WEAVERVILLE – With a lift and a 97-ton tug, a house moving company hauled a 127-year-old Victorian toward a new home Monday to make way for a convenience store.
The new location for the historic Baird House will be several hundred yards away, but far enough to save it from demolition and make it ready for offices.
An eccentric radio repairman named Zebulon Baird is said to have built the house in 1878, which would make it one of the Asheville area’s oldest houses and one of the most original.
The house’s architecture breaks the mold in the then-unheard-of style of “gay Victoriana” construction with unique rooflines, shutters and asymmetrical layout, said Bill Wescott, president of the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County.
In a time when his scattered neighbors lived in small houses and cabins, Baird dwelled in his two-story Victorian.
“It’s one of the most historically significant homes in the last century in Buncombe County,” Wescott said.
Go Grocery bought the property off U.S. 25 in Weaverville and donated the house to the preservation society. The preservation society helped Go Grocery get tax incentives to save the home.
The preservation society still had a precious house located on strategic land for commercial development, so they needed a partner. Michael Bryant, the owner of Estate Realty and Mortgage Max, bought the property.
“A couple years ago, they were talking about trying to take it and move it,” Bryant said. “They were basically trying to get someone to buy it outright and move it, but the size of it made the move hard.”
Bryant said that once the Preservation Society parceled off a smaller plot onto which the buyer could relocate the house, then he was enticed to buy it and move his businesses there. “Right now we are in Pack Place and paying about $1,000 a month, so we figured it would be a nice move economically,” Bryant said.
Bryant and the Preservation Society contracted the Crouch-Mitch House Moving Company to do the work, which will cost about $28,000. The company has been moving houses for four generations and was involved in the relocation of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Wescott said.
To be moved, the house had to have space dug under it, where steel beams that could be mounted on a truck were inserted. Even then, the house wasn’t ready to roll. “It’s been up on steel beams for a year,” Wescott said. He added that the project has been stalled often in the three years he has been in charge. His goal, Wescott said, is to have the project finished when his tenure as the president of the Preservation Society expires.
Bryant said the process started about 18 months ago for him, and that the house has been ready to move for about six weeks. Six weeks also is the timetable Wescott placed on finishing the move, which requires the house to travel another hundred yards or so to its ultimate resting place.
When the house was hauled toward its new location Monday, a small group of people gathered to watch.
They recounted stories about the way Baird would supposedly turn blue from drinking to much seltzer and the huge amount of property he owned, a swath which supposedly ran from Beaver Lake to Stony Knob.
Wescott said Asheville and Weaverville residents have been enthusiastic about the project. “It’s a major historic and personal investment of the people,” Wescott said, adding that the most common sentiment has been “thank God we saved the Baird house.”
Contact Phillips at 232-5928.