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Published: 11/4/2013 - Updated: 5 months ago

Pair seek funds for chronicle of Seneca Co. courthouse loss

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lisa Swickard and John Huss sit on the steps of what used to be the Seneca County Courthouse in Tiffin. The amateur photographers are raising funds to pay for the publication of their book about the destruction of the courthouse. Lisa Swickard and John Huss sit on the steps of what used to be the Seneca County Courthouse in Tiffin. The amateur photographers are raising funds to pay for the publication of their book about the destruction of the courthouse.
THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This Photo

TIFFIN — When the long, hard-fought battle to save Seneca County’s historic courthouse was lost late in 2011, John Huss and Lisa Swickard picked up their cameras.

If the landmark was to be erased, they decided, it would not be forgotten.

In the coming weeks and months, the pair of amateur photographers shot some 10,000 photographs of the building — from the arrival of the demolition crew in January, 2012, to the protests held on the sidewalk out front. They documented each agonizing swing of the wrecking ball and what remained when it was over — a flattened parcel in the heart of downtown Tiffin, which remains vacant nearly two years later.

Now, Ms. Swickard and Mr. Huss are preparing to publish a 200-page, hardcover, coffee table-style book featuring some 260 photographs from the ordeal. To raise the final $20,000 needed to get the book to print, they have launched an online campaign through Kickstarter.com.

Ms. Swickard, a former reporter for the local newspaper who also works as a correspondent for The Blade, does not expect big profits from the book, which will be published by her company, Virgin Alley Press.

“It’s really been a labor of love,” she said. “It’s more of a legacy for future generations and for the people who fought so hard for so long. It’s a testament to what they attempted to do.”

Donations to the Kickstarter campaign, which runs through Nov. 24, begin at $1, although gifts of $25 or more qualify for rewards. For $250, for example, supporters will receive a free copy of the book.

Ms. Swickard and Mr. Huss hope people realize the important story it tells.

Titled Decommissioned: Final Days of the 1884 Seneca County Courthouse, the book is a cautionary tale for communities whose decision-makers may not appreciate the importance of historic structures like the courthouse. The first lesson, Ms. Swickard said, is that people need to get involved early.

John Huss and Lisa Swickard, at a coffee house in Tiffin, hold a rendition of the cover of their book on the razing of the Seneca County Courthouse. John Huss and Lisa Swickard, at a coffee house in Tiffin, hold a rendition of the cover of their book on the razing of the Seneca County Courthouse.
THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This Photo

“There were a lot of fence sitters, and as soon as that wrecking ball went through that roof, those fence sitters — the majority of them — said, ‘What are we doing?’ ” she recalled. “I just want people to see the importance of historic preservation because now we have a vacant lot. There’s nothing there, and it doesn’t get any easier.”

Mr. Huss, who owns a residential design business, said he began doing research on the 1884 courthouse when he worked in the building at the county engineer’s office in the early 1980s. That sparked his appreciation for its Beaux Arts style architecture, his interest in seeing the building restored, and, ultimately, his participation in the book on its demise.

“I wouldn’t call it a history book,” Mr. Huss said. “It’s a documentary of the demolition of the courthouse.”

Despite a detailed proposal to renovate the three-story courthouse, two of the three Seneca County commissioners — Ben Nutter and Jeff Wagner — voted in November, 2011, to raze the courthouse at a cost of nearly $400,000 after determining it would be too costly to renovate it. Commissioner Dave Sauber voted against demolition, saying he favored an offer by preservationists to mothball the building at no cost to the county until the nearly $8 million needed to restore it could be raised.

After the demolition, both Mr. Sauber and Mr. Nutter lost their re-election bids. Mr. Wagner announced recently that he would not seek re-election when his term expires at the end of 2014.

Ms. Swickard said she would like to see every school, library, and museum in the area have a copy of the courthouse demolition book.

“When I decided to do this, I decided it would be really nice for any future grandchildren, any future generation to be able to see what was there and what we lost because of an uninformed decision,” she said, adding that the book also would appeal to “anybody who cares about what their town is going to look like in the future.”

To preorder a copy of the book, which costs $75, go to the Seneca County Courthouse Book Facebook page or send a request to virginalleypress@gmail.com.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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