Labor of Love

History, family keep couple rooted in Whiteford’s ‘gingerbread house’

Story by Deborah Saul
Photos by Ed Keller

They’ve traveled extensively, run businesses, even own property elsewhere, but Skip and Marcy Swearingen say nothing beats a grandchild or two coming through the kitchen door.

The Whiteford Township couple lives close to all of their grandchildren in one of the most distinctive houses in south county — a historic farmhouse dressed up and expanded and often called “the gingerbread house.” Sitting at Whiteford Center and Clegg Rds., the home’s wraparound porch has spindles accented with lavender and purple stripes. Turrets and gazebo additions are striking. The tall, arched front window provides the perfect frame for their 16-foot Christmas tree.

“One year we put up a 12-foot tree and we heard about it,” Marcy said, laughing.

The two-story, three-bedroom house was built in the 1880s on one of the oldest land purchases in the area. Originally 160 acres, the land was bought from the U.S. government in 1833 during Andrew Jackson’s administration. Dozens of arrowheads found on the property suggest it had been home to others for centuries.

Much of the house is framed-in using walnut cut on the property with a portable saw mill. More than 30 walnut trees still exist and used to line the driveway along with the towering catalpa trees that still are there.

The oldest part of the Swearingens’ house was built by John and Mary Hicker and their two daughters, Theresa White and Lottie Cox. The house had a succession of owners and also sat vacant for a while before Skip and Marcy spied the “For Sale” sign from their rental house across the road.

They loved it and wanted it but barely knew what they were getting into. “We were young,” Marcy said.

“We were 24 when we bought this house,” Skip added. “We were just starting out.”

That was in 1974, and they got the house and three acres for $29,500.

When they moved in, they realized every room was painted lavender. They took it room by room, tearing off horsehair plaster and updating electrical wiring. They were intrigued by a number of discoveries along the way, including a 4-foot-wide “coffin” door opening directly into the parlor, where 19th-century custom was to “lay out” the recently deceased.

“It was a labor of love for us. We loved this old house,” Marcy said.

One wall was taken out to expand the eat-in kitchen and add a spacious granite-topped island. Their unique honey-colored tin ceilings were made from original dies found in a factory.

The parlor became their game room and now includes a billiard table, player piano, Nickelodeon piano and a Victrola record player.

Since they shared a love of antiques, they already had a good start on furnishings that fit their tastes and the home’s Victorian style. Oil lamps are part of every room. An unusual double dry sink cabinet sits in the dining room along with a large dining table and a wood-burning stove once used to heat the house. The stove sits on a raised base made out of bricks from the old Tiedtke’s store in Toledo.

Tiffany-style chandeliers and lampshades add a graceful glow to the rooms. Old ice cream parlor stools now installed in the kitchen are spring-loaded and fold back up vertically when not being used. They also have a 1760 grandfather clock and a cuckoo clock that Skip’s great-grandfather brought back from Baden-Baden, Germany, in 1869.

On top of one piano is a Norman Rockwell Christmas village, and in a snug niche in the game room is an East Coast fishing village and carousel. In the kitchen they have displayed the oldest of their Christmas village collection — pieces that represent Whiteford Center School, Ottawa Lake depot, local fire stations and Lay’s Bakery, a business run by Skip’s grandfather in Toledo.

Skip’s career as a builder of churches and business and residential buildings served him well and gave him the skills to handle the addition of a soaring family room in 1990. They call it the Gathering Place, and it is the perfect entertaining spot for the holidays.

Skip used oak for the post-and-beam timber framing, opting to use wood pegs rather than nails in the construction. The towering fireplace has a side baking oven, and the exterior of the fireplace won an award from the Masonry Institute of Northwestern Ohio in 1992.

A coffee table actually is a gorgeous slice of cypress the couple purchased in Estes Park, Colo. A show-stopping lampshade made out of slices of geodes was found at a craft show. The mounted deer heads and fox in the room are from Skip’s hunting trips.

The handmade oak stair panels have leaf and animal cutouts that Marcy created with a jigsaw.

The two met in church when Skip, from south Toledo, was 11 and Marcy, from Bedford, was 10. They didn’t have much to do with one another until Skip turned 17 and asked her out to an Easter breakfast put on by the church youth group.

“I fell in love on the first date,” he remembers.

They went together five years until college was out of the way and they could get married.

Now retired from building, they own a family entertainment center called Funagin’s in Sylvania, Ohio, where they offer laser tag, paintball, inflatables and an expanding list of fun things to do. The business is run by their son, Jason.

They also have a daughter, Sarah Weiser, and four grandchildren, Jonah, 7; Autumn, 6; Charlie, 5, and Braelyn, 2. They expect to spend Christmas with their fifth, a granddaughter on the way.

While the couple could have pulled up stakes years ago and moved away, they never could bring themselves to leave their parents and siblings behind. And, now, it’s a new generation.

“We have grandchildren running through the field to get here,” Skip said.
That is home.