How was my 1890s Virden house built? It was constructed block by decorative cement block into a four square house from a free plan purchased from the Sears Roebuck & Co. catalogue, plus approximately $1,995 for building materials.
My house was built by Alexander Murdock - a prominent citizen of Virden who owned and operated the Murdock Wilson general store with William Osborn Wilson. Their store stood where the CIBC now stands.
During the early years of the 20th century, cement was all the rage. Sears began selling The Wizard, a concrete building block machine for only $42.50. The average man could make his own cinder blocks and the machine paid for itself in sixty days.
Sears also sold cement stirring machines ($28.50) to help make the job easier and advertised brick making as “fun”. In reality it was not that much “fun” if a man took this task on by himself along with a cement-stirring machine.
He could only make a block every ten to twenty minutes. According to the Wizard instructions, the prepared cement was poured into the form, pressed down, and then released in one to two minutes. A nine-room home would have required thousands of blocks (even with a field stone foundation), not realistic for one man to build.
Murdock, in all likelihood, would have hired travelling masonries with several Wizards, stirrers, and men to expediently build his home.
Today, my home is the only one of its kind still standing in Virden. It is a classically styled, decorative cement block home located in “Poverty Flats” a posh area of Virden at the time.
If you are curious about the inside of a home built in what was once known as Quality Hill in Virden, come in and tour the beautiful Pioneer Home Museum built by James F. Frame.
Deanna Doucette is the museum coordinator at the Virden Pioneer Home Museum