May 8, 2017
Moving Historic Buildings
From power lines to old wood floors, there are a lot of challenges to overcome if you want to move a historic building. Fortunately for us Jeremy Bradham of Capitol Area Preservation in Raleigh, North Carolina, is able to explain how to overcome those challenges. Jeremy talks us through a typical building move, as well as weighing in on how changing a building’s location can change its historic context. It’s not going be too bumpy of a ride, but you still might as well strap in for this episode of PreserveCast.
[Nick Redding] I’m Nick Redding, and you’re listening to PreserveCast. Have you ever wondered how exactly people can move historic buildings? We found ourselves wondering the same thing, and so this week I spoke with Jeremy Bradham of Capital Area Preservation in Raleigh, North Carolina, about what’s required to pull off a building move. As well as what happens to a building’s context after it’s moved. Make way, we’re coming through with this week’s PreserveCast.
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From Preservation Maryland studios in the historic podcast district of Baltimore, this is PreserveCast.
[Nick Redding] This is Nick Redding, and you’re listening to PreserveCast. Today we’re joined by Jeremy Bradham who is talking to us from Raleigh, North Carolina. Jeremy, we’re going to talk to you about all things building related and how you can pick up a building and move it a fair distance. But before we jump into that, like we do with most folks who come on PreserveCast, we’d love to know what was your path to preservation? How did you get started in this very interesting and unique line of work?
[Jeremy Bradham] So at an early age, my grandmother actually taught history, and we used to go to battlefields when I was very young. Shortly after that, I was dragging my family in middle school and high school to battlefield trips for spring break. My sister probably didn’t appreciate that too much. But I decided to study history undergrad at North Carolina State.
From there, I knew I kind of wanted to go to grad school to make a difference and actually be a part of preserving history for future generations. From what I’ve enjoyed, I wanted my grandkids to enjoy the same things and those pieces of history and have a connection to the past. So I’ve always loved Charleston. I have a family connection. My family’s actually originally from Charleston all the way back to 1691. So I knew that I wanted to do a program down there and study the architecture. So I moved down there in 2007 to begin my graduate program with Clemson, and the College of Charleston and historic preservation. And I actually stayed there three years, worked for a contractor, gave historic heritage tours and things like that, restoring houses downtown. I’ve always really been interested in battlefields. But grad school actually got me more interested in buildings, which is kind of ironic because my dad’s an architect by degree, and he’d always kind of try to steer me away from buildings. But here I am [laughter] working in the building field of preservation so…
[NR] So you got the academic training, but did that give you the ability to jump into actually doing the hands-on work? Or was that more, sort of, apprenticeship related training?
[JB] That was definitely apprenticeship. David Hoffman with Edgewood Builders in Charleston, I worked under him and learned a lot of the tools of the trade. Things that were more applicable. We did a lot of hands-on things in grad school, but it jumps off the book when you’re actually doing it hands-on, which the environment down in Charleston – there is very few places like it where you can have a laboratory walking out the front door. So a lot of my skills were learned post-grad school under the leadership of David Hoffman down there.
[NR] So tell us a little bit about what it is you do now. Where do you work? What’s your average day like? And what kind of projects are you involved in?
[JB] So the company I work for is Capital Area Preservation. We’re the countywide non-profit for Wake County. I started working here in January of 2013. If you were to tell me [laughter] or ask me what a typical day is like, there is no way I could possibly answer that. I did ask that, actually, on my interview before I took the position, trying to get an expectation. But we basically wear many hats here at the company. We actually partner with Wake County and run the Wake County Preservation Program. So we are actually the first of it’s kind. As a non-profit, we staff a historic preservation commission. So we partnered with the municipality and we run the Landmarks Program. Well, that partnership began in 2003. So there were twenty-three landmarks before we became a partner with Wake County and now there are 75 with us as staff. So in 14 years, we’ve added quite a few properties.
We also manage an easement program, a historic preservation easement program, which we obtain easements to protect properties in perpetuity. But Wake County’s the fastest growing – one of the fastest growing counties in the United States. So many people moving here and there’s a lot of development pressure. And the question is: how do we move forward as a county with all this development? And how do we protect those things from our past and so we can incorporate them into the future?
[NR] And so you have experience actually picking up and moving a building, is that right?
[JB] Correct. Yeah, actually, my first week on the job was – actually I was told that a house is going to need to be moved so… [laughter]
[NR] So how does that work? Walk us through that from the beginning to “it’s at it’s new location.” Tell us that story maybe of that particular house.
