The Seneca County Courthouse was constructed beginning in 1884 and designed by Detroit architect Elijah E. Myers, who also designed four US state capitol buildings (Idaho, Michigan, Colorado, and Texas). The county spent $214,000 on its construction in 1884, equivalent to $44.6 million in today’s dollars. The elegant structure once featured a massive clock tower, but this was covered in 1940 with a more modern design. The Seneca County Courthouse was vacated in 2003 to allow for renovation. In August 2006, the county commissioners voted to demolish and replace the structure, claiming that renovation costs would far outweigh the price to build a new courthouse, a contention which has been continuously disputed.
The Tiffin Historic Trust, Heritage Ohio, Preservation Ohio, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and other concerned groups and citizens have been contesting the Commissioners’ short-sighted action, but unfortunately demolition is imminent and salvage work has begun. Should demolition take place, it would be the first Ohio county courthouse to be lost in 35 years, and ironically this would come at a time when other counties are investing heavily in these iconic community landmarks.
The courthouse got a reprieve on Tuesday, June 10th, when the Tiffin Design Review Board voted 5-0 to deny a certificate of appropriateness for demolition. A group of preservationists representing the state-wide interest in the issue provided testimony to the review board, and all were delighted that the board decided demolition of the building would cause an adverse effect on the downtown historic district. By no means is the courthouse “saved,” though. The denial of the certificate creates a 90 day review period where the board will meet with the county applicant to discuss possible solutions. In addition to auctioning off the contents the first week of June, the county has already advertised for demolition bids.
To call attention to the plight of the courthouse, Heritage Ohio has organized a “This Place Matters” rally on the Seneca County Courthouse lawn on June 22nd. Participants will let the county commissioners know that “This Place Matters,” following the theme of Preservation Month 2008, not just to Tiffin, but to the entire state of Ohio and across the Midwest. The award winning Courthouse Girls from Farmland Indiana will be offering their support. Please come support us, or contact Heritage Ohio for more information on how you can help.
-- Joyce Barrett and Jennifer Sandy
Joyce Barrett is the executive director of Heritage Ohio and Jennifer Sandy is a program officer in the Midwest Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.