Windy weather knocks Chapin Mansion scaffolding structure flat

Published 9:24 am Tuesday, February 26, 2019

NILES — High winds that swept through southwest Michigan this weekend toppled the scaffolding structure that construction crews had built to make repairs to the historic Chapin Mansion.

Niles History Center Director Christina Arseneau said construction workers with Mihm Enterprises had anticipated the high winds and reinforced the structure to prepare for the gusts. The winds were forecasted to reach sustained speeds of 30 miles per hour Sunday with a possible high of 65 miles per hour.

Arseneau said the scaffolding structure, which crews built to shelter themselves from the elements while they worked, was able to withstand the wind until Sunday afternoon.

“It was holding steady and probably just one big gust of wind got in there and it just knocked the whole thing over,” Arseneau said.

While the structure was knocked down, Arseneau said that fortunately the mansion was not damaged. She also said crews had not been working Sunday, so no one was injured.

Construction crews began preliminary work on renovating the mansion less than two weeks ago. The front porch and upper balcony are being repaired as part of an Access for All campaign which the history center kick-started earlier this year. In addition to making the front entrance accessible by improving the front porch, an ADA-compliant ramp will also be built.

The history center is seeking to raise $15,000 by March 8 to obtain a matching grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. People can still donate to the cause to support renovations. Donations can be made on 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.

Crews will be working in the cold throughout this week to repair the structure. The renovation project will be set back about a week as construction crews work to fix the scaffolding. Arseneau said she does not believe the setback will cause any additional costs.

Crews arrived early Monday morning to begin making repairs. Mihm Enterprises is known for their experience working with historic buildings and has dealt with inclement weather before, Arseneau said.

“They said that’s the nature of the business. Sometimes stuff happens that you cannot control,” Arseneau said.

The Chapin Mansion was built in 1882 and was 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 initiate plans to bring more interactive exhibits to the mansion.