I am 150 years old this year.
That is correct. I was born in 1862, during the Civil War days.
James Ward built me on this little knoll and here I have been ever since in the little town of Niles. Mr. James Ward was an industrial leader in Niles and came here in 1841 when only 300 people lived here. He founded the Ward Iron Manufacturing Company and he and his family lived in a house on Main Street (where Farmers Bank now stands).
Mr. Ward built me on the property on the south side of the Mahoning River at 503 Brown Street. He used square nails, which were manufactured in his factory, to hold my boards together that were cut from trees on the property.
The double front doors were designed with windows, which could be opened to allow the north breeze to blow in and race up the staircase in the main hall to cool the upper rooms in the summer. Mrs. Ward's brother designed the frosted glass panels in the door. He was a glassmaker in Pittsburgh.
Look up at my decorative designs on the porch and the cornices under the roof as you pass by. You will not see any buildings like this today.
I have remained the way I was built with little change since 1862. Well, they had to change a few things, such as the windows that were low to the floor. They had to be raised for the placement of radiators when they changed to hot water heat. Before then, they heated me with fireplaces in most every room.
Of course, changes were made when they installed running water and electricity into my walls, too. There was a large two-story ''outdoor kitchen'' building at the back of my house that was removed in 1925. The ladies would cook in there to prevent the open fires from burning down the main house. It was a nice building to dry the clothes in the winter, too.
John R. Thomas founded the Niles Firebrick Company in 1871. He and his wife, Margaret, purchased the property in 1887. Members of their family lived here until 1969, caring for me throughout the years.
I've had many people pass through my doors to enjoy the hospitality of all the families that have lived here. Even presidents of the United States visited here.
I have seen a lot of things happen in the town of Niles. Yes, I've seen floods and tornadoes pass right by me, and here I have stood for 150 years.
In 1907 there was a flood, and again in 1913 another flood came close to my door. A tornado went through in 1947 and another one in 1985.
There has been a lot of change in Niles through the years, and the people who take care of me now are preserving that colorful story. They are the Niles Historical Society volunteers and they renamed me ''Ward-Thomas Museum.''
Come visit me on Heritage Day, Aug. 5, and help celebrate my 150th birthday. There will be people wandering all through my rooms, which are filled with displays. There will be live music, performers, craft displays, Civil War and Indian displays, garden tours, a bake sale, lemon shakes and food. Donation is $5 for adults with children younger than 12 free if accompanied by an adult. I'm open noon to 5 p.m. You may call 330-544-2154 for more information.
John is curator of the Ward-Thomas Museum.