Adrienne Scharnikow was in a race with the wrecking ball, and she was determined to win.
Her family had sold a Victorian summer home in Avalon owned through three generations, from 1955 to 1996. It was one of the original 10 houses built as a summer cottage in about 1895 by George W. Kates, the first tax assessor in Avalon. A developer was going to raze it to build a new Shore mansion.
“It’s reminiscent to me of a time gone by at the Jersey Shore,” said Scharnikow, who lives in Meadowbrook, Montgomery County, with her husband, Joe, and sons Joey, 18, AJ, 17, and Jack, 15. “The house had such sweet memories for me, and when I heard it was going to be demolished, something came over me. It was a feeling that I had to save it.”
That was in December 2017. Her first thought was to have the house designated as a historical property, but her pleas to government officials were unsuccessful. Her next best option was to move the house, but that was expensive, and she had no place to relocate it.
In February, with two weeks to go before demolition, Steve Hauck from SJ Hauck Construction saw her story on Facebook and offered to move the house and store it until she could find land, and then move it to a new location. The cost: about $150,000.
“We deal a lot with saving buildings that are about to be demolished,” said Hauck, owner of the structural moving company based in Egg Harbor Township. “This country throws away valuable houses all the time.”
The timing was challenging: He had two days to plan and 10 days to move the house. That meant 20 people working around the clock to take the house apart in sections and deliver it to their storage site in Egg Harbor.
“His crew stayed at night on blow-up mattresses. They had lights going,” Scharnikow recalled. “They had to remove a lot of the heavy plaster and a back portion of the house to lighten the load to get the original house over the bridge and out of Avalon.”
Finding a new location wouldn’t be easy because of the height of the home’s tower and the need to move it under utility wires and leaning trees, around turns and over bridges. Scharnikow’s search led her to a perfect lot in Cape May with views of the bay, harbor, and ocean. And the home was taken there and reassembled in 2019.
The project became a community event. When new pieces of the home arrived, onlookers gathered, and Wawa gave out free coffee.
"It was an event to see pieces of this house come together,” Scharnikow said. “The first floor moved in March, we rebuilt the second floor, and the third floor moved in June.”
She retained much of the original integrity of the house, painstakingly keeping the 1890s décor by salvaging materials from other homes from that time period. Mantles, doors, sinks, beams, light fixtures, and floorboards all have their own stories to tell. For example, the brick chimney needed to be removed for the move but was then rebuilt, adding bricks from other homes scheduled to be demolished. Pictures of those homes now hang near the fireplace.
“There was a house that went down in Cape May Point that the town was really upset about because, rumor had it, the house was part of the Underground Railroad,” she said. “I got the beautiful front door, the floorboards, and some other items that I incorporated into the house. People drop stuff off. They like seeing their items live on.”
One of her favorite pieces is a mantle she bought on Craigslist. An auction sticker on the back indicated it came from the American Bank Note Co. in New York City. She reached out to the Smithsonian Institution archives, which had a picture of the mantle in its original location in the bank from the 1800s.
She restored the original nautical tower, 20 stained glass windows, the original pebble dash stucco on the front porch, and the home’s third floor. That’s where the family and guests had jotted notes with pencil on the plaster since the 1940s.
“It looks like it was written yesterday,” Scharnikow said. “There are quotes, what people did that day, Avalon history, and family history. It was really important to save those walls.”
Said Hauck: “If the house would have been torn down, it would have been devastating to lose that.”
He built a wooden structure to protect the plaster walls through the move — about 40 miles in all to and from the storage area. Once the house was safely secured in Cape May, family members gathered for the removal of the wooden structure, nervously hoping the walls remained intact.
“It was the best feeling,” she said. “We were toasting champagne that we had saved all those memories.”
The original home was about 1,500 square feet with three bedrooms. After renovations, it’s about 4,000 square feet, with six bedrooms, 4½ bathrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, and two parlors. The home features two gas fireplaces and a backyard swimming pool.
“It’s decorated modern farmhouse with a Victorian feel,” she said. “I want you to walk in this house and feel like you are back in the time of farmlands at the Jersey Shore. It’s not one of the grand Victorians you find in Cape May. This man built this little cottage for his family, so I wanted to keep that in mind. It’s smaller rooms and smaller windows. The whole house is seamless like it would be in 1890.”
Yet she made changes to make the home comfortable for occupancy today, including putting the bedrooms on the first floor. The kitchen is equipped with modern appliances, and she has installed flat-screen TVs. While she declined to say how much she spent on the project, the home is worth more than $1 million, she said. She hopes to recoup some of her investment through rentals.
She named her home the Avalon House and created a Facebook page that has more than 3,000 followers. Scharnikow started the page to raise awareness that these kinds of houses were coming down, she said.
“As it grew and I saw how many people were motivated by the story, it motivated me more,” said Scharnikow, who hadn’t planned to take on such an intricate project. “I told my husband I was driving down there to take some pictures, and the next thing you know, we’re moving a house.”
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