With heavy equipment and kid gloves, work crews are preparing the 110-year-old Laura Riding Jackson house for what will be its final journey – from the Environmental Learning Center off the Wabasso Causeway, where it spent the past 25 years, to its new home on the Vero Beach campus of Indian River State College, a trip of about 12 miles.
The costly project, which requires breaking the house into several sections, is underway at the Environmental Learning Center at the same time as the home’s new site is being prepared at the college campus.
Proctor Construction Company is preparing the historic Florida cracker structure for the move, working with Brownie Structural Movers, a fourth-generation Florida-based company that has moved 5,000 structures, which will handle the actual transport.
“We’ve begun making interior cuts along three walls and are in the process of slipping support beams under the house,” said project manager Eric Crockett. The separation won’t be completed “until Mr. Brownie can support the house with his moving equipment.”
To ensure adequate support and protection from the weather during the snail’s-pace, 12-mile move, open walls will be temporarily framed and covered.
The disassembly began, as hoped, at the end of May, but there is no precise move date just yet. “Hopefully” and “tentative” are the Words of the Day – unknowns such as weather, traffic and structural surprises found as the house is taken apart are variables in the house-moving equation.
“Mr. Brownie is hesitant to provide any sort of schedule until a bit further into the project,” said Crockett.
Brownie led a walk-through of the house earlier this month, pointing out what must be done to prepare and stabilize the structure. He indicated where support lumber and steel beams would be positioned; noted where the top section of the chimney would be removed, brick by brick; and indicated the best places on the walls to separate rooms with as little damage as possible.
Not until walls are actually opened up, he said, can decisions be made as to how to proceed. For example, a façade of newer bricks on a section of the chimney could mean original bricks remain beneath.
“We’re going to take this thing apart with kid gloves,” Brownie asserted. “That’ll make it easier on you guys when you put it back together. We want to recycle and save as much as possible; and take apart as little as possible.”
Meanwhile, work is under way at the IRSC Mueller Center campus, preparing the .71-acre site where the house will be reassembled.
So far, the Laura Riding Jackson house project has racked up more than $300,000 in costs.
Noting that the main house will need to be moved early on a Sunday morning “while the traffic is light” (it will require two traffic lanes), Crockett offered his professional opinion that “we are potentially looking to start moving structures to the Mueller Campus the week of June 24, hopefully sooner.”