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Toledo resident Deborah Foreman took a long pause to study the sepia-toned portraits of Americans who fought for every person’s right to live freely.
“I’ve been following this story in The Blade for years and wanted to see the results of it,” Ms. Foreman, 61, said.
After waiting more than a decade, she and about 125 other people were the first visitors inside the Lathrop House in Sylvania on Saturday afternoon. The event officially opened the newly restored home and its new exhibits memorializing the home’s role in the Underground Railroad. After Labor Day the Lathrop House will be open to the public from 1-4 p.m. on Sundays.
Guides led visitors into the newly reconstructed basement, modeled after the original design, where a wall memorialized American abolitionists who fought against slavery. Then groups were taken into the low-light room where black men and women were once hidden from slave catchers inside a small crawl space.
In October, 2001, a proposal to destroy the house divided the Sylvania community. Some wanted to demolish the house to make room for an expanded St. Joseph Parish and some wanted to preserve the house, Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough explained during the dedication ceremony.
In the end the church donated the house to the city, which moved the building about 100 yards from its original location to Harroun Community Park, 5500 Main St. The nonprofit Friends of the Lathrop House, along with the Metroparks of the Toledo Area, used grants and private fund-raising to restore the home and reconstruct the basement, which was destroyed during the move.
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Cathy Nelson, president of the Friends of Freedom Society in Columbus unveiled Underground Railroad Marker No. 47, officially recognizing the historical site’s importance in the Underground Railroad in the 1800s. It is the first marker in northwest Ohio, she said.
“I can’t imagine that this house would have been torn down. It is really by a higher power — and Sue [McHugh] — that the house is standing today,” she said.
Community leaders credited Sue McHugh, president of Friends of the Lathrop House, for spearheading the effort to save the home. Ms. McHugh said the next step in the home’s restoration will be a project to rehabilitate the structure’s upper levels and eventually open them to the public. The Friends of the Lathrop House plan to offer educational programs at the site and partner with the Sylvania Historical Village on programming.
Joan Woods, 70, of Toledo said the home is an important resource for telling the story of slaves who escaped to freedom.
“It’s so important to pass on this history to our young people and youth. ... I hope it will be incorporated into African-American history taught at schools,” she said.
For some who attended the event, the home is a reminder that freedom was gained because many before them fought for what they believed in.
“I’m here today because of my ancestors and because of the Underground Railroad,” Barbara Baker, 68, of Toledo said.