Work to move historic Graves House in Bluffton nears completion

mmcnab@islandpacket.comJune 29, 2014 

A Bluffton developer's plan to move the historic Graves House to a new site on Calhoun Street could be completed in less than a month.

Old Town Dispensary owner Thomas Viljac said Friday work to stabilize the house before moving it three blocks north on Calhoun Street was finished. The 90-day process included replacing support beams and detaching the porches. The only task remaining is to prune trees along the Calhoun Street route to clear the way for the move.

Viljac said the century-old house at the corner of Calhoun and Allen streets will be placed on steel beams and trucked up Calhoun Street in one piece. It will be put at the corner of Calhoun and Lawrence streets, across the street from Viljac's tavern, on land owned by his friend Michael Hahn. There, Viljac will reattach the porches and continue the restoration of the historic home.

"We're at 80 percent right now," he said of the restoration. "Once the house is on its new foundation, I'll finish the cosmetic stuff and get it back exactly how it was when it was brand new."

The house's primary use is still undetermined, but Viljac said he plans to lease the majority of the first floor and use the second floor for office space. One room on the first floor will be donated for office space to the Bluffton Farmers Market, which his wife, Kim, runs. Viljac said the office will give the farmers market, held on Calhoun Street near the future site of the house, a permanent home. Currently, farmers market business is conducted wherever there is room -- a storage room above the tavern or at their kitchen table, he said.

Moving the house up Calhoun Street will require blocking off the road and will take half a day. The size of the home on the trailer -- 32 feet tall, 33 feet wide and 45 feet long -- will require tree pruning along Calhoun Street, Viljac said, so he will meet with town officials to determine which trees must be trimmed.

The Bluffton United Methodist Church, which owned the Graves House, gave the home to Viljac at no cost. It plans to build church offices and meeting space on the house's current site, church member and architect William Court said.

That construction would be the second phase of the church's expansion, and a date has not been set for its start, Court said. The first phase of the expansion, to add seating to the church building next door, could begin in August, he said.

Built between 1905 and 1908 by George Guilford, a former Union soldier and Bluffton's first mayor, the Graves House has sat in disrepair for much of the past five years. In May 2012, the town's Historic Preservation Commission voted to allow the church to tear it down. After an aborted plan to move it to the corner of Lawrence and Wharf streets by Bluffton resident Garfield Moss, Viljac's proposal to relocate the house was unanimously approved in April by the commission.

After it is moved, the house, which is built in a style similar to the cottages in Guilford's home state of Maine, will sit across the street from the Carson Cottages, built by Confederate soldier J.J. Carson.

"There's a ton of history in these buildings," Viljac said. "It's exciting to save another piece of that history, too. The South is saving a Union home."

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

Related content:

Historic Graves House could become Bluffton Farmers Market headquarters, Apr. 6, 2014

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