A Minor Prairie-Style Mystery

A small fragment of a Popular Mechanics cover contains the image of a prairie style house.
The reverse of a Popular Mechanics cover fragment contained an intriguing prairie-style house.

I recently dismantled our chimney as part of our basement renovation. Opening walls and floors hasn’t surfaced any Goonies treasure maps or confederate dollars–to date the most memorable items have been a site-made marking gauge, eye-searing linoleum, depression era-newspapers, and a hundred-year-old apple core–but this most recent demolition did turn up a fragment of an old Popular Mechanics cover. I probably wouldn’t have paid it any attention, but the inside of the cover featured a photo of a two-story Prairie-style home which piqued my curiosity. The cover provided a month, but no year. Based on the style of house, I thought I’d have at most a couple of decades of Popular Mechanics to check. I like Google Books, the Hathitrust digital library, and Internet Archive for this kind of archival research. As someone who spent a lot of time as an undergraduate and grad student in library stacks, there’s a luxury to being able to sift through old volumes from the comfort of my couch.

Google Books had a lot of the back issues of Popular Mechanics, so I started skimming volumes at 1910, proceeding through 1920 (sans 1913). I quickly learned a few items of note: marine warfare seemed to make the cover a lot, you could send away for a free birdhouse bungalow plans book courtesy of the Southern Cypress Manufacturer’s Association, “Chicago House Wrecking Co.” is an unfortunate name for a company selling kit homes, and early Popular Mechanics featured a ton of ads–but I did not find the cover I was looking for. It did seem likely that the ad on the inside cover was for a Harris Brothers (second incarnation of the Chicago Wreckers) kit house, but I wanted to verify the year of my mysterious magazine fragment. A specific search for the 1913 March volume not on Google Books turned up a digital copy at the Internet Archive. Mystery solved: the Prairie Style house in the ad was Harris Brothers Plan 152-D.

A March 1913 advertisement for Harris Brothers kit homes.
A March 1913 ad features Harris Brothers 152-d at the upper right.

For $867 dollars, you could by all the materials for a ~1600 sq. ft. 3 bedroom, 1 bath house (shipping not included. Land extra). The US Inflation calculator shows that $867 is equivalent to $22690 in 2020 dollars. With the front entrance far to the left at ground level (you step up into a vestibule) and prominent walled porch, it’s an interesting design, but walled porch might make it feel prison like, indeed, various examples of the house often enclose the porch entirely as a room. I think I might prefer design No. 53 featured at the bottom left of the same ad.

A full-page ad for the Harris Brothers Plan Number 152-D prairie style home.
A full-page ad for the 152D. Image via Archive.Org

More Information

Before finding that scrap of cover, I’d never heard of the Harris Brothers. While they were lesser-known than Sears as a maker of Kit Homes, you can find out more about the company in general and the 152D in particular online:

  • In its various incarnations, the company published volumes of house plans. A 1913 collection is available at Archive.org.
  • The company also published testimonials of satisfied customers. C. L. Ketcham built the 152D in Kansas, and declared it “a dandy.” Rachel Shoemaker has posted a contemporary photo of the Ketcham house on Flickr.
  • Sears Homes of Chicagoland has a page on the 152D, with photos of built versions in the region, including some interior shots from a real estate listing.
  • View a 152D in St. Charles, IL on Google Maps.

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