Road rage over historic home PDF Print E-mail
Written by ALEX ASPACHER Sentinel Staff Writer   
Saturday, 05 October 2013 08:39
Dorinda Shelley walks in front of her 108-year-old home she is afraid may be taken by ODOT as it considers options for dealing with the slope erosion along Ohio 65. (J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
If these walls could talk, they would be screaming.
Walking through Dr. Dorinda Shelley's riverside home near Grand Rapids, her commitment to history is evident.
Weaving through piles of books, she's able to point out original features of the house built in 1832 - a railing on the stairway, log beams visible from the basement, even a suspected "false room" used to hide escaping slaves when it served as a stop on the underground railroad.
That history could be reduced to memories within months. A project to correct an eroding slope between the river and Ohio 65 could require destruction of just one home - one of the oldest in Wood County.
Known as the Howard House and the Pioneer Inn, Shelley's 4,000 square-foot home was built by Edward Howard in Grand Rapids and moved east in 1902, now standing near Nazareth Hall. It's served as a hotel, a post office and a school, and been a stop along slaves' road to Canada and a home to early elections, according to Naomi Twining, a Toledo historian who's spent 12 years researching the property.
Ron Jacobs, a caretaker of the home, pointed out several false walls that conceal a crawl space used to hide people walking the long road to freedom.
"This place is gorgeous. Why would you want to tear something like this down? There's too much history," he said.
"It would break my heart. It would totally destroy me."
Long ago, the river was actually along the western front of the United States, Twining said.
"This house saw history go past on the Maumee River.
"It's quite a lot of history that people just drive by, they don't realize."
Twining cherishes several award certificates commemorating the work she's done to detail the story of the home and have it placed on several historic registries. They apparently mean more to her than they do to the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Twining tried to have the property placed on the National Register of Historic Places but was rejected because of modern improvements to the house. She said those regulations have since been loosened, but the shutdown of the federal government now stands in the way of another go-around.
No one with the department of the interior, even a friend she knows there, is available to so much as take her phone call.
ODOT hosted an informational meeting Sept. 26, presenting three options to correct slope erosion on Ohio 65 and another six to address a section further north where Ohio 64 and 65 join.
Of the three Ohio 65 solutions, two involve installation of retaining walls and wouldn't require that any homes be knocked down. But the other calls for relocation of the roadway further inland by acquiring rights-of-way from six landowners, including enough of Shelley's property that the house would be taken. Further north for the Ohio 64/65 project, as many as three homes could be demolished.
Relocation is billed as the most cost-effective option, at a tag of about $1.5 million compared to $2.9 million and $2.7 million for the others involving retaining walls. But Shelley and other residents questioned how the estimate for a project that calls for acquiring so much property, including the historic Howard House, could cost so little and still cover road construction.
"I can't believe that," Shelley said. "I frankly don't believe their figures."
ODOT estimated construction costs at $896,000 and right-of-way acquisition at $656,000, including $250,000 for the Howard House, according to planning and zoning administrator Mike Gramza. Shelley purchased the home in 1989 for $245,000.
ODOT spokesperson Theresa Pollick said the estimated cost does include a rough figure for property acquisition, and that designers were aware of the home's status when they were forming alternatives to correct the erosion.
Still, for an option billed as the "best" due to its cost, figures are elusive. Shelley and other owners have only been told that their homes will receive two assessments if ODOT determines it needs their property, and they'll be given "fair market value."
But some things can't be measured in dollars and cents.
At the public meeting, Shelley joined other residents in submitting comments to ODOT on the project. "So they know they're in trouble," she chuckled.
Pollick said ODOT will review the comments and weigh them while choosing a plan later this month. Though now is a critical step for the landowners, Pollick maintained it's still "very early" in the overall process while admitting the home offers a "unique circumstance."
"We have to respect, and we do take into consideration, those historical factors," she said. Apparently, the home's history was not strong enough to stand on its own as options were being prepared.
Gramza said any structure over 50 years old is considered "historic," but "historic significance" is determined by its eligibility for the national register. He said a field investigation determined the home was not eligible, but additional review will be conducted if road relocation is selected as the "preferred alternative."
Shelley, for one, isn't ready to let her house go if ODOT selects the option that routes Ohio 65 through her living room. Her attorney suggested researching the cost to move the house off the property, and Shelley said she'll also consider civil action to halt the project if necessary.
"There is no copy of this house. Once they tear it down, it is gone," she said.
"I think at some point society has to take a stand. Which is more important, money or history? Those of us who believe in history have got to stand up."

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