1884 Beaux Arts Courthouse, Tiffin, OH
By Special Guest Author Kimberly Groth from The Einsel House
Scroll down to the bottom of the article for updates!
Price: $9 million to renovate (vs. $15 million to replace)
Status: Bids for demolition to open on November 8, 2011
Description: Historic 1884 courthouse that anchors the downtown of Tiffin, Ohio. Built in 1884 and designed by Elijah E. Myers, designer of the state capitols of Michigan, Texas, and Colorado, as well as a territorial capitol for Idaho, and a parliament building for Brazil. Included (for the fourth time) in Preservation Ohio’s list of Ohio’s Most Endangered Historic Sites
First of all, I want to thank Kelly for agreeing to feature this property. Unlike most posts at Old House Dreams, the building featured here is not for sale, but is instead threatened with demolition.
No county has ever demolished a courthouse on the National Register of Historic Places, but the Board of Commissioners in Seneca County, Ohio is on route for their county to become the first. Citing local funding cuts in the state budget, the Seneca County Commissioners decided earlier this year to halt previously supported plans for renovation of the county’s 1884 Beaux Arts Courthouse located in downtown Tiffin. The Commissioners have also warned of impending cuts to county services, including layoffs in the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office. But in spite of these budgetary concerns two of the commissioners have apparently decided that the county can afford an estimated $400,000 to tear down its historic courthouse.
19th Century Photo.
The courthouse today.
The courthouse today.
The current courthouse – which has been labeled “eminently salvageable” – is structurally sound, and contains many original features, including 90% of the original woodwork, although many of those features have long been hidden behind paneled walls and dropped ceilings. Renovation plans include restoring these original features as well as replacing features that were lost during earlier unsympathetic remodeling – including replacing the current art deco clock tower with a replication of the original tower.
Original Courtroom Ceiling with painted over skylight.
The courthouse has been vacant since 2004, and some local residents have expressed their opinion that since local offices have managed since then in temporary (and non ADA compliant) locations that the current building should be torn down and turned into a park.
Using words written by Commissioner Ben Nutter in December 2009, “The problem with this plan is it does nothing to address the failings of our current court buildings. All the residents of Seneca County should understand that by federal law, we must provide access to our court system to anyone and everyone who wants it, and if we fail to do so, a federal judge could order us to build a facility that is in compliance. So tearing down the old courthouse and building nothing or just doing nothing are not viable options because, while they may be cheaper in the short run, they will most assuredly be more expensive in the long term.”
Yet today Mr. Nutter and fellow commissioner Jeff Wagner are pursuing a course that would result in precisely “tearing down the old courthouse and building nothing”. Bids for demolition are set to open on November 8th.
At a meeting last week, a group of state and local preservationists – who have worked pro-bono for three years on renovation plans for the building – presented the commissioners with several alternatives to demolition. One of these alternatives would allow for the courthouse to be mothballed and maintained for up to five years at no cost to the county. Under this option, the building would be leased for $1 a year to the Seneca County Courthouse and Downtown Redevelopment Group and Tiffin Historic Trust. These groups would assume all liability for the building, and would assume financial responsibility for insurance, security, utilities, and mothballing the building to Federal standards. The lease would also allow the preservation groups to use their own funds for the replacement of over 50 of the courthouse’s windows. The lease could be continued at no cost to county taxpayers until such time as the building is able to put back to public use.
Depiction of renovated courthouse.
Commissioner Jeff Wagner’s response to the this proposal was, “I have not changed my mind. The decision has been made. We’re gonna proceed [with demolition].”
Depiction of renovated courtroom.
I encourage anyone who feels this is wrong to please contact the county commissioners and share your feelings. Email addresses for all three commissioners are available on their website
If you would like to read more about this situation, recent news articles can be found here
. An editorial regarding the courthouse from last Saturday’s Toledo Blade can be found here
. And a detailed history of the entire six year battle over the building is available here
There is also a great deal of information available online regarding the current condition of the courthouse, including this video
(note that the video was last updated in 2009, when the then commissioners were supporting renovation). And detailed plans for the proposed renovations are available on the commissioners’ website
Regardless of where you live, if you feel this building is worth saving I urge you to please contact the Seneca County Commissioners
. And as a resident of Seneca County, I want to again thank Kelly for allowing me to share the plight of this building, and to thank anyone willing to contact the commissioners to support saving this irreplaceable part of the county’s history.
: Sad news for the courthouse
. The Seneca County commissioners have awarded the bid to demolish the courthouse for $373,000. Please take 1 minute out of your day to go and sign the petition
to give your support in saving this National Register landmark.
: Live video feed can be seen on UStream
Thank you Kimberly!
If you would like to be a guest author (whether it’s about saving an endangered property, to talk about historic architecture or to showcase historic structures and houses in your town), please contact me for information on how to submit your article.