–by Sylvania AdVantage Staff

‘Your Bridge to the Past – Your Path to The Future’

Votes have been taken and papers have been filed to officially blend together the three historic organizations of Sylvania. As of Jan. 1, the former Sylvania Historical Village founded in 1995, the Sylvania Historical Society founded in 1991, and The Friends of the Lathrop House founded in 2001, have become Heritage Sylvania. Andi Erbskorn, who has been the executive director for Sylvania Historical Village for the past four years, will serve as the executive director of the new entity. The Heritage Sylvania board will be comprised of representatives from each of the three former boards and existing members of each organization will be grandfathered into membership of Heritage Sylvania. The idea for the merger was first suggested in a study for the downtown commissioned by the city of Sylvania nearly 10 years ago.

“Part of that study identified the Lathrop House and the Historical Village as two historical bookends as part of a revitalized downtown,” Erbskorn reported. This concept sprung to life two years ago when Erbskorn received a CIC grant allowing her to hire Creative Oxygen as facilitators to brainstorm with the three groups for the future. “We realized that these three groups had a lot of things in common. We share many of the same challenges, and we also share many of the same goals,” she added.

Andi Erbskorn serves as the executive director of the newly created Heritage Sylvania.

A participant in the brainstorming session brought up the suggestion for a merger, which gained enough momentum that a small committee was formed to discuss the subject in depth. Those discussions resulted in a memorandum of understanding being signed by the three boards in late 2017. Another year was required to complete the process. Each of the three boards and their voting members passed the measure unanimously, as did Sylvania City Council in its individual role as voting members of the Sylvania Historical Village on Dec. 17.

Attorney Thomas Blank, president of the Sylvania Historical Village Board of Trustees, filed papers for the merged organizations with the Secretary of the State of Ohio after making the presentation regarding the merger to city council on Dec. 17.

The three organizations often worked together but would compete for events, members, and fundraising. “Forming Heritage Sylvania allows the resulting organization to be more streamlined and have a greater impact,” Erbskorn noted. “The merger provides us a more unified front. By pooling our resources, we will be able to have a better membership base to grow. We’ll certainly be able to have a more powerful impact when seeking grants.”

Sue McHugh, president of the former Friends of the Lathrop House, continues to serve on the Heritage Sylvania board.

“It will a great benefit to all of the organizations, especially The Lathrop House, to be under one umbrella organization,” noted president of the former Friends of the Lathrop House, Sue McHugh. “This merger is a big step forward for greater civic awareness and understanding of the importance of preserving our history.”

Another advantage is the sharing of board members and city council expertise and talent, which will greatly benefit the newly created organization.

Heritage Sylvania is New Name
Time was also spent deciding on a name for the new organization. In late summer 2018, a large group comprised of members of all three organizations, along with a few community representatives, met to talk about names. “It was a fascinating discussion as we walked through different words and what each word meant to us,” explained Erbskorn. Ultimately Heritage Sylvania was chosen.

“We felt it was fresh and interesting,” McHugh noted. “Also, the name ‘Heritage’ denotes a much more personal connection and something to be treasured, rather than ‘History,’ which has a more academic connotation,” she said.

“Heritage Sylvania will be able to use the events that happened here in Sylvania and northwest Ohio to tell a national story. The Lathrop House is really part of national history and more than just a name or date.
This is a house owned by a family who made a difference,” McHugh added.

The Lathrop House
The Lathrop House is recognized by The National Trust for Historic Preservation as having a significant place in city, state and national history. The site is also recognized as a stop on the Underground Railroad by the Friends of Freedom Society/Ohio Underground Railroad Association.

The Greek Revival home was the residence of Lucian Lathrop, an ordained minister of the Universalist Church, a denomination that maintained a strong anti-slavery stance. He moved to Sylvania with his wife, Larissa, in 1848 and their home was built in 1853.
While Lucian Lathrop served as an elected State Representative in the Ohio Legislature, he and his wife also engaged in the outlawed activities of the Underground Railroad along with his neighbor David Harroun. Fugitive slaves would be brought in a false-bottomed wagon from nearby Maumee to Sylvania as part of their escape to freedom in Canada. Those slaves would stay either at the Harroun home or barn or in a secret room behind the kitchen fireplace in the Lathrop House.

Originally located at 5362 Main St., the house was moved to Harroun Park under a May 2002 agreement between the Toledo Area Metroparks and the city of Sylvania.

McHugh credits the Sylvania Historical Society, and particularly Gayleen Gindy, whose research uncovered the historical significance of the Lathrop Home, as key to its preservation. “The house came very close to being demolished 18 years ago but Gayleen’s information was the initial spark that ignited the formation of the Friends of the Lathrop House and its ensuing preservation. Gayleen is a tireless researcher and is responsible for all we know about the Lathrop family and their house. But even better, her research is continuous. All of that information about our community is not sitting collecting dust, but it is being reviewed and updated constantly.”

McHugh also has high praise for the Sylvania Historical Society, which serves as the keeper of the community archives. Pam Rohrbacher is president of the organization that works toward the preservation and collection of materials and items concerned with the development, history and genealogy of Sylvania and its surrounding area.

Historical Village
Along with the Lathrop House, the new organization will oversee the Heritage Center Museum, the early 20th century home and office of Dr. Uriah Cooke, the community archives collection and the buildings located in the Historical Village.

“Each organization had a piece of the puzzle and bringing the pieces together makes the picture become more clear,” Erbskorn pointed out. “Our new logo, designed by Creative Oxygen, reflects that with the north star of the Lathrop House, the peaked roof of the Historical Village Depot and the bridge arch of the Historical Society. Our new tag line is ‘Your Bridge to the Past – Your Path to The Future.’ We are excited to continue to connect today’s audiences with the past to help understand our present and future.”