Click for Self-guided Walking Tour Pamphlet for Downtown Niles
The Niles History Center includes the Fort St. Joseph Museum and the Chapin Mansion. The museum is located in the former carriage house of the beautiful Victorian period Chapin Mansion.
The museum tells the story of Niles from its colonial start in 1691 to the present. Featured exhibits portray the history of Fort St. Joseph, built by the French in 1691, the story of the Underground Railroad in southern Michigan, and the importance of the railroad and classification yards in Niles‘ history. Another unique and truly outstanding exhibit features the museum’s Lakota Indian collection including twelve pictographs drawn by Chief Sitting Bull. Together the museum’s exhibits tell the story of Niles and the contributions its businesses and citizens have made to the world.
The Historic Chapin Mansion is a Victorian period structure that served as the private home of Henry and Ruby Chapin. It was built in 1882 and contains several ornate stained glass windows, beveled mirrors, impressive brass chandeliers, beautiful hand-carved woodwork, a ballroom and nine fireplaces. Chapin Mansion has entered a multi-year restoration phase, but even now it’s beauty leaves hundreds of tourists from around the world in awe each summer. Knowledgeable docents will be available to discuss the historical significance of this grand ole mansion.
Fort St. Joseph Museum Visiting Hours:
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Saturday from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm
Admission is FREE
Closed major holidays.
Historic Chapin Mansion Tour Schedule:
Open 1st Saturday in May through the 1st Saturday in December
Wednesday – Saturday at 11:00 am and 1:00 pm.
Admission is $5 for 10 & Up
Closed major holidays.
The Niles History Center is located at 508 E. Main Street in Niles at the corner of 5th and Main Streets.
Groups are welcome but a two week notice is requested. For more information call 269-683-4700 ext. 4010
MORE NILES HISTORIC SITES
Four Flags Hotel At the corner of 4th and Main Streets in Niles, this hotel was built in 1925 at a cost of $350,000 and was considered the most modern in Southwestern Michigan. It’s reputed to have hosted Al Capone, Eleanor Roosevelt, Knute Rockne, and Truman Capote. It was the first business to adopt the name “Four Flags” and served as the cultural center of Niles for most of the 20th Century. The hotel is open daily and tours may be arranged with advance requests.
Niles Rail Depot Just off North 5th Street, the Niles Rail Depot is open during normal business hours as a working depot. The sandstone building was completed in 1881. Its Neo-Romanesque style made it a real showplace, intended to impress visitors from the East with this last passenger stop before the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Formal gardens were established in 1893 with a floating garden, a fish pond, a gazebo and a greenhouse that supplied flowers for dining cars as well as for thousands of passengers who traveled through Niles, thus the affectionate title of “The Garden City.” The depot has appeared in movies such as the “The Continental Divide” with John Belushi, “Midnight Run” with Robert DeNiro and “Only the Lonely” with Maureen O’Hara and John Candy.
Fort St. Joseph Site At the corner of Bond and Fort Street in Niles is the huge boulder that marks the site of the old Fort St. Joseph. The seven ton boulder was moved in 1912 from a nearby farm largely financed by nickels from school children. A historical marker recounts the history of the fort from 1691 to 1781. Fort St. Joseph was important in the early fur trade, and settlement of the surrounding area.
Father Allouez Grave Site Across Bond and just north of the Fort, is the grave site of Father Claude Allouez who was the first “black robe” to arrive in Niles to teach and convert the natives. He baptized over 10,000 before his death in 1689. The grave site was part of the St. Joseph Mission which was the first mission in lower Michigan, Indiana, and lower Wisconsin.
Ferry Street School Located at the corner of 7th and Ferry Streets in Niles, this school was integrated in 1873. Built of red “schoolhouse” brick in 1868, the building is managed under the direction of the City of Niles’ Community Development Director. This facility currently houses the Ferry Street School Resource Center. The historic classroom features authentic early American maps and teaching tools and serves as an extraordinary historical learning experience for children and adults.
Silverbrook Cemetery Named for the brook that runs through it, Silverbrook Cemetery is older than the State of Michigan, having been founded in 1836 with lots sold to the public in 1838. Famous families buried in the Cemetery include the parents and sister of Montgomery Ward of catalogue fame; the family of Niles native journalist and sports writer, Ring Lardner; and the parents of John and Horace Dodge. Civil War figures interred include Colonel Francis Quinn of the Michigan 12th, and General Henry A. Morrow of the 24th Michigan Infantry.