[JB] Moving houses, the stigma has changed in the last decade and a half, two decades. I think, at least in North Carolina. But I’ve noticed in other places, moving a building is sort of a last resort. Nothing’s better than the building in in situ. In it’s current context, it’s current location. So really, we try to exhaust all options to keep a house as is. But as you know, development pressures and things like that, sometimes it’s just – it cannot stay where it is. So it needs to be moved.
There’s a lot of factors that go into it. First and foremost, where is it moving to? You don’t have to worry about house owners at this point. Where is it moving to? That’s the number one question. A lot of times, it’s best if it’s land-associated. Wake County, historically was – and it’s changing dramatically now – but it was a very rural county, other than the capital city here in Raleigh. And a lot of this rural farmland – these were large tracts of land – two and three hundred acres for a farm, so if something’s being developed it’s nice if the house could move somewhere on that property that’s being developed and buffer it out so it can have a nice setting. Because that context is important to keep and the association with the land. So the number one thing that you have to think about is: where is this building going. And then you can get into the logistics of, “Well, are we going to have to purchase that land? Or is the land going to be donated?” And since we are a non-profit donating the land, they can get a tax write-off for donating the land and the house. But usually, it’s those three factors. There’s the land, the house, and the move costs. And as a non-profit or, really, anyone who’s getting involved in that, at least two of those need to be covered: the house donation and the land donation. We can handle the moving costs and things like that. But once you get involved in someone having to pay for land, the house, and the actual move itself, it becomes quite cost prohibitive.
[NR] You have to figure out a way to handle some of those costs. I guess, in this project, what were the details? How did that all come together?
[JB] So the developer actually purchased a lot across the street that was actually associated with the house. And through talks with the developer and the previous owner – they were amenable to it as well – donating a small parcel of land was 1.41 acres, and it was directly across the street. We’re talking maybe about 150 yards from where the house originally was located.
[NR] So not a huge distance-wise, I guess, in the whole –
[JB] Not a huge distance, not at all. And it’s facing the opposite direction, but facing the – the relationship to the street’s the exact same. Think of it as a mirror.
[JB] And once we knew where it was going to go, we had to start looking for house movers. Well, prior to my time coming here in 2013, our company had worked with a house mover right before the recession, moving a house. We sort of just went with that company, and I got to see it firsthand. Literally, week three, week four on the job the prep work that goes in actually moving the house, and that’s really where a lot of the time comes into play.
[NR] What kind of prep work are we talking about?
[JB] Once something comes into our hands, we want to make sure, “Alright, we’re going to make sure it’s historically appropriate.” So the big thing there was, “Alright, the first that had to go was the vinyl siding.” So we took the vinyl siding off and then we were able to see underneath all these beautiful details, things of that nature. The house mover himself, basically think of it as – you have to tunnel, like, almost a rat underneath these buildings. You have to knock out part of the foundation and tunnel these trenches that are usually about six to eight feet deep, to be able to get beams underneath these houses.
[NR] Now, do they do that by hand? Or is there a machine that does that?
[JB] Originally by hand. Matter of fact, the company we use has been doing this since, I believe, 1901. He is a fourth-generation house mover. When we were out there – and I was watching the whole process – the way that it really works is they bring in excavators, and they slowly have to excavate and use I-beams to shovel the dirt out. And once they’re able to get underneath it, they slowly use hydraulics to slowly jack up the house and you prep it before they can start situating and put shims in there and things like that.
[NR] Now I presume this was a frame structure?
[JB] This is. Yeah, this was a frame structure.
[NR] Can they do the same thing with brick or how does that work?
[JB] We are in the process of, actually, doing that right now. A brick structure is moving in my hometown of Apex. And it is a brick structure. And the question was – it’s a smaller structure. We’ve ranged everywhere from 1,800 square feet to 3,800 square feet moving. But a brick structure can move, but there are a lot more precautions in bracing preliminary work that has to be done to the house itself.
[NR] Okay. So in this case, though, it’s frame and so now they’ve jacked it up. And then what comes next?
