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Published: Saturday, 5/8/2004

First Secor, now Lathrop

IF THE Lathrop House in Sylvania is moved from its present site, where fugitive slaves once hid in its basement, its historical value will immediately plunge. When that happens, and it now appears likely, it's another testimonial to this region's sad disregard for history.

The community has been down this road before, and oddly enough, the last time, a church was the owner of a threatened landmark property, too.

The former Secor apartment building in the 800 block of Superior Street was one of Toledo's oldest. It's not there any more, a tribute to the tear-down mentality that has prevailed here for so long.

A 20-month long legal battle to save Secor apartments in 1987 and 1988 was halted when the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church razed it. Gone is the building that a member of a notable Toledo family, Joseph Secor, built in 1867. It was on the National Register of Historic Places, and was believed to be one of Toledo's first townhouses. But how would anybody today know that? The building doesn't exist. The structure, with its delicate Italianate architecture, was replaced by a parking lot.

What else is expected in a society which lacks respect for historic structures that define a community? Sadly, it appears that historic preservationists are fighting similar attitudes today as they battle to keep the Lathrop House at its original site on the ravine.

Meanwhile, the city of Sylvania is seeking an affordable bid to move it. After more than 2 1/2 years of struggling to save what many believe was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, the fate of the house is back in the hands of its owner, St. Joseph Catholic Church. The church is across the street, and claims it needs the site for expansion.

Work has already begun to prepare the house for moving, apparently to a temporary site until a contractor is secured for the permanent relocation.

Some of the same preservationists who mourned the doomed Secor building are among those who have tried to keep the church from razing or moving the Lathrop House. As noted historian Ted Ligibel watched the demolition of the Secor building, he said, "It's the kind of character that we will never see again." He has similar feelings about the Lathrop House.

It's ironic that two of our churches, institutions which by definition revere the legacy of the past, have been so shortsighted. Moving the Lathrop House is the equivalent of destroying it.

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