Prison workhouse site to become conservation area

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TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -- A building that once housed prisoners in northern Ohio is to be demolished, with the site used for a conservation area.

The former Toledo House of Correction near the village of Whitehouse operated from 1918 until 1991 and housed people serving sentences for misdemeanor crimes. Inmates at the correction facility, commonly known as the workhouse, grew vegetables, raised hogs and cattle, and quarried limestone on the farm.

Metroparks of the Toledo Area plans to demolish the three-story building this summer and develop the site as the Blue Creek Conservation Area, The Blade in Toledo (http://bit.ly/1j3LHnl ) reported. The parks system purchased 207 acres of the property, then known as Quarry Pond Farm, from the city of Toledo in 2000 to preserve it as public open space. Metroparks purchased an additional 137 acres from Lucas County two years later.

Whitehouse has leased some of the property and a youth foundation uses part of it for recreation fields. The Metroparks district also operates part of the farm in partnership with a wildlife rehabilitation center and the Lucas Soil and Water Conservation District.

A portion of Blue Creek has been open for daily public use since March, 2013, with a walking trail and a quarry pond for fishing.

Susan Bechtel, the daughter of a former guard at the House of Correction, said few people would be interested in trying to save the old building.

"Who has fond memories of that place?" asked Bechtel, who lives near Whitehouse.

Her late father, Art Romaker, worked as a guard there for 10 to 15 years, she said.

The House of Correction didn't house people convicted of murder or other violent crimes, she said. It mostly housed inmates found guilty of "low-level crimes" such as being drunk and disorderly or those late on child-support payments, and some tried to match the timing of their crimes to the season, according to Bechtel.

"They would commit a crime so they could winter over in the workhouse," Bechtel recalled.

Several other buildings on the property, including two barns, will remain. A building that once housed a gymnasium and dormitories is now the base of operations for the Metroparks' native-seed nursery and other land management operations, Metroparks spokesman Scott Carpenter said.

Plans call for signs and other displays informing park visitors of the property's past as a working prison farm. Representatives from the Toledo Police Museum are collecting items from the jail for possible display in the museum at Toledo's Ottawa Park.

Toledo's city council agreed in 1990 to shut down most of the workhouse. But the guards secured more than 20,000 signatures on petitions to place the issue on the ballot, and voters repealed the council's closing ordinance.

The city then said it lacked funds to operate the workhouse and that the vote neither mandated its operation nor provided operating funds.

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Information from: The Blade, http://www.toledoblade.com/