Historic Bike Tour Stop 20 : Riverfront Park/Cannon/Veterans Park
View looking east across the Main Street Bridge. The area that is now Riverfront Park used to be the site of early industry in Niles.
This area was originally the site of early industry in Niles. For thousands of years, people have lived in this region near the river. In the 1820s, early industrialists sought to harness the river to power mills. During the late 1820s, the St. Joseph River and its tributaries attracted settlers looking to harness its power. One pioneer family, the Laceys, used hydropower to their advantage. In 1829, the same year the Niles village plat was registered, Ephraim Lacey and his son Elijah opened a saw mill near the St. Joseph River. A year later, the Laceys also built a grist mill to process grain into flour. Following the success of these first industries, other mills popped up along local waterways and industry flourished. The first mills in Niles utilized water power from the narrower Dowagiac River or its tributaries via a mill race, a human- made channel which diverted water from its source to move the waterwheels and power the mills.
The St. Joseph River also played an important role in the transportation of goods produced in the mills. Keelboats carried stock to other newly settled towns along the river. The arrival of the Michigan Central Railroad in 1848 allowed for even wider distribution of goods.
Converted to a public recreation space in the 1990s, Riverfront Park spans along the east banks of the St. Joseph River in Niles. This section of the park includes a playground, skate park, amphitheater and the Blue Star Memorial Highway Veterans Memorial. Located near the Veterans Memorial is a Model 1861 6.4-inch Army Parrott Rifle Cannon, brought to the community in 1898 by the Frank Graves Grand Army of the Republic Post 64 . The Grand Army of the Republic was a veteran's organization for those who served in the Civil War.
Riverfront Park in Niles