Then they hit the jackpot.
The couple discovered that the oldest and most historically significant dwelling in the village, the Madison House, was for sale. After purchasing the property in 2007, the Heilers spent two years restoring and renovating nearly every square inch with the utmost respect for its past.
Their skill and dedication in completing this top-to-bottom effort led them to another grand prize: becoming the winners of The Post’s Historic Home Contest.
“The Brookeville house was unique in the owners’ understanding of history and their charming fanaticism to authentically preserve it,” said Simon Jacobsen, a partner of D.C.-based Jacobsen Architecture and one of three contest judges. “The science of the research
and craftsmanship is obvious but not contrived. Best of all, it is a fully functional house, and it is not treated as a doily museum.”
The Federal-style brick residence, built during the late 1700s, could have ended up as a museum, given its storied past. During the War of 1812, President James Madison stayed in the house after fleeing Washington during the British invasion of the capital and the burning of the White House. On Aug. 26, 1814, Madison arrived in Brookeville and spent the night in the “best” bedroom of the house before leaving the next afternoon.
Sandy Heiler, 72, a retired computer scientist, currently serves as chairman of the Brookeville War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission. She earned a master’s degree in preservation and architectural history when she was in her 60s, and she ensured that all the remodeling was based on research so it didn’t compromise the home’s original features.
“I love doing the detective work on the stuff that happened here,” she said. “This house is very special, particularly in its importance to presidential history.”
The Heilers approached the remodeling of the house with the goal of saving as many of the original features as possible, including windows and doors, heart pine floors, woodwork and built-in cabinets in three rooms. “The trick with an old house is to preserve it, make it livable and beautiful, and we tried to achieve all three,” Heiler says.
In spaces renovated by previous owners where fewer historic features survived, the Heilers made practical improvements such as upgrading the kitchen and bathrooms. “We tried to strike a balance between maintaining the integrity of the building and making it comfortable,” says Duane Heiler, 78, a retired investment adviser.
The Heilers estimate the entire renovation of the Madison House cost about $250,000, not including the value of their own work in repairing windows, floors, woodwork and plaster.