Moving Houses in 1916: Slow, But Doable!

Whilst researching Penniman, I’ve had the occasion to talk with many historians and museum curators and too many to count have told me, “One hundred years ago, houses just weren’t moved. People didn’t have the means to move an entire house like they might today.”

Typically, I try really hard not to roll my eyes.

And sometimes, you can convince them that, yes, ours was a much more thrifty society in the early 20th Century and we were not likely to waste anything, certainly not anything as big (and labor intensive and expensive) as an entire house!

And then they’ll say, “Well, little tiny houses maybe, but not big houses.”


Last week, I was reading through a book that Bill Inge found for me, “Manufacturer’s Record” (December 1916) when I discovered this small advertisement for a house-moving company. Check out the photos below, for it’s almost unbelievable.

Thanks again to Bill Inge from providing me with another cool vintage book on historic architecture!

To read another blog about house moving 100 years ago, click here.


Word press

Before Bill Inge, I'd never heard of "Manufacturers Record." It's quite a large tome!


barge Dec 1921

My interest in moving houses was piqued when I learned that more than 60 houses were moved from Penniman, Virginia to Norfolk. And better yet, these 60 houses were moved to Norfolk by barge! (Photo is from the Virginia Pilot, December 1921). Thanks to Robert Hitchings for finding this wonderful photo!


house house house

While reading the Manufacturers Record, I found this advertisement at the bottom of a page. This fellow claims that he had been moving houses since 1875!


house that is shown here

And see the description he has offered here? The house that was moved was an all brick house, and it measured 50' by 75 feet, and it was raised four feet, turned 90 degrees and moved 300 feet. I love this photo because it demonstrates that the house was moved on rails. YES, on rails. The rails (typically two) were laid in front of the house, and it was slid across those rails, which would then be moved from the rear, back to the front.



Close-up of the house. Now that's a big house!


hou house

And I love the description: "Largest movers of Buildings in the United States."



One of the finest examples of early 20th Century moving that I've ever come across is this picture from the Shiawassee History website. See link below. If you look at the image above, you'll see rails laid down in front of the house. At the website (below), there's a thorough explanation of how this move was accomplished, but in short, the horse walked in a circle around that capstan which was anchored to a tree or some solid object. The winding of the rope around the capstan acted like a winch, pulling the house forward on those rails, SLOWLY.


Many thanks – again – to Bill Inge – for sharing his knowledge and his cool old books!

To visit the Shiawassee History website, click here.

To learn more about the mechanics of moving houses in the early 20th Century, click here.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

Looking for the story about Penniman soldiers? Click here.

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  1. Rachel Shoemaker

    Funny how they could move houses 100 years ago but President Mazey at Bowling Green State University said that POPC couldn’t be moved and the only option was to raze it.

  2. Charles

    That is great, I live in a large house that was moved in 1928 or 29.

    I have wondered how they did it and would love to find newspaper clippings from that time about it. Thanks for posting your great finds!

  3. Sarah M

    A HUGE, beautiful mansion in Buffalo was moved a few blocks in 1882 and then demolished in the 1950s. 🙁

  4. Laura (So Ca)

    Rose and Hubby,

    Merry Christmas to two great human beings.

    May blessing rain upon your heads.

    Happy Healthy New Year.

  5. Sears Homes

    Thanks so much, Laura! What a lovely thing to find on this day after Christmas.

    My children (and a grandchild!) were here for the holidays and it was a very busy household – and I *loved* it. But they all left now, and I miss them so bad I can hardly stand it.

    So thanks for leaving a lovely message that really buoys my spirits.


  6. Kate

    Rose…I had to laugh when I read this post. I live in SD, and I know for a FACT that they moved everything! Churches, houses, you name it.

    I have a horrific story of a local church being moved with a 20 horse set-up.

    When it came time to cross a creek, the ground was softer than thought, and the four lead horses went down.

    They couldn’t stop, (or they would have lost everything, the church, the other horses) and the four horses died.

    Sad, but it is a testament to the challenges faced. The church was later destroyed by a tornado in the 1924.

    I think I might be able to scrounge up some pictures of similar processes. Interested?

    My sister has a house that is suspiciously Sears-ish. Early 1900’s, definitely Sears millwork. It was moved four blocks and escaped razing. It’s lovely and odd in its neighborhood, because it’s surrounded by little ranches and bungalows.

    I’m trying to find info on a house that I know is a kit, I’ve seen three or four of them in other towns.

    I’ve seen the plan on the internet before, and would you know I can’t find it now!

    Would you be able to help? We also have an ancient Sears home in town. The family still has the paperwork (bill of sale)! I haven’t seen a plan that corresponds to it though.

    Happy New Year!

  7. Sears Homes

    Thanks so much of your note, Kate!

    I wish I could find some better photos of houses being moved 100 years ago! You wouldn’t believe how many “historians” have told me that “moving houses” just wasn’t done back in the day.