Moving is hard. Even with a car parked out front and boxes purchased from your local department store, it's exhausting. But if you think that's as bad as it gets, get a load of Hibbing.

In 1918, Hibbing, Minn., chose to undertake a massive challenge: Move — buildings and all — 2 miles away. The process would take upward of three years and sporadically continue into the 1960s.

The beginnings of Hibbing

In 1892, Frank Hibbing, who lived in Duluth at the time, led a group of men searching for gold on an expedition through what would become Hibbing. Although he didn't find gold, he did discover the existence of rich iron ore. A year later, the town was laid out and named in his honor.

As new residents began building their homes and businesses, Frank Hibbing recommended building at a location a little farther south, away from the mines. Their response was basically, "no thanks," and they continued building where they had already started.

As the demand for steel increased, the mining pit grew closer and closer to Hibbing. By 1910, it had encroached on the city from three directions. This became a large problem, according to Mary Palcich Keyes, board member and volunteer at the Hibbing Historical Society.

"There'd be blasting, and it was very uncontrolled compared to today. People's pictures would fall of the walls, and the kids in school would duck and hide under their desks because rocks would come through the window and everything would shake," Palcich Keyes said.

Because of the disruptions, the Oliver Mining Co. officially told everyone to move structures in the northern part of Hibbing south. In 1918, the mayor and town council agreed. Before they knew it, the city was moving more than 200 buildings — large and small.

Why move the buildings and not just the people?

Residents didn't want to build something new because they had fallen in love with their town, Palcich Keyes said.

At the time, Hibbing was a town of 18,000 people. They had electric lights on their main street, nicknaming it "The Great White Way." They had indoor plumbing, which wasn't common until the 1930s, a central heating system, a library, churches and a good school.

For a town of mostly immigrants, who had come with nothing, Hibbing wasn't something they could up and leave behind. This is when a lawyer, elected 10 times as mayor, named Victor Power came into the picture.

"[Power] held the mining company's feet to the fire, 'If you want our town, you want us to move, you're going to build us a town that's every bit as beautiful as the one we're leaving,' " Palcich Keyes said.

After Power secured taxing policies for the mines and financial help from the company, Michael Godfrey, an engineer hired by the company, started to lay out the move, planning the streets and where things would go in the new area. In 1919, the infrastructure began to be built; the first buildings were moved in 1920.

But there were opponents of this plan, specifically merchants. They had put a lot of money into their businesses and properties, and weren't certain that people would actually move.

Immigrant residents were against it, too.

"Here they are in a settled community. They have their churches. … They have their gardens; they have their neighbors, and now [they're] going to just pick up and move again?" Palcich Keyes said.

How was this even possible?

Although it seems outlandish, Hibbing's move is now researched and known as one of the greatest feats of engineering in history. People around the world still study it to this day and call the Hibbing Historical Society for images and information.

Here's how the movers did it:

  • They dug around a building's foundation.
  • They put cribbing, a temporary, framing structure meant to support heavy objects, often through the basement windows.
  • Then, they jacked up the building and put metal wheels underneath, much like you would see on a railroad car.
  • A tractor pulled the building to its new location.

While this process worked for many buildings, the bigger ones were cut into pieces — each piece was moved individually — and reassembled at their new location.

During the relocation, many people didn't bother to pack their belongings — they just moved their home with everything still inside. Many children and mothers even rode along.

On average, Palcich Keyes said, it took about a day or two to move houses, but bigger buildings took longer.

Some buildings, including churches, the library and the school, could not be moved since they were made of brick or some other heavy material.

And if you're wondering how a structure could be put down without a foundation, the town had that covered, too.

Before a home or business was moved, its foundation was measured and another built at the structure's new location.

Since Hibbing stood on ground filled with rocks and boulders, the mining company brought in Italian workers who knew what to do. They built the many fieldstone foundations that still exist today, although many were covered by siding in various renovations.

In many ways, it was worth it

Because of the move, Hibbing could continue mining. That meant jobs for the families who lived there and security for the country — much of the steel that came from northern Minnesota mines was used in World War II.

The new city also rivaled the old one with its amenities: indoor plumbing, central heating, schools, wide streets and more.

"It was painful sure … but it was definitely worth it," Palcich Keyes said.

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