Fire destroys historic Ferry Street School building

Published 8:05 am Friday, May 12, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

NILES — A piece of Niles history was destroyed Friday morning when the Ferry Street Resource Center, 620 Ferry St., caught fire and collapsed.

Authorities responded to the scene of the blaze at approximately 3:30 a.m. When City of Niles Fire Marshal Rory Iwaniuk arrived on the scene, there was heavy smoke and fire. When firefighters tried to make it to the basement of the building, the floor collapsed.

“Right away, that’s as far as we could go,” Iwaniuk said. “We had to back out and go on the defensive. Usually, once we go defensive, you have to wait for the fire to come to you. We didn’t want to do that; it’s the last thing I want to do is end up with that. I’d rather have saved the building and with some minor damage.”

Iwaniuk said they are still investigating the cause and will remain on the scene throughout the day. Assisting the Niles Fire Department were the Niles Charter Township Fire Department, City of Buchanan Fire Department, Howard Township Fire Department and the Clay Fire.

Iwaniuk said the department could not confirm whether or not someone was inside the building during the fire.

“There may have been someone in there but we can’t confirm it,” he said. “We treat every building, even our vacant houses, with the mindset that there’s possibly somebody in there.”

Constructed in 1867 at a cost of nearly $3,000, the Ferry Street School opened in January 1868 as Niles’s school for “colored children.” In 1870, the Niles school system was integrated, and the facility closed. It reopened as an integrated school in 1873, with the west wing added in 1903. From 1956 to 1975 the School for Exceptional Children was located here. In 1975, concerned citizens began restoring the original building to its nineteenth century style. Nineteenth century one-room schools in this community typically contained a woodburning stove, woodbox, water bench, coat pegs, wooden blackboards and long rows of desks. One teacher often taught two grades. Lessons were in reading, writing, spelling, numbers, declamation and geography. The building received a historical marker in 1980 from the state’s Michigan History Division.

For several years, the building has been home to theFerry Street Resource Center, which assists area residents in securing resources and to provide educational and life-enrichment programs and activities, with a goal of bridging existing educational, cultural and societal gaps that exist within the community. 

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.