[JB] So the big thing is you have to get it to a height where it can get on wheels. We’ve worked with three different house movers that this is what they do no matter if it’s a modern modular house or if it’s a historic house. But they all sort of approach it with different techniques. It really depends on how deep your pocketbook is and how you want to see the process done. Some of the companies now are moving more towards hydraulic systems where they’re able to, actually, with a remote control, tilt the house forward and backward depending on the elevation of the land and the topography. So everything is completely planned out. You can set a glass of water on one of the beams as the house is jacked up and moving and the glass of water will not spill. That’s obviously going to be a little more costly but it is actually almost to the point where you’re using a robot. It’s just hand controlled with a control system.
Now, the fourth generation house mover that I was discussing we work with, which is McCray House Movers, they, actually, were pretty traditional in the way it was done. And had their bobcats out and would slowly pick up portions with the hydraulics to get these I-beams under there. And you have I-beams going both from front to back and side to side of this house. And they have to support where, obviously, your joists are underneath the house. And the best way to do that is to use cribbing. And so they would bring cribbing in and cribbing is used to even it out, and then you would use little shims to even that out. But the big thing is with these houses, and the majority of the ones we’re working with, you’re working with at least two chimneys. In a lot of cases, they’re interior chimneys. The big thing is the chimney and the bracing of that. So imagine you have a large chimney base. You actually have to notch that section out and get enough that it’s notched out that the I-beams can slide under that and lift up the chimney and then brace around the chimney. So the chimney in its own self, I mean, chiseling away at a base of a chimney, it takes a long time to do as well.
[NR] So there’s a lot of just time involved in all of this. I mean, how much time are we talking about? Do they knock this out in a day, in a week? I mean, how long does this all take to get to this point?
[JB] There’s a lot of factors. First off, you’ve got to think that a demo permit is actually needed in most jurisdictions. Believe it or not, this isn’t a true demo, but once a house is separate from the land it is no longer connected to the land, it’s considered a demolition by most town ordinances. So you do have to get a demolition permit, even though you’re not demolishing the house. That sometimes can take a little bit of a while because a lot of people aren’t used to a 120-year-old house being picked up and moved. It’s never come across their desk before. So we know when they have protocols to go by and certain things to sign off on, it can get a little confusing. But the process itself could take anywhere – I’ve seen it take as short as three to four weeks, and then it’s taken as long as five to six months depending on the prep work that’s needed. Obviously, weather is a big factor because you’ve dug these trenches, and yeah, you’ve done your best to keep it out. But we had a really wet season two years ago and it rained constantly; and there was about three feet of standing water in the trenches almost every day. So it was a pain to have to get the water out and things like that.
[NR] Wow. Well, this has been really interesting so far. I think we’re going to take a quick break, and when we come back, we will come to the dramatic conclusion of this house moving episode and see if it made it across the street. You’re listening to PreserveCast.
[Stephen Israel] Achoo.
[Michelle Eshelman] Bless you, Steve.
[SI] Thanks. Ah, these allergies. The pollen. I hate flowers.
[ME] But, Steve, I thought you loved everything Maryland? What about Black-eyed Susans? Surely you don’t hate those. They’re the Maryland state flower!
[SI] I guess you’re right.
[ME] Hey, did you know the Black-eyed Susan is a name for a poem?
[ME] All in the Downs the fleet was moor’d
The streamers waving in the wind
When Black-eyed Susan came aboard,
Oh! where shall I my true-love find?
It’s from an English poem by John Gay published in 1719. The poem was often set to folk tunes and grew fairly popular soon after it was published. So popular that when English sailors started bringing the Native American flower back home with them and calling it the Black-eyed Susan, the name ended up sticking on both sides of the Atlantic.
[SI] Aw, a poem? That’s so sweet. The only thing I know about the Black-eyed Susan is that it had a trouble becoming the state flower.
[ME] What do you know Steve?
[SI] Well, in 1898, the Farmer’s Institute held a round up at the Maryland Agricultural College, now part of the University of Maryland, College Park. Farmers from around the state congregated to talk about government issues in farming. At this round up, there was the first ever women’s section that was surprisingly well-attended by over 100 women. The women at this meeting decided a) there should be a Maryland state flower and b) it should be the Black-eyed Susan.
Their decision was reported in newspapers across the state, but it took twenty years for any official action to actually take place in Annapolis. When it did finally come up for debate in the year 1918, the debate was surprisingly forceful. Some wanted the Black-eyed Susan, others the goldenrod. Both because the yellow flowers brought to mind the Calvert family crest in the Maryland flag. Delegate Mitchell so strongly preferred the Goldenrod, he argued on the floor that the goldenrod would honor fallen soldiers, while the Black-eyed Susan might be seen as a black eye from the Keiser. Believe it or not, that argument didn’t win over too many other delegates, and today, we have our state flower.
