Just past midnight Tuesday, two houses moved down the highway at the south end of Oak Harbor as part of a slow-moving procession of large trucks, utility vehicles and cop cars.
For years, the houses stood on the edge of the large retail development that includes Walmart and Safeway. They represented the last vestiges of the historic Freund farm, which once covered 160 acres of an area now largely developed.
Carl Freund said he agreed to remove the three houses from the former farmstead as part of an agreement with a developer who plans to build a housing development on the property and the hillside beyond. Freund put the word out that he was willing to give two of houses to anyone willing to move them.
The third house on the site was built in 1860 by Ulrich Freund, one of the very first pioneers on Whidbey Island. Freund’s father and grandfather were born in the house. Unfortunately, it was barely standing and couldn’t be moved, Freund said, but much of the house was salvaged for reuse.
As the deadline for moving the houses drew closer, Freund started to worry. The last thing he wanted to do was tear them down.
That’s when Reese Bliek stepped in. He agreed to move the houses to property he owns on Zylstra Road, where they will eventually become rental homes.
“I wanted to be able to save a couple of what I feel are historic homes,” he said. “They are in very good shape and can last many more years.”
In addition, he said he’s a proponent of reusing and recycling homes, which has the added benefit of keeping materials out of landfills. And the house will help in some small measure with the housing shortage on the island.
It was the second time that the smaller of the two houses was moved. The 1,200-square-foot farmhouse, Freund said, was built circa 1917 in the Clover Valley area of North Whidbey but was moved to the Freund property in 1950 when the Navy took over the farmland to build the base.
Freund said he grew up in the house on the family’s dairy farm with his three sisters and parents, Arnie and Betty Freund, and watched the city slowly grow toward them. An addition was added to the structure to accommodate the family.
“I had the basement all to myself,” Freund said.
His grandparents, Ralph and Winifred Freund, lived in the other house, which was also built in 1917. It was slightly larger, at about 1,300 square feet, and located closer to the highway.
To move the houses, Bliek turned to Nickel Bros. House Moving, a Marysville company that specializes in relocating houses and large structures. By moving houses often set for demolition, the company prevents hundreds of homes from going to the landfill each year, saving many historic structures in the process.
Two years ago, the company moved the 1879 Ely farmhouse, the home of Oak Harbor’s first mayor, from Oak Harbor to Coupeville. The two-story house was taken by barge to a scenic location in town.
This week, it took the company about three hours to move two houses about five miles by truck.
Bliek emphasized that he was appreciative of all the people who helped to make the project happen. That included staff at both Island County and Oak Harbor planning departments; officers from the state patrol, Oak Harbor police and the sheriff’s office; and employees from Comcast, Puget Sound Energy, Frontier and Nickels Bros.
Nick Carpenter of Nickels Bros. coordinated the house moving, which Bliek compared to conducting a large orchestra. It was done in the middle of the night to have as small an impact on traffic as possible.
“It was a team effort from the top to the bottom,” Bliek said.
The people from the utilities moved power and telephone lines just ahead of the houses to allow them to sneak underneath. The fact that the houses were single story made the process simpler, Bliek said,
At the property on Zylstra Road, the houses were placed on foundations; one of the houses gets a basement.
Bliek said his wife and daughter are excited about decorating and doing a little remodeling inside the houses. They are going to use antique lights and fixtures and plan to install a period-style fireplace.