Area residents stopped by Sylvania’s Lathrop House, used by fleeing slaves on the Underground Railroad prior to 1863, during an open house Saturday featuring tours of the restored basement.
The open house from 2 to 4 p.m. was held in celebration of Constitution Day activities taking place across the state this week. As part of the activities, local broadcaster Rob Thomas was scheduled to read an excerpt of the Emancipation Proclamation at 3 p.m.
The basement is the most significant part of the historical home because it was where fleeing slaves were concealed in a secret room to avoid capture during their journey to freedom in Canada, according to information provided by the Metroparks of the Toledo Area.
The open house was the first opportunity for the public to view the recent renovations to the house, which was moved from its original, nearby location to the Sylvania park. The most recent project included renovating the basement using fieldstone stone from the original basement in an effort to simulate as closely as possible the home’s appearance in the 1850s.
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.
Also new are five porches, new stone around the exterior of the foundation, an accessible ramp, a new restroom, utility connections, sidewalks, and a fire suppression system.
Plans included bringing utilities in the basement up to code and concealing them so the area can be used as a demonstration area for school and tour groups.
Restoration of the house is a partnership between Metroparks, the City of Sylvania, and Friends of the Lathrop House.
Cost of the latest round of work was $380,000, with 80 percent paid for by a Transportation Enhancement Program grant. Most of the local matching funds were raised by the Friends of the Lathrop House. Metroparks provided project design and management services.
The restoration’s first phase was a $365,000 exterior project that included a new roof and structural improvements. Completed in 2008, it was paid for through 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 Lathrop House is owned by Sylvania, which installed utilities and an access road to it. The house, situated in Harroun Community Park, Main Street entrance, was 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 authorities to assist in their capture and return to bondage. However, abolitionists 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.