“MORNING GLORIES,” THE LITTLE SEARS ROEBUCK KIT HOME
This charming cottage was ordered from a 1922 Sears Roebuck catalog. Starting in 1908, Sears featured “Honor Bilt” homes in their Modern Homes catalogues. This was one of the homes – The Springwood model. Morning Glories was completed in 1926. The three Mayer brothers from Erie, Pennsylvania (Ross, Martin and Joe) often vacationed on Sanibel. They were captivated by the island’s charm and in the early 1920s decided to purchase land on the beach fronting San Carlos Bay, not far from the Sanibel Packing Company (later the Bailey Store). The Packing House was a collection of buildings on Matthews Wharf. The daily steamer docked at the wharf, bringing whatever was needed, wagons from the hotels met guests, and gas pumps were located on the wharf to service the few automobiles that were transported to the island. Owning land and building a home in this busy and convenient stretch along the bay was considered a smart move.
Thirty thousand pieces arrived by rail and barge ready to be assembled on Martin Mayer’s bay-front property by carpenters and other skilled workers. The cottage was named Morning Glories after the spreading vines of blue flowers that grew on the island. The cost of the Springwood model was $2,211 unassembled (more information is available on printed sheets throughout the house). The built-ins you see were extras or upgrades, purchased at additional cost.
Inside features from the catalog include:
- Built-in bookcases, buffet, china cupboards, dinette and fireplace
- Kitchen cupboards, a slide-out cutting board, and a hidden ironing board
- Surprisingly large closets (show guests the one in the bedroom)
- Attic access by ladder (since removed)
- A bathroom!
Owner changes include:
- Building a generous porch across the back of the house in 1924. (Wouldn’t you have put it on the bay-view side?)
- Enclosing the side porch to make a small sunroom, probably in the 1950s
- This is a two-bedroom house. The parents’ bedroom depicts a typical bedroom of the times for wealthy northern visitors. The second bedroom depicts a child’s/children’s bedroom complete with small bed and toys. The walls in this bedroom display pictures of the Mayer family, as do some in the living room.
- The electric lights and the bathroom were unusual on the island at that time. The brothers shared a generator with Shore Haven (the museum’s newest acquisition, 2012) which allowed enough power for lights and plumbing pump but not enough for a refrigerator.
- Notice that the light fixtures were installed upside down.
- The home had to be brought by barge to a street wide enough to accommodate the flatbed that carried the house to the Historical Village.
Ross and Martin Mayer had children close to the same age and decided to live side-by-side and share facilities. They both chose Sears Roebuck kit homes.
Martin and Ada Mayer had adopted two children, Isabel and Robert. Five years after moving into Morning Glories, Ada died. Martin hired a housekeeper and governess, Ava, who became part of the family for almost the rest of her life.
Shore Haven and Morning Glories shared an artesian well, an electric generating plant and a bath house. The bath house had a porch and two rooms – one for the girls and one for the boys. Each home had its own servants’ quarters that had a privy, a garage and a cistern for collecting rainwater.
Ross Mayer’s daughter, Grace Mayer Symroski, became the owner of Morning Glories and passed it on to her children, Barbara Mayer, Allison Weir, and Ty Symroski. Eventually, Allison Weir became the sole owner and sold the property to the Allen Larson family. The Larsons generously gave the Morning Glories cottage to the city of Sanibel with a sum of money to move it to the grounds of the Historical Museum and Village.
The Sears Roebuck kit homes were available through the Modern Homes catalog of Honor Bilt Homes from 1909 until the 1940s. The homes were very popular with factory towns; a large company could order as many as needed for their employees and have them constructed in the same location. They were extremely well-built houses, available in three grades. Sanibel’s two examples are of the middle grade.
Lumber yards in the Midwest and in New Jersey supplied all the pre-fabricated parts. Morning Glories came from New Jersey.
This building came to the village at the same time as Shore Haven. It is a cottage that served both Shore Haven and Morning Glories, sitting between the two houses. It was first built as a multi-purpose building sometime in the 1930s. Sometime after that—the year is uncertain—it was used as a caretakers’ cottage.
The Ross Mayer family caretakers would use it to do some of their chores, such as ironing, and to take breaks during the day. Sometimes they would stay overnight if they missed the last ferry to Fort Myers or didn’t have the money to pay the fare.
Members of the Gavin and Walker families, whose descendants are still Sanibel residents, were among the caretakers who served the Mayer families and used this building.
Today it proudly serves as our Black History on Sanibel exhibit, which we have long hoped to present but never had the space.