Government

Historic House Being Examined for Remediation, Future Use

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BRIDGEWATER, NJ - There is an estimate of about $140,000 needed to do mothballing and stabilization in the Lane-Brokaw House off Milltown Road, according to a historical preservation report presented to the Bridgewater Township Council.

Dennis Bertland, a historic preservation consultant, and Christa Gaffigan, of Mills & Schnoering Architects, presented a report concerning the house, its history and what needs to be done to remediate it.

According to Bertland, the first owner of the property was third generation Dutch, and he acquired the property in 1730. Upon his death, Bertland said, he left the house to his son, William Lane.

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The house is famous locally, Bertland said, for the legend of George Washington visiting the widow of one his soldiers, John Brokaw.

“It has been known as the Lane-Brokaw House since then,” Bertland said. “We found no documentation of this legend, but William Lane and his brother did estate inventory for John Brokaw’s estate, so they probably knew him. There was a connection.”

Bertland said William Lane died in 1797, and left the farm to his son. When his son died in 1834, the property was sold out of the family, Bertland said.

On April 30, 1837, Bertland said, the house was gutted in a fire, and the property continued to change hands. It was sold to the township in 2012.

“The house is really still an architecturally significant property despite the fire,” he said. “It is distinctive by its brick, and is one of the best preserved early brick houses in Somerset County.”

As for the house itself, Gaffigan said, the roof is severely deteriorated, and there are missing bricks and mortar, allowing water to get into the building.

“There is significant water infiltration into the building, which led to severe mold growth, particularly into the basement,” she said.

In addition, Gaffigan said, there are no gutters or downspouts on the property, and basement windows are missing, all of which contributes to the amount of water getting into the building.

“There is a lot of mold growth,” she said. “It feeds on organic material and needs moisture to thrive. It eats away at the organic materials, so if the mold is not abated, it will eat away at the wood and eliminate the historic fabric.”

In addition, Gaffigan said, plumbing and other systems need to be replaced

Aside from a mold remediation required and something done to prevent more moisture from getting into the building, Gaffigan said the building codes need to be updated. For example, she said, if it were made for public use as a museum or historical society site, there would need to be access to parking, increased toilet facilities, structural repairs, emergency lighting, a supervised alarm system, signage and basement repairs.

Gaffigan said that in the report, they have divided their recommendations for remediation on the house into four categories based on urgency of the work to be done.

The most urgent work to be done, Gaffigan said, is mothballing the building, stabilization, replacing the roof, closing the opening of the building and drying out the building.

The second category is necessary repairs, Gaffigan said, which is mostly code issues, exterior restoration and interior restoration. The third category is desirable work, with redesigning the wing for an accessible entrance, creating a sprinkler system, putting in a lighting protection system and more.

The final category is future work with a further archaeological study and more.

“This is a great historic resource, a significant building and a great example of early Dutch farmhouse architecture,” she said.

Gaffigan said the urgent repairs are estimated to cost about $140,000, but they have not priced the mold.

“That is considered hazardous material, and that is beyond our expertise,” she said.

Bertland said the county provides funding for restoration and preservation activities, as does the state.

Councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose said she got verbal confirmation that there might be money available for mothballing and stabilization for emergency grants.

“The county historical society is very concerned that it is a gem, and we should preserve it, and they are willing to put money forward,” she said.

Rose said her goal overall is to raise the million dollars for all the work on the list, and to not have to have any monetary assistance from the township.

“The township will have to maintain the property, but the goal is not to go for grants that require a match or ask the township to put any money forward,” she said.

In addition, Rose said, the Friends of Bridgewater History non-profit organization has been established to look into grants for this property, as well as another in the township.

“It is nice to have a non-profit to fundraise for what needs to be done,” she said.

Rose said the goal of the restoration would be to have the property be a museum with historical documents and artifacts belonging to Bridgewater, as well as allowing activities for the public to participate in at the house.

In addition, Rose said, she would like to see rooms in the house that would be big enough for small meetings.

“In a perfect world, there would be a renter in back that would help to offset the expense of running the house,” she said.

Councilman Howard Norgalis said he is concerned that there is not a plan in place to fix the mold problem in the house.

“That’s money poorly spent, we have to fix the problem,” he said. “Black mold is very insidious.”

Rose said they can pursue money for that remediation as well.

“I would hate to see anything done, and in the meantime the mold is collapsing everything,” councilman Allen Kurdyla said.

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