St. Joseph Catholic Church yesterday began the process of moving the historic Lathrop House from its Main Street site, although no arrangements have been made for where the structure eventually will be located.
The unexpected action by the Sylvania church may be one of the last developments in a bitter dispute that has divided many residents of the area and members of the parish since the house and its surrounding 3.7 acres were bought by the Catholic Diocese of Toledo in October, 2001.
The parish has contended the house must be moved to make room for needed expansion, but others have charged that the history of the house must be maintained on its original site. It reportedly was used as a haven for runaway slaves making their way to Canada on the Underground Railroad.
Jim Floyd, business manager for the parish, said Merkle Heavy Moving of Ohio City, Ohio, probably will work to prepare the house for four to five days before they "dig it out and get it on wheels." Yesterday, workers put up a fence at the house and a load of support beams was delivered to the site. He said the cost for the move will be slightly more than $40,000.
Once the house is off its foundation, he said, it will be moved slightly to the east and will wait until the city completes preparation work on the eventual site.
The basement of the house is scheduled to be excavated in pieces and stored by the city. They are expected to be reconstituted in the basement at the
new location. The proposed location is on the same ravine as the current site of the house.
The city of Sylvania has been in the process of obtaining bids to move the house slightly east into Harroun Community Park. There is an agreement with the Toledo Area Metroparks to refurbish the house and run educational programs from it.
Mayor Craig Stough said yesterday that although he had heard some indications on Wednesday the church might take the action, he said he wasn't notified officially until after the work began yesterday.
He said the church has had no discussions concerning the financing of the move or to gain permission to do any work in the park in advance of the move.
Sylvania City Council is expected to review bids May 17 from businesses seeking the work of removing trees in the park to facilitate the move as well as digging a hole for the basement and foundation.
Council Monday chose not to act on a bid of $193,000 from Stanford E. Thal, Inc., of Swanton, for doing all the work required for the relocation. Mayor Stough suggested seeking bids for each individual job as a means of possibly reducing the cost.
Michael McGowan, an attorney for the parish, said he anticipates council will act on the bids at their next meeting. He said church officials decided to act on their own to begin the process of moving the house.
"I think it's in everybody's best interest," he said, "to at least get the first part of it started."
The property was purchased to allow the church to expand its campus and to connect with property to the east known as the O'Neil property. That acreage also extends south with an entrance on Ravine Drive, and together the two parcels are about 15 acres.
Mr. Floyd said yesterday after the decision was made to purchase the house, he counted 918 days as of Wednesday that have passed, "and it's been heartache."
Shortly after the purchase was completed, the parish took out a demolition permit but did not act on it after demonstrators protested that the building had historical significance as a home to many early leading citizens of Sylvania, but primarily because of its reputed role in the Underground Railroad.
St. Joseph's said the house must be moved to accommodate its expansion plans but that it would not raze the building as long as progress was being made in moving the structure.
Some of the original protesters formed The Friends of the Lathrop House and began accumulating cash and pledges to move the building.
Eventually, a movement grew to keep the house on its site, with preservationists arguing that its greatest value is the basement in which the runaway slaves hid and its location on a ravine that likely was used as cover for the slaves to move to and from the house.
Sylvania council in April, 2003, acted to take the property by eminent domain but that move was thwarted by voters in a referendum last November.
Since then, the city and church have worked to find a way to move the structure.
Linda Bunda of The Friends of the Lathrop House said yesterday the church's action "is unbelievable."
Contacted by telephone in Louisville, Ms. Bunda said she had heard nothing in advance about the church's action, and that she can't believe "they are ripping that house from its foundation.''
"What a terrible irony that a church, of all organizations, would rip this house from its foundations on this National Day of Prayer," Ms. Bunda said.
She added she isn't certain if there is anything the organization can do to prevent the church's move.
A spokesman for Alpha Phi Boule, a fraternity of African-American professional men that has been involved in protesting the move, said there doesn't appear to be anything that can be done to halt the move.
Dr. Houston Johnson said discussions with the parish involved "anger, resentment, fear, and arrogance" on the part of the church, and there was little opportunity to make reasonable progress.
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