Cushing's Point House hits the road
SOUTH PORTLAND — Historical Society members anxiously watched Feb. 14 as employees from James G. Merry & Sons of Scarborough moved a more than 100-year-old brick-and-mortar building about 500 feet from Madison Street to a piece of city-owned land near Bug Light Park.
Over the next year or so, the society and its more than 500 members hopes to solidify their place in the community by renovating the Cushing's Point House into a museum and exhibition space.
The successful move was a significant milestone, but society Director Kathy DiPhilippo said there is still a lot of work ahead, including raising money to repair the building.
DiPhilippo said the society will lay a building foundation in the coming weeks, which will allow movers to lower the historic house into place. The society expects to have the utilities connected this spring and hopes to open the building to the public in June.
"It's a very aggressive goal, but we want to meet it," she said. "We have a lot of work to do."
The house move, which is expected to cost up to $200,000 once the site work is complete, brings to a close a period of uncertainty for the society, which in its 45-year history has been moved from location to location throughout the city. Most recently, the group has been operating out a small space in the City Hall basement.
The society had originally planned to buy the house from the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line. But the company eventually offered to donate the building, only with a catch: The society had to move it, so the pipeline could expand its oil terminal.
Moving a 95-ton building is no easy feat. On Saturday morning, as more than a dozen onlookers chilly temperatures and 25 mph wind gusts, progress was measured in feet and inches.
"We've been saying a few prayers," DiPhilippo said moments before the move. "We hope (the building) doesn't crumble."
At 9 a.m., Merry & Sons fired up a World War II-era tank retriever. The big belch of black smoke was met with nervous enthusiasm from the crowd, including Historical Society President Linda Eastman.
"It's like giving birth," Eastman said, her clasped as though in prayer. "Like (having) a scheduled Cesarean."
By 9:30 a.m. the machine had rolled into position and crews hooked up the house, which had been jacked up on steel beams with wheels over the last month. As the jacks were removed, crews from Central Maine Power Co. dropped the last power line.
By 10:30 a.m., the movers had tried several times to move the building from where it had been for more than a 100 years. With each attempt, the two-story structure rocked gently back in place. Eventually, crews hooked up a winch to assist than tank mover.
It took crews more than three hours to move the building about 50 feet. The house passed within a foot of a utility pole and progress was repeatedly stopped to reposition railroad ties and plywood to disperse the building's weight, so as to not crush underground utilities.
"It's a scary thing to watch," DiPhilippo said during one lull. "This is our baby – something we're trying to preserve."
The society originally expected the move to take only an hour. But the old house didn't reach it's new location near the Bug Light Park entrance until sundown, leaving a faint trail of bricks and mortar along the way.
Relatively speaking, however, the building arrived in good shape.
"We felt good knowing they were taking it slow and safe," DiPhilippo said afterwards. "They're good at what they do."
On Tuesday morning, crews were still trying to jimmy the building into its precise location, for which the society has a 99-year lease with the city.
DiPhilippo said that, while moving the building presented certain challenges, it has also offered some opportunities. The society will be able to reduce the building elevations to make installing an elevator unnecessary, which will save $200,000 in renovation costs.
The new location also affords views of Casco Bay and the Portland skyline. It is also within eye-shot of the Liberty Ship and Ferry Village memorials, a fitting tribute since the Cushing's Point House is the last remaining building of the original Ferry Village neighborhood, which was razed to make way for shipyards to assist the WWII efforts.
The society is now launching a Buy-A-Brick fundraiser to help raise money for building repairs and the installation of utilities. For $100, donors can have their names or the name of a loved one etched into a brick that will be placed in the walkway leading up to the new museum.
DiPhilippo said the campaign is a great way for people "leave their mark in history."