The art of moving big things

lakehousepj (1)By: Rich Tarrant

Prior to our nation becoming a throwaway society folks used to save things – or at least try to save them. When someone wanted, for instance, a piece of property to construct a building, and an old building was on that property it was not a foregone conclusion that the best way to proceed would be to raze the old to make way for the new. To be fair there were very likely some financial considerations involved in such proceedings, but it would also be fair to set forth that the “willy-nilly” wrecking of a perfectly good building to acquire space for another building or project was not generally sop.

Last April (VPJ 04/2016) I wrote about a local mover named Dick Parsons and the many homes and boats that he moved in Vermilion and other towns in Northern Ohio. Dick was probably one of the last persons in the area with both the knowledge and ability to successfully move “big things” like houses from one site to another; the point being, moving buildings is not, as previously suggested, always a practical financial venture. Moreover, it’s hardly a simple task.

One of the best known buildings to have been moved during 20th century Vermilion is the Lake House / Maud-Elton Hotel. Late Vermilion historian Don Englebry wrote about it in his memoirs, “I remember when they moved the Old Maudelton Hotel down to its present location. It was really some job in those days, with none of the modern equipment it took some time but I don’t believe they even cracked any plaster in the process.  F.Y.I. the old hotel (pictured) originally occupied the southeast corner of Liberty and Main / Division streets. Currently, it’s only a shell of its old self, but the new owner has significantly rehabilitated it.

Englebry also wrote about a “small dwelling” and boat livery that once sat between the Sail Loft (now the French Restaurant) and the Waterworks. At one time it was occupied by one of the Goetz brothers (VPJ 06/13/13). He wrote that the dwelling “was moved to West River Road to the entrance of the Olympic Club. Regarding this particular structure, the precise logic regarding its move seems questionable.

Some years ago Vermilionite Shirley “Betty” Reffner (1916-2010) recorded a conversation with a Vermilion guy named Harvey Krapp (1897-1979). During that interview Mr. Krapp (among other things) told about a big house that once stood on the southwest corner of Decatur and Huron streets. It was moved south, across the railroad tracks, and placed on the west side of Decatur just one house north of South Street. The move facilitated the construction of a new brick home for Captain Parsons. Both homes were, and remain, substantial and attractive dwellings.

During the mid-1950s the Burt Hollosy family lived in a mid-sized house near the corner of Ferry and Washington streets. When the Ritter Library was to be built Vermilionite Melba Knott-Gorbach (later Walker) purchased the home and had it moved to the lake bank behind the Great Lakes Maritime Museum and also the house now known as the Gilchrist House Bed and Breakfast. The new site could not have been sweeter.

As has been said, moving a building is hardly a simple task. One of the last big homes in town that was moved was situated on the north side Liberty Avenue between Washington and Perry Streets. It was a nice home of significant size – 2-stories with an attic. The house was picked up and being transported to a site on Cemetery Road south of town. While it did eventually arrive at its new site the journey was fraught with mishaps.

As time goes by things change; people, places and things come and they go. I often wonder while driving through town if my parents and grandparents would even recognize the place. I doubt it. And I doubt that a hundred years from now that Vermilion will resemble the Vermilion we know today.

Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant has agreed to share many of the photos and stories he has acquired from the former Vermilion News and other local sources with the readers of the Photojournal. Rich is the youngest son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: rnt@twc.com

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