Tiffin landmark's steps shattered

Crews start to demolish Seneca Co. Courthouse

Protesters bewail beginning of end, officials' failure to act

1/5/2012
BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Elva Einsel protests outside of the Seneca County Courthouse. Ms. Einsel, who is 83, has lived in Tiffin for 21 years and was part of a group of supporters who voiced their anger at the county's decision to demolish the building.
Elva Einsel protests outside of the Seneca County Courthouse. Ms. Einsel, who is 83, has lived in Tiffin for 21 years and was part of a group of supporters who voiced their anger at the county's decision to demolish the building.

TIFFIN -- The abrupt and unexpected destruction of the concrete steps on the Washington Street side of Seneca County's 1884 courthouse Wednesday jarred observers and those holding out hope that the building still might be saved.

It was the first blow to the downtown building's sandstone exterior since front-end loaders were brought on site last week.

"It's like mourning. You're waiting for that loved one to die," said Ruth Brown of Tiffin as she watched the work through the chain-link fence.

PHOTO GALLERY: Seneca County Courthouse demolition

Ms. Brown was one of 44 Seneca County taxpayers who filed a last-minute lawsuit against county commissioners with the Ohio Supreme Court and asked the high court to halt the demolition of the courthouse. The court denied the residents' appeal for intervention, and the reality of demolition is sinking in.

"We tried to save it," Ms. Brown said. "You can only do what you can do. I'm just disappointed."

Not everyone has given up.

"It only takes one judge to stop this," Lenora Livingston said, referring to the possibility that one of the county's common pleas court judges could order the commissioners to stop demolition and renovate the courthouse as usable space for the courts.

Demolition workers crushed the concrete steps at the courthouse. The workers spread the rubble on the ground in an apparent attempt to create a firm base for a crane.
Demolition workers crushed the concrete steps at the courthouse. The workers spread the rubble on the ground in an apparent attempt to create a firm base for a crane.

Longtime courthouse supporter Brenda Stultz admitted that she "lost it" when she saw the two front-end loaders destroying the courthouse steps. Bricks and stone were then crushed and spread on the ground nearby, apparently in an attempt to create a firm base for the massive crane that was later delivered to the site.

Workers with B&B Wrecking and Excavating of Cleveland, who were hired by county commissioners to demolish the courthouse for $373,000, spent much of the afternoon assembling the crane within the confined space of the fenced-off courthouse lawn.

Ms. Stultz said she had not expected any exterior demolition to begin until Thursday. She said the lack of trust she feels in her county commissioners is worse than the lack of a courthouse.

"My money is being used to do this," she said, looking at the wrecking equipment. "I don't want my money invested this way."

Tiffin's brand new mayor, Aaron Montz, said he had conversations with all three commissioners this week, appealing to them to reconsider demolition. Mr. Montz said that while he would like to see the building saved, the city does not have the money to buy it, much less renovate it.

A nativity scene still stands outside the Seneca County Courthouse in Tiffin. The county commissioners are paying B&B Wrecking and Excavating of Cleveland $373,000 to demolish the 1884 courthouse.
A nativity scene still stands outside the Seneca County Courthouse in Tiffin. The county commissioners are paying B&B Wrecking and Excavating of Cleveland $373,000 to demolish the 1884 courthouse.

"They've made their minds up is what I gather, and I have no support from city officials to get involved," he said. "From the city's standpoint, there's really nothing we can do."

Also Wednesday, Seneca County Sheriff William Eckelberry and Chief Deputy Ron Green met with Commissioner Jeff Wagner after Mr. Wagner, who supported demolition, reportedly received a threatening phone call.

"It's under investigation," the sheriff said, declining to comment about the allegation. Mr. Wagner also declined to comment, on advice of the sheriff.

Small groups of courthouse supporters continued to carry signs protesting the demolition.

They were met with honks and waves and, sometimes, jeers from passers-by yelling, "Take it away."

Nancy Owens of Tiffin stood at the corner of Washington and Market streets holding a sign that said, "Why?" She was wearing her late husband's Vietnam veterans hat.

"I'm here for my husband. He wanted the courthouse to stay," she said.

Workers assemble a crane in preparation for the demolition of the courthouse.
Workers assemble a crane in preparation for the demolition of the courthouse.

Her sister, Loretta Miller, held a two-sided sign that read, "Razing = $$$ lost" and "Razing = history lost."

Dave Kilen stood nearby with his own placard, "Half-million dollar hole." Dressed in an insulated red jumpsuit, Mr. Klein said he and his wife were watching the courthouse demolition on the Internet Wednesday morning "when she looks at me and says, 'Why aren't you down there?'"

While county commissioners insist the majority of residents want to get rid of the old courthouse, preservationists disagree.

"Getting rid of the building isn't going to get rid of any problems," Ms. Stultz said. "Everyone's a loser here. No one's been able to explain to me what good is going to come from getting rid of this building."

Commissioners Ben Nutter and Mr. Wagner both supported demolition, saying the county could not afford to renovate the courthouse, but would be better off saving money to build a new one.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.