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Homestead Has Noteworthy Past
Gina Buccino-Niles Daily Times
One of the city’s most elegant homes lies
tucked away in a secluded area of Brown Street.
The home, located at 503 Brown Street, was home to three prominent
Niles industrialists- James Ward, John Thomas and Jacob Waddell.
While the home is not one of the largest homes in the city, its
history is what makes it stand out among other homes in the city.
Thomas Steel Plant PO1.795
Located on the east bank of the
Mosquito Creek, south of the Erie RR, it was originally the
William Ward and Company, built in 1870.
After the failure of the Ward
Company, John R. Thomas bought it in 1879 and enlarged
it. It was acquired and enlarged again by the Carnegie Steel
Company in 1900 and dismantled in 1925.
James Ward, Sr. was born November
25, 1813 near Dudley, Straffordshire, England and came to America
in 1817. Ward lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his parents
until 1841 when the family moved to Niles and Ward became the
top executive of the James Ward and Company. It’s believed
that the Ward family came to Niles because of the availability
of pig iron and because transporting the materials was cheap
and convenient via the canal.
Ward’s first plant was a rolling mill,
which was located on the north bank of the Mahoning River and
a mill which rolled out the first iron in the Mahoning Valley.
The plant consisted of one stand of ‘muck bar rolls’
and three puddling furnaces, producing such products as bar
iron, sheet iron, horse shoe iron and tire iron.
In 1859, Ward built the ‘Elizabeth furnace’,
named after his wife, the former Elizabeth Dithridge,
whom he married in 1835. The company was built to supply pig
iron for his rolling mill.
Because of the demand
for iron products during the Civil War, Ward’s company continued
to prosper, bringing the family considerable wealth.
During that period of time, the Ward family lived
in a house which was located at the corner of Park Avenue and
Main Street, which later became a commercial hotel and in 1918
became the location of the Security Dollar Bank. Today (2023)
Farmer’s National Bank occupies the site.
Arrow points to Ward residence at the corner
of Park Avenue and Main Street. PO1.915
Due to the Ward family’s
new found wealth, James Ward saw fit to build a new home, one
which would be more suitable for a man of his stature. In 1862,
Ward borrowed $5,760 from the Western Reserve Bank and built a
more suitable home on 115.26 acres of land on Brown Street.
The home, designed of Italianate architecture,
consisted of five bedrooms, two parlors, a dining room, library,
kitchen, solarium, and several smaller rooms which were located
near the servant quarters. A barn which housed horses, a carriage
house, along with caretaker quarters were located on the property.
The house had seven marble fireplaces, two of
which were located in the library, and a narrow solid walnut staircase.
The molding, located in all the rooms on the first and second
floors, was carved by hand. An outdoor oven was located on the
property near the home.
Although the home was a showcase in those days, Ward had only
a short time to enjoy it.
On July 24, 1864. Ward was shot and killed by
an intoxicated villager following a mid-week prayer service. Ward’s
son, James Jr., the only one of the Ward’s seven children
to reach adulthood, assumed control of the Ward Empire.
Top: Rear view of the Ward-Thomas Museum.
Bottom: View of main entrance of the Ward-Thomas
Built in 1870 by William Ward and known as the
Wm. Ward & Co blast Furnace, it failed in the Panic of 1873.
It was purchased by John R. Thomas in 1879 who increased capacity
from 25 to 320 tons. In 1900 it became part of the Carnegie Steel
Co. but was operated only in times of great demand for steel,
the last period of steady use being WWI. Closed in 1920, dismantled
in 1925. This picture shows the original Ward Blast Furnace. PO1.635
Under the leadership
of James Ward II, the Ward companies continued to prosper
and in 1866, a new mill capable of increased capacity, was built
near the old plant. The following year, ward organized a subsidiary,
The Falcon Iron and Nail Works, and built a plant along the east
bank of Mosquito Creek.
It was also during 1867 that Ward sent one of
his employees to Russia to study how to manufacture Russian iron,
a high grade product in demand by stove manufacturers. Ward decided
to duplicate the Russian product and soon built the Russia iron
Mill on the north bank of the Mahoning River.
