After Two Centuries, It’s Time to Move the Crabtree Jones House
CORRECTION APPENDED: The original article misspelled Chuck Nintzel’s name. We mistakenly left off the second n.
Update: The City Council approved a loan Feb. 19 to pay for the relocation of the house.
If all goes as planned, Blake Moving Company of Greensboro will lift up a 220-year-old, 200-ton Raleigh house this year and move it 460 feet south to a new lot at the end of Hilmer Drive.
The house, built by Wake County settler Nathaniel “Crabtree” Jones, occupies part of the 15 acres that will become the Jones Grant Apartments. Last March, the Raleigh Historic Development Commission voted to have developer Russ Davis wait a year before demolishing the Crabtree Jones House, in hopes he could find an alternative. Davis, who said at the time that he didn’t want to destroy the house, spent the following months working with the nonprofit group Preservation North Carolina to find a relocation site.
The Crabtree Jones House driveway comes out on Wake Forest Road, but the house is set so far back, surrounded by trees, that it’s easy to miss.
“So few people even know this house, with all its interiors and finishes intact, even exists,” said Chuck Nintzel, a Raleigh resident, in an email to the Record. “A building that has been on its original foundations for over 200 years, longer than all but maybe five structures in Raleigh is about to be moved.”
Davis said Myrick Howard of Preservation North Carolina suggested the move to Hilmer Drive.
“If it were on the site I picked, it would almost certainly lend itself to use as a commercial structure, an office perhaps,” Davis said. “This will not just preserve the house, but its designation as a historic house.”
The Raleigh Historical Development Commission says the 1795 house is one of the few Federal-style plantation houses remaining Wake County. It still has many of its original building materials and, despite later additions, the original hall parlor floor plan is intact.
“It has wonderful spaces,” said Raleigh architect and live-in Crabtree Jones House caretaker Jim Smith. “It’s been added on to several times, so it’s a little eccentric because of that. There are lots of step-ups and step-downs.”
Smith said he was in his last semester of architecture school when the Raleigh Junior League called on his professor, asking for student volunteers to help restore the house.
Blake Moving’s Mike Blake said the first step will be to cut holes in the foundation walls and insert a lattice of steel into them, replacing the brick foundation with metal. The crews will then insert jacks, timbers and wedges under the steel frame, including extra timber and wedges under the fireplaces to ensure the brick doesn’t crumble.
Once the support grid is in place, Blake Moving will jack up the steel frame, using shims — wedges — to keep the jacks even.
“You can have 20 tons on one jack, zero on the other and they go up the same amount,” Blake said.
After the crew jacks up the roughly 200-ton building 40 inches above the ground, they’ll insert hydraulic dollies under the house. Then, Blake said, the dollies will be fitted with eight sets of wheels, driven by a hydraulic pump and steered by remote control. The dollies will roll the building over to Hibbell Drive where a brick mason will drill holes in the new foundation. The movers will lower the house onto the foundation, withdraw the steel through the holes and restore the brick.
“Once it’s on the foundation, it’s there,” Blake said.
“The biggest requirement we had was to keep it from falling down,” Smith said. “To keep the roof in good repair, to keep glass in the windows and keep the systems working.”
The League also asked for a caretaker to discourage vandals. Smith volunteered.
“It’s probably the oldest house in Raleigh that’s still being used as a residence,” Smith said. “There are other houses as old or older but they’ve either become museums or offices or some other nonresidential use.”
Jones’ family sold the land to developer Charles W. Gaddy in the 1970s. It was rezoned for multi-family development in 1995, a change that also established a 75-foot wooded buffer zone around it.
Hilmer Drive in Crabtree Heights dead ends at the woods surrounding the house. Howard said the move required a rezoning request — already granted — because some of the buffer will be cut down for the house to get through, after which the buffer will be replanted.
The upside of going through the woods, Howard said, is that the house stays off the streets: “There’s no power-line issues, no traffic-signal issues, no street closings.”
The destination lot, 3108 Hilmer, already hosts a 50-year-old house. Howard said Preservation North Carolina is still working out the details of removing it.
The budget for buying the Hilmer lot and moving Crabtree Jones House is about $632,000. Davis said he’s contributing more than a quarter-million dollars. The City Council’s Budget and Economic Development Committee voted Feb. 12 for a $100,000 loan for the project, though the Council still has to approve it.
“If the loan doesn’t go through, it’s going to be really hard to make this happen,” Howard said. “We would have to find another source.”
After the move, Howard said, Crabtree Jones House will need a full renovation that “will start from scratch in terms of electrical, plumbing, kitchen, bathrooms, heating and cooling.” He said Preservation North Carolina hopes to sell it for around $350,000.