the Clarendon, the Cheltenham, and, of course, Sears’s Martha Washington.
Here’s an example of a smaller Colonial type, and this was a house Coons built for George Miller. It closely resembles the Sears Puritan, on the lower left, and Aladdin’s Plymouth, on the lower right.
Here we see three Coons houses that are almost identical, demonstrating that he probably used one house design for many different clients, making slight changes like flipping the entrance portico, or the side-wing or porch, or the chimney, from one side of the house to the other. One the left is the Lee Husted House, in the center is the Russell Clum House, and on the right is the Roland Brenzel House. These three Coons houses are close matches to Montgomery Ward’s Rochelle, on the bottom left, and Gordon-Van Tine’s Hartford, on the bottom right. Montgomery Ward contracted out a portion of their mail-order house business to Gordon-Van Tine, which explains why so many of their house models are basically identical.
The Alva Teator House is one of the grandest houses built by Coons in Red Hook, and he chose the Tudor Revival style, maybe the most popular of the revival styles in the 1920s. The style was defined by faux half-timbering and stucco, prominent chimneys, and a picturesque roofline, all meant to evoke Olde Englande. Surprisingly, Tudor Revival style houses were not so common in Red Hook, and this appears to be the only one built by Coons.
As with most small-town carpenters, Frank Coons had a varied practice that included not only the new residential construction we just saw... But also other buildings types such as barns, summer cottages, and garages. He also renovated many buildings throughout town, with porch additions apparently being a specialty.
The Coons scrapbook depicts several barns, although the Cookingham barn shown here is the only one we were able to definitively identify. Sears offered barns in its early home catalogues and later produced a separate catalogue for barns and other farm buildings from 1918 through 1934. The gambrel roof profile seen on many 20th century barns was popularized in part by the Sears offerings... And was influenced by advances in both farming and construction techniques that make these structures very different from the earlier post-and-beam barns seen on some of Red Hook’s older farms.
Coons also built a number of cottages near the Red Hook Golf Course. Summer cottages were offered by most of the mail-order catalogue companies in addition to their year-round houses. They were often of lighter construction and smaller in scale.
Most of the houses that Coons built also had a detached garage towards the rear of the lot. This catalogue from Aladdin has a variety of models including the Studebaker and the Ford... Reflecting the growing popularity of the automobile. The multi-paned doors and hardware of the Lasalle are a particularly close match to some of the garages in Red Hook.
While Frank Coons was a prolific builder here in Red Hook... And his scrapbook provides an important look at the residential development of the 1920s and ‘30s... He wasn’t the only one in town to produce houses that resemble catalogue homes. A number of excellent examples of the Bungalow type can be found throughout Red Hook.
As well as a number of Colonial Revival style houses. The house on the upper right is a good example of the Colonial style Cape Cod, a small house type that became popular later in the 1940s and 50s.
While foursquares were only popular for a few decades in the early 20th century... There are NUMEROUS examples all over town.
We promised to give you talk on catalogue houses here in Red Hook... And we’ve seen that there are many houses in town that closely resemble the designs from Sears and other companies. But we still haven’t answered the question of whether any of the houses in Red Hook were actually mail-order kit homes. The frustrating answer is as of right now, we can’t definitively attribute any of Red Hook’s early 20th century houses to a particular catalogue design. As you can see with the two comparisons above, we did find a handful of near-perfect matches based on visual analysis alone, but the reality is that without other forms of evidence, we can’t be 100% certain that it’s a catalogue house.
The smoking gun, as it were, of identifying a catalogue house is finding stamped lumber in the attic or basement of the house itself. This probably involves crawling around inside an attic or basement to get a good look at floor joists or ceiling rafters. Sears stamped each piece of lumber with a number-and-letter code, which you can see in this photo. Sometimes you might also find a shipping label attached to the lumber. Other clues include Sears hardware and fixtures, such as doorknobs and bathroom sinks.
Another sure way to determine if it’s a Sear’s house is documentary evidence such as local building permits, mortgage records, or shipping receipts. This building permit is for the bungalow in the Bronx that we showed you at the beginning of the presentation. It’s a little hard to make out, but Sears Roebuck was listed as the architect for the house.
And that concludes our talk for today. What we’ve shown today is just an introduction to the broader history of catalogue houses in early 20th-century America, but we hope that our look at Frank Coons and his houses has brought this history to life and given you a glimpse of Red Hook a hundred years ago. And maybe some of you are eager to go home and take a look in your attics or basements to find that telltale sign of the mail-order house!
Ready Made Red Hook, Part 2
Catalogue Houses in the Early 20th Century Egbert Benson Historical Society of Red Hook Saturday, October 29th, 2011 An Illustrated Talk by Olivia Klose and Christopher Brazee
Frank W. Coons (left) with clients on the Wilcox Farm in Stanfordville, 1927 Frank and Edna Coons, c. 1960s