Background:

A Shame: 1884 Courthouse on National Register is Being Torn Down Today in Seneca County, OH (UPDATE)

seneca-county-courthouse21We usually stick to historic houses here on HHB, but I had to make an exception to write about something disturbing that’s happening today about an hour from where I live.  In Tiffin, Ohio, a county courthouse that was built in 1884 (and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places) is being torn down, starting today.   This is the first National Register courthouse to ever be razed in the state of Ohio, and it is the first destruction of such a building in over 40 years in this state.   The courthouse was designed by Elijah E. Meyers, who also designed state capital buildings in Michigan, Texas, and Colorado (I toured the Colorado capital building this summer, and it’s stunning).

seneca_county_courthouse_historic1There was a long fight to keep the courthouse from being destroyed.  Preservationists and community members fought for a couple of years to have the building restored and reused, since it had apparently been allowed to deteriorate and was most recently only used for storage since 2004.  Even the Governor of Ohio, John Kasich (R), who is a fiscal conservative (to put it mildly), wrote a letter to the commissioners asking that they rethink their decision — and to at least “put off” demolition “for another day” since their decision would be “irreversible.”  The director of the Ohio Historical Society urged, “Simply put, Tiffin has a courthouse designed by a nationally prominent architect at the top of his game.  The materials and level of craftsmanship reflected in your courthouse exceeds that present in the state capitols of both Texas and Michigan. It is a valuable asset impossible to replace.”  Franco Ruffini, the State Historic Preservation Officer in Ohio, appealed to the commissioners:  “Seneca County has all the makings for a big success story if you choose to save that courthouse.  Does Seneca County want to become the first Ohio county in history to tear down a courthouse listed on the National Register? Who are we? Is that us? We can do better.”  The preservationists even offered to lease the courthouse and maintain it at no expense to the county, until a solution could be figured out.

seneca-co-officials-unmoved-by-appeals1But the commissioners persisted.  Of the three officials, only one was opposed to the destruction of the courthouse — and even he was opposed not because of the courthouse’s historical significance, but instead because he thought the county couldn’t afford the teardown expenses right now.  Despite public outcry and pleas from state officials not to demolish the landmark, the Toledo Blade reports that “those pleas had little impact on county commissioners, who say the issue is about dollars and cents, not local history.”  One of the commissioners, Ben Nutter,  said it was “not an emotional issue for me. This is an issue of economics and good management.”

So . . . Below you can see a screen capture photo I took today from the webcam broadcasting the beginning of demolition.  You can see that a small gathering of protesters have assembled with signs (in front of the statue) to demonstrate against the destruction, but you can also see the yellow bulldozers and red dumpster as the razing commences:

webcam1

Those poor protesters have been out in the cold for over 6 hours as I write this (they were there when I logged on at 8:30am, and it’s now 2pm).  I hope someone is taking them some hot cocoa.

The Seneca County courthouse was designed in the Beaux-Arts style, which according to architect James Bell, was “an architectural movement which began in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. It was the primary movement which shaped architectural design in the United States from 1880-1920 and its method of architectural training still resonates on college campuses today. Beaux-Art’s legacy can be found in the vibrant civic and cultural architecture from the period, especially county courthouses throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states. The movement is characterized by the freedom in blending renaissance revival architectural styles into eclectic yet cohesive unity. Other notable examples of the style include Grand Central Terminal and the New York Public Library.”

If you wish to see the destruction as it is occurring, there is a live webcam (here) being broadcast by a local radio station.

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UPDATE:

I thought I should follow up with an update to this post, since it seems to be getting a lot of traffic right now.  Demolition of the courthouse did, indeed, proceed two days after I posted this original article (there were short delays because of equipment issues or something).  The Toledo Blade has done a fantastic job documenting the destruction of the courthouse on a day-by-day basis, with lots of good articles & high-quality photographs.  I recommend checking some of those articles here.  In the meantime, below is one of the Blade’s photos of the current stage of demolition, taken by Amy E. Voigt and featured in this article.

demolition_amy-e-voigt

The only COOL thing to report:  The big news today was that a “time capsule” that was buried in 1884 (when the courthouse was built) was unearthed today — revealing some pretty cool stuff from 1880s Seneca County.  Click here for photo documentation by Toledo Blade photographer Dave Zapotosky.  Below is a screen capture of some of Zapotosky’s nice photos of the cool artifacts unearthed.

timecapsule

10 Comments

  1. by Jason, on 01.04.12 @ 10:30 AM

     

    This is not a Democrat/Republican issue. It’s not only liberals that believe in Historic Preservation. I’m very conservative but I consider Historic Preservation to be very important.

    I think it’s an atrocity what is happening to that beautiful, historic landmark.

