In magazines or on websites you’ve seen ads for house plans you can purchase to build your dream home.For example, the house in this plan is 2,500 square feet, and the plan seller estimates the cost to build at $277,000.
Such plans have been popular since the late nineteenth century. Back then you selected a plan from a planbook (or “pattern book”) and ordered the blueprints by mail. Among the most successful planbook architects was George Barber of DeKalb, Illinois. In 1887 or 1888 Barber published his Cottage Souvenir book, which contained eighteen plans for houses that would cost from $900 to $8,000 ($23,000 to $204,000 today). This house in Barber’s first planbook was estimated to cost $2,800 to $3,300 ($71,000 to $84,000 today) to build.
In 1890 Barber published his Cottage Souvenir No. 2, which contained fifty-nine plans for houses that would cost from $500 to $6,500 ($12,000 to $166,000 today) to build. You could also order plans for a carriage house or a barn. The house in this plan cost $5,250 ($134,000 today) to build.
During his twenty years in business Barber sold almost twenty thousand plans. Many Barber houses of the 1890s survive, some in Texas as close as Weatherford, Waxahachie, Cleburne, and Granbury. More Barber houses.
This Barber-designed beauty (1896), a planbook house, is in Laurens, South Carolina. (Photo from Wikipedia.)
“But how about planbook houses in Fort Worth?” I hear you ask. Yes, indeed. Another planbook architect was Henry L. Wilson of Los Angeles, who in 1910 published two books of house plans (The Bungalow Book and The Bungalow Book: A Short Sketch of the Evolution of the Bungalow From Its Primitive Crudeness to Its Present State of Artistic Beauty and Cozy Convenience [reprinted by Dover as California Bungalows of the Twenties]). Fairmount historian Michael McDermott says several Fairmount houses were built using plans from Wilson’s books.
This Wilson house (1912) is at 1404 South Adams in Fairmount’s Swastika subdivision. Wilson estimated that plan 118 could be built for $3,500 ($86,000 today). The plan and the Fairmount house are not identical twins; minor alterations may have been made at the time of construction or later.
Here are an interior photo and floor plans for Wilson plan 118.
This Wilson house (1914) is at 1801 Hurley in Fairmount. Plan 1011 could be built, Wilson estimated, for $3,000 ($74,000 today).
J. H. Daverman of Michigan was another planbook architect. His ad in a 1905 Munsey’s Magazine claimed that this design had been built more than eight hundred times at $1,200 ($30,000 today). One of those eight hundred times was at 708 May Street (1905) on the near South Side. Note the distinctive mansard roof and semicircular gable brace. The first-floor plans included a piazza, parlor, and reception hall. The second-floor plans included three bed chambers and a bathroom.
Local historian John Shiflet suspects that these two houses were planbook houses. The top photo shows a house on Bluff Street that has been demolished. The middle and bottom photos show the Stearns house (1909) on Lipscomb Street in Fairmount. Note the semicircular gable window with elongated keystone, the single hip-roofed dormer, and the round window on the side. The two houses were mirror images of each other.
Planbooks were popular with people who lived in small towns that did not have a resident architect. But sometimes even well-to-do people in large cities used planbooks. Shiflet says the house of Captain Frank W. Ball at 1424 Summit Avenue on Quality Hill was a design by Chicago architect George Garnsey, who published The National Builder’s Album of Beautiful Homes in 1891.
Architectural researcher Craig Bobby of Ohio has confirmed the Ball house as a Garnsey design.
Frank Ball (1846-1900) was a prominent attorney. On April 3, 1873 Ball became Fort Worth’s first city attorney under Fort Worth’s first mayor, William Paxton Burts. In 1883 Ball and Robert McCart handled the appeal of James Creswell, convicted of murdering his father-in-law Lemuel Edwards in 1869. Ball was descended on his father’s side from Mary Ball, mother of George Washington.
Sanborn fire map (middle image) shows the house’s footprint.
Burk Burnett would later build his mansion on the Ball lot.
The houses on this page of Garnsey’s planbook cost from $4,000 to $15,000 ($102,000 to $383,000 today) to build.
(Photo of Ball house from D. H. Swartz’s 1917 Photographs of Fort Worth.)
The design of Bellevue Hall (top image), the house of E. E. Chase (as in Chase Court), is usually attributed to local architect Alonzo Dawson. But John Shiflet believes that Dawson merely acted as supervising architect and used a plan drawn by California architect Samuel Newsom, who designed the Bradbury House (bottom image) in Los Angeles and sold plans by mail. (Top image from D. H. Swartz’s Photographs of Fort Worth; bottom image from John Shiflet.)
On the East Side, Julian C. Harris, a bookkeeper for (and cousin of) the Cobb brothers, in 1913 bought a lot from William Cobb to build his “Clinker House” on Foard Street east of the Cobb brick plant.
Harris used plan no. 71 from Gustav Stickley’s July 1909 The Craftsman magazine. Instead of stone Harris used clinker (imperfect) brick from the Cobb plant. If the magazine is correct, Harris oriented his house with the rear facing Foard Street (and the brick plant).
Gustav Stickley was a leading proponent of the American Craftsman style. (Photo from Wikipedia.)
Thanks to John Shiflet and Michael McDermott for their help.