Fire destroys historical Ferry Street Resource Center in Niles

Published: May. 12, 2023 at 7:00 AM EDT
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NILES, Mich. (WNDU) - Firefighters in Niles are investigating the cause of a blaze that destroyed a valuable community resource in Niles early Friday morning.

Niles Fire Marshal Rory Iwaniuk said emergency crews were called to the Ferry Street Resource Center at about 3:15 a.m. Firefighters arrived to flames coming from the basement.

The floor collapsed shortly after firefighters entered the building, forcing them to go on the defensive from outside of it.

Iwaniuk says fire crews are confident that no lives were lost in the blaze, as those who could have been inside the building at the time of the fire have since been accounted for.

No injuries were reported among the firefighters who battled the blaze, and the investigation into the cause of the fire is underway.

The Ferry Street Resource Center is one of the only services in town that offers direct support and counseling, mainly for people experiencing homelessness or those looking for help staying in their homes.

“It was hard for us to kind of sit back. We really didn’t want to watch it burn down,” Iwaniuk said. “It’s an old building, and they do a lot for the community here. It’s kind of a loss to the area and the community and the city itself.”

16 News Now spoke with Ric Pawlowski, the center’s executive director, as he continues to process everything that’s happened.

“It didn’t hit me too much until I got back into my vehicle and drove away,” Pawlowski said. “I don’t mind telling you I cried a great deal of that drive. It’s just that we work really hard and we pour our heart into that place and the people that come there. Initially it feels like it’s all gone, until you get the texts and the phone calls and [people saying], ‘Hey we’re here.’ I’m going to get emotional but, ‘You’ve been here for the community, now the community is here for you.”

The Ferry Street Resource Center didn’t just stand out as an important community asset in Niles. It was also an important part of the city’s history.

The building doubled as a major landmark for Black history in the area, as it started out as a schoolhouse for Black children in 1868 when schools were still segregated in Niles. That changed in 1870 and it reopened in 1873 as an integrated schoolhouse. It operated as such for at least the next 100 years.

Now, much of this history is lost to the flames.

“Through the years, the school system and the historical society would bring school children through on school trips and things to look at an old time schoolhouse,” Pawlowski said. “A lot of maps and school pictures from some of the classes in the early 1900s that are all obviously lost now, and those are things that are a real shame.”

As previously mentioned, Pawlowski says he has received many supportive messages and phone calls from people looking to help him rebound. He says the thing that helps the most is funding to continue their work.

If you would like to donate to the center’s mission, click here.

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