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Published: Monday, 1/10/2005

Lathrop House repairs estimated at $300,000

BY MIKE JONES
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Many believe the Lathrop House was part of the Underground Railroad that smuggled slaves to Canada before the Civil War. The metroparks plan to produce programs about it. Many believe the Lathrop House was part of the Underground Railroad that smuggled slaves to Canada before the Civil War. The metroparks plan to produce programs about it.
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Returning the Lathrop House to its original condition is likely to cost about $300,000 - including replacing the historical building's ground level foundation.

The Metropolitan Park District of the Toledo Area, which agreed to refurbish the house and produce historical programs about its role in the Underground Railroad at its new location in Sylvania's Harroun Community Park, has applied for several grants to finance the work. The Friends of the Lathrop House citizens' group is discussing local fund-raising efforts to help with the cost.

Don Rettig, Jr., director of cultural and historical programs for the metroparks, said the cost estimate from Quinn Evans of Ann Arbor, Mich. - an architectural firm specializing in historical buildings - includes replacement of a square, hand-hewn, white oak beam that serves as the ground-level foundation for the building. That replacement is close to one-third the total cost of the work.

Although the beam, directly under the house but resting on the basement walls, provides a stable base, there are points where it is deteriorating. Replacing it makes sense, Mr. Rettig said.

The house, constructed in the mid-1800s in what is now the 5300 block of Sylvania's North Main Street, was home to several prominent local families. Marie Vogt was last in a long line of known residents of the home, dating back to Lucian Lathrop in 1847.

The house became the center of a tug of war between St. Joseph Catholic Church, which bought the home and its property in 2001, and members of the Friends of the Lathrop House and others who wanted the house to remain at its original

Main Street location. It is there, it's said, that the cellar was used by abolitionists to harbor southern slaves making their way to freedom in Canada.

The church contended that the house had to be demolished or moved to make room for the expansion of its campus and preservationists argued that its historical importance would be diminished if it was moved.

Sylvania officials attempted to take the property by eminent domain, but the legal fight ended when voters rejected the city's action in November, 2003, and the lawsuit was dismissed.

The city now owns the house, which has been moved a short distance to city-owned land in Harroun Community Park.

"One of our operating principles is 'forever.' We want our projects to remain,'' Mr. Rettig said of the metroparks' involvement in historical re-creations and its plans for the Lathrop House.

The building will need individual wooden shingles to replace its more modern roof and some doors and windows will be realigned to their original locations.

Mr. Rettig said he is sure work can begin this year on the house, but can't predict a timetable until hearing from funding sources.

Sue McHugh, president of the Friends of the Lathrop House, said the group will continue to collect funds for work on the house.

She said committees have been formed, but no specific events have been scheduled.

"We've been involved in this for three years and we'll stay involved,'' she said.

After the exterior is completed, Mr. Rettig said, workers will put back the stones that made the original basement of the structure, the place escaping slaves were said to have spent the night on their travels along the Underground Railroad.

The stones were taken from the basement during the move of the house and marked and are being stored until they can be put back in place.

St. Joseph parish, meanwhile, is expected to begin construction on the first phase of its expansion project on the land where the house used to sit.

Jim Floyd, parish business manager, said the first building to be constructed will include classrooms for the elementary school, a gymnasium, and a community room.

Contact Mike Jones at: mjones@theblade.com or 419-724-6096.



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