It’s not something most people see every day: a house being pulled from its foundation to be loaded onto the back of a truck and transported to its new location. But 50 years ago — June 7, 1963 — Lindell Chism and Jim Poe moved a house from the 100 block of South Cedar Street, Ottawa, where The Herald building now sits, to 720 N. Cherry St., Ottawa. The Herald’s offices were built in 1963 when longtime newspaper publisher Robert “Bob” Wellington decided to relocate from its historic Main Street building.
Poe, Greeley, said he still remembers helping Chism move the house down Main Street, across the river to Cherry Street, to make room for The Herald.
“The truck was Mr. Chism’s. I was just helping him,” Poe said. “It was his own house, and he moved it and made it into a rental house. It came right out where The Herald is right now.”
Though trucking the house from Cedar Street to Cherry Street was the first home he had moved, Poe said it wasn’t the first time he’d assisted Chism.
“I worked with him before helping him haul stuff around, just whenever he needed some extra help,” Poe said. “He got the house and had to move it. [Chism and his wife] lived close on Cherry Street where they moved the house to.”
Moving a house can be tricky, Poe said. As the driver of the truck, Poe had to maneuver and navigate through the town, over the river and down the streets to get the house safely to its new location, he said. When asked if he was nervous about driving the house across the river, Poe simply chuckled.
“I’m fearless,” he said. “I wasn’t worried about taking it over the river.”
HOUSE MOVING REMAINS AN OPTION
House moving used to be a lot more common than it is today, Deb Barker, Franklin County Historical Society director, said. Although the practice isn’t obsolete, it’s a lot more difficult.
“People still move houses,” Barker said. “Moving a house was an option if you wanted to do it. Nowadays people just build another house or building, but it’s not impossible [to move a house].”
Barker said people have been relocating houses since before cars were around, so the art of house moving has been adapted from using horses to using trucks. Before the flood control bill that resulted in Ottawa’s levee system was passed, many Ottawa residents moved houses to get out of harm’s way, she said.
“First Street flooded bad before [the bill was passed],”she said. “It may be that someone figured there was an opportunity to move the house further away from the river and salvage it.”
Moving a house today takes a lot of planning and isn’t as easy because of power lines, narrower streets and more crowded highways, Poe said.
“Just a few years back I helped move a few houses. We brought them from Overland Park at 199th Street to Wellsville,” he said. “It takes about 16 people and two utility trucks and telephone trucks and it takes a flag car guy.”
ART OF CHANGE
TJ Bivins, Wellsville, didn’t help move the house from Cedar to Cherry Street back in 1963, but he made a living from similar jobs a long time ago, he said.
“I was always trying to make a living doing something,” Bivins said. “So I moved everything I could get my fingers on.”
Picking up a house off its foundation, keeping it intact, putting it on a truck and transporting it isn’t as difficult as it seems, Bivins said. With the right understanding, knowledge and equipment, everything should go according to plan, he said.
“You take the house on moving beams, and if you’ve got a full basement, you build cribs [interlocking wooden posts used to support the house inside and out],” he said. “You’ve got to be cautious of the wind and keep everything level.”
Prepping a house for a move should only be done by professionals. Movers first come and cut openings in the walls of the foundation, according to the How Stuff Works website [www.howstuffworks.com]. Steel beams then are inserted into those holes to bear the weight of the house during the move. Movers then place hydraulic jacks under the steel beams to provide the movement to lift the house. When the house is lifted, sliding beams are placed underneath to pull the home onto special dollies with rubber tires. The dollies are then attached to a truck that will take the house to its new location, the website states.
Once the home has arrived at its new location, Bivins said, the house cannot be set down all at once. It’s a slow process to ensure the structure remains level and intact.
“You have to measure the corners straight down so the foundation fits,” he said. “Then you have to raise it up and let it down 4 to 5 inches at a time. When you get it on the foundation you have to make sure the house is level, you can’t just drop it real quick or it will ruin it.”
WHERE IS IT NOW?
The house moved from Cedar Street to Cherry Street still sits exactly where Chism left it, his grandson, Michael West, said. The house was passed down through the family to West’s mother, then to him after the passing of his grandmother Chism.
“[I’ve lived in the house] for about 20 years now,” West said. “Everything’s about the same. The rooms have probably been painted a few times, but everything’s pretty much the same.”
West said his grandpa Chism used to do a lot of construction in town, including moving houses, barns and other buildings. He said he watched houses get moved a few years ago when the U.S. 59 freeway was being widened to four lanes.
“When they put the highway into Lawrence, they had to move a bunch of new houses they’d just put up. They uprooted the new houses and moved them somewhere else,” West said. “They did it the same way my grandpa Chism used to.”
If Bivins could still move houses, he said, he’d still be in the business today, as some of his fondest memories were of the people he’d met and helped.
“Everybody I ever moved was just the nicest folks ever,” Bivins said. “They just wanted to save their house. They were buying it to make a place to live with their kids.”