  2. by Michael, on 01.04.12 @ 10:59 AM

     

    I agree completely, Jason. I personally know several conservatives that strongly support historic preservation. And because there are so many benefits to preserving historical resources, it *shouldn’t* be a partisan issue, at all. In fact, you could argue that conservatives should be *more* likely to support preservation efforts because of fiscal reasons, pride in country & American history, and to promote social/community values. This courthouse fight is an example of bipartisan agreement. Apparently, both liberals & conservatives pleaded for its preservation, but it was ultimately local apathy — not politics — that allowed a landmark to be destroyed.

  3. by Patricia Everhart, on 01.04.12 @ 3:35 PM

     

    We can’t believe this happening in our town of Tiffin! I literally am sick to my stomach. After this comes down I will not be going downtown. How sad our commissioners have the right to do this. No one politically wants to step up to the plate. Everyone’s “afraid”. Sad, sad, sad. It makes me cry but also makes me think clearly next election. I just can’t believe this is really happening. Shame on those with power who could have stopped this.

  4. by Aaron, on 01.07.12 @ 12:53 PM

     

    It’s sad that no one, even our County’s leaders, have appreciation in our Architecture. I have studied Architecture and construction for 8 years and working in the field for 3. This building has no comparison, it is the supreme example of all-american craftsmanship. The are depreciating the value of our town’s square by $20 million. And the fact that they aren’t even salvaging ANYTHING is borderline criminal. How can they give away what is public property? These people are criminals and their bias opinions for the Courthouse shouldn’t determine it’s future.

  5. by Michael, on 01.13.12 @ 8:45 PM

     

    Yes, I was particularly shocked about the failure to salvage all the historic interior features. For monetary reasons alone, this demolition company should have been removing all the original stuff they could! There was a goldmine of historic salvage that people would have paid big money for. Some of it may have taken an extra day, but who cares? Such a waste.

  6. by homesower, on 03.07.12 @ 7:11 AM

     

    County leaders were very short-sighted. A community is what it is because of its past. Severe the links to the past and you risk losing all the good that you have inherited.

    I think justice will be served when these county leaders have their houses torn down to make way for strip malls and their grandkids say “Who cares? What do I have do to with the past?”

  7. by Tiffany Lewis, on 03.20.12 @ 3:25 PM

     

    Ohio has unsurpassed architecture but is inhabited by a bunch of uneducated inbreds whose only taste is in their mouths. My job took me there for over a year. What Ohio demolishes the rest of the world would be fighting to have for tourism. In my experience, the state is being abandoned at record levels. The government operates in an archain backword fashion where stupidity rules. So happy to have left.

  8. by cora, on 06.13.12 @ 7:56 PM

     

    Again, no regard for the past, for our elders if you will!
    This mentality is growing which is why I have taken my children to visit old homes, abandoned, owned by friends, museums, etc.. On our vacations we stayed at Centennial Farms with the families. We visited old graveyards and marveled at the architecture and inscriptions. I coupled these trips with mushroom hunts.
    My boys are now 27 and 32 and we still seek out old graveyards and historic sites.
    I just hope there will be a few left for me to show my grandkids.

  9. by Bob Riga, on 10.14.13 @ 4:53 PM

     

    Those of us in NYC know the lesson of the lost Tiffin courthouse well. It took the 1963 destruction of one of the greatest public buildings in the U.S., the “Temple of Transportation” based on the Roman Baths of Caracalla, Pennsylvania Station, to teach New Yorkers the vital importance of preserving irreplaceable public buildings. So great was the impact of of Penn Station’s demolition that it helped to create the modern landmarks preservation movement with the enactment of NY’s Landmarks Preservation law. Years later, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and NY Times architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable, joined with thousands of New Yorkers to save another priceless landmark, Grand Central Terminal, from a similar fate. May the loss of Tiffin’s 125 year old courthouse have the same effect in Ohio.

  10. by Michael, on 10.16.13 @ 10:42 PM

     

    Hi Bob — Thanks for weighing in! While the loss of Penn Station resulted in a major backlash of horrified citizens — in NYC and well beyond — I don’t think the loss of the Tiffin courthouse created more than a small ripple of regret beyond the local preservationists who fought to save it and the few others of us who took notice nationally. At the time of the demolition, my general sense about Tiffin was that most of the people in town were fairly ambivalent. Since preservation is a grassroots movement, it’s discouraging when locals don’t care. I think that is a common problem in the Midwest, where we will continue to lose not just courthouses, but also barns, churches, and lots of houses. That being said, I hope you’re right that these types of losses will stimulate at least *some* increased vigilance. Time will tell.

    Michael @ HHB

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