[ME] Man, who knew people could get so worked up about flowers?
[SI] You’re telling me, Michelle. But that’s enough about flowers. I think it’s time we make like a tree and get back to PreserveCast.
Do you have questions? We may have answers. If at any point during this podcast, you’ve thought of a question that you have for us or or maybe we one of our guests, we’d love to hear about it. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try and answer it right here on the air on the next episode of PreserveCast.
[NR] This is Nick Redding. You’re listening to PreserveCast, and we’re joined by Jeremy Bradham who was talking to us when we left, about moving a house and all the process that goes into it. In certain cases, you told us best case scenario, maybe three, four weeks. And in some cases, months upon months to make all of this happen. In the project we were talking about – and you were giving us some background on – it was supposed to move across the street. And so you got us to the point where we had trenches under it. We had jacked it up on cribbing. We have now supported the chimney. What happens next?
[JB] So the next thing is getting the wheels underneath it and making sure everything’s evened out. During the whole process, the leveler is used [laughter] repeatedly to the front and back of the house to make sure the house is level because you got to think about it. If this is off a couple degrees and you’re twisting 120-year-old beams inside this house, whether it’s balloon-framed or not, that could cause a huge issue. You could be looking at extreme fractures in the framing. So it’s very important to make sure as it’s being jacked up and ready for these wheels to go under, that everything is level. Once the wheels are under, it’s more or less getting it out of the way of all the debris underneath. You think about it. You’ve just completely taken out the base of two chimneys, so there’s a lot of debris under there. You’ve got to clear all that out and sort of get it up out of the way and orientated in a specific direction of where you’re going. Now our challenge here was, once it’s jacked up, once it’s got the wheels under it, and it’s picked up, and leveled out, and up out of the way on the top of the hill, you’ve got power lines in front of you. That poses, really, the biggest issue and the biggest challenge.
[NR] And I’ve always heard that power lines can sometimes be the most expensive part of moving a house if you have to disconnect them. Is that true? I mean, is that a big challenge?
[JB] So I know different power companies do different things depending on where they’re located, what state, and things like that. Here in North North Carolina, they don’t raise power lines anymore. A gentleman lost his life on the job a few years back, I heard, prior to 2013. So what they do now is they actually drop the lines and they discontinue service or the run a feeder line to continue service to those people, but it’s redirected, if that makes sense. So they drop the lines, and you drive over them, and then they immediately put the lines back up. In a lot of cases, you’re worried about going down the road and crossing lines that are crossing the street. There’s one that moved from the town of Cary to the town of Apex, which was, I’d say, about a 14-mile trip. Luckily, there were only two sets of power lines during the whole process, but the roof was low enough on this one it didn’t matter. Now, if this would have been a larger building – like the one I discussed as my first project or the one we’re working on right now restoring that moved last year – it’s too high, and if you’re going down the road, you’re going to come across at least probably four or five sets of power lines as the crisscross the road just on a major back road here in North Carolina.
[NR] Now, what does it cost to drop them? I mean, what did it cost you in that situation?
[JB] That is also a loaded question. I wish I could give you definitive answers here, and then someone would come back to this interview and quote me on it [laughter]. But it really depends. We’ve heard estimates anywhere from $5,000 to $75,000 depending on lines. We’ve heard of projects that we’re not involved with that exceeded $150,000 because they were going to [move] so many lines and it was in a downtown setting.
[NR] So you drop the lines, and now it’s on wheels and, I guess – you described it as being on a hill. So does it have to come down a hill?
[JB] It does. Right before they do that, they grade it. They don’t want to grade it right before that. So they start grading the day or two before they start moving it down the hill. The big thing is those beams – they’re really railroad ties – that are used for the cribbing and things like that are now used to sort of make an even surface. Because, you got to think about it, a lot of these have these drainage ditches on the side of the road. You got to cross that, so you’re going to have to grade that land but also bring those beams out to even it out. And once you hit the road, you’ve got to make sure that you’re able to slowly jack up certain parts or decrease certain parts so it’s level and it’s not contorting or twisting in any way. There’s actually some images on our website of the house sitting in the middle of the road and its back end is sitting almost touching the land on one side, and its front end’s sort of almost where it’s going on the new set of land.
