No steering wheel was needed to guide one of Raleigh’s oldest houses to its new site Tuesday. A high-tech moving crew kept the two-centuries-old building rolling smoothly with just a remote control.
The Crabtree Jones House had stood on a hill facing what is now Wake Forest Road since about 1795. In recent decades, it has been shrouded by woods from the road and its neighbors, which today includes a Trader Joe’s grocery.
But since developers announced plans for 243 apartments on the site, nonprofit Preservation North Carolina has been working to get the house shifted to the adjacent Crabtree Heights neighborhood.
With developers footing the bill, the preservationists called on third-generation house mover Mike Blake of Greensboro. Blake has designed a computer system that uses hydraulic pumps to keep houses balanced as they move. He says that a full glass of water could sit on a windowsill during the process without spilling a drop.
“It’s the first computer system in the country,” Blake said. “The key is to keep the building in a geometric plane.”
The house moved inch by inch down a muddy hill, using a track of plywood boards to keep the wheels from sinking.
By early afternoon, Blake had the house in place on Hillmer Drive, where it is replacing a one-story ranch home. The wheels will come off, and workers will construct a new foundation.
Preservation North Carolina plans to study the building, examining its wood structure to learn more about the home’s history. For now, even the date of construction is a ballpark figure.
“This house has lots of mystery,” said the organization’s director, Myrick Howard.
The house is named for its builder, early Raleigh settler Nathaniel “Crabtree” Jones, who ran a plantation that neighbored Isaac Hunter’s Tavern, where plans for the state capital were first made. The creek nearby – not to mention the valley and subsequent mall – bear his nickname.
The property stayed in the Jones family until the 1960s, when real-estate investor Charles William Gaddy bought up tracts of land around the Beltline. Gaddy made a point to preserve the house, inviting a local architect to live there rent-free in exchange for keeping the place up.
While it’s now safe from the wrecking ball, the house’s immediate future is uncertain. Howard is working to find a buyer to take on renovations, a process that will cost more than the nonprofit’s $350,000 asking price.