Archived Story

‘Treasure hunt’ returns Chapin bedroom set to mansion

Published 6:55pm Thursday, January 24, 2013

Gladys Martin didn’t want to part with Henry Chapin’s mahogany bedroom set to the house museum being created from his mansion, former Niles city hall.

But when Carol Bainbridge, director of Fort St. Joseph Museum, 508 E. Main St., approached the Niles woman last fall, she finally relented so she could turn her bedroom into a craft room.

Her bed of 30 years with its massive, hand-carved headboard and marble-topped dresser with secret latched drawers lined with blue velvet for concealing jewelry, is “home” after 76 years.

The homecoming lent a celebratory tone to Thursday afternoon’s press conference with Dave Roeder, sponsor of 8-year-old Brandywine High School History Club, which has adopted the house as an ongoing project; and Bob Ahrens, president, and Jane Glascott, treasurer, of Fort St. Joseph Historical Society, who gave a $300 donation to Bainbridge toward the cost of the bedroom set — the only one of three whose whereabouts are known.

Bainbridge hopes to have the “work in progress” open to the public in May.

“My husband Dave and I went through a plantation house owned by the National Historic Trust outside of Charleston a couple of years ago There wasn’t a stick of furniture in it, and none of us cared. The house stands in its own right even without furniture, so it will be a work in progress.”

Bainbridge said the furniture was not created for the second-floor space that was a Department of Public Works office and may have come from Grand Rapids.

The Chapins moved into the mansion in 1884. Ruby Chapin died in 1902.

The history is well-documented for authenticity. An auction by Grant’s Art Galleries, 25 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago, of the entire furnishings of the Charles A. Chapin estate (one of Henry and Ruby’s four children) took place at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 22, 1932, according to a quarter-page Star classified ad.

Charles and Emily (Coolidge), of Chicago, never lived in the mansion.

Gladys’ daughter, Terry Flint, said, “Gladys and (the late) Wyatt Martin (inherited) it in 1982 when Cecil Martin passed away. Frank and Cecil Martin we know owned it for many, many years. What’s up for debate is whether they were the purchasers in 1932. Frank was born in 1903, so he could have been furnishing a house in 1932.”

“There’s an unbroken line, from Henry Chapin to Charles Chapin to their ancestors at auction, where his parents or grandparents purchased it,” Bainbridge said. “There were two other brothers who inherited the bookcases down in the library. I’ve been here almost 16 years and it wasn’t any time at all that I started hearing about a bedroom set that belonged to the Chapins. I didn’t do anything about it then because this was city hall. It’s been kind of a treasure hunt.”

Flint has heard the bed cost $25 to $50 new. The auction included rare Oriental rugs, carpets, hall runners, stair carpet, bedroom sets in maple (Ruby’s), mahogany (Henry’s, matching the fireplace) and walnut (guest room), a carved mahogany dining room set, a carved oak hall seat and console, large hall mirrors, a choice bric-a-brac English china dinner set, silverware, glassware, pottery, bookcases, couches, odd tables and chairs, a writing desk, water colors, etchings, curtains, velour portieres, English brass fireplace sets and kitchen equipment.

Brandywine students, who could not be present due to exams, last week turned in $300 from caramel corn sales, with plans to sell frozen pizzas in March.

Roeder, whose history teaching has been honored by Capt. Samuel Felt Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, said the well-traveled history club is more social than academic.

“We cleaned for the rededication of Gen. Morrow’s grave at Silverbrook and cleaned the mausoleum on Bond Street,” Roeder said. His students for four years have helped decorate for the Christmas open house. “They go to the library and do research. We’re going to have some activities here to promote the house, school and club,” such as an old-fashioned summer ice cream social or a show “to bring the public in and showcase high school art.”

“Brandywine has 450 students, and I have 110 in history club,” he said. “We got to Buffalo Wild Wings once a month and play trivia, we’ve gone on haunted cemetery tours, the Wisconsin Dells, Mackinac, Boston, Gettysburg, Washington and New York.

“This past summer we did St. Louis. We toured Ulysses and Julia Grant’s home and there was hardly any furniture, yet it was an amazing tour. Her father was a southern sympathizer. Our next trip is Baltimore-Washington. We had Mother’s Day brunch at Tippecanoe. Students enjoy mansions they’ve seen. We can’t raise $100,000, but we can raise $500 to $1,000 here and there.”

Student volunteers might also be able to rake leaves, trim hedges and paint.



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