The preservation, deep energy retrofit and new addition of the Historic Molette Family Plantation house near Orrville, Alabama kicked off last week with an exciting, and at times nerve-racking, three-mile move of the original 80-ton circa 1825 house to its new and, hopefully, final location. We watched in awe as 80 tons and 188 years of history traveled down country roads in the Molette’s Bend area on the Alabama River. For much of the 19th century, these roads were thoroughfares for horse carriages taking cotton down to the steamboats waiting on the river. Loads of cotton still travels these roads, and much of the original 3,000 acres of the plantation is still owned by the same family.
The Molette Plantation house has been in the family for 7 generations, and the family plans for that tradition to continue. In fact, it has been moved twice in the past 4 years to save it from either being demolished or at risk of being destroyed by 100-year flood waters. Below is a picture of it in 1934 in its original location. It was moved from here in 2008 to make way for a new home.
Molette House photo taken in 1934. Photo is now stored in the Library of Congress
Here is the house in it’s 2008 location days before it “packed up its bags” and hit the road to its new site. Of the three locations, the current one is probably the most contextually appropriate, and gives it the prominence that it deserves.
The existing floor plans here show, with the exception of the closet in the second floor bedroom, what is believed to be in its original arrangement and the way the house is laid out today.
MOVING 80 TONS AND 188 YEARS OF HISTORY
If you’ve ever seen a house being moved, you know it’s an impressive feat. A bit further down in this post is a 2-minute video from last week showing the moving of the Molette House. From start to finish, the move actually took about 6-8 hours. Lifting it off of the original foundation probably took the most time, but then once it was on it’s way, the only delays were waiting on the local phone company to raise, or temporarily disconnect, the overhead lines. This first photo shows one of those moments.
The house made about 3 turns and played limbo with about a dozen wires before it made it to its final destination. The one nail-biting moment came when it crossed a bridge that was narrower than the wheel base of the trailer hauling the house. The experienced movers used 4′-0″ x 8′-0″ steel panels to temporarily extend the width of the bridge until the house was clear. Obviously, it worked, but not without crossed fingers and clinched fists… The movers really new what they were doing.
OK, so here’s that video…
Once the house “arrived” to its new location, the movers stacked up 8″ x 8″ x 36″ blocks to support the trailer frame and pulled the wheels out from underneath. This week, the contractor is building new foundation walls on top of a footing they poured three week before, and up to the existing approximately 12″ x 12″ wood rim beam that the house was originally built on. Once the walls are in place, the movers will come back and lower the house on the new foundation.
Here are some more photos of the moving process…
NEXT STEPS: PRESERVATION, ADDITION AND DEEP ENERGY RETROFIT
Like all preservation projects we will work with the information we have about the house (historic photos, documents, family interviews, etc.) and what we know about the architecture and lifestyles of that time to return the architecture to its original state. That will include things like:
- Carefully re-building original windows and doors, and building new ones where the original ones are either too damaged to repair or simply missing.
- Removing original siding, carefully removing the remnants of the original paint, installing it back on to the house, and re-painting it. Where original siding is missing or too damaged, new identical wood siding will replace the old.
- Preparing the interior wall paneling for re-painting without removing it from the walls, re-painting it to as close to the original color based on what we can tell from what’s remaining on the walls.
- Floor boards (a.k.a. decking) will stay, just cleaned up and re-painted.
- About 95% of the structure of the walls, floors, ceiling and roof is in good shape and will remain as is. The remaining 5% will be replaced with new.
- The attic that was used as an extra bedroom for the kids will be cleaned up and reused as a livable space.
Like most plantation homes from 1825, amenities like kitchens, dining rooms, laundry rooms and bathrooms either didn’t exist at the time or were just not a part of the main house. The design for the new addition of the Molette House will stay sensitive to the original architecture, but not replicate it. The owners want to be able to maintain a practical modern lifestyle while preserving the home’s beautiful history. As you can see in the schematic drawing below, the proposed addition will provide what they are used to, while respecting the original house.
HIGH PERFORMANCE HISTORIC (A.K.A. DEEP ENERGY RETROFIT)
Below is a building section that shows how we are approaching the energy efficient and durability design and preservation of the original house. All moisture, air and thermal control will be done on the outside of the structure to keep it protected from the elements first. This increases the durability of the structure and the occupants within, and is sometimes referred to a s “A Perfect Wall“. The longer we preserve the structure, the longer it will
- Stand up (possibly another 188 or more!).
- Maintain comfort and air quality inside.
- Consume less energy.
Making Historic Preservation and Advanced Energy Efficiency compliment each other using modern methods and materials is one of the greatest (and most exciting) opportunities we have with the Molette house. Using materials and methods that might have been available at the time tends to be cost prohibitive. The preservationists in us will respect the past, and the energy efficiency and durability nut in me has a few tricks up my sleeve about how to achieve High Performance Historic. Making the Molette House “high performance” will not be about incorporating massive amounts of insulation…the house is in southern Alabama. We’re also not going to try to rebuild the windows with triple-pane glazing…again, the house is in alligator country…it’s hot there! The goal is to achieve a carefully detailed, uninterrupted boundary around the entire building shell (a.k.a enclosure) to stop unwanted moisture, heat and air that contributes to more heating, ventilation, cooling, and de-humidification. Anywhere that there is a break in either of these control layers, it’s a failure, and failure is not an option. More to come on these means and methods of achieving a historically preserved high performance home and new addition. We’ll be sharing construction techniques, architecture and interior design details, energy modeling results, mechanical system specifications and design, and more.
THE HAPPY HOMEOWNERS – DAVID AND ELEANOR
Here are David and Eleanor, the proud owners of the Molette House near Orrville, Alabama. They’ve made a lot of effort already to preserve the history of this house and their family, and are very excited to soon call this Home. They were the talk of the town last week because of an article in the Selma Times Journal about the monumental moves of their house. Thanks for stopping by! I look forward to your comments and hope you’ll stay tuned for follow up posts on this really exciting project. -Chris
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