HOWELL – An historic home that serves as a museum and library is in need of around $100,000 in repairs, and officials would like a trust fund to help fund any projects.
Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell is suggesting the township set up a dedicated trust fund to receive donations for the decaying MacKenzie House, a historical library and museum with roots dating back to the 1700s.
The 10-room house on Lakewood-Farmingdale Road was at one point occupied by a large milling family and is symbolic of Howell’s early agricultural history. It has had numerous owners throughout its nearly 300-year span before it was finally donated to Howell Township by a MacKenzie family member in 1982.
The Howell Historical Society has preserved the house and kept it open to the public as a historical landmark.
Councilwoman Pauline Smith said a similar trust fund was set up over 20 years ago to repair the Old Ardena Schoolhouse, a 17th century school that was one of the first educational buildings in Howell.
The Monmouth County Historical Commission had previously awarded the township a $4,500 grant for repairs to the MacKenzie House, but township Director of Community Development James Herrman told councilmembers it could cost over six figures just to shore the building.
The Howell Branch of the Monmouth County Library confirmed that the museum is currently closed to the public.
“There are some pretty substantial issues that need to be resolved to really make this building viable long-term,” said Herrman. “This is not going to be resolved with minimal donations, I can guarantee you that.”
According to Herrman, an investigation into the MacKenzie House led by structural engineers revealed serious issues in the basement that caused plaster to crack on the first floor and the chimney to drop almost three inches. Both stories of the house have sunk significantly, partly due to repair work done decades ago by contractors who took shortcuts.
“This is beyond the guys getting together at the ballfield on a Saturday and trying to build a dugout. This is a major issue.” said Herrman.
This is not the first time that the council has heard of this major issue. Repairs on the museum were also brought up at an April 2016 town council meeting when a former member of the Howell Historical Society asked then-Mayor William Gotto why it was not open.
When the property was given to the township 35 years ago, it specified that the land be used as a library for Howell history and genealogy.
Herrman asked councilmembers for more direction on the project, specifically if they were prepared to spend over six figures to restore the MacKenzie House, or if they’d rather go in another direction.
Mayor Theresa Berger suggested the township reach out to current vendors such as Jersey Central Power & Light to see if they would help with the restoration.
“If we don’t do something now, we’ll never know what could have been done.” said Councilwoman O’Donnell.