A mansion sat by the banks

One can only imagine the impact the big house by the river would have made. This certainly was not the cottage image of 'over the hill and through the woods to Granny's house' one might think of stumbling on amongst the trees.

While most of this series focuses on individuals buried in Silverbrook Cemetery, we are constantly aware of the legacy left us by the residents of that hallowed ground. Each stone represents the life of people who once walked our streets, welcomed others to their shops and manned our factories.

Sometimes their contribution is not glaringly relevant to our lives today. In other instances, however, there has been a past collective effort for the good of our community which still is vital to our lives here and now.

Such is the case with the story of Pawating Hospital. Pa-wa-ting: "crossing of the river." Much has changed since the days the lands were occupied by their original native population and yet the mighty St. Joe still hurries under Broadway Bridge and past the doorstep of the property on which was restored the great home that became known as "Castle Rest."

A Star article on the property from March, 25, 1961 stated, "Three treaties and an Act of Congress preceded the building of a luxurious brick mansion which later was to become Pawating Hospital, on the eve of Christmas 1925."

The first owner of the property after the treaties with the Potawatomi natives was Obed P. Lacey who sold the land to G. A. Colby the owner of Colby's Lower Mill at Dowagiac, who also owned a mill in Niles.

The Colby family eventually passed the land on to William Wallace Dresden, a highly accomplished pianist who moved here from Chicago in 1896. At the time, Dresden took of possession the home that had been unoccupied for a period of approximately 17 years, according to the article and Dresden restored the home at what is described as "considerable expense."

It was from that point on the home became Castle Rest, "a home of elegance and gracious living."

Following Dresden's death in 1924, the land and buildings were acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Plym from Dresden's daughter and granddaughter.

This was not the first site chosen for a hospital in Niles. In May of 1921, steps were taken to organize a Niles Hospital Association. A meeting was held at the Niles Public Library to discuss the purchase of the J. G. Mansfield property at 202 S. Lincoln Ave., known as the old Krick or Makepeace property, for a hospital site.

At that time a committee comprised of Carmi R. Smith; W. H. Parkin; Mrs. D. S. Scoffern; Mrs. F. J. Plym; C. E. White and J. E. French was joined by P. B. Friday, J. Walter Wood and E. E. Woodford. Lawyers Charles E. White and W. N. Burns were hired to draft articles for incorporation for a hospital capitalized at $50,000 with stock having a par value of $10. The organization of the hospital association, however, did not actually materialize until 1925.

The Mansfield property was offered with a week's option at $6,000. Thoughts at the time were to renovate the property into a 20-room hospital. The option ran out.

By 1925 a new site for the hospital was under consideration. A survey was done to determine the cost of remodeling Castle Rest to be an "efficient nucleus for a hospital."

"Incorporators of the hospital association were Mrs. F. J. Plym, M.S. Rudisill, L. H. Hamilton, A. W. Hudson, Harry L. Margetts and Charles White.

The entire Niles community joined forces to raise the money necessary for purchase of Castle Rest and its remodeling, through events including a pageant for a hospital queen, won by a Miss Rose Schieicher in October 1925.

By October 26, 1925 the hospital association had a fund of $9,251.51 from two fall festivals, two fashion shows, other gifts and $322.65 that came in the form of payment of rain insurance taken on one of the festivals that it seems was indeed rained out.

On November 27, 1925 the first set of plans submitted by W. W. Elwood, a South Bend architect were reviewed for the proposed remodeling of Castle Rest on which a six-month option had been taken at what the paper reported was referred to as "an attractive price."

The Pawating Hospital opened its doors to serve Niles in November 1926.

A photo, accompanying the article of 1961, shows the original home with a southern addition, the current emergency room. An article abstract, published in 1993 by the Health Forum in Hospitals and Health Networks, by Rhonda Bergman states that "Pawating Hospital a 174-bed facility in Niles MI, avoided financial disaster by merging with 300-bed Mercy Memorial Medical center in St. Joseph, MI to create the Lakeland Regional Health System.

"The merger has improved billing, marketing and human resources at Pawating, and has enabled the hospital to update equipment and renovate its facilities. An alliance between the two hospitals and health insurance provider resulted in the development of a preferred-provider health insurance program."

It also foretold of the construction of a 20,000 square foot medical office building in 1994. The stated operating income of $1.9 million in 1992 was up from a 1990 loss of $111,961.

Today Lakeland Health Care describes itself on its website as "a not-for-profit, community-owned system of care serving the southwest Michigan region of Berrien, Cass and VanBuren counties. In addition to the three hospitals, the system includes walk-in clinics, long-term care, home care, laboratory and radiology services, rehabilitation and other services throughout the region. Lakeland also offers health, safety, wellness and prevention events, classes and programs throughout the year."

For more information on Friends of Silverbrook with regards to memberships and work days to help restore and catalog the monuments or to book a presentation on the group or this series of articles contact: Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery c/o 508 E. Main St. Niles MI 49120, Tim and Candace Skalla at 684-2455, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or contact Ginny Tyler at 445-0997, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Published May 30th, 2009