Front View of Thomas House

Ward-Thomas Museum

Ohio Association of Historical Societies and Museums

Five images of buildings and grounds

Building the Thomas House

Ward — Thomas Museum
Home of the Niles Historical Society
503 Brown Street Niles, Ohio 44446

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Front view of the Ward-Thomas House

Front view of the Ward-Thomas House

Main entrance to the Ward-Thomas House

Main entrance to the Ward-Thomas House

Rear view of the Ward Thomas House

Rear view of the Ward Thomas House

Doubledoors with etched glass transom

Doubledoors with etched glass transom

The building of the house at 503 Brown Street.

William and Sarah Ward had seven children. They came to America in 1817 and went directly to Pittsburgh, Pa. William Ward was a practical iron worker and his sons obtained knowledge of the business from their association with him. Their son, James Ward, married Eliza Dithridge in 1835. Her family was also involved with the iron manufacturing in Pittsburgh. In 1841 James Ward and his brother, William built the first rolling mill in Niles. The firm was destined to play a prominent role in the history of Niles, as well as the entire Mahoning valley.

Just as the Heaton family founded the village of Niles, and the industries that nourished it, so too the Ward family provided the industrial leadership that transformed Niles from a diminutive village of 300 inhabitants and a single furnace in 1840, to a thriving industrial town with a population of around 3,000 by 1870. The first Ward plant stood on the north bank of the Mahoning River, east of the viaduct. In 1859 James Ward built the Elizabeth Furnace to supply the pig iron for his rolling mill. It was located on the east side of the Mosquito Creek, about where East Park Avenue crosses the creek.

In 1862 James and Elizabeth Ward built the house at 503 Brown Street. A lot of thought obviously went into the building of the house. The front entrance holds double doors with glass windows which open to allow the air to flow into the house and up the stairs which are in the main hallway. This allows for the cooling of the house in the summer. Of course this was before window screens as we know, so grates for the windows were installed to prevent birds from flying inside. These were probably made at the Ward factory and have the same motif as the frosted glass window above the double doors. We were told that the windows also held a frosted glass insert with the same motif, but they were removed some time ago. The frosted glass panels were made by Eliza’s brother, Edward Dithridge, who was a glass cutter and engraver in Pittsburgh. .

When the carpet was removed from the parlor and the dining room in 1999 to replace it, it revealed the wooden floorboards were 5 ½” wide and square nails were used. These nails were probably made at the James Ward factory. Fireplaces were used to heat the house when it was built in 1862, but years later, as we discovered, there where 14” x 19” spaces cut in the floor for gravity air returns to aid in the circulation of the heat. Later cast iron radiators were installed as better methods of heating became available. The basic part of the house has remained the same since being built in 1862 and evidence of the original construction can still be seen.

After 1887 when John R. Thomas and his wife, Margaret purchased the house, some changes were made. The care and love of both families, through the years has helped to preserve the house to the showplace status it deserves. A way of life existed here that will only be remembered in the history books. The fine linens, use of china, crystals and silver that was used daily, has been replace with paper plates and fast food. Today, sadly, family dinners together, proper conversation, and social graces have been lost in the rush of daily life for many people.

Our world is changing fast all around us and preserving the past for future generations to see and learn from, has becomes a never-ending job. The Niles Historical Society is forever grateful to the Thomas heirs who deeded the acreage to the City of Niles for the museum to be established in our town. The Ward-Thomas Museum is 149 years old and still remains a fine example of Italianate Architecture, a beautiful Victorian home loved and enjoyed by all who care for it and those who visit it.


The former carriage house, now named The Westenfield Room

View of original carriage house

There are three main outbuildings on the property.

The former carriage house, now named The Westenfield Room, is used for small meetings and displays. The building was named in honor of R.C. Westenfield who formed Niles Centennial Committee in 1934. In 1976 he served as chairman on the Niles Bicentennial History Committee. Attorney Westenfield was instrumental in gaining the beautiful Victorian mansion at 503 Brown Street which now is the home to the Niles Historical Society.

The two-story wooden barn with two cupolas which houses a full sized display of a kitchen at the turn of the last century and displays of equipment used during that time period such as tools and horse stalls original to the barn. The barn is shown on the right.

 


The third outbuilding is the garden shed.

The third outbuilding is the garden shed.

Attached to the rear of the garden shed is the green house

Attached to the rear of the garden shed is the green house as shown in these images.

 


Green house

Outside planting hot house

green house


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