Donna Robinson achieved her dream in 2006 of owning property at the Jersey Shore when she bought the historic Robert Fisher house in Ocean City.

Hurricane Sandy turned Robinson’s dream into a nightmare by putting 2½ feet of water into the building, resulting in a floating refrigerator and other damage.

A $335,000 grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust saved Robinson’s investment and allowed her residence to be improved to the point where it is better overall now than when she purchased it.

“It’s more in its glory now,” said Robinson, 58. “It was beautiful. Now, it’s magnificent.”

Some historic New Jersey homes did not remain intact when Sandy, one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history, came crashing ashore in late October 2012.

Two such houses — the former Fisher home and the Andrews-Bartlett house in Tuckerton — were repaired recently.

The U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service funded the Sandy Disaster Relief Grant for Historic Properties that is managed by the New Jersey Historic Trust, a state agency affiliated with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

The trust has awarded $8 million in grants to Sandy-damaged historic properties, said DCA spokeswoman Lisa M. Ryan.

Robinson’s home on Wesley Avenue was originally owned by its namesake, Fisher, and built by him in 1881. Fisher was Ocean City’s mayor during the 1890s.

Robinson bought the rooming house because she wanted a residence at the shore with at least six units. She could live there, have friends stay over and rent out rooms to help pay for buying and maintaining the building.

Sandy destroyed Robinson’s laundry room and cost her the hot water heater. She was fortunate she had enough rooms, so that people originally planning to stay downstairs could make use of the rooms upstairs.

“I was devastated,” said Robinson, who initially reached out to friends and family after Sandy and asked for help.

The New Jersey Historic Trust grant reimbursed Robinson for money she spent to make repairs and improve the home.

Along with other money, the grant allowed Robinson to put a new roof on the house, replace the bottom windows, install new stairs, replace the original cedar porch with a mahogany porch, install three new doors, showers and bathtubs, have the stucco refinished and the house repainted, put a new fence in the back and buy a refrigerator, among other work.

The bulk of the restoration took place between spring 2017 and last fall. The work was completed in September.

To the north, if not for the fortunate placement of a single pipe on the exterior of the Andrews-Bartlett House, one side of the historic residence may have fallen over due to Sandy’s winds, said Tim Hart, Ocean County historian and director of engagement for the Tuckerton Seaport, where the house sits.

The house is a rare example in South Jersey of a circa 1750-90 Dutch-American frame house with a well-preserved 1824 Federal-style addition.

One of the walls of the house became detached from its foundation because the beams were loosened by the wind, Hart said.

“This is what the grant ($261,000) paid for, to stabilize the building and to get the envelope, the exterior, restored. The building was imminently ready to collapse,” said Hart, who wanted the outside of the building to be rainproof until more money can be secured.

If a partner can be found — for instance, a university or a nonprofit — to fix the building up, the house could be converted into a dormitory or a small office building for long-term use, Hart said.

The Tuckerton Seaport and the Barnegat Bay Decoy and Baymen’s Museum, which owns the house, need to raise $6,000 to have the house placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

If the house is placed on the register, bigger grants could be applied for, Hart said.

“Old buildings don’t survive if they don’t have a use. Everybody wants to turn it into a house museum, but there are 50,000 house museums in America. There are far too many of them,” Hart said.

Staff Writer

Twenty years as a staff writer in the features department, specializing in entertainment and the arts at The Press of Atlantic City.

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