Historical society will accept challenge of restoring MacKenzie house in Howell

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HOWELL – The Township Council will sell the MacKenzie Museum and Library to the Howell Heritage and Historical Society and the society will take on the task of raising the money that is needed to restore the building so it may be reopened to the public.

During a meeting on Sept. 24, council members passed a resolution authorizing the sale of the township-owned building at 427 Lakewood-Farmingdale Road (Route 547) to the nonprofit organization for “the purpose of restoration, preservation, improvement and utilization of the historical site for the benefit of the general public.”

The township will sell the MacKenzie house to the Howell Heritage and Historical Society for $1. The society has been organized for the purposes of restoration, preservation, improvement and utilization of historical sites for the benefit of the general public, according to the resolution.

According to the resolution, “the deed of conveyance shall contain a restriction that the land being conveyed shall be used only for the purposes of restoration, preservation, improvement and utilization for the benefit of the general public and that if the land is not used in accordance with (those) limitations, title (will) revert to the township …”

The sale of the museum to the society follows discussions about the property which have taken place this year. The building, a former private residence, requires more than $150,000 in renovations, municipal officials have said.

In an interview on Sept. 26, Ann Julian, secretary of the Howell Heritage and Historical Society, said, “Our next challenge will be working very hard to get the museum open as quickly as we can. The property has not been used and it’s a bigger mess than meets the eye. We will do our very best.”

Julian said the members of the society have been working for six months to meet the criteria municipal officials established in order for the sale of the museum to move forward. She said one step was to gain nonprofit status so members may pursue grants and other funding sources to advance the restoration work that is needed.

Once the property transfer is complete, “then we can get inside and see what is going on,” Julian said.

The building that is now a museum had its origins as a settler’s cabin between 1730 and 1750. A grist mill was built in 1779 and the cabin became the miller’s home. An addition to the home was built in the 19th century.

Jessie and James MacKenzie purchased the house in 1956 and owned it until 1982, when Howell paid for a restoration.

Julian said that years ago the house was a regular destination for Howell children when they reached the point in their elementary school education where the curriculum focused on the history of their hometown.

“Howell has a deep history,” she said, adding that she loved seeing children visit the museum and a one-room schoolhouse, looking at the collection of artifacts with wonder and learning that children from all grades used to be taught together in the one-room school.

Julian said she would like to see the field trips begin again when the museum is ready to welcome visitors.

She said the members of the Howell Heritage and Historical Society appreciate the council’s decision to sell the museum, saying, “It’s our challenge” to bring it back to a usable condition so the public may once again enjoy this important piece of Howell’s history.

Membership in the society is $10 per year. For more information, write to the Howell Heritage and Historical Society, P.O. Box 440, Farmingdale, NJ 07727.