–by Gayleen Gindy
The Lathrop House – originally at 5362 Main St. then moved to Harroun Park
This is Sylvania’s prize home! It is definitely over 100 years old. A portion of this home was built in 1835, but the most important portion is the two-story colonial part built by the Lathrop family by 1850. It was in that section of the home that Lucian and Larissa Lathrop secretly built a hidden room in the basement that could only be accessed through a door that was disguised as an oven. In this secret room they hid fugitive slaves temporarily as they traveled through Sylvania toward Canada, to their freedom. This process had nothing to do with a railroad, but it became known as the Underground Railroad, because of the secret methods used to help slaves get to freedom. Here are the recorded owners of the subject home over the years:
- 1835 – Elkanah Briggs
- 1840 – Eliza Briggs/Green
- 1847 – Lucian B. Lathrop
- 1874 – Miles Lathrop
- 1887 – George C. Wagonlander
- 1892 – Solomon J. Hershey
- 1896 – John M. Hershey
- 1897 – Joseph W. Torrence
- 1902 – Eliza J. Torrence
- 1903 – John A. Crandall
- 1909 – John T. Grinage
- 1915 – Harry D. Fallis
- 1937 – Linton H. Fallis and Martha M. Heck
- 1939 – Helen E. Fallis
- 1942 – Norman E. Bischoff
- 1954 – Theodore and Marie B. Bollinger-Vogt
- 2001 – St. Joseph Catholic Church
- 2004 to current – City of Sylvania – House was moved to Harroun Park showing an address of 5416 Main St.
Elkanah Briggs built the original portion of this home on a 40-acre parcel that he purchased here on Main Street. His name appears in all of the earliest records, voting in elections and serving in several elected positions while living in Sylvania. Many of the earliest legal descriptions measured surrounding properties using Briggs’ 40 acres that he purchased. He was married to Eliza Briggs and they had two children before he unexpectedly died on Feb. 5, 1840, at the age of 38 years old. He was listed as a farmer and builder and is recorded as constructing some of the first structures in Sylvania. At the time he was buried on his 40 acres. Later the portion of land where he was buried became part of Ravine Cemetery, where his headstone still exists today. He was the first burial in Ravine Cemetery.
After several years of court issues, because Mrs. Briggs had remarried and there were minor children involved, in 1847 the courts gave Mrs. Briggs/Green, who by that time was living in Albany, N.Y., permission to sell this house in order to pay the outstanding debts of her deceased husband. That is when Lucian Lathrop purchased 20 acres of his original property which included the Briggs home.
Lathrop lost his first wife in 1844, the mother of all six of his children. In 1846 he married Larissa Titus. She came to Lucas County from Rochester/Brighton, New York where her father, mother and siblings all lived for many years. Those communities were huge anti-slavery communities where famous anti-slavery people lived and preached the anti-slavery cause, including Frederick Douglass.
It should be noted here that soon after Larissa came to Lucas County her siblings and their spouses, and children also came here and soon purchased land surrounding the Lathrop property on Main Street.
By 1850 the Lathrops had constructed a second home on the property, and it was in this home that they became involved in secretly hiding escaping slaves in their basement. The Lathrops were very religious people and believed in “a God who embraced everyone” and they were willing to risk fines and even the loss of their own freedom to help in this cause. Lathrop was well-known throughout Lucas County and the state of Ohio, serving as a county commissioner and Ohio State Representative, as well as serving as a Universalist minister. While serving as a state representative during 1851 and 1852 he gave many speeches that told the story of his deep religious beliefs against slavery and against capital punishment.
Lucian and Larissa are listed living in this home in the 1850, 1860 and 1870 censuses. Also living on the property, in the original “Briggs” home, the 1870 and 1880 census records show two different African American families living there. Since Larissa’s nephew, Col. John Klinck was involved with the government in helping thousands of now freed slaves find homes throughout the United States, these families were brought to Sylvania through the Freedman’s Act after the Civil War ended, once again assisted by the Lathrops. Lucian died in May of 1873, and afterward, Larissa transferred this home to Lucian’s son, Miles Lathrop, in 1874. Miles operated a hotel out of the home while he owned it, and lived in the home at 5328 Main St. just to the south (still standing). He worked for many years for the railroads, served as Captain during the Civil War and then later was elected to the Sylvania Village Council and served as the Mayor of Sylvania.
There just isn’t enough space in this article to tell you everything about the owners of this house. My 244-page book “The Underground Railroad and Sylvania’s Historic Lathrop House.” tells everything about the previous owners. The book, is available through our local libraries or Amazon.com.