A century ago, Charleston was treated to a pageant of homes over land and water.

This story was originally published in the August 2023 issue of Wonderful West Virginia. To subscribe, visit wonderfulwv.com.

Written by Pam Kasey

Photography Courtesy of John Eichleay Collection, West Virginia State Archives

If you’re from the Charleston area, maybe you’ve heard the story of how dozens of homes were scattered in all directions so our gleaming-domed state capitol building could sit where it does—some of them even across the Kanawha River. 

While Eichleay crews fetched steel barges from Pittsburgh for the 1923 project and assembled departure and landing trusses for the houses on either side of the river, a team in Charleston lifted the houses to be moved and lined them up along Oney Street, which used to bisect what is now the Capitol grounds. Remember these two beauties—we’ll see them again.

It was a hundred years ago this year. The old 1885 statehouse had burned spectacularly to the ground in 1921. After considering several sites, the government decided to build its new capitol complex a mile and a half east of the old one, at the place along Kanawha Boulevard, then known as Kanawha Street, that we’re familiar with today. The site’s wide river frontage made it a choice location—as the owners of the 50 fine new homes there could no doubt testify.

Two houses are loaded onto the barge structure, ready to leave the north side of the river at the foot of Oney Street. The entire scaffolding under the houses sits across the centers of two long, parallel barges and connects by rails to same-height platforms at the departure and landing sites. The scaffolding will travel back and forth with the houses. We’ll see these two houses again, too.

The solution: move the houses. You won’t be surprised that John Eichleay Jr. Co. of Pittsburgh became involved when you learn that the four Eichleay brothers’ feats of engineering included moving an eight-story Pittsburgh building—while business went on as usual inside. 

This is the same pair of handsome houses we saw at the beginning, oriented just as they were when they waited their turn in line, now heading downriver to the right.
Other house moving projects couldn’t be built as high as Eichleay’s because they had to pass under bridges. The sign on the side of this house reads “ACE House Movers,” the name of a company that operated in Charleston in the latter 1950s. A house afloat is always a marvel—curious onlookers have gathered on the bridge to watch. 

Vacant lots were found nearby for nearly all of the homes, and the moving of those structures one by one must have made 1923 one of the most memorable years Charleston had ever seen. But it would get better still. For the last 12 homes, real estate developers Noyes & Young created a new neighborhood, Beachview, on the south side of the Kanawha River. Eichleay Co. ferried those dozen houses one-third of a mile downriver to Beachview, two at a time, furnishings and all. The entire river operation took no more than three weeks and never cracked a single pane of glass.

A beautiful day for moving house. This shot was taken from the south bank of the river—the 1915 Kanawha City Bridge, upriver, can be seen faintly in the background. Look at all the canoes!

The trick to an incident-free move, Eichleay explained in a 1925 interview with American magazine, was to manage the structure in such a way that the floor is always parallel to the ground and the walls are always perpendicular. The company’s many complex yet successful moves seem to bear him out. 

This wasn’t the only time houses were moved on the Kanawha River—city growth prompted other moves, some by other companies. But it certainly left us with some memorable photographs.