Some Moving Thoughts

January 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

An article in the New York Times this week announced that the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, bought the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Bachman Wilson House in Somerset County, New Jersey.  The plan is to move the three bedroom, 2,000 square foot house and furnishings from its current site in New Jersey to one of the 3.5 miles of trails surrounding the museum in Arkansas.  The article triggered many questions in my mind the biggest of which is, “How are they going to do it?”

The idea of moving buildings from one location to another has always fascinated me, and I have often wondered how workers in 1902 moved the house that was on the property of Susan’s father down the street and across the tracks to its current location to make room for Susan’s new home, the Lawrence House. Of course, I turned to the Internet and found that there are two methods of relocating a structure: dismantling/reassembling and transporting as a whole.  I suspect that the Lawrence “cottage” was moved in one piece, and an article on the Shiawassee County, Michigan, History web site describes a moving method that might possibly have been the way the Lawrence building got from one block to the next. Below is a picture and an excerpted version of that article:

First of all, the house was jacked up off its foundation and placed on heavy wooden beams. .. The ends of these beams were pointed and tended to act as runners similar to those on a sleigh. A temporary wooden track was put down in the street and the greased runners slid along it…As the house inched along the street, the planks and ties left behind it were picked up and manually carried to the front of the house and laid down ahead of it…

It was necessary to mount a capstan in the middle of the street. This capstan was anchored to some very strong objects well ahead of the house. ..A pulley was fastened securely to the front of the house… One end of a very strong rope, or steel cable ran from this pulley to a tree trunk or other highly immovable object. It then went through the pulley and was wrapped around the capstan. The capstan was then turned by horses which walked in a circle and tugged on a pole connected to the capstan. As they walked, the cable would slowly wind up on the capstan and pull the house forward.

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The extremely slow process took days, and the building that was being moved often sat overnight in the street for weeks, inconveniencing the neighborhood. In fact, the Encyclopedia of Chicago reports that the practice of moving houses in that city was so common that at one point some citizens petitioned the city council to pass a law that said only one building could stand in the street of any block at one time.

I can’t picture a modern day version of the horse and capstan method moving the Bachman Wilson Home.  I can’t even imagine the house on the back of a flatbed truck.  I suspect that Crystal Bridge Museum staff plans to dismantle and reassemble.  I wish them well.

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