Historic Stone House Move

Landisville, PA  |  May 2014

This Is the Story of Why We Moved a 224-Year-Old Stone House 1.2 Miles

Landisville Stone House Moving on dolly.

Here's Why We Did It

Michael Bachman emigrated from Germany to America. In 1782 he bought 176 acres of land in Penn’s Woods, and 8 years after that, he built a stone house for himself and his wife, Elisabeth. The total cost to build the home is estimated at $380.

The 500-ton stone house stood on the same spot from 1790 until 2014, when its fate became uncertain. Hempfield school district had owned the home and the property since 2010, and originally planned to convert the home into administrative offices, but after some cost research, eventually abandoned the idea. The house either needed to be moved or destroyed.

Mark Ashley had long admired the old stone house since his days playing on the Hempfield High School soccer field. At the time, he never thought he’d end up owning it. “I grew up here, and went to high school in this school district building, and played soccer in the field right beside it. I always admired it, and thought it was a beautiful home, and saw that the couple at that time was restoring it. Just watching them work on their house, I thought, ‘Boy, that’s a neat place!’.”

When the home went up for sale, Mark was definitely interested.

Ashley family next to landisville stone house on dolly.
The home's owner, Mark Ashley, with his family on the first day of the home relocation project.

Meet the Homeowners

“Old houses have something you can’t just make today.”
– Judy Ashley, Homeowner

Mark and Judy Ashley of Landisville, PA bought the home they loved to save it from demolition.

When Mark Ashley became a coach at Hempfield high school, he found himself on the soccer field again — still playing next to that old, familiar landmark. Because of their interest in the home, Mark and his wife Judy decided to visit the couple who was restoring it. They walked through the house, then looked through photos showing what it had been like before its recent renovations.

When the school board abandoned the idea of converting the home into offices, they wanted it removed. Mark and Judy stepped in to save the home demolition and inquired about purchasing the home from the school. The Ashleys were able to purchase it with a sealed bid, for only $1000, with the understanding they would be responsible for re-locating the house.

How do you pick up and move 500 tons of stone and wood? You call in the experts and start creating a plan.

Two and a half story stone house with many windows on all sides.
Mark Ashley hired us because he knew about our reputation for moving large historic and stone homes.

500 Tons of Brick and Stone

The Pennsylvania stone house was built in 1790, had walls about a foot and a half thick, and weighed nearly 500 tons. When Mark had first begun researching the cost and feasibility of moving it, his research led him to the Wolfe House & Building Movers website, where he learned of their experience in moving heavy masonry houses similar to the one he wanted to move.

“When you start thinking about moving a house,” Mark remembers, “you want to go to the best. We had heard that Wolfe, when it comes to historic homes — especially brick and mortar or stone houses like this one — were experts in that area, in the whole Northeast. Their reputation preceded them.”

Landisville Stone House Move

“This house was built by Michael Bachman & Elisabeth B.N. – 1790”
Landisville Stone House Move map.
We had to plan ways to navigate around several obstacles, including a creek and crossing a busy road.

Choosing the Safest Path

Mike Brovont drove to the site in Landisville after a few phone calls and email exchanges with Mark Ashley. Mike is the lead project estimator for Wolfe House & Building Movers. Mike and Mark walked the proposed moving route, with Mike answering Mark’s questions along the way. “We started the conversation,” Mark recalls, “and it seemed like every time we hit another barrier, Mike was able to help us navigate through it and make it possible.”

Finally we said, “Let’s go. Let’s make it happen.” Choosing a final route was a bit time consuming, as there were many obstacles to pass, and a flowing creek to be crossed.

Two and a half story house moving on a dolly system.
Spectators watch as the house is moved along soft, wet dirt from a recent rainfall.

