A surprise find enhances historic character of Lawrence couple’s 1870 home

photo by: Mike Yoder

The Heebs' 19th century house sits on the southeast corner at 645 Ohio St.

After about a year of owning their home at 645 Ohio St., Jon and Barb Heeb discovered a crawl space beneath the property.

“I started going through this tiny little opening on the north wall and came across what looked like a brick dome,” Jon says. “It took me two hours to dig a trench so I could crawl in, and at that point I knew we had to do something to showcase it.”

What Jon had discovered was a perfectly preserved cistern built 150 years ago. It was a long, dirty job, but he excavated it bit by bit.

“I felt like an archaeologist because I would crawl in here and dig out dirt and take it out in five-gallon buckets,” he says.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Jon Heeb discovered an old brick cistern when working on the home at 645 Ohio St. The cistern was incorporated into the basement and repurposed as a bathroom.

The structural integrity of the cistern had remained stable, and Jon saw it as a creative inspiration — something to preserve and build around, to integrate into the vision of his family dream home. After making the discovery, the Heebs installed a steel beam that lifted their house half an inch, then they cleared all the stone foundation — all the mortar between the stones had basically turned into sand — and dug out the basement, and the cistern, transforming it into a usable space. The basement is now home to a bathroom, a sizable wine cellar, a bar and a gathering space.

“I’m a urologist, so we felt like (the cistern) had to be a bathroom,” Jon says with a laugh.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Barb and Jon Heeb sit outside their house at 645 Ohio St.

The bathroom is minimally furnished — a pedestal sink and a toilet — and it evokes the era in which the home was built.

Constructed in 1870, Jon and Barb’s house has undergone significant changes over the past 150 years. In 1898, someone built an addition, installing a concrete floor, likely for a stable, and then in the 1960s, someone added on extra bedrooms.

“When we bought the house, it wasn’t dilapidated, but it was aging,” Jon says.

photo by: Mike Yoder

A bright kitchen features large skylights set into an exposed raw lath board ceiling at 645 Ohio St.

The Heebs purchased the house in 2012, while it was still an east-and-west duplex, once rented to students. Jon did all the necessary demolition work himself, saving every brick and every stone, and in May 2015, a bevy of contractors came in and started the actual building process.

“I had all these ideas that I wanted to do,” Jon says. “I would walk around and say, ‘I want to do this,’ and they might say, ‘You can’t really do that, but how about this?’ And it would be this great creative process.”

Jon’s aim was to preserve the historic integrity of the house, making only modifications that would add to the home’s utility and aesthetic appeal.

photo by: Mike Yoder

A dinning room wall was left open at 645 Ohio St. to expose original woodwork in the house.

“We wanted a big kitchen and a big open space and a master bedroom on the main level,” Jon says. “A lot of homes are broken up — here is the kitchen, here is the dining room, here is the parlor, here is the sitting room. People tend to congregate in the kitchen. Here (in our kitchen and living room) you can hear each other and see each other, and it doesn’t feel quite so partitioned off.”

Glass pendant lights hang over the kitchen island, providing soft illumination for the natural wood walls. The kitchen is one of Barb’s favorite spaces.

“I love the natural wood because I think that adds a whole different level of texture to the room with the way the lath board is in the kitchen,” she says. “I feel like the space in this house is well proportioned and useful. We have guest rooms upstairs that the kids can use when they come home because we’re empty-nesters now.”

On the second-floor is a dumbwaiter, which Jon had put in as an homage to Thomas Jefferson and as a means to haul wine from the cellar to the main floor.

photo by: Mike Yoder

The basement at 645 Ohio St. has an extensive wine cellar with a glass-enclosed tasting room.

As part of the renovation, the Heebs also installed an outdoor kitchen with a wood-fired pizza oven.

“We’ve had some dinner parties and some nonprofit fundraiser events here,” Barb says. “We’ve had a lot of fun sharing it.”

As a finishing touch, the Heebs recruited local artists like Joanne Renfro and Javy Ortiz to do paintings for their walls.

But to Jon and Barb, the whole house is a master work of sorts.

“It is a work of art,” Jon says. “Everybody who worked on this — this brought out their artistic side, their creativity. (I love) the history of the house, and the way we have just created it to be what we want.”

photo by: Mike Yoder

The graffiti art of Javy Ortiz, outside the window at left, and a painting from Louis Copt’s barn series adorn a wall near the wine-tasting area in the basement at 645 Ohio St. Both are Lawrence artists.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Barb and Jon Heeb enjoy collecting artwork from local Lawrence artists for their home at 645 Ohio St. A living area wall features pieces by Jeremy Rockwell at left, an owl made from pieces of the home’s old lath boards, knobs and tubes from old electrical wiring and, for the owl’s face, an etching on a plate that covered a stove pipe opening. At right is a Roger Shimomura painting.

photo by: Mike Yoder

A large outdoor patio at 645 Ohio St. features a bread and pizza oven.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lath boards are left exposed in several areas of the house at 645 Ohio St.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Drywall was left off this section on a stairway to create a window and view into another room and expose the original wood structure of the house at 645 Ohio St.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Jon Heeb created a shortened bocce ball court over a section of the Heebs’ side yard at 645 Ohio St.


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.