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Published: Tuesday, 4/13/2010

Perrysburg history museum finds site in historic Spafford House

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

When Judy Justus enters a bare-bones house, she walks into the past and envisions the future.

As Mrs. Justus, president of the Perrysburg Area Historic Museum, goes from room to room, she outlines plans for the early American Greek Revival structure where visitors will hear remarkable stories about people who lived in the area years ago.

In the coming weeks, renovation work is expected to get underway to transform the two-story Spafford House, situated along West River Road near Fort Meigs, into Perrysburg's local history museum.

Judge Aurora Spafford, his wife Mary Jones Spafford, and their eight children resided in the house, built in 1823. He was the son of Perrysburg's founder, Amos Spafford. The Spafford House is listed on the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places.

As a museum, it will feature an office such as Judge Spafford would have used; a keeping room where food would have been prepared over an open fireplace and served to guests, and a Native American exhibit area in the entrance foyer.

Upstairs, there will be an 1830s bedroom; a child's room; a replica of an old-fashioned school room, and military, fire, and police memorabilia room.

Last summer the Perrysburg Area Historic Museum purchased the Spafford House and two lots for $130,000. The group lacks funds to operate the museum, but Mrs. Justus hopes enough money can be raised to open its doors to the public in 2011.

Estimated cost for renovations is $200,000, and the museum group would like to have in place a $100,000 endowment fund to pay ongoing expenses.

The museum group has received a $134,000 anonymous donation which will cover costs to create the 1830s keeping room. A $20,000 anonymous donation has been earmarked for the entrance foyer where Native American artifacts will be displayed.

Other rooms are available at a variety of gift levels, such as $50,000 for the 1830s bedroom and $25,000 each for the child's bedroom/play area and for the school room.

With a $100 donation, a supporter can purchase a brick for the entry walkway, Mrs. Justus said.

Cardboard donation containers, featuring drawings of the Spafford House, are being placed in local businesses and at other locations.

The Spafford House, which was moved 75 feet west when State Rt. 65 was routed away from the grounds of Fort Meigs, holds vital pieces of Perrysburg's past, and within the walls are tragic stories, she said.

Mrs. Spafford no longer wanted to live in the house after two of her children drowned in the nearby Maumee River, Mrs. Justus said.

The museum group credits former owner Frank Keating for accurately reconstructing and preserving the exterior of the house. New furnaces and an air-conditioning system were installed by the former owner as well, she said.

Inside, the house has been gutted and stripped to bare wood, and soon workers will install drywall and will tackle other renovation work.

The museum group is pursuing a good neighbor policy and is sensitive to the views and feelings of its soon-to-be-neighbors, notes Mrs. Justus, who said landscaping will be added to create screening between the museum and adjoining residential properties.

Parking will be limited on the museum site; overflow parking, such as during special events, will be handled through an arrangement with Fort Meigs, she said.

The museum will be handicapped accessible, she said, and displays and exhibits will be refreshed and rotated often, using a variety of eras and themes.

After the house is renovated, the next phase would be to build an annex in the form of an old barn. It would house a meeting room and display areas for Perrysburg's 1919 Reo fire truck, police and fire memorabilia, and GI-issue accoutrements.

No formal request for museum items has been put to the public, Mrs. Justus said, "but physical donations have come in anyway. I come home and find stuff on my porch with a note on it." Items are being stored at a site under lock and key. "Once we pretty well get into the renovation, we will let people know what we need."

Three residents have approached her about putting Native American collections of spear points, projectile points, and other artifacts on display, she said.

"For 20 years we've been gathering stuff, not knowing if a museum actually would come to fruition," she said.

For decades local residents only dared to dream about a place to preserve the past for future generations, a place for preservation and for education.

Other sites were considered, but plans failed to materialize, said Phyllis Morton who spearheaded formation of the Perrysburg Area Historic Museum in 2002. "Fortunately, the Spafford House became available and now that is ours," said Ms. Morton, who served as the group's first president and now is first vice president and fund-raising organizer.

Grants are being pursued, and upcoming fund-raising events include a house tour in Perrysburg from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 15, and details are still being developed, Ms. Morton said.

An estimated $150,000 in additional funding is needed to cover the renovation and the endowment, she said.

The museum will help get the point across that "you don't preserve history unless you have history worthwhile preserving," Ms. Morton said, and for years she has been telling residents about the importance of Perrysburg's history.

"We're excited. What really gets us going to do what still needs done is that we have this wonderful house. That's our incentive."



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