Chicago House Moving

A Pioneer in Northwest America, 1841 - 1858
The Memoirs of Gustaf Unonius

Some of the older wooden buildings which had been built in what is now the better part of the city have been moved on sledlike runners to outlying disricts where new streets are constantly being laid out; eventually they will be moved even farther away to make room for modern and more beautiful buildings.

Some of the houses thus moved from one place to another are not so small as one might imagine. I have seen even three-story buildings travel down the street. The contrivance by which this is done is really quite simple. A capstan is used, seldom drawn by more than one horse, around which a chain is wrapped and fastened to the rollers placed underneath the building after the foundation has been removed. The capstan is moved from place to place according to the length of the chain, and while the chain is rolled up on it the house is pulled forward; a few men are kept busy moving the planks and rollers under the runners, and the house is pulled evenly and steadily to its new site. When they are to make a turn the capstan is moved to the side, the chains are fastened to the corner of the building, which is carefully turned and faced in a new direction. This kind of work has become almost a new trade in the growing cities, and housemovers are seldom idle or in want of a good income.

Until one has become accustomed to this kind of tranportation, it seems rather strange. Often the entire width of the street is blocked by a house that is out for a walk and extends from one side of the street to the other, but neither drivers nor pedestrians complain because they are compelled to make a small detour. Anyway, it does not take long before the street is clear again. Moving the house does not necessarily mean that those living in it must move out. I have seen houses on the move while the families living in them continued with their daily tasks, keeping fire in the stove, eating their meals as usual, and at night quietly going to bed to wake up the next morning on some other street. Once a house passed my window while a tavern business housed in it went on as usual. Even churches have been transported in this fashion, but as far as I know, never with services going on.


Prairie State, Compiled and Edited by Paul M. Angle
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1968