The historic Niles-Barnard House opened to the public June 7 at the Troy Historic Village.

The historic Niles-Barnard House opened to the public June 7 at the Troy Historic Village.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Troy Historic Village celebrates Niles-Barnard House grand opening

Home played pivotal role in creation of Troy in 1955

By: Jonathan Shead | Troy Times | Published June 11, 2021

 Visitors gather and look around the first floor of the Niles-Barnard House, which will be used for programming, rentals and other meeting purposes.

Visitors gather and look around the first floor of the Niles-Barnard House, which will be used for programming, rentals and other meeting purposes.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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TROY — Troy Historical Society members, and Historic Village and city staff celebrated the long-awaited grand opening and formal introduction of the Niles-Barnard House to the Troy Historic Village campus June 7.

The house was donated to the city in 2005 by former Troy Historical Society member and homeowner Harriet Barnard, and it was moved from its original location near the intersection of Livernois and Square Lake roads to the Historic Village campus Oct. 20, 2010.

The Historical Society, amid an economic downtown, raised money to move the home and purchased the land it now sits on. In May 2019, the Troy City Council approved $700,000 from the 2019-20 budget to rehabilitate the home, which was completed over the past two years.

“I’m relieved that we’ve finally gotten to the end of the road, in terms of getting the house ready to actually utilize for programs,” Troy Historical Society Treasurer John Lavender said. “It’s been a long, long journey, with a lot of ups and downs,” including physically moving the home, paying for rehabilitation of the house and planning it all.

Despite some of the challenges, Troy Historic Village Executive Director Jen Peters believes it’s all been well worth it. She’s seen excitement flare up around the community as work at the house continued.

“As there were construction trucks and as we’ve been planting the landscaping in the last couple of weeks, more and more people have been stopping and looking and getting excited about something happening there,” she said. “I’m excited, and I can see it in the community too.”

As a focal point in the story of early 1800s settlers coming to the area, as well as the founding of the city of Troy in 1955, the home’s history is directly tied to the city’s.

“For more than a decade we have eagerly anticipated the renovation and official opening of the Niles-Barnard House — a home with a long and impactful history in our city,” Mayor Ethan Baker said in a press release.  “The time has come, and we are very excited to open this home to our community.”

 

A strong foundation
The storied history of the home begins in 1821, when farmer, carpenter and businessman Johnson Niles purchased land in the territory of Michigan, bringing his family to settle with him a few years later. In roughly 1837, Niles is believed to have begun construction of a 1 1/2-story home, and shortly after, a second-floor addition, now known as the Niles-Barnard House.

The home eventually changed hands and was purchased by Norman Barnard in 1940 for $1,000 at an auction.

Barnard was infatuated with the home and the stories of Niles he was told by Niles’ granddaughter Rhobie Niles, who grew up in the home and lived across the street from the home, which Barnard used to visit during his paper routes.

Barnard went on to become the Troy Township clerk in 1947 and the township supervisor in 1951. In 1955, Barnard used the home as an official meeting place to talk about petitioning for Troy to become a city. Troy became a city on Dec. 14, 1955.

The original early architectural style of the home created by Niles in the 1830s was influenced by New York settlements at the time, Peters said. “The addition is particularly interesting because it doesn’t fall into one vernacular style,” she added. “It’s timber-framed. It’s a pretty simple construction, but it doesn’t fall into any typical categories … like some of our other buildings do.”

The original structure is reminiscent of a hall and parlor home, with the addition likely being used to house travelers and new settlers, Petters said. In the present day, visitors will see much of that same picture.

During the planning process, Historical Society members and village staff had to determine how best to preserve the historical features of the home, while still using it as programming space.

“We finally settled on a practical compromise,” Lavender said. “Ideally, what you’d like to do is renovate the house from top to bottom, and leave as much (of it) original as possible.”

Interior aspects of the house dating back to the early 1800s, as well as artifacts and displays describing the house’s history, can still be experienced while visiting. The home won’t have the typical period furniture that can be seen in some of the other 10 buildings at the site, however.

“Having the house updated is a blessing. If it was not saved, then it would have been destroyed. I am very happy with the work done by the Historical Society and the city of Troy,” Fred Barnard, who was raised in the home, said in a press release.

Not only was the home saved through this rehabilitation, but now it can be adaptively reused to fill a gap in the village’s offerings, Lavender said.

 

Square foot rich, space poor
While the Niles-Barnard House comes as the 11th historic home at the Historic Village campus, Lavender said the village has a lot of square footage, but not a lot of hosting areas. The one large gathering room at the site before the arrival and rehabilitation of the Niles-Barnard House was the church, which had pews affixed to the ground.

With first-floor and basement space for programming and rental use, Peters expects the house to stay pretty consistently full, as she’s already received an influx of inquiries about the home being open.

Programming has already begun in the home, with the village hosting its Cheddar Story Time for preschool children. An upcoming Preservation Conversations program at 10 a.m. June 28, July 26 and Aug. 23 will provide history buffs and preservation enthusiasts a chance to join together to talk about preservation efforts at the village and in the community.

Preservation Conversations will be free for Troy Historic Village members and $7 for nonmembers.

Possible forthcoming workshops featured around the original architecture on the second story of the home will allow visitors a chance to get hands-on experience with preservation as well, Peters explained.

“After programming, we’re hoping that rentals really pick up there as well. We do a lot of weddings, so it’ll be a great place for your rehearsal dinner,” she said, adding that the capacity of the rental space is 89 people. “Then we’re hoping that some area businesses might have some meeting space there as well.”

Peters hopes the space will provide community groups and private parties something different and unique. “It’s not your typical back room in a restaurant, which are lovely places, but some place with a unique atmosphere and a different feel. That’s what the village has to offer.”

For more information, visit troyhistoricvillage.org.

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