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EDGERTON, Ohio - The historic Edgerton Village Hall was just weeks away from being saved by preservationists before high winds Wednesday destroyed the 126-year-old building and injured a local firefighter.
The damage in Edgerton was caused by winds of up to 100 mph, but it was not a tornado. The National Weather Service confirmed tornadoes with lower-level winds in Ohio's Van Wert County and in northern Monroe County in Michigan.
No other injuries were reported.
In Edgerton, about 65 miles southwest of Toledo in Williams County, the former town hall - which contains an old opera house - is scheduled to be razed Friday morning.
"It's the center of town. Our landmark. It's going to be so different without it," said Shirley Krill of the Edgerton Historical Society. She and her husband, Darwin, started the movement to preserve the building.
The storm disturbed the structural integrity of the building and the former village headquarters must be torn down, Edgerton Mayor Lance Bowsher said. The village relocated administrative offices from the hall in 2008.
"It will be demolished. It's not safe right now," he said, adding that village officials are "going to try" to salvage artifacts inside the ruined building.
The storm seriously injured an Edgerton volunteer firefighter who was struck by debris falling from the building after high winds tore a gaping hole in the historic opera house on the second floor, Fire Chief Scott Blue said.
A fire dispatcher and four firefighters were inside about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday when the storm hit the fire station, which is attached to the rear of Edgerton Village Hall. The firefighters left the station minutes before the storm struck to close the windows of their personal vehicles. All but one of them made it back inside safely, Chief Blue said.
The identity and condition of the injured firefighter were withheld by authorities. He was in surgery Thursday at a Fort Wayne area hospital.
"We've been told it's nothing life-threatening," Chief Blue said.
The weather also damaged as many as 40 homes, interrupted power to most of the village's 2,000 residents, and toppled a Civil War tribute statue in Edgerton.
A freight container from a railroad car was knocked from a moving train and left beside the tracks along West Vine Street.
The roof was ripped off like gift wrap from the Oren Elliot Products factory nearby, scattering a curled mess of shingles and debris.
A statue of a Civil War soldier - known casually and unexplicably among the locals as "Clem" - was struck by several trees and knocked off its base.
In Archbold, Fulton County, 50-mph winds damaged a Sauder Woodworking Co. factory roof.
Hundreds of workers in the complex went to designated tornado shelters at 9:29 p.m., according to Frank Chapa, a Sauder security worker. Employees were cleared to return to their work stations at 11:13 p.m. and within minutes discovered severe damage to the roof of the Meyers Road plant, Mr. Chapa said.
The National Weather Service office in White Lake, Mich., yesterday confirmed that a lower-strength tornado had tracked across about 11 1/2 miles of northern Monroe County Wednesday night, starting about two miles south of Milan and dissipating 2 1/2 miles northeast of Maybee.
While the twister was rated at EF-0, the lowest rank on the Enhanced Fujita Scale with winds estimated between 60 and 70 mph, along most of its track, an EF-1 rating was given for a stretch near Tuttlehill Road between Allison and Snell roads in London Township, said Steve Considine, a weather service meteorologist.
The estimated 90-mph wind in that area ripped the roof off a pole building, caused substantial tree damage, and damaged roof shingles on several homes, Mr. Considine said.
The tornado's path varied in width between 50 and 100 yards.
While straight-line winds caused some roof damage in Lenawee County, no tornadoes are believed to have touched down there, the meteorologist said. Weather service staffers were assessing damage about two miles north of Milan, in Washtenaw County, to determine if a second tornado occurred there.
The weather service did confirm one tornado in northwest Ohio on Wednesday night, however: a "brief EF-0" that traveled for about 1.2 miles in rural Van Wert County, about three miles south of Van Wert, and had a track about 50 yards wide. The twister caused minor damage to four homes along with tree damage.
The worst of the storm damage was in Edgerton at the town's center, though the National Weather Service said the culprit was a "microburst" with winds up to 100 mph, not a tornado.
A microburst is a locally intense area of wind and precipitation within a thunderstorm, said Todd Holsten, a senior forecaster at the National Weather Service office in North Webster, Ind.
"There was a big blob of precipitation right over the fire station in Edgerton and a blast of 100-mph wind," he said.
The determination was made by reviewing the pattern of damage and debris in the village, which resembled what would happen if a person threw a water balloon directly at the ground, Mr. Holsten said.
Edgerton resident Roger Woods, 65, was stunned that the storm that caused such damage was less than a tornado.
"I heard a 'vroo,' and went to my front door. And I'm pretty strong for my age, I play tennis and everything, and it pulled the door right out of my hands," he said.
As he looked at the damaged village hall, he admitted that he "sorta kinda" thought it should have come down long ago.
"I guess now they have a reason to take it down," Mr. Woods said. "It was mostly vacant."
The Edgerton Village Hall was built in 1884 in the Romanesque style, according to the Ohio Historic Inventory. The Edgerton Village Hall and Park Opera House hosted vaudeville and minstrel shows, community theater, basketball games, and dances.
The building represents a time when civic centers were designed to be a hub of community and entertainment activities, said Barbara Powers, planning, inventory, and registration department head for the Ohio Historical Society.
Several small communities built combined town hall/opera houses. Dozens remain in Ohio on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Woodward Opera House in Knox County, Bell's Opera House in Highland County, and the Hayesville Opera House in Ashland County.
The local historical society initiated but never completed the application process for the Edgerton Village Hall to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2008, the mayor voted in favor of demolishing the building when village trustees were deadlocked on the issue. The mayor, Mr. Bowsher, said a common respect for the building emerged through the years of debate over whether to preserve it or raze it.
"I'll tell you what, no matter what direction you come from, it's the first thing you see. Anyone who lives in this town, it's been there longer than they've been alive," Mr. Bowsher said.
Village officials had a change of heart earlier this month, when the historical society was granted a purchase agreement for the building. The society was soon to begin a $250,000 fund-raising campaign to purchase and renovate the building, Mrs. Krill said.
The storm tore massive holes in the east and west walls of the village hall's second floor, exposing the ornate paintings fading from the ceiling of the former Park Opera House. Bricks littered the building's fire escape.
On the west, the hole offered a glimpse of the aluminum statuettes once displayed as a Christmas nativity outside. Residents who wandered along the railroad tracks to view the aftermath of the storm wondered aloud whether divine intervention might have staged the likenesses of the Virgin Mary, Joseph, and wise men.
"I hope that both sides that were fighting over this can just say that it's done," said Pat Sleesman, a preservationist and former village official. "I did want to see it restored. I'm just thankful that God got the last word."
Staff writers David Patch and Jane Schmucker contributed to this report.
Contact Bridget Tharp at:
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The historic Edgerton Village Hall was just weeks away from being saved by preservationists before high winds Wednesday destroyed the 126-year-old building and injured a local firefighter.