TIFFIN -- Watching the 107-foot clock tower of Seneca County's 1884 courthouse come down piece by dusty piece Thursday, Scott Edmondson conceded most people considered the tower ugly.
"I wasn't too fond of it either, but the original one was underneath it and it could've been brought back," he said.
Restoring the original clock tower was a key part of a nearly $8 million plan to renovate the long-neglected courthouse, which was designed by noted American architect Elijah Myers. Instead, Seneca County commissioners voted 2-1 to demolish it, awarding a $373,000 contract to B&B Wrecking and Excavating of Cleveland to level the downtown landmark.
"It makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever," said Mr. Edmondson, who used to help local resident Joe Bryner take care of the 1885 Seth Thomas clock housed in the tower.
While a local antiques dealer was able to purchase and remove the clockworks before demolition of the courthouse began on Jan. 9, Mr. Edmondson was straining to try to see the pendulum left inside. He estimated it was 30-feet long.
Although the rest of the courthouse had been dismantled by last week, demolition of the clock tower had been delayed because of mechanical problems with B&B's crane. Company President Brian Baumann said the engine was reinstalled Thursday morning, allowing the work finally to get under way shortly before 2 p.m.
Spectators, who began gathering along the street as soon as the crane and wrecking ball got to work, were prohibited from standing along the courthouse lawn on Washington Street, which was closed to traffic for the first time during the demolition process.
Tiffin Fire Chief William Ennis, Jr., went door to door along Court Street Thursday morning asking that offices close for the afternoon as a safety precaution. He said two law firms, the prosecutor's office, and the Court Appointed Special Advocate Office all agreed to close. The courthouse annex building, which houses the common pleas courts and the clerk of courts' legal and title offices, also closed by noon.
"We recommended that while they take this very top part [of the tower] off, that they take the rest of the day off," Chief Ennis said while watching the crane and wrecking ball work.
Clerk of Courts Mary Ward posted a notice closing her offices "to protect the residents of Seneca County doing business here and my staff from any possible injuries that could occur due to the sheer nature of the project." She said she would evaluate the situation Thursday evening and Friday morning before deciding when to resume office hours.
B&B had not recommended any evacuations, Seneca County Administrator Stacy Wilson said.
Still, Chief Ennis said, he felt it was necessary. He also closed Washington and Market streets for the afternoon, but said both likely would be open on Friday.
"It wasn't that I don't trust B&B. I expect them to do it properly," he said. "My thought is I'd rather be safe than sorry."
The precautions turned out to be unnecessary. As the crane knocked off chunks of the tower, the debris fell straight to the ground.
While a group of county residents campaigned for years to save the courthouse, most were in agreement that its tower, which was "modernized" with a new Art Deco façade late in 1943, was unattractive.
John Huss, a local historian, said the clock tower was refaced supposedly as part of a plan to put a new modern façade on the whole building.
"The ornamental cast-iron details such as the dome, columns, and balconies were scrapped, while the brick core of the 1884 tower remained and was refaced with stone veneer," he said.
The tower was reduced from 148 feet to 107 feet at that time, and while the clockworks were saved and reused, a zinc statue of Lady Justice that once was perched atop the tower was not seen again.
Mr. Huss said some believe the statue was scrapped; others say it is "alive and well," perhaps in someone's barn.
Brenda Stultz, a courthouse supporter, came downtown to watch the tower demolition Thursday -- the first time she'd been to the site since protests ended and demolition began on Jan. 9.
"I came because I felt as if I needed to experience the final chapter in an issue that I've been passionate about for several years," she said. "I thought it would help me put closure on the tragedy."
Ms. Stultz said she has a brick from the sandstone courthouse, but she doesn't know why or what, if anything, she'll do with it.
"The ugly-looking tower means very little to me now nor do any of the pieces," she said. "I wanted the whole."
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6129.