Historic Charleston home at 42 Rutledge raised up several feet, a fraction of an inch at a time

November 22, 2017 GMT

It happened too gradually for the eye to see, but a specialized crew jacked up 42 Rutledge Ave., a 174-ton historic home, about 8 feet into the air Tuesday.

Workers relied on a series of steel beams, wooden cribbing and a unified hydraulic jacking system to raise the house temporarily and create enough room to install a new foundation underneath.

Once that foundation is done, the same system will lower the front portion of the home back down so it’s only about 2½ feet higher than it was to start with.

Gary Waters, president of Southern Cross home improvement contractors, helped oversee the work, which was done by a crew with Wolfe House & Building Movers of Pennsylvania.

Because 42 Rutledge had a few rear additions over the years, the movers actually cut the house in two parts and raised the rear portion first before tackling the older, more historic section. The rear portion actually will be elevated about 4 feet above its original elevation.

“One thing that’s unique in this lift, and of great concern to me of course, is we’re raising the two chimneys, too,” Waters said.

As complicated as lifting the home is, Waters said the larger expense will be building the new foundation. At 42 Rutledge, a different crew will install 78 helical piers that will be sunk about 80 feet into the ground.

Owner Jack Margoles said the work on his home will set an important precedent for other historic homes nearby that have suffered flooding for three straight years.

“A lot of people are going to be very interested in this because around the neighborhood, those homes are going to have to be lifted,” he said. “There’s no way of getting around it.”

Morgoles said the new height of the floors will be the same as what federal flood regulations would require if the house were built new. He noted a previous owner filed a flood claim after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, “and we were afraid if we got another very big claim FEMA would stop insuring the house.”

The city of Charleston already held one design workshop to discuss the aesthetic, preservation and related issues involved in raising historic homes. It is expected to hold another session soon that might lead to a set of guidelines for owners interested in raising their buildings.

Preservationists have been wary about raising historic buildings in the past, particularly those considered among the city’s most historic, such as 42 Rutledge. But they also have acknowledged that rising seas and more frequent flooding will require them to be more flexible so these homes remain desirable places to live.

The city’s Board of Architectural Review initially denied but ultimately approved raising 42 Rutledge. It required the house’s original steps and piazza entrance to be kept at their current elevation. Beyond that piazza door, a new set of steps will be added to help people climb the additional 2½ feet onto the piazza floor.