Rawson House Move


With generous support from Mount Holyoke Sycamores Alumnae, residents of South Hadley, and the Frank Stanley Beveridge Foundation the decision was made to move Rawson House.  I obtained bids from all four of the New England house movers and settled on Payne House Moving not only because they submitted the lowest bid, but because they seemed to be best qualified.  They had just finished moving the 450 ton Alexander House in Springfield from the site of the new Federal Building.  Moving the 20 ton Rawson House was weekend work.  Brian, his son, and a co-worker did the job by themselves. 

The first task was to move the house about 35 ft south from its foundation so that renovation of Kay Bernon’s house could proceed.  The final move was made only after I completed negotiations with the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the moving site was prepared at Sycamores, and I obtained numerous permits from the state and local police and fire departments, and electric and phone utilities.  . 

Site preparation consisted of bulldozing a trench some 9 ft deep located 12 ft from the west end of the ell on Sycamores.  The greatest expense in addition to the mover was paying the local policemen for four hours of work for the one hour move. 

The day of the move, which I did not witness, was October 19, 2004, a grey and very rainy day.  There were few spectators to witness the move.  The telephone company and the South Hadley Electric Department moved their wires at no expense, as required by law, right on schedule.  Everything went smoothly until the last few feet, when the house became stuck in the mud.  The 16-wheel vehicle with 60 forward speeds was powerless in the face of no traction, despite sheets of plywood under the wheels that quickly became shredded.  The following week, after the ground had dried out, the move was completed. 

Moving a house is, in principle, a simple process.  Holes are made in the foundation through which steel I-beams, called needles, are inserted, in our case at right angles to the four beams already in place that hold up the chimney.  Stacks of 4” X 4” timbers called cribbing are built under the beams and hydraulic jacks about 16” high added to their tops.  The house is then jacked up about a foot and more beams added under the needles. These beams have rollers on top of them, about 2” in diameter, that allow the house to be rolled relatively easily, onto the truck. The jacks are connected by a common hydraulic line so all go up and down at the same rate. 

Once at the site the truck pulls into the trench excavated for the house, cribbing is built, the house is jacked up, lowered onto the cribbing and the truck removed, leaving the house supported on the cribbing.  Then at a later time a concrete contractor comes in and pours the foundation for the house, just a few inches below the sills.  This ensures that the foundation matches the house (which is not square or even along the bottom).  The house, still supported on cribbing, is lowered onto the foundation, a process that takes only about five minutes.  The cribbing and the needles are then removed, and the contractor comes back to pour the concrete floor and fill in the holes left by the I-beams.

In the 18th C the moving of houses was very common.  In the area immediately adjacent to Sycamores most of the houses have been moved.  Before the advent of electricity, water, sewerage, internet, cable TV, telephone and gas the process was much simpler.  Posts were buried in the middle of the road (no paving to worry about) and blocks and tackles attached to the house.  With a minimum of animal power the house, on logs, was rolled up to the posts, which were then reset to continue the move.  In the winter, with the ground frozen, the process was even simpler.

Ken Williamson

The moving of Rawson House is presented in a number of photographs.  Click to observe.

Wayne Boulais Photo

Weekend, May, 2014

A Brief History

Montagues at Sycamores

Joseph Brodsky

Brodsky Exhibit

The Sycamores Committee

Outline History of Sycamores and Rawson House
Mount Holyoke Alumnae of 

Sycamores Restoration 

Parlor Wallpaper

Wallpaper and Paint

Concealed Shoes

Rawson House

Water Tower
HABS, Historic American
Buildings Survey

Reflections from the House

Letter from Sycamores, 1832

Bark of the Tree