Oct 16, 2022
Gerna Isley and her son, Joshua Isley, both of Tallmadge, have transformed this house off Main Street in Niles into an events center known as the Von Isely Estate.
NILES — On 6 acres, tucked off of Main Street in Niles, sits a 10,000-square-foot house that soon will be open for business, and open for the public, with a goal of holding onto the history of the 100-year-old structure.
Joshua Isley and his mother Gerna Isley, both of Tallmadge, own the house, which they named the Von Isley Estate. The house originally was 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 the Southview Manor, a group home for the mentally disadvantaged.
When Joshua and Gerna walked into the home for the first time, they saw yellowed tile covering the floor, plastic treads on the grand staircase, boarded-
up fireplaces and brown carpet. In the old YMCA gym, they saw basketball hoops, bright blue walls and junk that needed to be cleared out. On the second and third floors were leaky ceilings and empty bedrooms. A bank wouldn’t even give them a loan to buy the house because it couldn’t see what the Isleys saw: potential.
“When we walked in here, I felt like I was 10 years old looking through 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 at Stark, but left once the pandemic hit. He has been in the DJ business for 25 years and said it always has been his dream to own a venue. This venue has opportunities because the house is beautiful and has a rich history, but also has the add-on that was the gym when the building served as the YMCA that can now be used as a reception space.
‘ONE GIANT EGG’
Joshua and Gerna bought the property in December 2021 for $298,000 and expect to spend another $300,000 by the time they are done with phase one of renovations, which is almost complete. This is their retirement job.
“People say not to put all your eggs in one basket. I did that, but I just have one giant egg,” Joshua said.
Now, when one walks through the front stairs, they see the original wood floor that has been restored, chandeliers, the restored wooden staircase, wooden paneling on the walls and intricate detailing on the ceilings. The old gym, now called celebration hall, has been painted white, and carpets and TVs have replaced the basketball hoops. Gerna said the space is now a blank slate for those who hold events to be able to do with it what they want. Getting the wooden floors restored on the first floor was the biggest project that has been accomplished. The Isleys hired Mac’s Hardwood flooring to do the work. It took about five people to rip up the tile and the carpet that was covering the hardwood and refinish it. But, after that was done, Joshua said more small things needed to be done.
“It’s like a pyramid,” he explained. “You do something big, but then there’s still more and more little projects that need done. They keep getting smaller, but there are more of them.”
Joshua and Gerna said they think it’s important to stay true to the age of the house, so they have been decorating it to fit the early 1900s. For example, in the old billiards room on the third floor, they plan to put lights they found that are originally from a German church and date back to the 1910s. They also have a dictionary from 1927 displayed in the library.
Right now, the first floor and celebration hall are just about done and Joshua said they will be finished by the time they hold a community open house in a few weeks. This and two upstairs rooms, which will be used as dressing rooms for wedding parties, comprise phase one. Joshua said they are able to book weddings for 2023. In the meantime, they will continue renovating the second and third floors, which comprise phase two.
In all, the property consists of the original house, which is 7,500-square feet; celebration hall, which is 2,500-square feet; three floors, plus a basement; three-and-a-half baths, six fireplaces and 62 windows.
More phases and additions are to come to the property, such as an outdoor ceremony space.
“We don’t lack in the vision department; its more about time and funds,” Gerna said.
The Isleys have been working with Sue Nelson Designs of Kent on the remodeling designs.
The first event to be held on the estate is a community open house Oct. 29 and 30. All members of the public are welcome to attend and tour the house.
Joshua said most people who have come into 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 has and how much it means to so many people, we knew we had to do 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 are calling Home for the Holidays. This will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 10 and from 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 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 act out reading of his books, sort of like a book tour before they were popular. A date has not yet been set for this event.
Joshua said the city has been welcoming and he hopes his business will bring people to area. When he first came to the city, he was impressed by the McKinley Memorial and said Niles has a lot to offer, so when he brings people in for weddings, he will help them find things to do to encourage them to get out into the community.
The venue also will be open for other events such as family reunions, wedding showers, baby showers and meetings.
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 funds necessary for the Thomas Pavilion. Margaretta Clingan was also “the most energetic leader in promoting the McKinley Memorial,” the historical society’s website states.
After her death in 1952, her children and grandchildren donated the family mansion to be used for the Niles YMCA.
Helen Yakubek purchased the house in 1984 from the YMCA. Heidi Jacobs and her daughter, Sylvia, who is also Yakubek’s granddaughter, were the owners of the house when the Isleys bought it, according to the historical society.
The residence became a group home for the mentally disadvantaged from 1984 through August 2021 offering services to 147 residents during those years.
Joshua said he just got into contact with the great-granddaughter of Margaretta Clingan, so the estate may be able to get some family artifacts to display in the house.
“It’s neat 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.
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