Friday, May 25, 2018
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Book details demise of Seneca County Courthouse

German dinner to defray printing costs


A German dinner and auction Saturday in Tiffin will raise money to help offset costs of printing a book that chronicled the two-year fight to save the Seneca County Courthouse and ultimately its end.


TIFFIN — Two years ago, Karin Brown protested alongside other preservationists against the Seneca County Courthouse demolition.

They lost the battle to save the Beaux Arts-style building, but during the fight she got to know a Carhartt-clad woman with a camera constantly pointed at the courthouse.

Lisa Swickard photographed each blow during the structure’s last stand and joined with John Huss, another Tiffin resident, to co-author a coffee-table book chronicling the dismantling.

Their documentation resulted in the hardcover book Decommissioned: Final Days of the 1884 Seneca County Courthouse.

Now Ms. Brown, who moved to Tiffin in 1971 from Germany, is teaming up with the authors to host a German dinner and auction on Saturday to raise money to defray printing costs.

The German connection extends beyond her familiarity with the cuisine and locals’ love for it. The menu also is a nod to the legacy of immigrant builders who helped erect the courthouse.

Ms. Brown is translating German documents found in a time capsule embedded in the building’s cornerstone.


What: German dinner and auction to raise money to defray printing cost of book Decommissioned: Final Days of the 1884 Seneca County Courthouse.

Where: First Lutheran Church, 300 Melmore St. in Tiffin.

When: 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday; auction begins at 6 p.m.

Auction items: Include framed courthouse photographs, a bicycle, and gift baskets.

Admission: $15 per person; tickets available at the door.

“I mean this courthouse wasn’t just a little brick building, you know, with four walls and everything. It had treasures in there,” she said.

The time capsule also contained papers written in Old German that appear to detail the ceremony and celebration that occurred when the capsule was placed. Ms. Brown plans to enlist the help of people she knows in Germany to help with those translations.

Thinking of the workers with German and Italian heritage who were so proud of the courthouse’s construction makes her upset about the building’s undignified end.

“To this day I cannot believe that this happened,” she said of the courthouse’s demolition.

Ms. Swickard, a correspondent for The Blade who wrote a book about Tiffin during the deadly flood of 1913, said the courthouse book was created not so much to make money but to document what happened to the building. Virgin Alley Press, her company, will publish the 200-page book, which will sell for $75.

If the upcoming dinner and auction raises between $5,000 and $7,000, Ms. Swickard hopes to order 1,000 copies of the book. She plans to do a one-time, limited-edition printing with each copy numbered. The books could be available by the end of February.

“John and I both look at this mainly as a community service project, and we’ll never recoup everything we’ve got in it,” she said.

An earlier online campaign using the fund-raising Web site failed to bring in the needed money to print the book. She doesn’t enjoy asking for money, but liked the idea of a dinner and auction fund-raiser.

“At least they get something in return, and they will not walk away hungry. Trust me,” Ms. Swickard said. “They’ll probably walk away five pounds heavier.”

Saturday’s dinner menu features leberkase (German meatloaf), kasespatzle (Bavarian cheese noodles), warm German potato salad, Ms. Brown’s family’s recipe for sauerkraut, pretzels imported from Munich, and red wine cake.

Ms. Brown said the menu is the same one she does for a popular local Oktoberfest celebration. She’s planning to prepare enough food to feed up to 300 people for the upcoming dinner.

An auction will feature items such as framed photographs of the courthouse that include pieces of tile from the building.

Guests also can order copies of the book.

Two of three county commissioners voted in 2011 to demolish the courthouse, contending renovation costs were too expensive.

Those who pick up the book will be reminded of the loss, and Mr. Huss believes it also will show other counties why their historic courthouses should be preserved.

“It is going to evoke emotion, that’s been our experience so far with the people we’ve showed it to,” he said. “There’s been anger, there’s been tears, people just shake their heads.”

Contact Vanessa McCray at: or 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.

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