CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At least 50 homes in the Kanawha Valley were built in the early 20th century from a kit that came with 30,000 pieces, 750 of pounds of nails, 27 gallons of paint and a 75-page instruction booklet.
Local historian Billy Joe Peyton thinks the Charleston area has many more of these kit homes. Peyton and Rosemary Thornton, an authority on kit homes, found the 50 during a "windshield" tour of Charleston, St. Albans, Dunbar, South Charleston and Belle during the summer of 2008, Peyton said.
"I would say we probably have hundreds here in the valley," Peyton said. "We found examples pretty much in every incorporated town that we went to."
Peyton was the speaker at Sunday's edition of the Little Lecture series hosted by The West Virginia Humanities Council. His lecture, "Better Homes for less money," focused on kits homes in Charleston.
West Virginia's rapid growth during 1900 and 1950 -- when kit homes had their heyday -- and the state's expansive system of railroads are two reasons it has many kit homes, Peyton said.
"It's not a surprise why we had kit homes if you know our history," he said.
People ordered the homes from a catalogue. Companies like Sears and Montgomery Ward shipped the kits by rail to the nearest station to the customer. It was the customer's responsibility to get the pieces to the land where they were building and build the home.
Sears advertised that an average handyman could build the house from the kit in about 90 days, Peyton said. That is part of the fascination with the homes, he said.
"I think people are interested in kit homes because of the novelty of buying everything in a kit format and then having it shipped and also the fact that you would build it yourself," he said. "I think it is beyond our comprehension today that an average person could built a house -- any kind of house and have it delivered."
One way to determine if a house was built from a Sears kit is to find out when it was built. Sears sold kit homes from 1908 to 1940. Montgomery Ward sold kit houses for longer than that, however, he said. Other signs include a shipping label on some of the parts, paperwork from the company and plumbing fixtures and other hardware that the company stamped with an "S" or an "SR," Peyton said.
"If people are interested, they can go online," he said. "There's plenty of information about kit homes. Sears has their archives online. There's a lot of information available now if someone thinks they have a kit home."
The Little Lecture series will continue May 20 with Hunter Lesser, who will talk about Robert E. Lee in West Virginia. For more information about the lecture series, contact the West Virginia Humanities Council at 304-346-8500.
Reach Lori Kersey at lori.ker...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.