Monday, April 29, 2013

No Need to Empty the China Cabinet: Just Pick Up and Move Your DC Townhouse in 1907.

When we begin a house history and literally hit a brick wall when we start researching, something is amiss.  We double checked lot numbers, house numbers, and even the Square number, but one recent project left us stumped.  Of all possibilities, we never would have guessed that the three story, 114 year old townhouse we were researching had been moved just eight years after it had been built.  Moved only 25 feet, that is, without the need to even empty the china cabinet.     

The owner  of the vacant lot where 2108 Bancroft Place, NW was to be constructed beginning in 1899, John James Hemphill (left) likely never envisioned that his soon to be built house would be astonishingly moved in its entirety to the adjoining lot just eight years later, in 1907. The house he constructed at 2108 Bancroft was indeed painstakingly relocated next door, where it is found at 2110 Bancroft Place today (right). 

 JJ Hemphill as he was known, applied for and was granted an Application for Permit to Build numbered 1778 for the house on June 7, 1899.  He listed architect Lemuel Norris (1838-1940) as responsible for its design, and William P. Lipscomb as the general contractor. It was estimated to have cost $12,000 to construct.  
John James Hemphill (August 25, 1849 - May 11, 1912) was a U.S. Representative from South Carolina, elected as a Democrat to the Forty-eighth and to the four succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1883-March 3, 1893).

The Moving of 2108 Bancroft Place to 2110 Bancroft Place

Shortly before April of 1907, Hemphill’s neighbor to the east constructed a high brick wall that Hemphill felt obstructed his views. A good brick (fence) wall apparently did not make good neighbors, and Hemphill took the drastic step of planning to move his house twenty-five feet west onto an adjoining vacant lot. It was a risky maneuver, and had not been accomplished in Washington prior to 1907. In addition to the move, the house had to be raised eighteen inches to accommodate the street grade. It would cost $4,500.  Remember, the house cost $12,000 to build!

Hemphill obtained a Permit to Repair or Reconstruct Buildings numbered 3346 on April 24, 1907. He indicated that a mechanic at the Sheeler Company would oversee the operation and an article in the May 26, 1907 Washington Post revealed that the move took about three weeks to accomplish.  They planned on supporting the wood bay on the east side with copper, and would add a rear brick addition measuring twelve by sixteen feet once the house was in its new location. The text from the Post appears here.

Mary Clements recalls in her oral history interview with homeowner Elizabeth Hemphill that she had indicated that she didn’t even have to empty her china closet the move went so smoothly. Interestingly, despite the fact that the house had been moved to its new location at 2110 Bancroft Place and a new house was under construction at 2108 that began in 1909, the 1910 census still refers to the Hemphill family as residing at 2108. It was likely due to the address number still affixed to the exterior, replaced when the house to the east was finished. In any event, it showed Mr. and Mrs. Hemphill as occupants, along with their 17- year-old son John. They had one live-in, Mulatto servant names Sarah J. Johnson, who had been born in Virginia about 1872.  

Somewhat surprisingly, just two years after the drastic move due to his loss of view to the east, Hemphill himself obtained a permit to construct a new house on the lot where his own had been moved. He once again hired Lemuel Norris to design 2108 Bancroft Place, which was constructed shortly after the permit was issued on March 23, 1909. It was built by the Lipscomb Company at a cost of $15,000. The front elevation plan was included along with the permit, illustrated at left.

Copyright Paul K. Williams


Mari said...

It's those odd quirky things that can knock you off track.

Mari said...

It's those odd quirky things that can knock you off track. But people are quirky at times, that's what makes them interesting.