Niles History Center debuts next stop on virtual tour

NILES — The Niles History Center debuted another section of its virtual tour of the Chapin Mansion last week.

“The ballroom has been a curiosity for a long time,” said Christina Arseneau, director of the Niles History Center. “It used to be open to the public when the building was used as City Hall. Occasionally, people would get to tour it.”

The mansion’s ballroom can now be toured virtually on the history center’s website. The Chapin Mansion ballroom joined the existing tours in the mansion including the exterior, foyer and dining room. Each includes many points to explore special features in the house, like fixtures, artwork and architecture. The virtual tour is free, and accessible through the Niles History Center’s website.

As the Niles History Center remains closed due to COVID-19 precautions, the staff has been busy working on ways for the public to continue learning about what the center has to offer.

“We thought this would be a good way and an opportunity for us to cover that space and bring something new to the public,” Arseneau said.

The ballroom, located at the top floor of the mansion, built in 1882, has not been on tours for the public due to safety reasons.

“The staircase going up there is pretty narrow,” Arseneau said. “There’s no fire exits, so tours were stopped. Once City Hall moved out, a lot of things had been stored in the ballroom. There is still a lot of old equipment, files and records that we are trying to get moved out so we can clean it up, with the idea that one day we could bring tours up there safely again.”

During the virtual tour, a layout of the top floor is shown so that explorers can get a feel for how the space fits into the shape of the mansion, and what surrounds it. The tour also states that the space was used for Niles High School proms prior to 1932.

“We are going room to room in the mansion,” Arseneau said. “We started on the exterior of the building and through the dining room. We decided the ballroom right now because the temperature there is not very consistent.”

According to Arseneau, the ballroom at the top of the mansion stays very hot in the summer and cold in the winter, despite updated heating and cooling measures to the mansion. The mild temperatures of fall were the optimal time for staff to explore and take photos of the space.

The center’s director hopes the tour will provide some fun learning as the history center continues to be closed. There is no reopening date set for the Niles History Center.

In other news, the Niles History Center has a portion of the Eli Ford Legacy Dam, removed from the Pucker Street Dam site.

The legacy dam, from the Eli Ford dam and mill site thought to be constructed in 1828, was discovered during the Pucker Street Dam removal process.

“We are saving a portion of [the dam]. It’s drying out in storage right now,” Arseneau said. “We’re working on how we will put together a display on that.”

Until then, the wooden pieces drawn out of the Dowagiac River will take time to completely dry out in the dry air of winter.

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