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Hodgson Houses, the first pre-fabricated homes in the U.S.

I found this 1954 Hodgon Houses catalog at an estate sale two summers ago. As you can see, it belonged to the Herzig Brothers — builders who once operated in Lenox. But of even greater interest, a little online research immediately uncovered the bigger historical factoid that Hodgson Houses are recognized as the first, true prefabricated homes in America.

In fact, there is an excellent website dedicated to the history of Hodgson Houses (update 2019: now defunct). It says that the company was started by Ernest Hodgson of Dover, Mass. His first foray into prefabricated buildings was chicken coops called Peep o’ Days, and as that business grew, a line called “Wigwarms.” His prefab concept was so good that he continued to expand into other structures like doghouses, tool sheds, Hodgson Camp Cottages and Summer Cottages. Once automobiles took hold, the market for garage structures sounds like it led to a huge boom, and the business grew from there to include houses. There is also an excellent timeline on the site, and I believe it indicates that the company as it originated ceased to exist in 1948, when E.F. Hodgson died. The company continued other under names until 1995.

 

Taking my 1954 brochure as evidence, I bet there were many Hodgson houses built – especially in the Northeast. I remember exactly where the estate sale was, and I bet it was a Hodgson house.  I will take some photos to compare to the homes in the 1954 brochure. To be sure, there are many many houses in my area, especially in nearby Pittsfield, which was thriving in the immediate postwar era. 

The other really interesting thing about the catalog is that the list prices are inked in. Taking a look at the split level above, a $15,200 house in 1954 translates to $121,000, not including land (calculations according to coinnews.net calculator.) Note, The Newton split level model above — someone colored it in. I love that.

There’s more: You can see a complete timeline relating the history of prefab houses [link now gone] on this museum website.

I’ve included all the 1954 homes from my brochure in this gallery. You can also see catalogs for 1942, 1925 and 1908 on hodgsonhouses.com [link now gone/. Cool stuff. Oh how I love the internet, it truly truly is an amazing thing.

  1. Chris King says:

    I was ‘born’ in a Hodgson cottage on my grandmother’s place in New Canaan, CT, mid forties. It had a bay window but was probably the Bristol model. Later, when we moved upstate we had the house moved near us for friends. It is possible that that same house began its life in the 1930s as a vacation cottage in Nantucke Island, MA

  2. Heidi says:

    38 Holliston St, Medway, Ma – my husband’s grandparents bought it and were original owners. Family still owns it. I was told it was the very first Hodgson House sold by the company, which was located in Millis, Ma. where I grew up )a couple of miles from the Medway site). The manufacturing building in Millis is currently up for sale. 7/20/19

  3. Steve Gutman says:

    Thank you for this well-written and informative article! I am a 75-yr-old retired architect who apprenticed for my NY architecture license in the early 70s at Levitt & Sons, and then for Hodgson Houses. I had no idea Hodgson was a pioneer in prefab and had a remarkable heritage. Ray Silver was CEO of Hodgson then, and it was great to be a young almost-an-architect working on the 34th floor of a new skyscraper in NYC overlooking Central Park, focused on new housing solutions for an American public demanding better and, especially, more affordable housing of all types (sound familiar…?) Interestingly, Ray held the opinion that even new cost-saving technologies such as pre-fabrication like Hodgson’s new triple-units and panellized construction were not the solution to the problem. Rather, he saw land and utilities as holding the key, and noted that these costs would continue to go up even faster over time than the construction costs of the housing units themselves, wiping out the gains of more efficient housing production and keeping the trajectory of housing prices going steeply upwards over time. BTW, I LOVE the new generation of modulars and creative tiny homes. The Seattle trend described in this article has terrific potential, in my mind, and Ray Silver would have loved this concept because of the way it creates value to address the land affordability part of the builder’s calculations.

  4. Claudia Gatto says:

    Wondering if Hodgson houses/cottages are historically protected. We have one in Nantucket and are resisting the tear-down trend– build bigger and bigger. Any ideas for restoration?
    Claudia Gatto

  5. pam kueber says:

    Hi Claudia, how cool to know that you have one of these homes are are interested in preserving it. I am not expert on the mechanics of restoration, but if you are looking for various resources, I have lots of stories in the categories and subcategories about where to find products and materials. Good luck!

  6. Rick Acree says:

    I have been fascinated by the origins of prefab and panelized home since I put myself through design school in the mid 70s by working for a builder that erected Homecraft homes. There is a Hodgson house at Hopeland Gardens in Aiken, SC that the original property owner (since deeded to the city and converted to a park) built as a doll house for his children (or maybe grandchildren). This particular on is interesting because the structure is exposed and shows how the panels connected.

  7. pam kueber says:

    Hi Rick, wow, how interesting! I think I’ll reach out at some point to Hopeland Gardens and see if they can send photos. Yes: It seems like prefab and panelized homes continue to offer great potential to helping address our housing shortage even today !

  8. AR says:

    I’m looking at dismantling, moving and restoring a Hodgson “wigwarm” whose owners are hoping to demolish. I’m interested in advice or information.

  9. pam kueber says:

    Hi AR, what an interesting project. I am not an expert on such issues. Not sure where to point you. Remember to Renovate Safe!

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