Bus tour to reveal treasures
Published 4:25 am Thursday, October 21, 2010
Many Niles residents have driven past it, but few know the history behind it.
Built in 1836, the small home at 720 Hickory St. is believed to be the oldest house in Niles.
Mickie Spencer, who works as the gallery coordinator at the Niles District Library, hopes to open people’s eyes to this and other historic architectural gems in Niles on a bus tour that she will lead on Saturday.
Sponsored by Lake Michigan College and the Niles District Library, the two-hour tour will begin at the library at 10 a.m. and will pass more than 20 buildings.
The tiny home on Hickory Street has an interesting story behind it, according to Spencer.
“Alfred Johnson built it in 1836,” she said. “Mr. Johnson was from Vermont and traveled here on foot to Niles and built that house. It’s a very small house. You can go by it and not realize how important it is.”
More recognizable structures include the Beeson House on Bond Street, the Paine Bank building on Oak Street, the childhood home of Ring Lardner, city hall and the railroad depot.
The Beeson House was built in 1847 by William McOmber in a Greek Revival theme, according to Spencer.
“Supposedly the gas lights were some of the earliest gas lights that existed,” Spencer said. “The byproduct of the distillery was used to light the house.”
It is also unique in that it is believed to be the only farm that used slaves in the area.
The home is rumored to be haunted. Spencer said she read that a baby died at the house and was entombed at the mausoleum across the street.
“That baby had been scared of the dark. So they lit a lantern all night long at the mausoleum every night,” Spencer said.
A legend that hasn’t been verified is that the infant’s mother, Herriet Beeson would hold the corpse in the mausoleum at night.
The Ring Lardner House is where the famous author and sports columnist was born in 1885. He began his writing career at the Niles Sun and later wrote syndicated columns in New York and Chicago. Known for his satirical humor, he also wrote books and short stories, many of which are available at the Niles District Library.
The tour will feature all of downtown and much of Niles-Buchanan Road.
“There are a lot on the outskirts,” Spencer said. “A lot of really old houses that if people took the care to restore them would be really nice pieces.”
Spencer has been studying historic architecture for more than 30 years and says Niles has an abundance of 1830s to 1920s Early Victorian structures for a city of its size.
“It’s what makes Niles so unique,” she said.
The tour costs $20, and tickets can be purchased by calling LMC’s Bertrand Crossing Campus at (269) 695-1391.