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Niles officials secure $20,000 in grants for upgrades to the Ward-Thomas House

NILES — The city has been awarded $20,000 from the Ohio History Connection for improvements to the Ward-Thomas House.

Mayor Steven Mientkiewicz announced the news at Wednesday’s city council meeting.

The city plans to contribute $15,000, resulting in a total grant package of $35,000 which will go toward improving the facility’s Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility.

The city owns the property, but the Niles Historical Society serves as curator for the Ward-Thomas House, hosting events and providing tours.

Mientkiewicz said the grant, through the program’s “history fund,” is one of the largest the city has ever received for the Thomas House property. He said it was the first grant the city has ever received through the Ohio History Connection.

“It is going toward ADA improvements and site improvements for the Thomas House itself, the carriage house and the greenhouse,” Mientkiewicz said.

Mientkiewicz said the historical society presented some concerns to Niles officials when he was still a member of city council. He said in 2019, he asked the historical society to have an evaluation of the site completed, which was delayed until just recently because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the evaluation, completed by Phillips Sekanick Architects, ADA compliance presented concerns.

In September, Mientkiewicz said the evaluation showed accessibility issues in “mostly all of the rooms and all of the buildings on the site.”

“That was the data that we needed to seek out these types of grants,” Mientkiewicz said. “(The historical society) was not hesitant in fulfilling my request to do so. The results have shown quickly.”

According to newspaper archives, Bianca Rozenblad, grant coordinator and planner for Niles, said there were specific concerns the city highlighted when writing its grant application. Such concerns included the parking lot, which has no stripes or designated handicap spaces; door knobs at the site which will be changed to ADA-compliant door handles; and upgrades to sidewalks and walkways at the property.

According to the Niles Historical Society, the Ward-Thomas House was built in 1862 and was home to James Ward, who was “a pioneer” in the iron industry in the Mahoning Valley.

John and Margaret Thomas were the second owners of the home. The Thomas family founded the Niles Firebrick Company as well as Mahoning Valley Steel. The Thomas family owned the home until 1969 when the property was deeded to the city.

Through an agreement with the city, the property became the home of the Niles Historical Society.

“We have a good partnership now between the city, the Niles Historical Society and the Trumbull County Historical Society in regards to the upkeep and maintenance of that property,” Mientkiewicz said.

Have an interesting story? Contact Mason by email at mcole@tribtoday.com. Follow him/her on X, formerly Twitter, @masoncoletrib

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