NILES – On 6 acres, nestled on Main Street in Niles, sits a 10,000-square-foot home that will soon be open for business and open to the public, in an effort to preserve the history of the 100-year-old structure.
Joshua Isley and his mother Gerna Isley, both from Tallmadge, own the house, which they named Von Isley Estate. The house was originally built by the Clingan family in 1918, according to the Niles Historical Society.
In 1952 the family donated the mansion to become the Niles YMCA, which it was until 1984 when it became Southview Manor, a group home for the mentally challenged.
When Joshua and Gerna first entered the house, they saw yellowed tiles covering the floor, plastic steps on the grand staircase, planks…
fireplaces and brown rugs. In the old YMCA gymnasium, they saw basketball hoops, bright blue walls and trash that needed to be cleaned up. On the second and third floors, there were leaky ceilings and empty rooms. A bank wouldn’t even give them a loan to buy the house because they didn’t see what the Isleys saw: the potential.
“When we walked in here, I felt like I was 10 looking into my grandparents’ house,” Joshua said. “We saw how unique this place is and all the possibilities it has to offer.”
Joshua worked in IT at Kent State University in Stark, but left once the pandemic hit. He’s been in the DJ business for 25 years and said he’s always dreamed of owning a venue. This venue has opportunities because the house is beautiful and has a rich history but also has the addition which was the gymnasium when the building served as a YMCA which can now be used as a reception area.
“A GIANT EGG”
Joshua and Gerna bought the property in December 2021 for $298,000 and expect to spend another $300,000 by the end of the first phase of the renovations, which is nearly complete. This is their retirement job.
“People say don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I did, but I only have one giant egg,” Joshua said.
Now when you walk up the front stairs you see the original parquet flooring which has been restored, the chandeliers, the restored wooden staircase, the woodwork on the walls and the intricate detailing on the ceilings. The old gymnasium, now called the Salle des Fêtes, was repainted white, and carpets and televisions replaced the basketball hoops. Gerna said space is now a blank slate for those hosting events to do with it whatever they want.
The restoration of the wooden floors on the first floor was the biggest project that was carried out. The Isleys hired Mac’s Hardwood Flooring to do the job. It took about five people to tear up the tile and carpet that covered the hardwood and put it back together. But, after that was done, Joshua said other little things needed to be done.
“It’s like a pyramid,” he explained. “You are doing something big, but there are still more and more small projects that need to be done. They are getting smaller and smaller, but there are more.
Joshua and Gerna said they thought it was important to stay true to the age of the house, so they decorated it to suit the early 1900s. pool table on the third floor, they plan to put some lights they found from a German church and date from the 1910s. They also have a dictionary from 1927 displayed in the library.
At present the first floor and party room are nearly complete and Joshua said they will be finished by the time they hold an open house in a few weeks. This and two rooms upstairs, which will serve as changing rooms for weddings, constitute the first phase. Joshua said they are able to book weddings for 2023. In the meantime, they will continue to renovate the second and third floors, which include phase two.
In total, the property consists of the original house, which measures 7,500 square feet; party room, which measures 2,500 square feet; three floors, plus a basement; three and a half baths, six fireplaces and 62 windows.
Other phases and additions are coming to the property, such as an outdoor ceremony space.
“We’re not lacking in the vision department; it’s more about time and money,” Gerna said.
The Isleys worked with Sue Nelson Designs of Kent on the renovation plans.
The first event to be held on the estate is a community open house on October 29-30. All members of the public are welcome to attend and tour the house.
Joshua said most people who have entered the house since he bought it have a memory associated with it. Many Niles residents remember playing there when it was the YMCA.
“When we realized how much history this house had and how much it meant to so many people, we knew we had to hold community events,” Joshua said. “We really want to give back to the community.”
The Isleys plan to hold at least one community event per season. This winter, they will have two. The first is a holiday craft show they call Home for the Holidays. It will be from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on December 10 and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on December 11. The second is an Evening with Dickens, during which an actor will read “A Christmas Carol” as if he were Charles Dickens.
Gerna said Dickens used to go around and play reading his books, much like a book tour before they were popular. No date has yet been set for this event.
Joshua said the town is welcoming and he hopes his business will attract people to the area. When he first came to town, he was impressed by the McKinley Memorial and said Niles had a lot to offer. So when he brings people for weddings, he will help them find things to do to encourage them to get out into the community. .
The venue will also be open for other events such as family reunions, bridal showers, baby showers and reunions.
HISTORY OF THE HOUSE
The estate was built in 1918 for the family of Margaretta Thomas Clingan and Thomas Omar Clingan. The two married in 1888, according to the Niles Historical Society.
Margaretta Clingan was a local philanthropist. She and Mary T. Waddell donated the necessary funds to the Thomas Pavilion. Margaretta Clingan was also “the most forceful leader in promoting the McKinley Memorial,” the historical society’s website says.
After his death in 1952, his children and grandchildren donated the family mansion to be used for the Niles YMCA.
Helen Yakubek bought the house in 1984 from the YMCA. Heidi Jacobs and her daughter, Sylvia, who is also Yakubek’s granddaughter, owned the house when the Isleys bought it, according to the historical society.
The residence became a group home for people with intellectual disabilities from 1984 to August 2021, providing services to 147 residents during those years.
Joshua said he had just made contact with Margaretta Clingan’s great-granddaughter so the estate might be able to get some family artefacts to display in the house.
“It’s nice to have a connection to the past like that,” Joshua said.
And that’s exactly what he hopes the house can be for the community: a connection to the past.