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Historical village features kit cottage from Sears Roebuck

By Staff | Jun 23, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Sears Roebuck's kit home, named Morning Glories, at the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village

Almost 100 years ago, a charming cottage that came to be called Morning Glories was ordered from a Sears Roebuck catalog to be built on Sanibel on the San Carlos Bay. Today, the cottage resides at the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village and is a favorite of visitors.

Morning Glories was the Springwood model and cost $2,211. It was milled in New Jersey in 1925 and came to Sanibel in kit form in 1926, purchased by Martin and Ada Mayer. It arrived in 30,000 pieces by rail and barge – everything from lumber and nails, to lighting fixtures – and was completed in 1926. Morning Glories was a sister home to Shore Haven, which now serves as the Welcome Center for the village. Shore Haven was built by Martin’s brother, Ross, and his wife, Daisy.

Starting in 1908, Sears featured “Honor Bilt” homes in their Modern Homes catalogs. 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.

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 the 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 to service the few automobiles that were transported to the island. Owning land and building a home on this busy and convenient stretch along the bay was considered a smart move.

When the 30,000 pieces arrived at Martin Mayer’s bay-front property, it was constructed by carpenters and other skilled workers. The cottage was named Morning Glories after the spreading vines of blue flowers that grew on the island. Many built-ins were upgrades at an additional cost.

PHOTO PROVIDED Living room leading into the sunroom.

Interior features from the catalog include built-in bookcases, buffet, china cupboards, dinette and fireplace – the holes from generations of children’s Christmas stockings are still visible – kitchen cupboards, a slide-out cutting board, hidden ironing board, surprisingly large closets and a bathroom, which was a rare luxury on Sanibel at that time.

A generous porch was built across the back of the house in 1924. The Mayers originally enclosed the porch with sliding glass windows. They were removed when Morning Glories was moved to the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village to restore the building to its original state. The side porch was enclosed to make a small sunroom, probably in the 1950s.

Morning Glories 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 the 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 that allowed enough power for lights and plumbing pump but not enough for a refrigerator.

Ross and Martin Mayer had children close to the same age and decided to live side-by-side and share facilities. 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.

PHOTO PROVIDED Master bedroom.

Ross Mayer’s daughter, Grace Mayer Symroski, became the owner and passed it on to her children, Barbara Mayer, Allison Weir and Ty Symroski. Ty Symroski, who as a youngster lived in Morning Glories for a number of years, tells stories of the generations of children who were always running from the houses across Bay Drive, a sandy road, to swim in the bay or fish on the dock.

“Pans of water were by the front doors in an attempt to keep sand out of the house,” he said. “‘No running on the dock!’ was regularly heard.”

His bedroom was part of the back porch of Morning Glories.

“That’s where I read Hardy Boy books and The Lion’s Paw purchased from Mr. MacIntosh,” he said.

Eventually, Allison Weir became the sole owner. She and her family greatly enjoyed many summers before selling 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 village.

PHOTO PROVIDED Dining room.

Together, Morning Glories and Shore Haven illustrate the gradual transformation of Sanibel from an agricultural settlement populated primarily by hardy pioneers into a community serving tourism and “snowbirds,” come to escape northern winters.

The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village is at 950 Dunlop Road, Sanibel. The facility closed early for the off-season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but is scheduled to reopen on Oct. 20.

For more information or updates, visit www.sanibelmuseum.org.

PHOTO PROVIDED Bathroom.