This residence merits inclusion as a Michigan Historical site, not because of its architectural appeal, but rather, because it is an ideal type of construction that occurred throughout Michigan in the early decades of the last century. Prosperous individuals could afford to pay an architect to design the substantial brick Victorian homes that we find on the Michigan Registry of Historic Sites. With the prosperity of manufacturing in Michigan, the middle class increased along with their desire for attractive but reasonably priced homes. One solution was the pre-packaged home, also known as a kit home. The picture shows a kit home designed by the Lewis Manufacturing firm just after the First World War
Bay City was a center for the development of this industry. That is, firms there designed attractive but rather simple homes and then milled the lumber for the structure. A purchaser could order the home package from the firm in Bay City. Presumably, it would be shipped by rail and an individual could either assemble the home or hire a team to put it together for him or her. The kit homes were designed to be very easy to assemble. A Bay City competitor of Lewis Manufacturing, Aladdin Homes, advertised that their cottages could be constructed in one day. It is my understanding that these firms did not provide the materials for the foundation but provided all the other components of a new home along with detailed instructions about assemble. The largest of the kit homes included upwards of 30,000 components—including nails and screws—and filled two box cars.
The predecessor firm for the Lewis Manufacturing firm went into the lumber and milling business in 1879. By the 1890s, the firm was a major producer of shingles. It then began turning out a variety of wood products needed for home construction. By 1914, it entered the kit home business offering a variety of styles, including the bungalow pictured here. This is a one-and-one-half story residence with a steeply pitched roof. Lewis Manufacturing supplied clapboard sheathing for this home but sometime in the last 78 years, the sides were covered with aluminum. Note the open front porch with its columns and two window dormer in the pitched roof. The home rests on a rusticated foundation that William Sutherland installed.
Mr. Sutherland was a land speculator, a developer and a horticulturalist in Plymouth. He once owned a substantial fraction of southwest Plymouth, but sold that land to the city for development. He concluded his development activities with the onset of the Depression in 1930. Sutherland Street in Plymouth honors him.
Lewis Manufacturing rebranded their product as Liberty Homes in the late 1930s. They eventually sold 60,000 kit homes before they entered bankruptcy in 1973. The Lewis firm was one of seven major producers of kit homes in the pre-Depression era. Their cross-town rival, Aladdin, which later became Alladdin and Sterling, was in exactly the same business and produced an even greater volume of kit homes. Between 1906 and 1940, the Aladdin and Sterling catalogues offered at least 450 different types of homes. Apparently, the catalogues of these firms were annually updated with attractive new offerings, much the way vehicle producers once offered new models every year. The catalogues themselves are now valuable to collectors.
Date of Construction: 1921
Architectural design: Lewis Manufacturing Company of Bay City
Architectural style: Prefabricated semi-bungalow
Use in 2009: Office Building
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: P25, 343, Listed January 22, 1987
State of Michigan Historical Marker: Put in place April 28, 1987
Photograph: Ren Farley, June 21, 2009
Description prepared: July, 2009
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