The House That Was Moved Across The Atlantic

Sometimes a house just needs to be moved no matter what’s the cost. Usually, these are historic structures that are in danger of demolition or flooding and has to be relocated to a safer spot. A professional house mover will first dig around the foundation of the house, raise it on hydraulic jacks, mount them on wheels and then roll them down the street carefully to the new location, typically a few hundred meter away or a few miles at most. At other times, if the structure permits and the relocation distance is longer, the house will be dismantled brick by brick, transported to the new location and reassembled in place. According to an article on HowStuffWorks, it’s possible to move houses this way across the country for hundreds of miles. But imagine moving a house for over 3,600 miles and across an ocean from one continent to another? That happened not once but twice during the 1920s.

The Virginia House at its original location in Warwickshire, England, in 1900. Photo credit: Virginia Historical Society

The Virginia House that stands on a hillside overlooking the James River in the Windsor Farms neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia, United States, was once an English manor house located 3,600 miles away in Warwickshire, England. The house was built sometime after the land where it stood was bought by a politician named Thomas Hawkins in 1536. Set among landscaped gardens, Hawkins called his house “Hawk’s Nest”. Hawkins is known to have entertained high profile guests at his house, including Queen Elizabeth I.

In 1925, almost four centuries later, the house’s then owner, the Lloyds Bank family, put the manor up for sale at an auction. The catalogue printed for the upcoming auction described the property as a “Highly Important Unreserved Demolition Sale” offering such items as “rare old oak doors, large quantity of floor boards, the whole of the joists and other timbers, and enormous quantities of excellent brick, sandstone, old oak and other beams, timbers and girders”.

Alexander W. Weddell, a wealthy American diplomat and his wife Virginia Chase Steedman, saw the advertisement and offered to purchase the entire structure. A deal was secured and the house was sold off for £3,500 before the auction was held.

The sale of the house to an American couple caused an outrage in the British press and the Weddells were heavily criticized. It was rumored that the Americans intended to demolish the house. But when the facts surrounding the sale were eventually brought to light, a Member of Parliament wrote an apology letter to Alexander Weddell saying, “Had you not stepped in and bought the materials of the partially demolished structure, they would have been lost for all time, whereas now they will be utilised in the erection of a new building.”

The house being demolished and loaded into a wagon. Photo credit: Virginia Historical Society

The Virginia House construction in Richmond, Virginia. Photo credit: Virginia Historical Society

The company hired for the job of dismantling, shipping and reconstructing the house conducted a preliminary inspection and concluded that the stones that made up the house wouldn’t survive if an attempt was made to dismantle the house. The company advised Weddell that it would be easier and swifter if they simply blew the house apart and salvage only those stones that survived the blast. Fortunately, most of the stones survived. These were packed into boxes and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean.

The reconstructed Virginia House is not a replica of the original building, but a mixture of various architectural styles. The west wing of the house is actually a replica of a small manor house in Northamptonshire belonging to Lawrence Washington, an ancestor of George Washington. The east wing of the house is based on the family estate of the powerful Spencer-Churchill family. Only the center of the house is a reproduction of the original Warwickshire property with curvilinear gables and strapwork design. The Weddells also added modern conveniences to the house such as toilets and central heating.

The entire relocation and construction cost the Weddells a cool $250,000, which was a considerable sum for that time.

View of the house from the gardens. Photo credit: Virginia Historical Society

While the Weddells were busy building their home in Richmond, a similar project was underway barely 200 feet away from their new house. Mr. Thomas Williams Jr was giving the finishing touches to his manor house named “Agecroft Hall”. The wealthy Virginia entrepreneur had spent a small fortune dismantling this 15th century Tudor house that originally stood at Irwell Valley, in Lancashire, in North West England, shipping it across the Atlantic and reassembling it on his 23-acre estate overlooking the James River. Like Mr. Weddell, Williams was not interested in replicating Agecroft Hall as it had stood in Lancashire, but rather to create a functional and comfortable mansion reminiscent of its English predecessor. Reconstruction of the house set Williams back by a similar amount—about $250,000. The house was completed during the spring of 1928, a year before Weddell’s.

Mr. Williams died the following year. According to his wishes, Agecroft Hall was turned into a house museum after the death of his widowed wife.

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