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'Move that house': Historic Navarre Cabin makes trek to new home at History Museum

Though it’s already a well-known building, the Navarre Cabin picked up some new fans Wednesday morning as the historic landmark moved from Leeper Park to its new home at The History Museum near downtown South Bend.

The cabin was once the center of “pioneer days” for local schools to come learn about the early history of South Bend. That’s the spirit the museum hopes to recapture at its campus where it will become the anchor of an immersive homestead exhibit that will feature a replica blacksmith’s shop and a Potawatomi wigwam.

Indeed the cabin had barely left Leeper Park on Wednesday when it created a learning opportunity for hundreds of kids at the Madison STEAM Academy who chanted “Move that House” as it trundled by. William Jones, Madison’s Dean of Students, said many teachers were incorporating the cabin and its history into lesson plans ahead of Wednesday’s move so the kids had some appreciation for the large structure getting towed by.

“We were very excited because it’s happening during school time,” Jones said. “The kids get to see it, we get to talk about the Navarre house and they’re excited. So they’re learning a bit of history.”

Those learning opportunities are precisely why the History Museum spent over $60,000 to move the historic cabin to a new home, according to museum director Brian Harding.

“It really takes a full village to come together and the stars to all align to make sure a date and time can be selected and placed on everyone’s schedule. We’re pleased today it’s finally here and it’s finally happening," said Harding.

The cabin was first built sometime in the 1820s as the home and trading post of Pierre Navarre — the first European settler in the area. The History Museum has owned and maintained the cabin for the past 130 years or so and since 2020 the nonprofit has eyed moving the oldest structure in St. Joseph County to its campus on West Washington Street.

In December, South Bend’s Historic Preservation Commission finally gave the History Museum the approval it required and on Wednesday, the move finally happened.

Harding reiterated that the cabin has largely been underutilized in recent years due to its inconvenient location in Leeper Park. The cabin’s been vandalized on numerous occasions and there’s no bathrooms or easily accessible parking lots nearby, making school trips difficult.

And the children weren’t the only ones taking in the spectacle.

As crews with Lykowski Construction towed the cabin from Park Lane onto Lafayette Boulevard and then Washington Street, firm owner Tim Lykowski said he was honored to be part of the project.

“This building has more impact on a community than any building we’ve ever moved,” Lykowski said. “I’m glad the museum is doing this because this opens it up for the whole community.”

Lykowski said the hardest part was making sure the interior of the building was structurally sound for the journey.

The move itself cost around $60,000 and came with securing all types of city permits and paying for a tree removal service to be on standby for overhanging branches.

Harding said the History Museum is spending close to $200,000 as a whole for the homestead exhibit and repairs to the cabin’s roof. The cabin will remain on blocks at the museum until July while a custom made stone base is constructed.

The move does nullify the cabin’s historic landmark status, though the museum has committed to reapplying for that within the next month. The cabin has moved a handful of times in its history, but hopefully this will be the last.

“This is a long time coming," Harding said. "This has been more than 10 years in the works to get this done.”

The Navarre Cabin is the second historic South Bend home to be moved this month. Near Notre Dame's campus, crews moved the home of legendary football coach Knute Rockne to make room for more condos.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.