The Devil Queen

How my wife and I sold our souls to the Queen Anne Victorian we tried to save.

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Location: Crow Mountain, Arkansas, United States

Synopsis: This is a cautionary tale. A seriously disturbed couple find the charming, old ruin of a Queen Anne Victorian in Russellville, Arkansas, and buy it for $1.00. They tore the roof off, cut it in half, and had it moved to some land they owned sixteen miles away because they didn't know any better. Since then, they have hired and fired contractors, had all of their tools stolen, re-wired, re-plumbed, insulated, and essentially rebuilt the entire house. Their only problem is that after four years it still isn't finished. Now they are tired, broke, and wonder what in the hell it is they've done to themselves. And, it's haunted.
(Last updated on April 3, 2008)

Press: Russellville Courier Article - December 2003, HGTV website article, AP story - October 2006, and Victorian Homes Magazine - February 2008 (link coming soon).
Art: From time to time, I receive requests for my art. If you would like to look at more of my art, go to The Failed Artist. If you would like to buy my art, email me. I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Devil Queen's Article in the Russellville Courier

Below is a transcription of the article the Russellville Courier Democrat ran on December 28, 2003.

Saving the Queen: Couple preserves historic house by cutting it in half and moving it

By Scarlet Sims for the Courier

It was love at first sight. I was 8 years old and she was advancing on 100. Every time our van traveled down B Street, my mother would slow down at the corner of Fargo Avenue so I could admire the elablorate gingerbread and hipped roof with the ornate metal crown. In my mind, that Queen Anne home was a castle. I never dreamed that it would be mine.

Sixteen years later, I was helping my mother appraise an old farmhouse just inside the Russellville city limits. "Why, look here," she said, peering into the crawl space. "This house has been moved. See, it has new concrete blocks and piers."

Something clicked. If someone else could move a house, then so could I. "I can do that," I told her.

I began circling the house on B Street almost daily. She had been sorely neglected. The roof was shot, a gaping hole had appeared over the front door, the wooden windows were cracked and rotted, the chimneys were crumbling, and the gingerbread had dry-rotted with over half of it shattered on the ground.

At the courthouse and library, I spent days digging through musty warrantee deeds and tax records and Pope County history books until, finally, I discovered the builder. Ransom Newton Boswell, a well-to-do businessman and contractor, built this home in 1890. She passed from him to his sons until the last son, Vestal Boswell, died, and his widow sold the home in 1988. Ownership changed hands a couple more times before Eskimo Pie Food Service, part of Sugar Creek Foods, purchased the house and lot in the late 1990s.

None of Boswell's other structures had survived both the fire of 1906 and the urban renewal trend of the latter half of the century, which made this house doubly unique. Further, it was one of the last truly Queen Anne-style homes left in the area.

Armed with my discoveries, I called Eskimo Pie. The company was thrilled to have a prospective buyer and mover for the old house; eight months later, my husband, John, and I met Scott Griffin, the Russellville plant manager, to sign the contract.

The only requirement was that the house had to be moved from the lot -- within three months. I had no clue what I was getting into.

Despite our good credit, no one was willing to make a loan on a 113-year-old house that was to be moved. So my husband and I were forced to come up with the cost of moving the and renovating on our own. The project would have died right then had it not been for the support and hard work of my family.

The first house mover I called recommended demolition. "Who'd want that old thing," he said. "Why don't you just build a new house?"

So I called someone else.

Dub Swink of Covey Home Movers of Fort Smith came and inspected my queen. "She is definitely worth saving," he said. He petted the ornate front door and elaborate molding. "They don't make houses like this anymore," he said.

"Can you move it to the top of Crow Mountain?" I asked.

"I can move anything to just about anywhere," he said.

But the roof and its trim had to come all of the way off, as did the three chimneys, the front and back porches, and the add-on bathroom. Then, the house would have to be cut in half and moved piecemeal.

"That roof can't come off for less than $25,000," the first roofer I called said. He spoke with Griffin and told him we probably wouldn't be interested in the house anymore. The house wasn't worth anything, he said.

So, I called someone else.

I had met a couple of carpenters in Clarksville who restored Victorian houses. James Wyche and James Tollison of James Wyche Construction constructed or refurbished everything from custom-milled gingerbread and freestanding stairs to hipped roofs.

" I can probably have it all ready to move in about two weeks," Wyche said. I hired him.

Demolition began mid-August, and, suddenly, people were everywhere. Cars circled the house day and night like vultures. People in trucks attempted to haul off our antique Coffeeville bricks and old stones, while well-dressed people driving fancy SUVs tried to steal gingerbread trim and large slats of the house's cypress, ship-lap siding and true 2x4s.

We strung up privacy signs all around the lot and called the police. Griffin confronted a couple of thieves for us, and Wyche ran off another in broad daylight. So many people stopped by that my husband and I began cruising by the lot at night, trying to catch potential thieves and vandals. I recruited as many family and friends as I could to haul away the salvageable material before it was taken from us.

Other people who came by were obviously upset.

"You're not tearing this down, are you?" A lady from Atkins asked after bolting from her car.

"No, we're moving it," I said.

She stopped and blinked. "Well, it's a good thing. I was trying to recruit a group of people to come and chain themselves to it."

It was my turn to blink. It had never occurred to me that people might chain themselves to my house.

While the house was being prepared for the move, I was also preparing her new site. We bush-hogged our 3.24-acre lot and had the house site leveled. Bill Gibson, of Bill's Backhoe and Dump Truck Service, and Avrom Clow poured a footing with metal reinforcements in the exact shape of the house. We were ready to move.

Then, it began to rain. To my horror, the house, now roofless, began to fill with water. For days, I did nothing but mop out five gallon buckets of rainwater.

When the rain stopped, Swink and his crew carefully sawed the house in half, down the hall, and braced it. Then, they slid large metal bars under one of the halves and raised it off its custom-cut stone foundation. One side was moved one day, the other the next. I watched, amazed, as the house made its way down Main Street.

People came out of shops and homes to watch, and cars pulled over to gawk at the Queen Anne that took up two lanes of traffic.

Within three days, the house sat on its new lot, roofless but intact.

Swink's crew pulled out, their job completed, and Wyche started reconstructing the roof. We had to use generators because acquiring electricity was much more difficult that I had anticipated.

The roof is finished now. Vast amounts of work need to be done, but the queen has been saved. And we are finishing our application for the National Registry in the hopes that the house will continue to stand for generations after us.

By preserving a part of our culture, perhaps we can preserve ourselves as well. So many local old places have vanished, destroyed in the name of progress and parking, that soon we may forget our history, forget ourselves and become Anywhere, USA.

17 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

could you post some pictures of your house? I would really like to see the exterior. For some reason I can't find it on the directions bar. If there are pictures already can you tell me where to find them?

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