Historic house gets a change of scene

The ``Birdcage,'' a 93-year-old house in Rutland County, is a sparkling, symmetrical structure with dozens of stained-glass windows. Historians have labeled the house ``one of the most unusual examples of high Victorian eclectic architecture in the state.'' The house was purchased in 1979 by Lewis A. Little and his wife, Mary Ellen Corbett, who fully restored it on its original lot, a pint-sized piece of property on a thoroughfare.

All work was done by artisans under guidelines furnished by the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service of the United States Department of the Interior, with assistance from the Vermont State Historical Preservation Office in Montpelier.

Not long after their extensive restoration, however, Little and his wife decided to move the building from its original site in the center of Brandon, Vt., to a 40-acre parcel on the outskirts of the town.

Why the change of scene? Because the rare old house was in jeopardy.

Heavy truck-traffic on US Route 7, one of the major north-south routes through Vermont, damaged plaster, cracked windows, and caused periodic loosening of radiators due to vibration. The foundation, shored up several times, continued to crack and deteriorate. To protect the house for posterity and to protect their investment, Corbett and Little decided on the big move.

``We were able to find an ideal setting on a hillside, still in the town limits, and by moving it there we felt we could maximize its value and insulate it against further structural damage,'' Corbett explains.

It took months of searching to find the ideal location. And then there were permits to get, permissions needed to cross private properties, and endless coordinations between power, phone, and cable companies and house movers.

Preparing a foundation at the new site took about three months. Actually digging out the old foundation, putting the antique house on a trestle, and getting the trestle on wheels took another half a month.

The actual move was accomplished in the course of a few hours when house mover Emile Desautels of Salisbury, Vt., and his crew rolled the 10-room slate-roofed frame house down the road to its new locale. The crew also brought along the couple's matching carriage barn, to be added on as living space at the new location.

While Corbett and Little decline to spell out the exact cost of their move, they say the basic ``move package'' was less expensive than the average cost of building a new one-family house. They applied for no grants, choosing to fund and supervise the project on their own instead.

Since the move of the house and carriage barn, they have added a six-sided gazebo (another historic structure, moved from a farm near Cornwall, Vt.) and a one-bedroom guest cottage, which was moved from a lineup of tourist cabins at Mendon, Vt., near the Killington ski area.

The couple didn't stop with moving buildings. They even moved a magnificent 18-foot tree. ``Our neighbor offered us a beautiful blue spruce which was growing into his foundation,'' Little explains.

``Well, we found a tree expert who assured us it could be moved. And amidst some skepticism and nippy autumn weather, we dug it up and transplanted it. And it has grown and thrived in its new home, much as we have.''

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