A crane lifts a house onto a barge for transport from Harpswell Neck to Haskell Island on Nov. 5. (DAVE INSLEY PHOTO)
Maybe you’ve seen a tractor-trailer trundling down the highway hauling a mobile home. But have you ever seen a 73,000-pound, two-story house being moved — on a barge — to an island in Casco Bay?
Probably not. Nor had the barge owner, the homeowners or the crane operator. Nor had flabbergasted neighbors who watched a red tugboat push the barge, with the house perched on top, as it swiftly made its way to Haskell Island.
Karen and Bill Garside plan to build a new waterfront home where the existing one stood at the foot of Intervale Road, off Harpswell Neck Road.
But what to do with the old one?
“Our son said it was a perfectly good house,” said Bill Garside. “Why don’t we give it to someone?”
So one sunny day last month, when the tide was at its highest, house movers from Vermont jacked the house up, put huge beams under it and gradually shifted it off its foundation, nudging it close to the water.
A day or two later, a crane balanced with 77 metric tons of weights gingerly lifted the structure with its 119-foot boom and maneuvered the dangling house over the water and onto the barge. The red tug then pushed the barge to Haskell Island, where a sister crane waited to unload it — all within an hour and a half.
Moving the structure was “the easy part,” said new owner Tucker Lewis. The logistics were the hard part and it took months to juggle all the moving pieces. “Everybody on the team came together,” he said. “It was an amazing group of people.”
Because of heavy rains, days earlier it had taken crane operator Rick “Tippy” Gagnon nine hours to maneuver the crane into place to hoist the house, said Jonathan Donahue, director of operations for Keeley Crane Service in South Portland.
The entire process of loading and unloading the house “wasn’t hit or miss,” said David Winslow, whose barge business is also based in South Portland. “We made sure the cranes had reach enough and that I could get close enough.”
Although Winslow had never been part of an ocean barge move to Haskell Island, another house was relocated to the island by horse-drawn sleds on ice years ago, Lewis said.
“Jim Noyes, who is in his 80s and has been going to Haskell Island since his childhood, told me that their family home on the island was moved there over the ice by horse-drawn sled way back in the day,” Lewis said. “I don’t know which is harder, cranes or sleds. I don’t know if I will be doing either again in this lifetime.”
Lewis has lived in the area four years, although his father and generations before him lived in Boothbay Harbor and he summered there as a child.
“I’m in the business of renovating and rehabilitating buildings to give them a new life,” said Lewis, chief executive officer of Global Building LLC in Carlsbad, California. When his Maine surveyor told him about the Intervale house, Lewis jumped at the chance to move it to Haskell Island, where the family will spend summers.
On the day of the move, the ocean was as calm as a millpond. Locals vied for the best spot to watch the spectacle — a welcome relief from COVID fatigue — and one group of friends and neighbors gathered on Becky and Pat Gallery’s deck.
Crane operator Rick “Tippy” Gagnon prepares to move a house on Intervale Road, Harpswell Neck. (CONNIE SAGE CONNER PHOTO)
Betsy Eaton, a previous owner of the house, watched the barge move past Graveyard Point and around Pinkham Island on the way to Haskell Island. “My heart hurt but I’m glad it wasn’t torn down,” she said.
Eaton bought her original house on Intervale Road in 1985. It burned to the ground in the winter of 1996, when she was living in New Mexico. She rebuilt the 1,500-square-foot, three-bedroom house and sold it to the Garsides in 2018.
A circle on navigation charts marks where the house was located. Ralph Tuttle, 89, of Auburn, said in a phone interview that the road was known as Rum Runners Alley during Prohibition, not Intervale, because booze was rumored to be secreted in a garage up the hill.
“It seemed to be common knowledge,” said Tuttle, whose aunt and uncle turned it into a small camp after Prohibition. He later tore it down and built a house, where his son, Jonathan, now lives part time.
If the bootlegging story is true, said the elder Tuttle, alcohol would have been transferred off a ship to a smaller boat, then unloaded on shore and carted up the hill. It wasn’t uncommon to smuggle liquor along the coast, including from where the house was moved, he said.
Bill Garside said he likes to think that he and his wife did their part for the environment by not tearing down the house that was taken to Haskell Island. The Harpswell Planning Board had told him it was a perfectly fine house, so “why get rid of it?” Instead, the house was “recycled,” he said.
Lewis, the new owner, wouldn’t say how much it cost him to move the “free” house, but he’s happy to call it home.
“We love Harpswell,” he said. “It’s a fantastic, welcoming town with great people.”
Connie Sage Conner is a retired editor of The Virginian-Pilot and author of “Frank Batten: The Untold Story of the Founder of the Weather Channel.” A Harpswell resident, she serves on the Harpswell News board of directors.