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Published: Wednesday, 5/9/2012 - Updated: 4 years ago

Lathrop House resumes 2nd phase of restoration

Reconstructed basement is focus of work

Aureliano Adame, Jr., builds a porch on the Lathrop House, which is linked to the Underground Railroad. Aureliano Adame, Jr., builds a porch on the Lathrop House, which is linked to the Underground Railroad.

Restoration work has resumed on Sylvania's Lathrop House, with the focus on the basement where runaway slaves are believed to have been hidden on their flight to freedom before the Civil War.

This second phase of the restoration project will re-create the double brick ovens on one wall and a tiny hidden room tucked behind the summer kitchen that once harbored fugitive slaves.

The basement itself is a reconstruction. The original was lost when the building was moved about 100 yards from what is now St. Joseph Catholic Church's east campus.

The basement's original fieldstone will be used to cover the new walls, in an effort to simulate as closely as possible the appearance in the 1850s, according to Robert Oberly, Sylvania's deputy director of public service and zoning administrator.

"This was the original foundation of the Lathrop House, and it will be used to make the basement as exact as possible," he said. Outside, the masonry foundation will be covered with synthetic stones, he added.

Also, utilities in the basement will be brought up to code and concealed so the area can be used as a demonstration area for school and tour groups, Mr. Oberly said. A porch will be added and handicapped accessibility.

The first phase of the restoration -- a $365,000 exterior renovation that included a new roof and structural improvements -- was completed in 2008. It was paid for with a $258,000 federal transportation enhancement grant and $84,000 raised by Friends of the Lathrop House, a group working to restore the historic building.

The second phase work is expected to be finished in August, Mr. Oberly said. It is financed by a $290,000 transportation grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation and administered by the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments.

The Lathrop House is owned by Sylvania, which installed utilities and an access road to it. The house, in Harroun Community Park, was believed to be part of a network of safe houses in Ohio where fugitive slaves were sheltered on their trip to freedom in Canada.

The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 made helping runaway slaves illegal and required local author;ities to assist in their capture and return to bondage.

Abolitionists, however, defied the law and continued to assist fleeing slaves.

"Conductors" directed escapees through a series of safe houses, including the Lathrop House. Once renovated, the Lathrop House will be a museum dedicated to preserving the memory of the area's involvement in the Underground Railroad.

The renovation work is overseen by Jon Zvanovec, who is in charge of planning and construction for the Metroparks of the Toledo Area.

He said the Metroparks is committed to running programs at the Lathrop House and would use the basement as an interpretive space. He noted that any third phase of construction would involve the unfinished first and second floor, but funding is unavailable.

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