[NR] So in this case, you’re pretty lucky, though, because you’d only have to go across the street. And so you get it across the street, I presume – hopefully, that’s the other part of this story – and it gets there. And then what happens once it’s to the site where it needs to be? What’s the next step there?
[JB] So the big thing is the footings. So you have to go through the whole permitting process as well with that. Measurements are done on the building prior to it moving for footings. Sometimes the footings are put in after. Sometimes they’re put in when the building’s sitting above it just so they can be more accurate. So the house sometimes can sit anywhere from four weeks to three or four months above as the footings are being done, dried out. Those have to, obviously, be improved along the way and inspectors have to come make sure the footings are done when they’re poured. Then you have to worry about your piers and how that’s going to be done. And, obviously, in some cases a lot of these had skirting walls that were added in the ’50s or ’60s, and you’d like to go back to the traditional piers on some of these and especially with porches. So, really, it’s to the brick choice now. What are you going to have for the foundation because this… I’ve noticed this with a lot of people when they buy historic homes – and I’m in the market myself so it’s something that is of a concern – but what is the foundation like? What are the joists like underneath this house?
Well, you have an opportunity now to reinforce that foundation that may have been way overspanned anyway. Sometimes you’re looking at a summer beam thirty feet long that only had two spans in between and you can almost jump on it like a trampoline. But these were rural houses and that’s just the way they built them 120 years ago. Really, the big thing now is the challenges in that foundation, and getting that foundation looking right, and getting the structural engineer to really assess, “Alright, here’s the load that we’re going have with this house here.” And it’s interesting with permitting, too, when you deal with a house like this because you get permits for footings and if an inspector were to come out two weeks later, “Oop, the house is already there,” you’re not using a framing permit or a building permit because the house is already there. Two minutes after the footings are done, or when they’re dry, you can lower the house, and overnight there’s a house on that spot.
[NR] Now the footings that you’re putting in for a house like this, are they just putting in concrete footings, or how does that all come together? I mean, generally, you’re supposed to match materials, right? But are you… In this case, because you’re having to do sort of new construction to marry with old, what do you do?
[JB] That’s a good question. So concrete footings are used. But when it comes to your brick piers, those are typically – everything has got to be code nowadays. And when you change – when you do a certain amount of change to a historic building, and you’re fully aware of this, you do have to bring certain things up to code. And that’s one thing that will have to be up to code is making sure that you have enough reinforcement and foundation. So cinder blocks are used and they’re faced in a period brick. A project that we’re working on right now, actually, we’re using 115-year-old brick on the house with a lot of the original bricks mixed in. So it’s faced. I mean, there’s no way of anyone being able to tell, but putting in a three foot wide, load-bearing brick wall with 110-year-old bricks isn’t probably going to meet code in today’s standards when it comes to establishing a new foundation for a historic house.
[NR] Right. So, I guess, then once everything’s in place, you just begin to slowly lower it down? Is that how that works?
[JB] Absolutely. Slowly lowering it, putting your sill plates on, making sure that everything is lining up, if there’s any issues. The lowering process takes a little bit of time just because you want to make sure that the house is going to receive its new foundation in an okay manner. There is going to be settling, obviously. You’re in a new location that hasn’t experienced this kind of stress or weight on the ground at this point. It’s to be expected that chimneys are going to settle a little bit. Usually, we’ve noticed after about six months to a year, they’re done settling, and that’s when you can go in and you’re into your chimney repair, your fireboxes, and things like that.
[NR] What about plaster? I mean, most of these, I imagine, are plastered homes. Does that settle? Does that crack? Or how does that work?
[JB] Believe it or not, the ones that we’ve worked with the most, these were actually all-exposed chevron beadboard. In this part of the state a lot of the rural houses – the ones that we were dealing with and moving the most – even over a 40-year period, they all have this chevron beadboard. There was never any plaster. Some of them had drywall, but of course, we would rip that out to expose the original beadboard. I’ve seen, I guess, some stress on that before, but it usually just evens out. I would imagine with plaster, there’s obviously going to be fracturing in the plaster. There’s no way to avoid that whatsoever.
[NR] I guess my Maryland bias was showing there [laughter] because generally even in our rural areas, we have a lot of plaster out there, so that’s, I guess, where I was going with that. So moving all of this, I mean, what you just described is a pretty complex process. If someone has a historic home – I mean, I know you’ve told us before it’s hard for you to put your finger on how much it’s going to cost. But if someone’s donating the house and they’re donating the land, what is the moving cost associated with this? What have you seen it range on your projects?
