Monday, Oct 22, 2018
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Documenting of Seneca Co. courthouse events under way

Ohio Historical Society hires Columbus-based filmmaker


'To me, at this point, we need to try to show why this happened and if there's anything somebody can learn from it,' says documentary filmmaker John Ondo, in front of the county courthouse in Tiffin.


TIFFIN -- The Ohio Historical Society has hired a Columbus-based filmmaker to document the story of Seneca County's 1884 courthouse.

John Ondo, owner of Ondo Media, made his first visit to Tiffin this week to see and photograph the historic courthouse, which is slated for demolition beginning next week.

Jane Mason, director of marketing and communications for the historical society, said she does not yet know whether Mr. Ondo ultimately will be asked to create a documentary film, nor is it entirely clear how the story will end.

"We don't know what the outcome of this is going to be, but we felt that as an organization that preserves and collects Ohio history, it was important to document the story however it evolves," she said.

The historical society contacted Mr. Ondo last spring to talk about working on the courthouse story, but it became a priority more recently when the Seneca County commissioners hired a demolition contractor that began removing asbestos last week.

The contractor's schedule calls for building demolition to begin Tuesday and continue through Jan. 19.

RELATED STORY: Commission gives final 'no' regarding preservation

Ms. Mason said the organization wants Mr. Ondo to take a neutral approach to an issue that has polarized Seneca County.

"We are advocates of preservation, but in terms of this function, we are documenting the story. Our role is gathering points of view," she said. "This is a story of how this challenge was solved in one community. We anticipate, and I think anyone can anticipate, that across Ohio, there will be other scenarios such as this. There are a lot of historic buildings that are aging, some without a lot of resources to maintain them."

That seemed to be the case in Seneca County, where the courthouse became so rundown that it was abandoned by the courts in 2004.

Although commissioners had endorsed a nearly $8 million plan to restore the building, the plan was shelved this year when the state legislature drastically reduced local government funding.

Commissioners said the county could no longer afford to commit itself to a 30-year loan for renovation and decided to raze the building.

Mr. Ondo said ideally he would like to put together a 30-minute documentary that could be useful to other communities facing similar issues. He said he hopes to interview county residents as well as commissioners and others who have been involved in the controversy over the years.

"To me, at this point, we need to try to show why this happened and if there's anything somebody can learn from it," he said. "I hope we can get everybody's side on all of this and be fair to it and be fair to the building and what it was."

While the Ohio Historical Society does not typically involve itself in local preservation issues, the organization's executive director, Burt Logan, appeared before county commissioners Nov. 1 to read a letter from Gov. John Kasich asking the board to defer demolition. He also sent his own plea to commissioners.

"Never before has a county courthouse in Ohio listed on the National Register of Historic Places been demolished," Mr. Logan wrote in his Oct. 27 letter. "We sincerely hope your community's Historic Place will not be Ohio's first."

He said the courthouse was significant to state and local history and architecture. The Beaux Arts-style building was designed by noted American architect Elijah Myers who also designed five state capitol buildings.

"Simply put, Tiffin has a courthouse designed by a nationally prominent architect at the top of his game," Mr. Logan wrote. "The materials and level of craftsmanship reflected in your courthouse exceeds that present in the state capitols of both Texas and Michigan. It is a valuable asset impossible to replace."

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