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Local News

Okon: Seeing history and avoiding the coronavirus

The Casseday House makes its way down Jackson Street on Monday.
The Casseday House makes its way down Jackson Street on Monday.

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Moving the Casseday House on Monday offered some mental relief from the coronavirus pandemic – justifiably or not.

It is mind boggling though to consider that the relocation of a 560-ton house so old that it preceded the Civil War, as challenging as it may have been, was a relatively simple task compared to avoiding a virus no one can see.

The site of a limestone building on wheels and on the move was riveting.

"It's amazing how they do it with all those axles," said Scott Hallberg, who lives nearby and came outside to see the Casseday House roll. "She told me those chimneys won't even break because it's all braced from the inside."

"Chimneys often don't make it," said Tammie DeVooght Blaney, executive director of the International Association of Structural Movers.

In this case, the chimneys made it.

DeVooght Blaney is a member of the DeVooght family that owns DeVooght House Movers. The company with offices in New Jersey and Valders, Wisconsin, moved the Casseday House, a move unique enough that DeVooght Blaney came to Joliet to see it.

Still, moving the Casseday House was not a total distraction.

"I don't want to get the virus," David DeVooght, who supervised the move, said as he discussed the attention he was paying to coronavirus guidelines that allowed the job to proceed.

An ordinary house moving may have been rescheduled, DeVooght said. So much was tied into this project, including the closure of four blocks of Jackson Street and temporary shut-offs of electric, phone and cable services as overhead wires were detached to make room for the house, that the move went on as scheduled.

"A lot of coordination," David Mackley, former director of inspection services for the city of Joliet, said about the moving project.

Mackley, now retired, said he was brought on as a consultant to see that everything got coordinated and that the Casseday House got off the Jackson Street lot by the end of March so Thorntons could build its gas station there.

Indeed, the very next day excavators and bulldozers were working the site, another sign that construction is one business considered essential enough to proceed under the governor's stay-at-home order.

Mackley called the move "a historical event" and something he wanted to be part of.

"I'm not looking to come out of retirement," he said.

Thorntons contributed more than $300,000 to make the move possible.

"A lot of planning went into the move," Michael Schwarz, director of planning for Joliet, said as he watched it get started. "We're happy that preservation and development can coexist."

• Bob Okon is a longtime Herald-News reporter. He can be reached at 815-280-4121 or

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