Community moved and awed on moving day

| November 19, 2019 10:15 PM

In my Main Street column on Aug. 14 I wrote about the efforts by the Museum of North Idaho to move the J.C. White house that had been gifted by the owner to house the museum.

“It’s been 116 years since the home of J.C. White made news in the Coeur d’Alene Press. Back then it was for the grandeur of the structure and the stature of the owner. Now in 2019 the beautiful house that’s stood on the corner of Eighth Street and Sherman Avenue for over a century is at the center of a most wonderful community effort. If the planets align and the coffers fill up the historic house will be moved a few blocks south and transformed into the centerpiece of a new home for the Museum of North Idaho.”

Well, the planets sure did align and on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, thanks to the passion and generosity of many, the incredible sight of the J.C. White house making its way two blocks west on Sherman, one block south on Seventh, a turn east and then south and finally the house coming home to the base of Tubbs Hill was a reality.

Since the 1960s I’ve always called it Mrs. Bjorklund’s house. She owned it at the time and it was partitioned into apartments, although she was also in residence. We lived next door in the similarly stately F.A. Blackwell house at 817 Sherman Ave. Our family leased the house for nearly a decade from Margaret Wood, the widow of Dr. John T. Wood. The Woods were the second and final owners of the Blackwell house. The house directly across the street and now the Blackwell Hotel was built by F.A. Blackwell for his son.

Our house next door to the J.C. White house was a magical place to be a teenager in Coeur d’Alene of the 1960s. The front porch right on Sherman Avenue seemed tailor-made to watch the cool kids in their cool cars cruise Sherman and Fourth of July parades. The house was large enough that our slumber parties were not limited in size. There were three full stories and a basement, 26 rooms, six bedrooms and four bathrooms … a carriage house that did double duty as a garage, a butler’s pantry, leaded glass windows, a vestibule and furnishings that were nearly as old as the house.

By the mid-1970s, Mrs. Wood was elderly and began to sell some of her properties, including the big house at 817 Sherman Ave. According to her grandson, John V. Wood, there were no offers except from buyers interested in the property, not the century-old house in need of a lot of TLC. So alas the house and the half city block lot where it sat were sold, the house demolished and in its place a Sambo’s Restaurant was built. Over four decades later the memory of that beautiful historic home falling to the wrecking ball still breaks my heart.

As I’m still nursing a cold it didn’t seem prudent to join the throngs in the pre-dawn chill on Saturday to witness and celebrate the epic move in person, but thanks to so many people posting real-time videos and photos on Facebook I was able to experience it all. It was stunning in the technical precision by the crew of Kalispell Structural Moving. Yarek Shvets, the driver tasked with getting the precious cargo to the new foundation, was incredible. Jonathan Mueller, one of the key players in this saga, said that Shvets was even-tempered and focused as the ground crew was directing what to do and when to do it each step of the way.

Late morning Mark Addy, of Maximum Exposure Photography, posted some incredible drone shots that provided a bird’s-eye view of the house moving past high rises with inches to spare on each side, which made the precision even more obvious.

About noon I was in Coeur d’Alene so I drove by the now vacant lot on Eighth and Sherman, then over past the library and City Hall, and there sat the J.C. White house. I drove into the parking lot to take in the sight and admittedly assigning human emotion to an inanimate object, my first thought was how very happy that old house looked. It looked quite at home nestled by the hill and McEuen Park. I’m thinking J.C. White, Mrs. Bjorklund and the house they inhabited somehow know just how much love and affection the entire community mustered together to make this historic preservation possible.

Here’s to the next century of new history for the old house and the wonderful stewardship of the Museum of North Idaho!

Kerri Rankin Thoreson is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the former publisher of the Post Falls Tribune. Main Street appears every Wednesday in The Press and Kerri can be contacted on Facebook or via email Follow her on Twitter @kerrithoreson.