Old farmhouse takes a 300-foot trip — July 16 2012

The scenery has changed quite a bit since an old farmhouse at Willow Street Pike and Locust Lane was built in 1858.

The Harnish House has witnessed rolling fields of arable land transformed into a busy roadway, upscale residential and commercial lots and the sprawling campus of Willow Valley’s Manor and North retirement communities.

Now, those 154-year-old bricks have a new perspective.

Inch by inch, the 340-ton farmhouse moved some 300 feet Thursday morning.

The job — estimated to take six hours but accomplished in less than two — preserved the Harnish House from demolition. The building will be repurposed to service a new recreation area in Providence Park, Willow Valley’s next generation of residential units.

Workers started moving the house at 8:59 a.m. and ground to a halt at 10:44 a.m. A pair of forklifts was kept busy throughout the process, hopscotching steel plates along the route to provide stability.

Motion was almost indiscernible, visible more by watching the slow turning of the wheels than by watching the house itself.

Bob Martzall, project manager for Creative Construction Solutions, said the building was lifted off its foundation on Tuesday.

Workers from Wolfe House & Building Movers dug a broad trench around the home so holes could be knocked through basement walls. Steel support beams were inserted beneath ground-level floorboards.

“Once they get it up on the beams, it’s pretty much business as usual,” Martzall said.

Five sets of heavy chains were wrapped around the house, linking steel braces at each corner to bolster the brick walls. The rear wooden porch was removed, with steel plates and beams used to support upper levels.

The move itself, powered by remote-controlled hydraulic engines, was smooth sailing.

Although the house was empty, Martzall said he doubted any furnishings would have been damaged had they remained.

“You could let your china sit on your dining room table and just walk away,” he said. “It would still be there when you came back.

“Because if something falls off the table, that means the house is going to fall. It can’t take that kind of motion.”

Hydraulics kept the building level as it moved over the grade, he said. Workers, using come-along winches, steered the behemoth along its route.

Thursday’s efforts were overseen by a territorial red-tailed hawk, which perched on the western chimney prior to the move, kept a watchful eye on its progress from nearby trees and utility poles, then swooped in to resume its perch on the house in time to ride the last several feet to its foundation.

“That’s the most amazing thing,” Martzall said, snapping a photo of the tawny raptor.

Once the house settled over its new foundation, Martzall said it would be kept hovering 10 feet above grade for the next few weeks as workers build up the basement walls to meet it. Once construction is complete, he said, the surrounding ground will be graded to bury the basement.

The 60-by-28-foot building, which was used as a residence until 1970, will be adjacent to a planned heated outdoor pool, tennis courts and a 30,000-square-foot clubhouse with bowling alleys, gymnasium, snack bar and video arcade, said Roseanne Macrina, director of development and public relations for Willow Valley.

“This building is going to be redesigned to have locker rooms, meeting rooms, restrooms and storage,” she said. “We’re thrilled to be able to take this historic landmark and incorporate it into the Providence Park expansion.”

Phase one of Providence Park is expected to break ground this fall and will include 40 duplex villas and two single-family homes, Macrina said. Phase two, which is a few years away, calls for 68 apartments, although Macrina said the configuration could change before construction begins.

Interest in the project has been high among Willow Valley residents, Macrina said. Dozens of residents turned out bright and early Thursday morning to watch the move — many carrying chairs to watch the proceedings from the shade — and many more who came by later in the day were surprised to see how far the house had traveled.

“This is the best entertainment we’ve had for a while,” one woman said.

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