[JB] We’ve seen everything from $40,000 for ones that we’ve been involved with to about $150,000.
[NR] And it depends on the length of the move, does that have a lot to do with it?
[JB] It depends on the prep work and it depends on the system that they use. Remember, I said one could be a fancy hydraulic system, which is a great system to use as well. But that, obviously, is going to incur cost because you’re using a lot of mechanical, high-tech versus the traditional way. So it really depends on your environment. I mean, the ones that I’ve seen that work well the best is the one we were involved with with the downtown house move, downtown Raleigh, about a year ago, last March. It had to move through the streets, and obviously, we do have power lines and things like. But as it was going up and down the streets, it was best to have a hydraulic system for that because we’re quite hilly here in the Piedmont, North Carolina, and there’s some steep streets up and down so a hydraulic system was best there. And obviously, the more expensive system was needed.
[NR] Yeah. Now, the work that you guys are doing, would you describe it as more proactive or reactive? I mean, it sounds more like what you’re describing is reactive, where it’s developers bought a piece of ground and you’re going to lose this house unless it’s moved. I mean, you’re not going out and moving homes preemptively, are you?
[JB] No, absolutely not. Again, it goes back to that stigma of less than two decades ago, moving a house was considered a faux pas, per se.
[NR] Well, let me ask ask you about that, though, with the stigma. And I think part of that is that when a house is moved, particularly one that’s on the National Register, there is some suggestion that it could lose its status on the Register. Do you think that that prohibition should remain? Do you think that that should be taken a fresh look at as far as “if we have to move these things,” and “we’re saving them”? Do they really lose their value when they move?
[JB] That’s actually a very good question. Now, before my time, there was a house that was moved in a town. It used to be a small town right down the road from where I grew up called Morrisville, North Carolina. And it was a house that was associated with Mabel Pugh, who was a famous artist, and it was built in the 1870s. The road was being expanded. It was on the National Register of Historic Places at the time. It did need to be moved. So at its new location, obviously, just the National Register report had to be updated for its new location and its context in relation to the railroad was about the same. And it moved another, I’d say, about 250 yards. One of those projects. But in that case, I mean, the house was either going to be lost to a road widening or moved. So this particular property that we just moved, actually, was able to be applied and added to the Study List. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Study List here in North Carolina. It’s sort of a second step before the National Register of Historic Places, and it goes before a council called the National Register Advisory Council. And they basically say it does have merit to be on the National Register. So it’s placed in this little, almost – I wouldn’t say purgatory – but this upper level of just a surveyed property. The one that we moved was able to obtain that status after it moved, actually, because it’s on land historically associated with the family and the farm itself.
[NR] So, I mean, what we’re hearing from you is that if it’s possible and also reading between the lines, it sort of sounds like you would agree that just because it’s moved doesn’t mean it’s lost its historic fabric. And particularly nowadays, we might be – might be necessary to take a more expansive view on that sort of thing.
[JB] Right. And with National Register Reports, if you look at it, it’s always the relationship between the house and the land. So that’s why for us, it’s always been very important to keep it on that land associated with the family or the farm or the property itself. Sometimes when it’s an important – depending on what criteria it’s placed on the National Registry. If it’s solely for its architecture and it’s moved, I mean, there is merit there to say, “Alright. Well, it moved but it was placed on the National Registry, not because of its association with the land and the context, but just for its architecture.” So I guess it depends on how it was placed on the National Registry in the first place.
[NR] Interesting. So as we draw to a conclusion here, curious, just quickly, have you worked on any Ag Structures? I know that that comes up from time to time. In fact, in Maryland right now, there’s an issue with an old tobacco barn in Southern Maryland – probably something you’d be familiar with in North Carolina. It needs to be moved. And so there’s sort of a local grassroots effort to try and pull funding together to move that. Have you been involved in any of that? Is that about the same process? Or is it harder, simpler?
[JB] It can be a more difficult process. We actually, we lost a barn here recently. We actually had house movers look at it and assess it. A lot of the times shoring up those… because you’re looking at massive expanses of open space. I mean, there was no floor system holding the building together for the framing. So with a lot of these, it’s very difficult. I can just say from experience of talking with movers. A lot of them won’t go near it because you’re really looking at two walls that are in the ground sitting on stone piers and there’s no floor expanse, no framing below. So when it comes to moving something like that, it – talk about your game of inches. One inch pressed in the wrong way, and the whole building could collapse.
