Moving House

This blog has nothing to do with Lent, beyond showing the amazing possibilities in life if you believe you can. For me, it’s a trip down memory lane. Yesterday I saw this house on the BBC on-line news.

It is a 137 year old house in San Francisco which has been saved from demolition by its enterprising owner. Now it is on its way to a new site! Amazing? Well, yes, but I’ve seen it all before.

In early 1963 I was living in Lexington, Massachusetts which is an old town outside Boston. A very historical town because it’s where “the shot heard round the world” rang out on the morning of 19th April, 1775, heralding the start of the American Revolution. 

On one occasion while we were there I had to drive into Boston to pick up my husband and take him to the airport. A few miles out of the town, breasting (or perhaps chesting) the brow of a hill, I came upon a house in the middle of the road. I don’t mean a caravan or half a mobile home; I mean a whole house, complete with double garage and curtains in the windows! What’s more, after a few startled moments, I realised it was moving. At a snail’s pace it was proceeding down the road in front of me. Finally, the driver of the car behind me, who wasn’t in the state of shock I was in, overtook the house and roared away. With my courage in both hands I followed suit.

The next problem was my husband. ‘You’re late,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘There was a house in the way!’ As an excuse it sounded pretty feeble. Fortunately, one of his colleagues confirmed that I could be telling the truth.

The Minuteman statue on Lexington’s Battle Green

Lexington is steeped in history, centred on the Battle Green where that fateful and fatal first shot was fired. Around the Green there are elegant pre-revoltion buildings like the Buckman Tavern, the Monroe Tavern and the Harrington House. One summer I acted as a volunteer guide on the green and my description of the young, wounded Jonathan Harrington crawling up the front steps to die in his wife’s arms reduced Californian tourists to tears! That was when I discovered Californian history is so completely different from New England history they could have been two separate countries. 

The Hancok-Clarke House on Hancock Street, Lexington, MA

Many years later I was back in Boston and decided to drive my daughter out to see our old house. From the Green I drove up Hancock Street on my way to Blake Road. This was a road I took almost every day when I lived there and on my right as I drove out of town I would pass another famous house — the Hancock-Clarke house. John Hancock and Samuel Adams, two of the leaders of the militiamen, had been warned to expect trouble. They were taking shelter with the Reverend Clarke in the house that had once been home to John’s grandfather. It is also the house where Paul Revere stopped to give warning of the approach of the Redcoats as he took his famous ride towards Concord. As I drove past this famous piece of history in about 1980 I again came to an abrupt halt. The house was on my left.

‘Why have you stopped?’ asked my daughter. ‘That house,’ I said. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘It says it’s the Lexington Historical Society.’ ‘But it’s on the left! It should be on the right!’ I could see my daughter’s raised eyebrows in the rearview mirror. Clearly mother was beginning to lose it!

Time to phone a friend.

Yes, it was indeed the Hancock-Clarke house. Yes, it had been on the right hand side of Hancock Street as you went up from the town centre. Yes, it had been moved across the road — she thought a few years before; late seventies perhaps. But why? Why on earth would you move an ancient monument from one side of the road to the other?

Early in the last century it had been saved from demolition by being trundled across the road onto a piece of spare land. Seventy years later it had then simply been moved back to where it was when it had sheltered three American heroes: John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Paul Revere.  

Well, why not? Recent news suggests that Stonehenge was originally Welsh. Should we start agitating for the return of our stones? At least that would solve the problem of tunnelling under the A303.

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