While Abilene, Kansas, has long been noted for its many fine Victorian-era houses and colorful early cow-town history, not much (if any) attention has been given to the plan book and manufactured kit origins of some of the town’s houses.  The town is primarily known, of course, as the boyhood home of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  His restored childhood home survives where built, but floats oddly and without historic context within the mid-century modern presidential library complex which has engulfed it (the original surrounding neighborhood having been demolished). I stopped in town recently for a haircut while traversing Interstate 70 (genuine old-fashioned barber shops, in addition to historic houses, are also dwindling in numbers and Abilene is (update: was) fortunate to retain a few).

The houses that are most highly visible in town line two primary streets:  N. Buckeye Avenue and N. W. 3rd Street.  The following houses are not found on either of those two streets; I’ve gone off the beaten path.  A circuitous route to the barbershop took me past yet another J-6 model by the Harris Brothers Company so I stopped to take photos.  Intrigued, I searched for and photographed a few more interesting houses… I have a hunch that with a little digging many more plan book and kit houses will be revealed there!  I’ve looked for more on Google Street View since my visit.There’s obviously more to Abilene than just Ike… there are tons of interesting houses there, modest and not-so-modest, antique and vintage, all worthy of admiration.  The following houses just barely scratch the surface.

The houses below are presented in three groups: 1) Houses which are interesting for various reasons,  2) Kit houses and 3) Houses which I suspect are either kit or plan-book houses.  Let’s look at just a few of the many interesting houses in Abilene which aren’t as visible to tourists as some of the others…

Houses which are interesting for various reasons:

This is one of the most fun Craftsman bungalows I’ve seen in Kansas; I love the way the stone porch supports pierce the roof. The exaggerated roof beams add interest to the eaves — as do the “rooflets” on the stepped chimney. The colors are likely close to the original scheme.

I find this house interesting because it is quite old for Abilene (probably dating to the 1870’s) and is built of brick. The two bay windows give stature to an otherwise modest house. The porch roof and and dormer windows appear to be later alterations.  Image courtesy of Google Street View.

The entry to this vernacular “shy” house is on the side rather than the front.  Image courtesy of Google Street View.

Possibly a plan-book design (Shoppell, perhaps?), this Queen Anne style house received a Colonial Revival update to the front porch in the early twentieth century. Many Italianate and Queen Anne houses in Abilene have had similar porch alterations.

This house is transitional between Queen Anne and the Colonial Revival. It reminds me of some Radford designs, but I have not yet found it in any of their most common publications.

Italianates such as these were quite common in Abilene in the 1880’s. While many survive, most have been altered to various degrees. The center house still retains its original paired brackets.  Image courtesy of Google Street View.

I really like the porthole windows in this Italianate. The porch is an early twentieth century update and the original flat section of the hipped roof has been given a pitch. The house has been broken into apartments and is no longer a single-family home.  Image courtesy of Google Street View.

There is a lot to love about this eclectic and vernacular house! It is quite old for Abilene (c. 1880?) and has survived many indignities while retaining many key original features.  The front porch is an early twentieth century alteration, but the original back porch survives and hints at how the front may have been styled…

The back porch, presumably leading to a kitchen, retains chamfered columns suggesting an Italianate influence.

Creeping mediocrity typical of our current time partially obscures one of Abilene’s most iconic homes when viewed from a nearby street.

Not a house, but grain elevators such as this one in Abilene are visually interesting and dominate the horizon of many Midwestern towns.

Kit houses:

This is the house that got me started driving around town to take more photos when my original intent was to just get a haircut at a real barbershop. It is obviously the J-6 produced by the Harris Brothers Company of Chicago. The gables on the turret are a bit steeper than other versions of this house, making me think that this may be an earlier example of the popular kit house which was sold for over a decade.  To date, I’ve observed at least three different pitches in the turret gables.  The porch has had its original porch supports replaced with “decorative” iron supports c. 1965 — likely the same time period in which the steel siding entombed the house.

This is how the Harris Brothers intended their product to look.  Image source:  archive.org

Obviously another Harris Brothers product… or a copycat design. This one significantly altered. The Harris Brothers N-1000 (seen below) is similar, but not an exact match.  This house may be a knock-off of the original design by the Harris Brothers Company.  Image courtesy of Google Street View.

These houses always look better in the promotional illustrations!  Image source:  archive.org

I don’t know who produced this house, but it is quite similar to both the Sears “Crescent” and the Montgomery Ward / Gordon-Van Tine “Mayflower”. A primary difference is the “artistic” roof treatment at the gable ends.  Image courtesy of Google Street View.

The sun was not cooperating when I took this photo. Note the odd motif over the door which resembles the decoration found on Sears and Montgomery Ward / GVT houses. This detail makes me think the house is likely a knock-off by a competing kit house company. Also note that the porch has lost two columns.

Houses which I suspect are either plan book designs or actual kit houses (if anyone knows for sure, please comment!):

I just know I’ve seen this house before! Probably in a 1930’s plan book produced by a company manufacturing face brick…

This house is typical of many early twentieth-century plan book designs which were quite popular in the central states.

Yet another house which I’m sure I’ve seen in a plan book before. A modest shingled example of the Tudor Revival, the house is undeniably charming.

The entry of this house is quite similar to the Lorain by Sears, but is clearly not a Lorain. I think it has a kit house vibe to it, I just don’t know who might have produced it. The iron work and masonry at the entry appear to be 1960’s “updates”.

%d bloggers like this: