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Old house gets new life on Old Mill Road
Moving a house is never as easy as a house mover makes it appear, but there are exceptions.
There were a few scary moments Thursday for architect Steve Romein and others involved in the uprooting of a century-old house from the New Sweden area to its new home.
It took more than an hour for a couple dozen utility workers and several rigs to get phone and electrical lines out of the way. That led to a hairy 30 minutes for the moving truck to pull the two-story house down to the road, which was about five feet below where the house had been perched for more than 100 years.
The truck inched along up the road and at one time, its left front tire was only about six inches from the ditch as the rear of the house sat on a half-dozen over-inflated tires. At a time when the house was leaning precariously, the movers quickly added several hefty beams to level out the sheets of plywood on which the tires were traveling.
Eventually the rig and the house turned the corner onto Oddfellows Road and were headed for its new home on Old Mill Road. It was quite a gathering, with several utility trucks, cars, neighbors and curious islanders lined up to watch the yellow house begin its three-hour trip northward.
The as-the-crow-flies distance likely isn’t more than a mile, but because of one obstacle or another, Nickels Bros. House Moving was forced to haul the two-story structure several miles while traveling on eight island roads, including: West Blakely, Oddfellows Road, Blakely Avenue, Halls Hill Road, Rockaway Bluff Road, Barkentine Road, the north section of Blakely Hill Road and finally the east end of Old Mill Road.
The production was a costly one for Romein, who kept the amount to himself but admitted it will be more than he had initially expected.
The deal included the movers paying the owner of the corner property $1 for the house, which was deeded to Romein, who then paid for the move, the cost of the utility crews for several hours and all of the site work required to prep the loamy soil that is prevalent on Romein’s six-acre farm property.
The house was parked at around 2 p.m. at the Old Mill Site, where it will sit until Tuesday when it will finally be placed on a new foundation.
Interestingly, the original owner of the West Blakely house was Ben Pederson, while the farm and original house on Old Mill Road was the property of Adolph Pederson. Romeine is uncertain if the two men were relatives, but some historical research revealed that they sailed to the island from Norway in 1885 or ‘86, both worked in the Port Blakely Mill and were about the same age. They also had homes built at about the same time late in the 19th century.
Now their homes sit side by side just across the road from the old Blakely Cemetery. A coincidence? Not exactly.
Romein and his wife, Ty Cramer, have grown to love the island and have the means to occasionally go quietly about giving back to the community in ways that reinforce the island’s historic character.
Their first large project was the renovation – and reinvention – of the Lynwood Center during 2009-10, at a time when the future of the building (actually, four structures pieced together) was in doubt. Now, that side of Lynwood Center Road is flourishing.
Then last October, they bought the old Adolph Pederson farm, which had changed owners many times during the last century and was also in serious disrepair. Initially they were looking for property that could be used for a series of trails stretching throughout the southeast part of the island – from the south shore of Eagle Harbor to Blakely Harbor, which is already linked by a trail to Fort Ward Park.
“Then we saw this great piece of property that had become blackberries and brambles over the last 20 years,” he said. “We knew that through a conservation easement with the Bainbridge Island Land Trust (BILT) we could accomplish our original goal. But we also decided to buy it for the purpose of turning it into a working farm – something with a mixture of vegetables, herbs and a pasture for some animals.”
They also saved the barn and the house, which Romein said may eventually be restored into a bed-and-breakfast inn. They also would like to have both Pederson houses and the barn placed on a historic register, whether it is local, state or federal.
“We’re working through all that for the purpose of protecting the buildings,” he said.
The plan is to have someone live in the Ben Pederson home who will “set up a structure where it’s sustainable to work a small farm,” Romein said. “We’ve been talking to Betsey Whittick and Brian MacWhorter (Day Road farmers) and the Friends of the Farm for their help in getting this off the ground. Bart Berg (a landscape architect on the island) has also helped us. It’s just a way to do some land preservation and create a farm that will grow local products for the community.”
He learned about the availability of the house through Dave Williams, chair of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.
“When I first saw it, it had those ‘50s concrete asbestos shingles,” he said. “The ones that you never had to paint. I was just about to make the deal when I took a look under the shingles and there was some yellow-mustard trim.” Off came the asbestos shingles.
About the time Romein and Cramer closed the deal on the Old Mill Road land, they discovered another 18 acres of land a mile up the road that would serve their dual purpose of providing connective trails and productive farmland.
They recently bought the Winney property, which is located on McDonald Road about halfway between Old Mill Road and Eagle Harbor Drive. It also has a house and a barn on it, and acres of pastureland.
“We hope to have Jon Garfunkel, who does education programs for schools about farms, to help us get students from Blakely School on the farm property that we want to create on the Winney land,” Romein said.
The Land Trust brought the availability of the Winney acreage to the attention of Romein and Cramer, said Asha Rehnberg, BILT’s executive director. “They are interested in conservation easements for both properties and it’s under discussion,” she said. “We’re really excited about it. They’re very community oriented people who are doing great things for the island.”
Romein said he and Cramer are simply giving back to the community in the best way they know how.
“We’re lucky to have the ability to do that on Bainbridge Island, which is a great place,” Romein said. “Preserving these elements on the island is important and we’ll do what we can to keep it that way.”