Back in the olden days when I lived in the Boston area, we’d see historic houses going down the road from time to time. It wasn’t anything shocking since it happened fairly often. The narrow, congested, hilly, and windy roads made it a bit of a challenge for movers and an inconvenience for the rest of us. It was easy to be patient, though, knowing that a piece of 200- or 300-year-old history was being relocated for whatever reason. We all grinned and beared it and then went on with our days, never giving it a second thought.
Fast forward to 2019 when Melissa Silvio, vice president of the Valley Historical Society, contacted me about documenting the move of the historic Little White Schoolhouse. I said, “Sure, glad to,” but I was also thinking — no big deal. I’ve seen this a bunch of times.
But I’d never seen it like this.
The world of structural movers is unlike anything I’d ever experienced, and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to see it first-hand. Jeff Monroe and Don Shaw — both third generation structural movers — came into town with a frenzy of energy. These guys were like rocket scientists who work in the dirt: knowing physics and math, carpentry and engine repair, and more, playing a mean game of life-size Jenga with supports. I had never before seen the way buildings were jacked up off their foundations onto supports. One of my favorite parts was watching lead mover Jeff use a Bobcat to do pretty much anything and everything, including pulling the schoolhouse off its foundation. I texted a friend who had done traffic control for many a move to tell him that, and he responded, “Nuh uh.” I sent him a photo, and he became a believer as well.
So it’s no wonder that both Jeff and Don received an award just last week from the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation for this specific project. While these two men did all the actual moving — it took a community to make it happen.
Jackie Franks formed the Valley Historical Society (VHS) in 2009 in hopes of transforming the historic building into a museum and headquarters for the Society. Since the building would have to be moved from its location, this was going to be an expensive and complicated task. Jackie held many fundraising efforts over the years.