Hard times hit Niles during the Panic of 1873
and many companies, including Ward Enterprises, were forced into
bankruptcy. Ward made several attempts in the years to follow
to revive the companies but he was unable to do so.
The First National Bank foreclosed on the Ward
mansion in July 1887 and on December 12, 1888 the home was sold
to Margaret Thomas for $1,000 during a sheriff’s
The mansion was now home to Margaret
Thomas and her husband, John, who founded the Niles Firebrick
Company in 1872; and their children, John, Thomas, W. Aubrey,
Margaretta and Mary Anne. The Thomas family affectionately
nicknamed the home ‘Brynhyfryd’, a Welsh name for
Margaret Thomas spent much time entertaining
guests in the front parlor of the home, serving tea and chatting
with her friends. Mrs. Thomas also loved flowers and she made
certain there were always fresh flowers in the house. In fact,
Mrs. Thomas grew most of the flowers herself in the greenhouse
which was located just a few yards from the main house.
While Mrs. Thomas spent most of her time caring
for her family, her children pursued careers and became involved
in projects of their own.
Thomas worked with his father
while W. Aubrey became involved in organizing the Mahoning Valley
Steel Company and later became the first president of the Dollar
Bank in 1903 and also served as a U.S. Congressman during the
period 1907-1909. Margaretta, was instrumental in developing a
city park (Central Park) on East
Map showing locations of various industries along
the Mosquito Creek and the Mahoning River in Niles.
John Thomas, who died in 1898,
also was the founder of the Thomas Furnace Company and the Aetna
Iron Company. In 1877, he purchased and rebuilt the old William
Ward Furnace Company which later became the Carnegie Illinois
Division of the U.S. Steel Corporation.
Margaret Thomas continued to live in the home
after her husband’s death and she eventually deeded the
home to her daughter. Mary Anne, who married Jacob Waddell. Margaretta
Thomas married Dr. Thomas Clingan and built a home of their own
a short distance from the Thomas Mansion.
Pictured left is the Dr. Thomas Clingan house
built in 1905 close to the Mahoning River and was later inundated
by the waters of the 1913 Flood. The next year, the family moved
into their new residence known as the Clingan mansion at 547 South
L-R William Aubrey Thomas, Margaret Thomas Clingan
with John Clingan, Margaret Clingan Wick, T.E. Thomas or Dr. Clingan
and Elizabeth Clingan Hosack in the photograph.
William Aubrey and Thomas Evan are brothers of
Margaret Thomas Clingan. T.E. Thomas was married to Adaline Robbins
and lived in the corner house opposite 503 Brown Street. (Mary
Ann Thomas Waddell’s house).
Jacob Waddell, organized and became
President of the Mahoning Valley Steel Company. He also served
as President of the Niles Bank Company and became the first Director
of the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District.
During the time the Waddell family lived in the
home, Calvin Coolidge, who later became the 13th President
of the United States, spent a night in the home when he was vice-president
of the United States. Coolidge was in Niles during a ceremony
at the McKinley Memorial.
In 1931, Jacob and Mary Waddell donated a substantial
amount of land to the City of Niles and the land became known
as Waddell Park.
Mary Waddell lived in the home following her
husband’s death in 1939 and after her death in 1969, the
house and property was deeded to her heirs. In 1979, the house
and property was deeded to the City of Niles and in 1983 the Niles
Historical Society was entrusted by the city to develop the home
into a museum.
Photograph taken shortly after completion of
the Niles Trust Co. building in 1930. Exterior frontage and Large
front doors. PO1.33
The house today is known as the
Ward–Thomas Museum and the home was placed on the National
Register of Historic places in February 1984. The house never
carried the distinction of being the Ward–Thomas–Waddell
House because Mary Waddell was the former Mary Anne Thomas.
The Ward–Thomas House is two–thirds
of its original size today. A back kitchen was dismantled and
one of the seven marble fireplaces was replaced with a wooden
Portraits of John and Mary Thomas hang above
the two fireplaces in the library and the parlor in the home has
been named the ‘Mary Waddell Room’ in her honor.
Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Waddell. PO7.60