Moving House: A Mathews Beauty Finds a New Home
Sometimes what you’re seeking is right under your nose. And sometimes the right timing can make a dream come true. This is the story of a hunt for a house that presented itself to its new owners with both proximity and perfect clockwork. The fact that it had to be packed up and moved – all of it -- is just an incidental detail.
Six years ago Stacy and Skip Wallace purchased three acres and a ranch house on Hills Bay in Mathews. While the rancher was serviceable, the couple really wanted a house with some age. “We’ve always loved old houses, “ says Skip, a Connecticut native and an architect with Island Architects. Twenty years ago he and Stacy purchased their Chester home, a vintage beauty built in 1890, and they’ve loved the process of restoring and updating it into a gracious and comfortable for place for them and their 15-year-old daughter Brynn.
To satisfy their hankering for historic, the Wallaces considered their river home options. “We wondered, should we fix up the ranch house or tear it down? We realized that we’d love to find an old house,” Skip says of their ultimate decision to find a house and move it to their property. The one that called their name just happened to be nearby, right next to the Mathews High School, a place they drove by frequently. Looking at the empty three-story 100-year-old, they considered its similarity to a ship captain’s house with its rooftop cupola and how it really belonged on the water, not drydocked in town. “We had our eye on it,” Skip says.
Lo and behold, the house came up for sale so Skip and Stacy stopped and looked inside one day. The granddaughter of Fenton Kimball, the last inhabitant of the house, gave them a tour, and they loved what they saw plus the potential they could envision. At 2,000 square feet, the house is one room deep with a center hall and two bedrooms upstairs. They continued think about it as a possibility – might moving it to their Hills Bay location work?
A day came in October 2008 when the Wallaces noticed work going on with the object of their affection. Siding was being removed, and they wondered if they were too late to rescue the property from destruction. “I was fishing down on the end of our dock, and Stacy came down and told me what she’d seen,” Skip recalls. “That was a Sunday – I called the owner and found out that the house was going to be burned down on Monday.” Acting fast, Skip managed to work a deal where he’d have the house moved from the site during the next two months.
To move the house, the Wallaces called in some experts – literally – Jim Matyiko of Expert House Movers of Virginia. Matyiko and his brothers are known nationally for transporting hundreds of hard-to-budge buildings ranging in size from a small milk house to lighthouses in danger of being swept away by erosion (Hatteras, Block Island and others). Matyiko consulted with the Wallaces about what would be required to make a fast move. “We found out that there were 80 pairs of phone, cable and power wires that would need moving,” Skip says of the three-mile route from street to waterside. “At a cost of $240,000 to $250,000 … so that was out.”
Rather than moving the house wholly intact, Matyiko recommended the Wallaces work with Raymond Walker of House Lifters to cut it down to size. “The only way to meet his budget and clear those wires was to cut it into three pieces,” Matyiko says. “I explained to Raymond what I wanted.”
House Lifters sliced the house into three horizontal sections by carefully splicing joists and beams. Next, they worked with Matyiko’s crew to load it onto steel beams, dollies and flatbed trucks. The process took a week and was complicated by uneven weight distribution that had to be remedied so the load wouldn’t flip during the ride. “We started at daybreak, and it took just a little over an hour,” Matyiko says. Arriving at the Hills Bay site, the movers found tricky weather conditions -- winds gusting 30-40 knots. “It was like having a big kite in the air, but we got her down in about an hour.”
Moving the house was just the beginning, and the rebirth of the residence is definitely a team effort. Stacy, a genealogist, has looked back – she researched the chain of title back to 1880 though the house may be older – while Skip has put his professional talents to the task of looking forward – his plain brown sketchbook is full of detailed drawings he’s made of elevations, cabinetry, ideas and dreams of what the house could be and will be.
The working plans include a kitchen addition, new tin roof and waterside porch, and the first phase of renovation is moving ahead. Old plaster is being gutted. Stacy’s father, a retired postmaster, is methodically repairing the windows in the house – all 20 of them – by scraping them down, reglazing, priming and repainting. The old clapboard siding is being replaced with the durable, fiber cement siding called Hardiplank. Heart pine floors will be refinished.
“Hopefully, we’ll be finished within two years,” Skip says, noting that they still have the ranch house for accommodations. “We’ll just take our time and work on it.” A centerian like theirs, now safely settled in its final resting place, deserves exactly that kind of patience and loving care.