Fifteen years ago, artist and carpenter Richard Limber couldn’t believe his good fortune. He’d found a couple on East Chop with a house they wished to be rid of, a house that could be disassembled and reassembled like an Erector Set.
“These people had a prefab house,” Mr. Limber told The Local. “It actually had strips on the side and was made in panels, so you could take the strips off and cut it apart. I would have just taken it apart and put it back together again. It was ideal to move. I had it all worked out through the town, and had the machinery lined up. The day before, they got cold feet and decided not to move it.”
Owing to what he described as sheer stubbornness, Mr. Limber vowed to move a house to a lot he owned off Circuit Avenue, near Wing Road in Oak Bluffs, somehow, some way, despite the setback on East Chop. Soon enough he found a newspaper ad placed by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, soliciting somebody to cart off a free cottage from beside Duarte’s Pond in West Tisbury.
“There was a huge apartment building right next to it,” he said, “an eight-unit, totally ramshackle place. It seemed like everybody who came here said it was one of the first places they rented on the Vineyard. It was right on the pond. It definitely didn’t have any redeeming architectural value. But this little cottage, that was quaint.”
Soon enough, he and two friends had cut the cottage in three, and with the aid of John Packer’s front-end loader, they set one piece on a pickup-drawn trailer, and Richard Limber was off to Oak Bluffs with his new house, or at least the first third.
“I drove it down the road,” he said, “and all these branches were hitting the top. It was pretty wide, and we didn’t have any kind of permits — we just put a sign that said ‘wide load’ on it.”
After the first trip, he became fearful of the problems that might arise when he hauled the other two, larger sections, and opted to go legit — or at least, semi-legit, given that he suspected the sections might be wider than 14 feet.
“The limitation for going down the road with a wide permit is 14 feet, I think,” he said. “If you’re over 14 feet, you’re supposed to go through every town and have the building inspector, the fire chief, and some other official okay it. That would have been three towns.”
He opted against going that route, and just went with a State Police Cruiser escort for the two remaining sections, which traveled in a caravan. “I was super-nervous,” Mr. Limber admitted.
The departure had been slated for early morning, but heavy rain delayed it until nearly 8 am.
“And this was in August,” said Mr. Limber’s friend, Amanda Dickinson, who was slated to ride in the caravan. According to Ms. Dickinson, the trooper who was going to lead the way was just exiting his vehicle to draw a tape measure across one of the sections when the sky opened up again. He returned to the cruiser and never measured.
As they crawled down Lambert’s Cove Road, most cars gave the caravan as wide a berth as possible. A little after 8, a man in an SUV with New Jersey plates only half-pulled to the side as the house-laden trailers approached.
“I’m driving along, and I feel this tiny vibration,” Mr. Limber said. “It turns out I hit this guy. He starts ranting. Now we’re all stopped. And I figured okay, it’s all over. There was a field nearby, and the cop’s gonna say, ‘We’re going to put this in the field, Richard, and deal with this another day.’ I’m just imploding. I think all the effort is going to go down the drain. He [the trooper] sees me sort of imploding, and he says, ‘Richard, this is what insurance is for. Don’t worry, I’ll handle this.’ And he shut the guy up.”
Mr. Limber’s takeaway here is simple: “Basically I’m one of the few people to hit somebody from New Jersey with a house.”
There were no mishaps after that. The trailer wheels did a lot of groaning turning from State Road onto Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, but they stayed on. Armed with two-by-fours, here and there Limber and his party would have to lift telephone wires over the tops of the house sections, managing never to disconnect any from the poles. Once at the lot in Oak Bluffs, cribbing, bottle jacks, and a crane helped him reassemble the cottage.
“Being an artist, and having unusual ideas about what a house should be,” he said, “if I had built my own house, it would have been much bigger — different. But there’s something intriguing about having a house with a shape that’s very traditional, but where the house itself is in many ways not traditional. Even though it wasn’t practical in the financial sense, I think it’s much more interesting than if I just built it from scratch.”
Richard Limber’s house is estimated to be 100 years old. “The rumor is that this house was originally moved from Oak Bluffs to West Tisbury,” he said.
Artist Richard Limber has an online project about houses big and small on Martha’s Vineyard. See the project, and hear the accompanying song at richardlimber.com/projects.