We 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).
There 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.
But 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:
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.
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.
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.