[NR] Yeah. It almost sounds like it’d be easier just to disassemble those in certain cases.
[JB] Yeah. And that really gets to the whole George Washington’s hatchet. I’m stealing this from Mitch Wild to the State Historic Preservation office here in North Carolina. George Washington’s hatchet it, the head’s been replaced three times, the handle’s been replaced twice, but I promise you that’s George Washington’s hatchet. Sometimes when things get disassembled, they don’t always get put back together the correct way and what do you have then? It’s old wood, but it’s not the people who put it together 150, 200 years ago. It’s not that same way. So that’s probably a last ditch thing. But again, at least it’s saved. So I guess you can look at it from that ground.
[NR] Yeah, interesting questions… So last question here for you. What’s the favorite building so far that you’ve had the chance to work on? And it doesn’t have to be one that you moved, although that might be the case. But favorite old historic building that you’ve had the opportunity to put your hands on.
[JB] That’s a loaded question. I’ll actually bring it – I mean, obviously, Charleston. I don’t want to go, always go back to Charleston because it’s a unique city and we’ve done some great projects there. But I’d say the house move that we’re working on right now and it’s finishing up the final phases of restoration right now. It actually crossed the bridge. It crossed the highway bridge. Now that was something to behold. We actually had cars at 70 miles an hour slamming on brakes just so they could back up and take a picture of it [laughter]. Which is quite odd.
But it crossed one of those – the newer bridges now are infinity bridges. This is important to mention. A lot of people were concerned what if the house does have to cross a bridge. Well, most bridges that are built today are built with the standard of being called an infinity bridge, which means that their max load is not even listed. I can sustain an 80 ton – because I can tell you right now, the one we moved is estimated around 80 tons – it can sustain an 80-ton load with no problem. A lot of people thought for sure that the bridge was buckling and things like that. But it’s a unique building because it was in danger of actually being used as fire practice. And it was a pleasure to work with the owner who actually donated generously some land across the road that was part of the tobacco farm. But the house, actually, they never had any children. And the house on the second floor was sealed up and the back left room was incomplete. It, actually, had a work bench sitting there covered in dust from clearly when they stopped work in 1906. So the second floor was never painted, has the original gas carbide lights. It was just almost a time capsule when you walked upstairs.
[NR] Wow. And what’s the name of the house?
[JB] It’s the Upchurch-Williams House in Apex.
[NR] And we can find information on that on your website. And I guess that leads to me, too, if someone wanted to get in touch with you to talk about moving a structure or learn more about your guys work, how would they find you?
[JB] They can reach us online. We’re at www.CapPresInc.org. That’s C-A-P-P-R-E-S-I-N-C.org. It’s a good showcase of our projects. And if you don’t mind, Nick, I just would like to throw out there, when we just move a house, we don’t just move it and turn around, and sell it, and say, “Oh, it’s moved.” We guarantee that it’s saved through a rehabilitation agreement and a preservation easement. So we do bring up the building and fix certain things, if there’s rotten boards or things like that, we fix those items. But we work with the future owner with a rehabilitation agreement and a preservation easement to guarantee in perpetuity that these things we saved and thoughts were are worth merit to move this building across the street or down the road or on the other side of town, that those items are saved in perpetuity and no one can rip out all that beautiful woodwork or things that like. They do become a part of our preservation easement program, as well.
[NR] That’s great. Well, Jeremy, it has been eye-opening and a real pleasure to sit down and talk with you. Thank you for spending your time with us, and also thank you for all the good work you’re doing out of North Carolina. Maybe at some point we can get you up to Maryland and get you moving some things around up here, as well.
[JB] Sounds great, Nick.
[NR] All right. Thanks again.
[NR] Thanks for talking with us today.
[JB] Take care.
You don’t need to open a history book to find us and available online from iTunes and their Google Play Store as well as our website: PresMD.org. This is PreserveCast.
This podcast was developed under a grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a unit of the National Park Service. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Milestones Heritage Area and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the National Park Service or the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.
This week’s episode was produced and engineered by Ben and Stephen Israel. Our executive producer is Aaron Marcavitch. Our theme music is performed by the band Pretty Gritty. You can learn more about them at their website: PrettyGrittyMusic.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter @PG_PrettyGritty.
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