by Erin Feith, Research Assistant
October 12, 2021
The phrase “moving house” historically was often very literal. Since the 1700s, the process of transporting an existing structure from one location to another was somewhat common. But while the general processes remained largely the same, the mechanisms and motivations involved in moving buildings have evolved. Today, the history of house-moving from practicality to preservation can be found on full display throughout Morris County.
Given the cost of labor and materials in the 1700 and 1800s, it was often a better financial option to transport a building rather than to construct an entirely new one on a different site. Even as the 20th century dawned, moving homes for practicality was not out of the question, as seen in the relocation of the David Howell House to its current address at 47 Madison Avenue. Built in 1795 for the Howell family and located next to Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, NJ, the building received a new life and location when Reverend Henry A. Buttz resigned as President of Drew Theological Seminary. Rev. Buttz had purchased land on Madison Avenue and a local friend arranged for the former rectory to be transferred to the property where it still stands.
More recently, communities use house-moving to protect pieces of local history. In the mid-20th century, the construction of roadways to accommodate greater automobile travel, the rate of development courtesy of a booming post-WWII economy, and the tandem processes of suburbanization and urban renewal, led to growing concerns over the loss of America’s historic landscape. Officially formed in 1949, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) not only worked to preserve sites but also educated the public about them. Efforts, such as those of the NTHP, were assisted by the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Providing a standard criteria for establishing historical significance, the NHPA facilitated the preservation process, as interest in local history and historic sites flourished.
Effects of this moment can be seen around the County, with the relocation of the Silas Riggs House (Roxbury) in 1962 and the Ford Cottage, L’Hommedieu-Gwinnup House, and Moses Estey House (Morristown) between 1968 and 1969. Each threatened by development, roadway construction or urban renewal projects, the homes benefitted from the push for preservation. The Silas Riggs House was transported a half mile before being positioned on a concrete block foundation. Following suit, the Ford Cottage was placed upon the foundation of a farmhouse on the Historic Speedwell property. The two other homes were placed on ones reconstructed from the original stones used. Building upon its earlier traditions, house-moving provides pieces of the past with a future.