With Osborne House Move, College and Town Begin Downtown Changes [video]
MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — At 5:35 a.m. on Monday, October 27, the historic Osborne House on Middlebury’s Main Street began rolling on a short 1,135–foot trip across the Cross Street Bridge to a new foundation on the other side. The house move is the most visible step to date of a major cooperative plan between Middlebury College and the town of Middlebury on several downtown projects.
For weeks before the move, the house at 77 Main Street had been gradually lifted from its foundation next to Ilsley Library and propped up on wooden beams high enough for the moving crew to work comfortably beneath it. Messier House Moving, of East Montpelier, Vermont, managed the move, installing three sets of motorized hydraulic dollies to roll the house.
At 1 a.m. on moving day, in a chilly rain, workers began to disconnect and lift, or temporarily drop, the numerous utility lines blocking the pathway of the house. Nearly two dozen utility trucks filled the roadway and adjoining lots between the start and end points of the move, requiring extraordinary levels of coordination by Middlebury Associate Vice President for Operations Norm Cushman and Facilities Director Mike Moser. By moving time, the rain had stopped, much to the relief of the curious onlookers gathered with cameras to capture the event on video.
Weighing in at 120 tons, the house and supports traveled on dollies resembling jet landing gears. The dollies were powered by generators, temporarily attached to the house, and steered by remote control. The massive structure proceeded smoothly over the bridge, beneath power lines, and nimbly turned 90 degrees onto the awaiting foundation at the southeast corner of Water and Cross Streets.
Cushman was relieved when the house reached its destination with no problems. “Everything went as planned with no issues or concerns,” he said. “A great team, coupled with excellent planning and coordination made it all happen like it was supposed to.”
The Osborne House move is the first step in a sequence of cooperative projects approved by Middlebury voters last spring to construct a new town hall on the former Osborne site and a new recreation center on Creek Road, south of downtown. The College will pay $5.5 million of the project’s $7.5 million cost. On completion of the two new buildings, the current town office building and municipal gymnasium, located opposite the College’s Twilight Hall, will be demolished to make way for a park.
By saving the Osborne House and moving it across Otter Creek, the College is preserving one of the oldest houses in town. Built in 1816 by Daniel Henshaw, it was once the meeting place of Middlebury’s Episcopal Society. In 1871 Eliza Pratt conveyed the house to Jesse Osborne, and in 1921 the estate of Jesse Osborne sold the house and property to Middlebury College for the sum of $10,000.
College faculty and staff lived in the house throughout the 20th century, and in recent years it was used as a residence for students. The historic character of the house will be preserved at its new location where it will sit on a foundation with an 1800s-style stone veneer.
Reporting by Stephen Diehl and Robert Keren; Video by Benjamin Savard ’14; Historic photos courtesy of Davis Family Library and the Sheldon Museum, Middlebury, Vt.