People snap up remembrances from crumbling 1884 courthouse

1/19/2012
BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Chris Babione, left, and Kathy Zellner, right, are among the people bundled up against the cold on Wednesday as they dig through a pile of bricks after excavators dumped them over the construction fence.
Chris Babione, left, and Kathy Zellner, right, are among the people bundled up against the cold on Wednesday as they dig through a pile of bricks after excavators dumped them over the construction fence.

TIFFIN -- Pulling a little red wagon loaded with three whole bricks and five broken ones, Suzanne Hopple walked away from Seneca County's crumbling courthouse Wednesday, where a crowd had gathered in the chilly morning hours.

"A lot people just want a piece of history," she said.

The Republic, Ohio, woman had stopped at the courthouse to get a few bricks to add to others she has at home.

"I have bricks from the old Republic school, the old Harpster school, the Bloomville school," Mrs. Hopple said, explaining that all have been demolished. "We made a little patio and I marked each of the bricks."

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On the first day B&B Wrecking and Excavating made bricks available to the public during its demolition of the 1884 building, workers found it hard to maintain enough supply to meet the demand. About 50 people were gathered in the freezing temperatures before 9 a.m. when an excavator dumped its first load of bricks over the construction fence.

Every half hour or so, the crew replenished the supply, which was snatched up in no time. People armed with shopping bags and buckets hauled off bricks and sifted through the rubble for other treasures such as bits of marble and pieces of the courthouse steps.

Workers tearing down the courthouse said it was difficult to keep up the supply of bricks to meet the demand.
Workers tearing down the courthouse said it was difficult to keep up the supply of bricks to meet the demand.

"It's like the day after Thanksgiving shopping," joked Chris Babione, who brought a wheelbarrow to the brick pile. "Most of the people here probably were supporters. I'm a supporter. I believe it should've stayed up. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way."

Mr. Babione, who lives just outside Tiffin, said he has a stone wall behind a woodstove in his home and might add the bricks to it.

"I think I'm going to clean these up and mortar them into the wall along with my other stone -- kind of nostalgic, historic value," he said.

In addition to bricks, Mr. Babione salvaged a couple pieces of the black fossilized marble that once graced the upper floors of the courthouse, which is now nearly halfway torn down.

Brian Baumann, president of B&B, which has a $373,000 contract to tear down the courthouse, said that because the company's crane still is being repaired, he doesn't expect workers to take down the clocktower until the middle of next week.

The crane became inoperable a few days into the demolition.

"Realistically, we can't drop the tower until we fix the crane," he said. "Realistically, we're looking at a week from today."

A door, a column, and other pieces of stone lie in a pile inside the fence. People picked through the debris to find bricks and other items outside the fence, including pieces of the black fossilized marble once on the upper floors.
A door, a column, and other pieces of stone lie in a pile inside the fence. People picked through the debris to find bricks and other items outside the fence, including pieces of the black fossilized marble once on the upper floors.

He said his crew likely would begin loading steel to haul to a recycler on Friday and begin trucking away the building materials on Monday. The bricks, he said, would be made available to the public "until we run out, or they quit taking them."

That didn't happen Wednesday as people kept coming back for more.

Larry Ball, a retired laborer who spent much of his career laying bricks, said he's been watching the courthouse come down day after day. It's been interesting, he said, to see how the building was constructed of thick brick walls covered in sandstone block with a surprising amount of structural steel. "It was built to last," he said. "The ones now are built to last maybe 25 years, I would think."

Mr. Ball said he picked up a few bricks for himself.

"Most of the people are just like I am -- they just want a piece of it," he said of the crowd waiting for more bricks. "I got several so I can give one to my son and to his son."

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