By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“This house is in amazing shape considering that it has been sitting in dirt for 140 years,” said Brent Davis of Port Townsend, who expects to finish next week.
The general contractor is moving the house at 909 Jefferson St. about 15 feet up the lot away from a bluff before pouring a foundation for it.
“We are re-insulating the floor and taking out whatever's rotten, which isn't much because of the high-quality wood they used,” Davis said.
The house, which is accessible through the road leading past the Bell Tower, belongs to Sandy McDermott, a Port Townsend native who lives in Portland, Ore., and uses the house for a summer home.
McDermott said she is excited about the restoration of the home, which she hopes stays in her family.
“I have put in my will that the house will go to my sons, and have asked that they leave it to their children,” she said.
“It will always be in our family.”
McDermott will live in the house full time after her retirement, and until then, “there will always be someone in that house on weekends.”
When she stays in the house it is in the same bedroom she had when she was 4 years old.
“A lot of people have come into that house with a broken heart and have left healed,” she said.
“There is something magical about the house.”
The cost of moving the 50-ton structure is about $300,000, said Davis, who said he and McDermott have planned the project for four years.
“This has been a dream of hers to restore the house,” Davis said.
“She grew up in the house, and it means a lot to her.”
The original plan was to lift the house and pour a new foundation, but the condition of the nearby bluff prompted McDermott to move the house away from the edge to insulate it from any erosion or degradation.
Guy Hupy, who designed the changes and who has worked on several restorations of Victorian buildings, said the city's permitting process required that the house be moved if the foundation were to be replaced.
“She could have done nothing, and nothing would have happened to the house,” Hupy said.
“But it has been sitting on the ground since it was built, and the floors have warped and bowed, so putting it on a new foundation will fix that.”
At the beginning of the project, crews demolished a sunroom on the house's north side that had fallen into disrepair.
It will be rebuilt after the house is moved.
Hupy said construction restrictions govern renovations on historical buildings, but the sunroom was approved because it had been in the original building.
“It helped that we had a picture of the house from the 1890s because we were able to prove the sunroom was part of the original design,” Hupy said.
McDermott said that the new kitchen that will be built in the sunroom has historical elements, including a vintage sink purchased at a yard sale and the same stove her father installed in the house in 1947.
Davis said the moving process is meticulous. First, excavation is done under the house, and building block structures are placed at key weight points. Hydraulic jacks are used to push up the house in increments.
After it is raised, steel beams are set under the house that extend toward the new location, and a new foundation is dug and poured,
The house is then lowered onto the new foundation.
Davis said that when a house is moved, homeowners often take the opportunity to build a full basement, but the soil quality allowed only the construction of a 2-foot crawl space.
Jeff Monroe, owner of a third-generation house-moving company in Carlsborg, is one of the subcontractors.
“I do a lot of new construction, and that's great, but this is a piece of Port Townsend history,” Davis said.
“That's what I love about this house.”
In addition to the sunroom, Davis also is replacing windows and building a dormer window for the master bedroom.
“This is one of the oldest houses in Port Townsend,” Hupy said.
“It's great that we can save this and give it another 100 years of use.”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.