With an architectural design mimicking that of a Greek temple, the Lyon-Weigel home, built on property once owned by the Northern Pacific Railroad, is one of the historic homes featured on Mandan’s Heritage Home Tour, which spotlights properties that, primarily, bear an association with the railroad.
First serving as the living quarters of a successful businessman, family and friends who are grieving the loss of a loved one now gather in the home’s many rooms, as it houses Weigel Funeral and Cremation Service.
“The home serves as a sense of tradition — an anchor —and provides a sense of healing and peacefulness for families,” said Tom Weigel, owner of Weigel Funeral and Cremation Service. He also owns and resides in the multilevel home.
The Mandan Historical Society has gathered and compiled information on the 14 properties featured on the self-guided home tour, which aims to provide a central city destination for visitors drawn to the North Dakota Railroad Museum, in north Mandan, and Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, located to the south.
Pedestrians meandering by the Lyon-Weigel home, 309 Fourth Ave. N.W., have the option to stop and learn more about the historic property simply by reading the plaque displayed in the front yard.
“The people who have lived in this home were not only interesting, but adventurous in that they contributed to the growth and advancement of Mandan,” Weigel said.
Hiram R. Lyon, founder of the Mandan Mercantile Co. and former president of the First National Bank, settled in Mandan in 1881. Shortly thereafter, construction began on the Greek Revival house, which, to this day, is one of the largest in the state.
Completed in 1904, the large white house features massive pillars along the front that extend to the side to form a carriage driveway, where people once disembarked from their carriages, receiving protection from the wind, rain and snow.
The home’s foundation is 2½ feet thick and made of field rock. To strengthen the structure, builders used tongue-and-groove subsiding in a diagonal pattern on the outside wall. All of the wood was cut by hand and much of it had to be specially ordered.
The dining room cabinets and wainscoting were hand painted, and Lyon requested a dining room set, large enough to seat 20 people, be built to match the home’s woodwork.
On move-in day, Lyon was accompanied by his wife, Pauline (Meech), his stepson, Robert, and their daughter, Caroline, whose playhouse was patterned after the main house.
According to Weigel, the playhouse no longer exists. He believes it was sold to a local insurance man, to be used by his daughter.
The Lyons were the only family in the city with a full-time coachman, and a young Russian immigrant, Vronie Helbling, was their household servant.
Under Lyon’s direction, Mandan Mercantile became one of the leading lumber and machinery concerns in North Dakota, ultimately expanding to 36 locations in the Missouri Slope region.
He also established the Missouri Valley Milling Co., whose premium grade of flour was called “Lyon’s Best,” the Mandan Electric Co., Missouri Valley Grocery and the Mandan and North Dakota Independent Telephone Cos.
In 1907, the home was sold to George Bingenheimer, who is best known for establishing Mandan's first drugstore in 1881, and his wife, Margaret.
Several other families lived in the home prior to 1956, when Hector and Margaret Hoenig purchased the property and renovated it to be used as a funeral home.
For more than 60 years, the home has served as a place for family and friends of the deceased to gather and share memories, shed tears and laugh while remembering special times.
The Weigels purchased the property in 1972, adding to the house in 1980. Two years of research went into the 1,700-square-foot addition.
“We carefully designed the home so as not to suggest a business or church, but a home. Our desire was to create a non-formal atmosphere and function, and a genuine and warm environment,” Weigel said.
To make the funeral home handicap accessible, an elevator and ramp were added.
The four massive pillars in the front of the house have been replaced during the Weigels’ time as homeowners, too. They were special ordered from a company “out east” after the original pillars decayed from the elements.
“The home has a very impressive design,” said Kathye Spilman, secretary of the Mandan Historical Society. “The Weigels have always worked to keep true to the original design features.”
Weigel and his wife, Kathy, raised their five children in the home, on the second and third levels. The funeral home operates on the ground floor.
Some baby sitters were reluctant to watch their kids, Weigel said, while others considered it an adventure.
The living quarters today feature a “bistro dans le ciel,” which is French for “bistro in the sky” or “bistro in the heavens.” Weigel said they enjoy the rooftop deck whenever they get the chance.
“It’s a great place to live. It’s grandiose,” he said. “I think the fact that the home is used keeps it in good shape, rather than it sitting empty.”
Of the approximately 130 funerals the Weigels help arrange each year, about 35 take place within the historic home.
Mandan’s Heritage Home Tour is a cooperative effort among the historical society, Mandan and the North Dakota Department of Transportation. For more information, call 701-663-5200 or visit www.mandanhistory.org/heritagehomes.html.