Tony Masso travels the coast searching for old homes to photograph, capturing the splintering structures and rusty automobiles that border country highways in black and white.
But he’s never seen what he saw Wednesday morning. A mansion built in 1760 loaded onto a barge, part of a weeks-long mission to move it from Easton to DeCoursey Cove in Queenstown by land and bay.
When Masso photographs the old homes, in his mind’s eye they appear as they once were: a place where a family lived and raised their children.
If all goes according to plan, the Galloway house will become a family estate once again, this time for Christian Neeley, his parents, his sister, her children and more.
“They wanted to make it alive again,” Masso said.
It’s called the Galloway house.
Neeley and his parents have split the cost of moving the three-story 800,000 pound brick home six miles across the town of Easton and then about 50 miles by water, down the Tred Avon, around Tilghman Island and up the Eastern Bay to DeCoursey Cove, near Wye Island. It costs just shy of $1 million, Christian Neeley said.
He works in cyber security, not architecture, but knew he wanted to find a Georgian-style home on the water. He couldn’t find one so he brought the home to the water.
For Neeley, it is a rejection of disposable culture.
“We look at our society and where we are, and we’re having to turn back and start to think about eliminating one-time use and going back to all of these things,” he said. “It’s a very interesting paradox the house represents. Something so old, but an idea that we are now having to readopt. We are going to need things that are going to last longer than disposable clothes that end up in the ocean.”
Components of the home they replace won’t be thrown in the trash, he said, but will be sold for second use, possibly to people in need of period-accurate replacements for historic homes.
Taking over the house has also been a process of exploration, as Neeley seeks to restore it to its original 18th-century condition. They have peeled back layers of paint and plaster to find clues about what the home used to be like, spotting shadows on the wall where a chair rail once was. The house changed a lot over the years.
“I think this house was every stereotype of American history there could be. Built by a very English family, then whitewashed after the revolution, then turned into Greek revival after we got tired of anything British, then you know sort of modernized in the 60s," he said.
The home will be renovated, and the two additions he plans on building will be more expensive than the move, which was just shy of $1 million, he said. Meaning that it was cheaper per square foot to move than to rebuild, as well as much less wasteful, he said.
The house was meant to last hundreds of years, and the family says they want it to become an estate for future generations.
His mother Pat Neeley said their family has always been mobile — her parents were in the military and her three children are scattered around the country.
“The objective was to have someplace to be able to say ‘when you go home, this is where you go,’” she said.
She has aunts and cousins she doesn’t know, as do her children. They didn’t want it to be that way any longer.
“Everybody scattered,” she said. “We don’t want to be scattered anymore.”
She handled the planning, which took two years, bogged down by the complex scheduling and approvals for things like road closures. And after years of planning, it took four nights to go six miles through the town — slow, careful going.
“You have no idea — there was Delmarva, Eastern Utilities, Verizon, Atlantic broadband who all had to agree to take their lines down. And then there were the traffic signals that had to come down,” she said.
At 4:30 a.m. Wednesday the move from land to bay began, with Expert House Movers of Md. inching the structure onto the barge, letting out ballast to account for the immense weight.
Sharon Watson was one of a few dozen who arrived before dawn to watch this latest chapter in the move, which she has been following for two weeks — one week to move across town, and another when the home was stalled because of an issue with the barge.
She has driven past the Galloway house at its old spot off Chapel Road for 30 years, she said.
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“I never thought they were going to move it,” she said.
The house was slated to arrive at DeCoursey Cove in Queenstown later Wednesday.
The Neeley’s plan on keeping the house in the family for generations, a place to come home to.
But Christian Neeley said it might not be the only homecoming of the day. In researching the home and its history, and the history of the property he is moving it to, he found a connection.
He said the original family who built the Galloway house had four children. One of the daughters, Ann Nichols, married Edward DeCoursey, who owned the property the Galloway house is being moved to, Christian Neeley said. A DeCoursey family graveyard was discovered on the land by a previous owner, he said.
“She was very likely buried in the graveyard that is 500 feet from where her childhood home will arrive,” he said.
They hope she doesn’t want her room back.