On the move: Osborne House leaving downtown to clear way for new town office

MIDDLEBURY — For 198 years, Middlebury College’s Osborne House at 77 Main St. has been a constant feature of Middlebury’s downtown landscape.
But early next Monday morning the recently uprooted two-story home will make its improbable journey along the Cross Street Bridge to a vacant, town-owned lot on the east side of the intersection of Cross and Water streets.
The 1,135-foot journey, by way of six massive, remote-controlled, powered dollies, will require closure of the Cross Street Bridge to all vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian traffic from 2 a.m. to around noon. In the meantime, organizers of the move are laying the groundwork for what they hope will be a smooth ride for the 118-ton load, a scene that’s likely to make more than a few passersby blink and take an extra swig of their morning java.
“Buildings don’t get moved a lot in Vermont anymore,” Jason Messier of Messier House Moving & Construction acknowledged on Monday as he and his dad, Norman, continued to ready the Osborne House for the Oct. 27 trek.
It’s a trek that will ultimately lead to construction of a new Middlebury municipal building at the 77 Main St. site. The college — as part of a voter-approved, town-gown pact — agreed to make the 77 Main St. site available for new municipal offices if the Osborne House could be relocated to the town-owned parcel at 6 Cross St. The agreement also granted the college ownership of the current municipal building and gym property at 94 Main St., a site that will be cleared and transformed into a public park. A new recreation facility will be built off Creek Road. The college is paying for the Osborne House relocation, establishment of the park and $4.5 million toward construction of the new town offices and recreation center.
As of Monday, the Messiers and their crew had spent two weeks methodically dislodging the Osborne House from its foundation and raising it, using a unified jacking system. That jacking system ensured that the entire home, which possesses varying weight loads at its base, could be raised at the same exact time in order to avoid damaging the structure.
Once jacked up, the 66-foot-by-28-foot Osborne House’s weight was set on stacks of large wooden beams. There it will sit until it is again raised up and placed on the powered dollies. Each powered dolly has eight large wheels and a hydraulic system. The Messiers will be able to guide the dollies by remote control down Cross Street, at what Norman described as a “walking pace,” to the Cross Street site. Once there, it will be hoisted and lowered onto a new foundation on property once occupied by the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society. The trip across the bridge should take around 45 minutes.
The Osborne House’s journey promises to be a short but eventful one.
The building stands just a hair under 28 feet tall, a height that will be augmented by seven feet once loaded onto the dollies. That means that a variety of overhead power and telecommunication lines will have to be moved at two locations along the route: Near the Main Street rotary and near the intersection of Cross and Water streets. Norm Cushman, associate vice president for operations for Middlebury College, said some of the lines would be temporarily raised, while others would be trenched. He does not anticipate an interruption in power or telecommunications service during the move.
Since the Osborne House will be moved out from the rear of its lot, this will require temporary removal of a street light and a small cluster of signs (“stop” and directional to Routes 125 and 30) at the intersection of Cross Street and the exit of the Ilsley Library/municipal parking lot. This and other prep work will be done during the wee hours of the morning, according to Jason Messier.
Public safety officials will be in place to reinforce traffic detours, which will include:
•  Water Street and Charles Avenue will be accessible for local traffic only from the south entrance, the Middlebury Union High School end of Charles Avenue.
•  South Pleasant Street will be accessible for local traffic only from the north entrance.
•  Bakery Lane will be accessible from the west entrance for local traffic only and for access to the Ilsley Library and municipal parking lots.
All roads will resume normal traffic patterns after approximately noon, with the exception of Water Street, which will remain closed at the north entrance until later in the day.
If all goes smoothly, Norman Messier anticipated the Osborne House will be firmly ensconced at the Cross Street spot by Halloween.
Middlebury College has in recent times used the Osborne House for faculty or student housing. It has been vacant since this past spring, according to Cushman, who added the building “is not in the college’s long-term plans.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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