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Effort underway to move Nelson House

By Alex Bridges

A Mount Jackson man says he wants to try to save the historic Nelson House from demolition, but time is running out.

Holtzman Corporation plans to raze the house at 5522 N. Main St. to make room for a new company office building on the property. Owner and President Bill Holtzman tried for years to give away the house or even pieces of the historic building. The offer attracted some interest but no takers and now Holtzman says he needs to move forward on plans to build a new, four-story office next to the current headquarters.

After a story published in the Daily last week about Holtzman's decision, Gerald Forsburg, a local business man with a background in architecture and urban planning, reached out to Holtzman with an offer to move the Nelson House from the property.

Holtzman said Tuesday he has given Forsburg until the end of December to relocate the house. If Forsburg has not moved the house by that deadline then the demolition must go forward, Holtzman said. The business owner voiced support for Forsburg's effort but also remained skeptical he could do it in time.

"Hopefully they can get somebody to take it," Holtzman said. "I'd love to see that house moved. It's a much bigger project than people realize."

Any effort to move the house would require working with the fiber optic cable conduits and other utilities just to get the building to U.S. 11, Holtzman said.

Forsburg said by email this week that many people contacted him about trying to save the house, among them Pat Callahan, president and general counsel for the American Association of Small Property Owners.

Forsburg has now set up a fundraising drive to collect money needed to move the building, preferably to a site in Mount Jackson's historic district, and then to restore the house. Forsburg said he and other supporters of the project want to partner with other people interested in not just saving the building but also to seek a return on their investment in the project.

Forsburg also has setup a fundraising campaign through the Internet site Fundly. Anyone interested in donating to the relocation can visit https://fundly.com/save-the-historic-nelson-mansion.

Holtzman remained skeptical that Forsburg could raise the money needed to move the house off the company property by the deadline.

"Our first and highest priority is to respect the Holtzman Corporation's timeframe, which is the end of the year for the removal of the house," Forsburg said. "It is his property, and the Holtzman employees are our neighbors and community. People and community trump even historic buildings."

The second priority is to stabilize the house by moving it to a lot in the Historic District, Forsburg said.

Randy Jones, public information officer for the Department of Historic Resources, said Monday the house neither lies in the Historic District nor is it deemed a contributing structure and thus listed on a state or national register. Such designation would make any renovations to the house eligible for tax credits, Jones explained. The agency at this point can offer support to the parties involved in trying to save the building.

"It's a beautiful house, absolutely beautiful house," Jones said.

The house design includes elements of the Prairie School, Spanish Mission and Italianate styles, according to information from Forsburg. The Louisville and Nashville Depot and Express Building in Pensacola, Fla., also built in 1912, feature similar design elements, Forsburg said.

"The Nelson House presents well, and the interior is rather contemporary in comparison to what was the trend just 10 years earlier," Forsburg stated. "The plan is efficient, losing no space to hallways. The house would work quite well as a professional or nonprofit office, private home or even museum.

Forsburg concurred with Holtzman's comment last week that the house's foundation shows serious signs of deterioration. Relocating the house to a new foundation, if just a crawlspace, would solve that problem, Forsburg said.

Supporters also are working closely with the State Historic Preservation Office to put the home on the historic register. Listing the house on the register would make the building eligible for historic tax credits Forsburg said can help offset the cost of the move.

Forsburg also described how a team would move the house. First, they would need to remove the side porches, the rear butler's pantry and the roof to transport the house down the town streets. Forsburg said the roof needs replacing and the company responsible for make the original tiles is still in business. The porches also would need to be rebuilt.

In addition to gathering support from people interested in preserving the house, Forsburg suggested a public-private partnership between the town and supporters of the move given the economic value a restored home would give to Mount Jackson. Forsburg said the restored home likely would help increase values of adjacent properties.

Holtzman bought the 2,992-square-foot house about 10 years ago for $300,000. The assessment in 2010 put the property value at $154,000.

The overall project, including the move, working with utilities and the full restoration, could cost between $400,000 and $550,000 -- or about $200 per square foot, according to Forsburg. The same home would cost roughly $350-$400 per square foot to build today.

"If we cannot pull it off in the timeframe allotted, we will grieve the loss but not regret the attempt, knowing we have done the best we could in the name of preserving a part of our community," Forsburg stated. "More importantly, we will stand in solidarity with the Holtzman Corporation's need for a new office building, which will be a welcomed asset to Mount Jackson."

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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