CARY — A century-old house trundled across Waldo Rood Boulevard on 34 wheels last week, looking for refuge as construction crews set upon the family farm it left behind.
It was slow going for the old Victorian and the big red Mack truck through the heat. The entourage paused every few minutes, allowing men to hunker beneath the building and clear the path.
“What happened? It got stuck where you always did, cutting the grass?” Virginia Wilkinson, 65, asked a teenage neighbor.
She grew up in this house, formerly west of Cary, where her family raised tobacco, livestock and poultry.
The building with the A-shaped roof and the wraparound porch is a neighborhood icon, unmistakable between legions of stick-built homes and townhouses. After all those years, friends and neighbors found it a bit surreal to see the 3,000-square-foot house on the move.
“I was here before Wellsley, before Upchurch Farms. I remember driving past here and seeing the lights on,” said Jesse Hooks, the neighborhood kid who used to cut the grass.
Lynn McCrary and his men had worked for weeks to lift the house, first digging tunnels, then sliding supports under the house and raising it with four 50-ton jacks.
The move would be only a few hundred yards, to a neighboring lot – but every move’s a sweat for McCrary, whose family has been moving buildings for more than a century.
“I do a lot of praying,” the mover said, taking a break from the cab of his truck. “Every day.”
A rich history
Back in 1958, the Wilkinsons were the neighborhood newcomers, freshly moved from their rented farm a few miles south.
The family of six had picked a big first purchase, about 150 acres in all.
The place already had plenty of local history. George Upchurch had broken ground some 70 years earlier, then built the house up and out over the decades, bringing the twin brick chimneys inside and adding a new wing.
His brother, Rufus, set up just down the road around the same time, both buying land from their parents. The Upchurch brothers owned about 195 acres between the two of them, much of it dedicated to bright leaf tobacco.
Virginia Wilkinson and her family continued that business when they took over. But the tides of a changing society gradually slowed the farm. Virginia left her parents’ place in the 1960s, never to return.
“I wasn’t going to be a farmer’s wife,” said Wilkinson, now a Realtor.
Her mother, Reba, stayed on the land until 2005 – but all those acres were slowly sold off to developers, until the George Upchurch House was left by its lonesome on 16 acres near Davis Drive Elementary.
Rufus Upchurch’s house already had been moved around the corner.
Preserving a rural past
It took about two hours to move the old building across the street and settle it onto its new spot – half an hour shorter than anyone had expected.
Until last year, the Wilkinsons hadn’t expected the family homestead to survive at all. Termites would get the best of it, or it would be demolished when they sold the land, they figured.
A meeting at Town Hall changed that. The Cary planning and zoning board asked last year what would become of the structure, and suggested that developer StanPac try to preserve it, according to board member Brent Miller.
Town planner Philip Smith coordinated a plan: StanPac would donate the house, plus the 1.4-acre sliver of land at 1024 Waldo Rood Boulevard. Capital Area Preservation would move the house, take possession of the land and establish legal documents preserving both.
The town of Cary is loaning up to $99,000 to support the project; CAP will repay the debt upon sale of the land.
And whoever buys the place will own one of the last rural pieces of a fast-changing area.
“It’s history,” said McCrary, the house mover. “You keep pushing them over, there ain’t gonna be nothing left.”
Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary