A historic house move in Pocomo redefines the meaning of heavy lifting.
Houses have been moved around the island since the very first English settlers arrived in the mid-1600s. Since then, Nantucketers have relocated sixty-foot lighthouses, floated hotels across the harbor and rolled countless cottages up and down the cobblestones. Needless to say, these days the sight of a five-bedroom McMansion rolling down Milestone Road is hardly cause for a double take. But earlier this summer, a house was moved on Pocomo that not only raised eyebrows—it grabbed national headlines and made history.
The palatial 8,450-square-foot estate on Pocomo Point known as En Fin had long been a familiar sight for mariners who could make out its gabled roof on the horizon for nearly a half century. Originally listed for just under $16 million by its original owner Nicki Nichols Gamble—the widowed heiress to the Procter & Gamble fortune—En Fin sold in 2012 after more than a year on the market for just $8.35 million. The dramatic 50 percent price drop was due to the fact that the property’s seven-acre beachfront was quickly eroding away, and the six-bedroom, six-bathroom home would soon either need to be moved—or be completely destroyed.
Gary and Dao Engle purchased the estate and spent the next seven years plotting its critical move away from the eroding shoreline. Consulting with architect Chip Webster, the Engles, who are real estate developers and investors based out of Palm Beach, Florida, enlisted Carl Jelleme and his team from Toscana Construction to move the sprawling structure. “We’ve raised bigger houses, but we’ve never moved them,” explained Jelleme, who indicated that Toscana Construction relocates between twenty-five and thirty houses a year. “We had the Nantucket Hotel up in the air and the Westmoor clubhouse, but as far as physically moving a structure, this is definitely the biggest one we’ve done.”
Indeed, weighing in at around 450 tons, En Fin could possibly be the single largest structure ever moved on the Cape and the Islands. However, instead of having to move it several miles, as is the case for some houses on Nantucket, the Engles’ estate only needed to travel about eighty feet to the north and sixty feet to the east. While Jelleme skirted around the question about what such a move might cost, The Wall Street Journal reported that the whole operation ran the Engles in the neighborhood of $1.6 million. But as Dao Engle explained to the paper, “By fixing the problem and redoing the space, we have effectively doubled the value of the home versus what we bought it for.”
Moving a house this size might seem like a marvel of engineering, but, according to Jelleme, “it really wasn’t difficult from a technical standpoint…it was just big.” Still he admitted that “house moving is a dangerous trade—guys can catch their fingers, toes—but if you do it professionally and safely there shouldn’t be any issues.”
First, Jelleme’s crew of eight men tunneled beneath the structure through the crawl space and then built up what are known as “cribs”—wooden six-by-six-foot grids. Long steel beams known as “stringers” were then inserted at the base of the structure on top of those cribs, followed by cross beams running the opposite direction. “With the beams in place, it was time to jack it up,” Jelleme says. Deploying what’s known as a Unified Jacking Machine, thirty-two hydraulic jacks were placed along the stringers with each pressurized to hold a specific load. “So one jack could be holding five tons, one might have ten tons, another twelve tons,” Jelleme explained. “Then we locked them at that pressure and one main cylinder pushed them all up together exactly at the same time, same height, same sequence.”
With the 450-ton house raised up by the stringers, sixteen steel rolling beams known as “skates” were inserted below. Once all sixteen skates were in place, the entire structure was checked to ensure that it was level, and then it was pulled, ever so slowly, by excavators. “They’d move the house five feet, then check it,” Dao Engle told The Wall Street Journal, which published at least two stories on the historic house move. “Then they’d move it ten feet and check it again…It was definitely nerve-wracking.” Had Jelleme and his team been moving the house any farther than its sixty-by-eighty-foot path, the structure would have needed to be chopped into blocks and put on trucks. Yet despite the relatively short distance it traveled, the entire move took a week.
With En Fin in its final resting place—for now, anyway—the Engles are pouring in another $4 million to expand the estate, adding another 6,200 square feet by way of new bedrooms, a finished basement, a theater and a gym. The Engles told The Wall Street Journal that they hope their summer estate will be there for the next hundred years. But if they do have to relocate again in the future, at least they know their summer home has strong enough bones to make the move.