BRICK – Frank and Lauren Liebel have no idea why they took a drive down Herbert Lane in late 2014, where they found themselves on a street that they had never been before.
When they saw a ‘for sale’ sign on a historic house at the end of the cul-de-sac, their lives would change forever.
“We came down this street on a whim. We were not looking to move. We just thought, ‘Wow,’ and we started thinking about it,” said Frank, 55, who had just rebuilt the couple’s home in Point Pleasant.
The Herbert House, situated on 3.5 acres off Herbertsville Road, dates back to 1798 when it was built by Jacob Herbert when he was married to Elizabeth Hance.
Herbert descendants inhabited the house for some 200 years, and when the last occupants, Ray and Betty Mount (also Herbert descendants) died in 2005, they donated the house to the Brick Historical Society, who sold it to the Liebels.
“We fell in love with the property. We saw the potential,” Frank said. “We told the Historical Society we didn’t want to knock it down, we wanted to restore it.”
So in March 2015, the couple purchased the home, had the mechanical systems replaced, and moved in on Memorial Day 2016.
“This house has been heated by wood, coal, oil and gas over the years and it has been here for every president,” he said.
The interior walls are made with sun-dried brick that would fall apart if you left them outside, Frank said. The bricks were laid in mud mortar, and crumbling plaster and knotty pine covered many of the walls.
As the couple chipped away at the plaster, Frank would scrape away about an inch of the mud mortar and, using something similar to a pastry bag, replaced it with cement mortar.
Lauren has been helping with the interior restoration and has become an expert at restoring plaster.
“When we found out how much plaster restorers cost, I learned how to do it myself. Nobody really does that kind of work anymore,” said Lauren, 51.
She said she was brought to tears when a baby shoe fell from a ceiling they were restoring.
“I cried. It was the most beautiful thing. The shoe belonged to somebody that lived here,” she said.
The couple has discovered at least two sections that were added to the original house. The material is the same, but it’s easy to see that it’s a whole new wall, added to an existing exterior wall, Frank said.
No metal nails are used in the construction of the house. Wooden pegs connect the hand-hewn beams.
“You can see the ax cuts where they took a tree trunk and created beams,” he said.
One of the interior floors was plywood, so the couple replaced it with wood they purchased from the Doris Duke estate.
They replaced a banister with one from an old church in Spring Lake, but the windows are the originals.
Each season, Frank strips away one wall of vinyl siding outside to expose the original cedar wood underneath.
“Demo is easy, the repairs take time,” said Frank. Some of the cedar boards have water or insect damage and have to be replaced.
After the exterior walls are complete, the couple plans to paint the house white, which was its original color.
“It’s an absolute honor to live here,” said Lauren. “I’ve been a lover of history since I was a kid.”
The thing that surprised Frank the most was that after more than 200 years, the house is still pretty level, he said.
“How did they know where to build? The basement has never flooded. It’s a very strong, tough house,” he said. “When you think about how many storms and hurricanes there have been over 200 years, they really knew how to build back then.”
The Liebels have a five-year plan to finish restoring The Herbert House.
“Could we get a crew in here and get everything done in a couple of weeks?” asked Frank, who still works full-time as a research scientist. “We could, but we enjoy doing it ourselves.”
Due to their ongoing restoration of the Herbert House, the Liebels are the 2018 winners of the Brick 2018 Historic Preservation Award.