Front entrance of historic Chapin Mansion under repair

Published 10:04 am Friday, February 22, 2019

NILES — Those who have passed down Main Street within the past week have likely seen the billowing tent structure protruding from the front of the historic Chapin Mansion.

“It’s prompted a lot of questions on social media,” said Christina Arseneau, the Niles History Center director. “Like, ‘what are they doing?’”

Inside the fabric, construction workers with Mihm Enterprises have begun preliminary work to repair the porch on the mansion’s front entrance and make it ADA compliant. The top balcony, which has deteriorated, will also be fixed. The fabric structure allows the workers to comfortably get the outdoor job done, despite the winter weather. Arseneau hopes to see construction completed by the fall. She intends to have a Porch Party to celebrate the project’s completion.

To help fund the project, the history center launched a Chapin Mansion Access for All campaign on As of Wednesday, Arseneau said they had reached about 75 percent of their goal to raise $15,000. She encouraged community members to donate what they can to help them achieve their goal by March 8. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation has vouched to match $15,000 if the campaign meets its goal.

For the history center, having the front porch repaired and accessible to all will mean being able to use the front entrance of the mansion, rather than a side door on the east side of the building.

When construction began early last week, Arseneau said she was excited to see the project underway.

“Since I started here three years ago, this project has been on my mind,” Arseneau said. “It is one of the first things I identified as needing to be done. It does so many things. It is the façade of the building that faces Main Street.”

The Chapin Mansion was built in 1882 and once home to Henry and Ruby Chapin. The building was donated to the city in 1933. The space served as city hall until 2012. Today, community members are invited to tour the home and take in the ornate woodwork, stained-glass windows and Queen Anne architecture that give the building its distinction. The Chapin Mansion is also home to many community events, including the popular Harry Potter-themed event, A Magical Evening of Wizardry.

The repairs will open the door to not only a fresh new entrance, but also help kick start plans to bring more interactive exhibits to the mansion.

This year, Arseneau said the history center hopes to create an interactive mayor’s office. Plans are also in the works to create an exhibit on local business and industry and military displays.

The mansion is closed for part of the wintertime, so Arseneau said tours had not been impacted by construction. The mansion typically re-opens in May and Arseneau said they would try to keep the touring schedules the same.

The total cost of the renovation project is projected to be about $275,000. In addition to campaign funds, the history center has secured grants and saved up to cover some of the cost.

Arseneau said she has been proud to see the community support the project through the campaign site.

“We have had a lot of good support from the community,” Arseneau said. “I have been impressed that people are so enthusiastic about the project. We have never tried anything like this crowdfunding, so I am really excited with the response.”

She said people can donate to the project at or an in-person donation. Those who contribute $10 or more will have their name listed on a panel that will be displayed in the mansion.