It used to be common – or at least not rare – for communities to uproot entire buildings and move them blocks or even miles away.
For example, my town’s Town Hall was once the Congregational Church across the street. When the congregation decided to build a new church they sold it to the town, which picked it up, rolled it across the street, turned it around so it faced the street, then raised it and added an extra floor underneath, turning the church into the upstairs meeting room. (It’s now the town museum)
Similarly, the two-story Center School next door, the only one of five schools in town that had more than one teacher, before educational consolidation around World War I, was uprooted, put on logs and rolled half a mile down our main street to be used as house and then storage shed. It was later torn down.
These stories aren’t at all unusual. That’s one of the reasons local history can be hard to unravel – things that you think of as immovable used to move.
It’s rare these days, however. Belmont’s move of the historic Gale School to make way for a new school is big news. (Latest of many Monitor stories here)
Why the change over time? Economics, of course. Changes in logistics, building materials and standards means that it’s now almost always cheaper to gather new materials and build a new structure than to move and upgrade an old one. Unless there’s a significant historical reason, we tear down and replace – a far more wasteful system. Progress?