The First Open House was Six Years Later

DANCING DOWN JACKSON by Mark Myers

Alcy Haden’s photo album, the major record of an important event in Reynoldsburg history, had rested on our shelves for some time. Then we received a video tape of the same event. Still photos are very helpful, but a videotape much more so. The tape donated by Cindy Greiner, whose family had received it from Jim Kielmeyer, allowed us, for the first time, to truly experience an awesome move, the relocation of the house that was to become the RTHS Museum. At last we could feel the pulse and rhythm of the journey, hear the chainsaws and the roar of engines, and realize that this move was accomplished not by one tractor, but by eight vehicles working in tandem, like a classic ballet.

The house had been donated to the Society, and Dingey movers from Zanesville were contracted to move the t-shaped structure. Their motto was “We can move it all,” and their skill was such that they would be chosen, six years later, to move the 400-ton Union Station Arch to its final resting place across from Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus.

It took Dingey a week to insert massive steel I-beams, sixteen inches square, through the base of the 1850’s home, then raise it off its foundation with hydraulic jacks. The house had a long addition in back, full front porch, and bay window on the side. Twenty-six wheels, ten upfront on the tractor, and sixteen on dollies under the I-beams were needed to stabilize the massive travel-ing rig, 35 by 70 feet long.

The house moved out on schedule, at 9:20 a.m., October 4, 1993, from the northwest corner of “Five Points,” Reynolds-burg’s biggest intersection, where Livingston Avenue, Graham Road, Route 256, Lancaster Avenue and Slate Ridge Boulevard meet. It was headed north to Broadwyn and Jackson, one-half mile away.

Atop the tractor pulling the house was a tall, thin, mid-60ish man, with an ashen-white face and business on his mind. His chiseled features under oversized glasses reminded us of another mover and shaker in town, the 1930’s local newspaper columnist, Fay May. The driver resembled a picture of Fay May as grand marshal of an early Tomato Festival Parade. 

‘Fay’ was returning as the grand marshal, so to speak, of the biggest one-float parade in our city’s history. Bystanders walked backwards to keep an eye on all the action. Neighbors peered out upstairs windows wondering if their property would remain intact as the house, looking as big as a lake freighter, crept by.

The yellow tractor, eight feet high with a radiator half as wide and a steering wheel from a Greyhound bus, snorted and snarled as it gained speed, reaching a whopping 3 MPH. Within minutes, though, trees were brushing the roof, the first of many obstacles along the journey.

Support crews leapt into action: tree trimmers, AEP, Ameritech, the plank truck, two police cruisers, and a bulldozer all worked in concert. Bucket booms gracefully arced up and down, back and forth, while ‘Fay,’ very patiently, waited on his tractor, rolling a cigarette.

Reaching Silent Home Cemetery, the house was gaining momentum until an overhead line threatened to snag the chimney. In no time, AEP’s bucket man used a special pole to raise the line high enough so that the house could go under, and the plank-boys laid boards along-side a thick telephone cable precariously stretched across the road.

More trouble lay ahead at the fork-in-the-road next to Silent Home as ‘Fay’ guided right into the “Jackson Street Bottleneck.” Trees encroached upon the path from both sides; a grassy downward slope lay to the left; one car owner had ignored notices and their vehicle was still parked on the side of the road; a fire hydrant and speed-limit sign were too close; and for the first time the house was going uphill.

Ameritech used its crane to pull the speed-limit sign out of the ground; the tree trimmers took care of protruding branches, but it was still a tight fit. ‘Fay’ had to steer away from the hydrant, forcing the back wheels onto the grassy downwards slope. Dingey officials anxiously stopped the tractor and huddled over the situation.

The videographer relieved the crowd’s tension by interviewing some of the by-standers: Nancy Stafford, the daughter of Jane Grierson (RHS ’35), the only Reynoldsburg grad that we know of who lived in the house, and Bob Bagent, an early RTHS activist who once lived on the lot where the house was headed. A bystander is heard commenting on what she saw under the house, “Did you see those timbers under there? Just round trees, not even squared off, and they’re notched too.”

Just as the house was about to tumble into the Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, opposite Silent Home Cemetery, the plank-boys shored up the wheels, just another day’s work. ‘Fay’ revved the tractor and put it in drive. The hard ground held as ‘Fay’ steered back onto the road, with the plank boys crawling under the house, even while it was moving. After an hour’s delay at the cemetery fork, the rig with its entourage was heading home, down Jackson, past Fisher’s Green-house sign, “Caution – slow moving house.”

The sun finally peaked through the clouds on this breezy, Indian-summer day, as the kids from Hannah Ashton Middle School were released from classes. They all let out a mighty cheer as the house neared the school at about 11:00. Everyone was visibly relieved as the house entered the wide bus lane in front of the school. The movers were in the clear now, or so they thought. 

‘Fay’ knew he had to make the granddaddy of all right-hand turns at Jackson and Broadwyn in order to back the house over the Society’s lot. He swung onto the Society’s lawn then made a slow, sharp right to miss the fire hydrant at the end of the street. He missed the hydrant, but he was still out of position.

To solve this predicament, the boss-man called for the bulldozer which had been clanking and promenading around all morning. Now the dozer proved its worth as it used a chain to lift the tractor and then pull it, finally, in the right direction. The wheels behind ‘Fay,’ however, were perched on the curb. If they came down, the front end of the house would come down and crush the fire hydrant. The plank-boys to the rescue! They quickly positioned heavy planks under the tractor’s wheels to level their descent onto the street, and the edge of the house missed the hydrant by inches.

‘Fay’ pulled the house ahead and tried to back up. One who has ever backed a trailer knows that it is a series of maneuvers—back up, turn the steering wheel, go forward, reverse direction of the steering wheel, then back up again, several times to get it right. Unfortunately, a house cannot be maneuvered backwards that easily unless you have a bulldozer in your pocket. The dozer lifted and nudged the tractor this way and that until ‘Fay’ could back the house straight and settle it inside the stakes on the lot, thereby passing his driver’s test.

Society members, sipping lemonade and munching cookies at their refreshment stand next to Spoken Word Church, were justifiably proud to see a house on their lot, which had lain vacant for eight years. It was a little past noon, and their new home had taken only three hours to “build.”

A second moving day came a couple months later after the basement had been dug. Bill Dingey, the boss-man, now semi-retired, remembers, “The move down Jackson was challenging, but the second move, to pull the house sideways over the basement excavation was much easier. We extended beams over the foundation dig, and put rollers under the house, so it would glide over the beams. We used a Bobcat and chain to pull the house over the foundation in no time. Heck, we could have used a pick-up truck to do it as well.” 

The house would go through extensive reconstruction before it became a museum. Eight feet of fill dirt was dumped around three sides of the building and sandstone blocks, retrieved by Dick Barth from the old basement at Five Points, were used for the retaining wall to hold the dirt back at the parking lot. The basement was finished into a meeting room with restrooms and office, and the upstairs had to be renovated to bring the house up to code. Thousands of dollars were spent and countless volunteer hours worked before the first open house could be held six years later.

Ironically, the other half of the house  had been separated and moved in the early 1900’s, but it took a left-hand turn at the cemetery fork and followed Lancaster to the Southeast corner of Broadwyn. Thus two houses, once together, now book-ended a city block.

The Lancaster twin moved much more slowly on its journey; for it was pulled by a horse walking in a circle, around a capstan, which “winched and wound” the house down the street. Regretfully, we have only a brief written record of this move, no pictures. We can only imagine what a dance that must have been.