Kit Houses of Westport
Posted on February 2, 2015 by Jenny ONeill
In the early 20th century seven major companies were engaged in the production and sales of “kit homes.” Sears Roebuck and Company was one of the best known. While potential home owners could buy almost everything they needed to build a house—down to the blueprints–from a Sears Catalogue as early as 1908, it was not until 1916 that the first actual “Kit Houses” with all the parts numbered, including even the paint and nails and interior finishes, were available. Over the next decades, Sears sold more than 100,000 homes. They even sold the machine needed to make the concrete block foundation.
Each home could be personalized with light fixtures and hardware. Floor plans could be reversed. Sears offered a variety of home styles in a number of price ranges and in the 1920s, they also provided loans/mortgages to their customers.
This home at 1942 Drift Road began as a small cottage known as the Betsy Ross house plan found in the Sears catalog. The kit house had four rooms and a bath and cost $1,691 to buy. It was sold through the Sears Catalog from 1922 to 1925 and was advertised as perfect for a single person or a couple since it was only 700 square feet.
Sears bragged about the colonial revival features of the house—especially the colonial entrance with sidelight and the shutters at the windows. The house had a hipped roof and a brick fireplace; there was also a flower box planter in the exterior of the chimney. Many of those original features are still clearly visible.
Andrew Taber, a local carpenter, put together this kit house for Almira Tripp sometime between 1922 and 1925. Apparently, many locals doubted that such a kit house would stay together, but it did. Almira Tripp was born in 1861. Before building this house, she lived at 2033 Main Road. While famous for her ice cream, she also worked for Zone Finance and Loan. Upon her death in 1929, this house was inherited by her niece, Helen Tripp.
In 1920, Helen at age 23 was working for a newspaper in the Boston area. An independent woman, she traveled to Europe at least three times. In 1933, she arrived back in New York after sailing from Southampton, UK on the Europa. In 1940, she sailed home from Galway, Ireland—the war having already begun on the continent. Then after the war was over, she went back to France, returning to the United States from LeHavre in 1946. For all three voyages her address is listed as being in the Boston area—Dedham, Jamaica Plain, or Westwood, not at the Drift Road address that she inherited in 1929. Eventually, however, Helen Tripp moved to Westport and taught French at Durfee High School. She also served as a town librarian. Village lore recounts how Helen Tripp would call for her cats in the middle of the night in French.
After Helen’s death, the house stayed in the family until it was sold in 1973 to Walter and Beverly Cass. Walter Cass, an architect, remodeled and expanded the home after he purchased it.
Westport is fortunate to have identified and recorded a number of kit homes that were built in the town in the twentieth century. After decades of being ignored, kit houses are finally getting recognition for their quality, craftsmanship, and historic architectural importance.