It Wasn’t All Easy Going

Wolfe’s work crew soon discovered some formidable native stone beneath the house, which required more excavation than normal. Then there was another problem. “The mortar under three walls was very good,” Wolfe’s co–owner Jamin Buckingham recollects. “But in the fourth wall, there was nothing left of the mortar below ground level where our beams would be supported. We had to do some repair and dry packing there.”

An inferior wood frame addition was removed from the original colonial structure as well. Several feet of soil were removed from around the house to make room for high-strength steel lifting beams. The beams were positioned underneath the house through holes made in the basement walls.

Two and a half story house moving on a dolly system over loose earth.
The house was lifted, rotated, and was ready to roll on day 1.

Day 1 – Time to Move

On a lovely Saturday in May, the house was rotated nearly three–quarters of a turn. That way, at the end of its journey, it would be correctly positioned for its new foundation.

Landisville Stone House, a three and a half story building, moving on a dolly.
The project gathered quite a crowd as it crossed Church Street on its way to its new location. The house was about halfway through its journey at this point.

Day 2 - A Spectator Event

On Monday, the building was driven away from its original site. The large stone landmark slowly rolled past many buildings on the Hempfield campus, while a few teachers and students took advantage and stepped outside to take in this fascinating experience.

Other children sat in the grass watching, as the huge, familiar edifice lumbered past. In some places, the paved street was just a few feet wider than the wheels under the house, but it rolled along steadily under the guidance of Wolfe’s proprietary “Smart-Steer” computerized steering. According to the plan, the house was placed in a parking area near Church Street until morning.

Skid loaders placing plywood in front of a building being moved on a dirt path.
Crew members reposition wood planks ahead of the dollies to provide the smoothest, safest surface possible.

Day 3 - The Route Gets Muddy

Tuesday morning found dozens of utility trucks, workers, and police on site, slowing and then re-routing the traffic on a busy street, while line workers detached cables and dropped them to the ground.

The sensitive optical cables were then lowered into a hastily-dug trench alongside the concrete curb. All was bridged over with layers of heavy steel plates, and the building began rolling over them.

Once the stone home left the paved streets, it needed to ride upon a temporary roadway of heavy steel plates to prevent the load-bearing dollies from sinking into the soft ground. Several machines were continually running in long circles, moving the steel plates that had just done their duty around the home to the front of the rust-colored dirt roadway, so they could be driven over again.

For nearly half a mile, the workers would have to navigate the house across a mowed hay field and into an S-curve. Steering through a cut, it was driven onto a wide ramp of new dirt, which had been hauled in to make a wide, level path above a large culvert. As the house slowly rolled across, above the culvert, the stream kept flowing through.

The house now traversed the spacious back lawns of four residences. Dozens of homeowners and friends lined up to take photos and share the experience on social media, since it isn’ t exactly an everyday site you see a 500-ton stone heritage home passing through your backyard.

When crossing a low, soggy area, the water squeezed up several inches above the steel plates, which was a concern. But an hour or so later the house was navigating the final curve into place. It neatly landed, and parked inside the new concrete footers, upon which new concrete walls would soon be poured for a sturdy, enduring foundation.

Large stone house next to a field at sunset.
The home at its final destination completely unscathed, resting on a new, solid foundation.

Would We Do It Again?

Now that it’s been several months since the move, we asked Mark:
“Considering the cost and time it took, would you make the same decision again?”

Mark is a man of faith, and his answer testifies to it: “Absolutely.” He then goes on, to qualify his answer. “But, only if through prayer we believed God was leading us to take this step. We prayerfully made the decision to move the house, and sensed God’s leading to take this giant leap of faith — faith in God’s provision, and a confidence in Wolfe House Mover’s abilities!”

The entire process, from the time Mark and Judy first contacted Wolfe House & Building Movers, until their home was resting on its new foundation, took about 14 months.

Many decisions had to be made, and much of it was a balancing act of weighing what the Ashley family desired against the cost and sacrifice required to see meet their goals for the project.

Mark added, “We have already recommended Wolfe House Movers to two families who are considering moving a home.”