Of the hundreds of house plans offered by the William A. Radford Company of Chicago, their design number 1517 appears to have been one of their most popular – at least in the nation’s mid-section. Numerous examples of this house survive today. The design was so popular that Montgomery Ward offered an extremely similar version. Their version, called the “Farmland”, lacked the arched windows and flared roof above the eaves. Who published the plan first? The Radford design was offered in their 1909 book, “Radford’s Modern Homes”, a collection of two hundred house designs. Montgomery Ward offered their first kit homes in the same year but had offered house plans prior to that; I don’t know if their “Farmland” (or an earlier version of it) was among them. Though the exteriors were quite similar, there were subtle differences in the floor plans of the competitors. Was the house design offered by other companies? It wouldn’t surprise me.
Essentially a late example of a Queen Anne Free Classic, Radford’s number 1517 was looking a bit old-fashioned even when it was new; it was a Victorian-era design offered in an increasingly post-Victorian world. No surprise, then, that it was popular in the rural parts of the country which were slow to embrace changes in culture or fashion. Free Classics have the complex roof design and form typical of most Queen Anne houses, but do not have the fussy ‘gingerbread’ also associated with the style. Instead they have simplified ornament typical of the newly-fashionable Colonial Revival movement; classically-inspired porch columns, for example, rather than lathe-turned posts and fretwork.