COMMERCIAL-NEWS | SCOTT HASSINGER - Three Rivers resident Mike Heivilin stands proudly behind a portion of his replica of the westside of downtown Three Rivers. The project was on display at the Three Rivers Historical Society during the recent Water Festival.Commercial-News | Scott Hassinger - Pictured is a replica of the Old Pealer St. Bridge with Three Rivers native Tim Ryan playing basketball on the structure.

Three Rivers downtown replica a labor of love for Mike Heivilin

1970 TRHS grad dedicates project in memory of older brother Al

THREE RIVERS — City resident Mike Heivilin is recapturing the year 1967 through the construction of a replica of downtown Three Rivers.

Originally, Heivilin, a 1970 TRHS graduate, began the project as just a short hobby during COVID and it has turned into an obsession of sorts. He has now dedicated the project as a tribute to his older brother Al Heivilin, who passed away from cancer back on May 31.

“My brother Al graduated from Three Rivers in the Class of 1967. He was a great brother, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, athlete, friend, citizen and Marine,” Mike Heivilin said.

Originally, Mike began the project with just a couple buildings to add to an O-gauge train board. Eventually, he decided to go a little bit further.

“I started out with a theatre, Newberry’s, Daugherty’s Bakery and Kauzler’s Hardware because I went to school and graduated with Jimmy Daugherty and Jim Kauzler. It just sort of turned into an obsession after I got a few buildings completed. It was also a short hobby to have during COVID when I was home a little bit more. I just started looking at the project and thought that I could do this and go a little farther with it,” Mike Heivilin said.  

According to Mike Heivilin, the year 1967 was a great time for Three Rivers.

“Three Rivers during those days was an important part of everyone’s lives,” Mike Heivilin said. “Friday and Saturday evenings were like a social event for us all in the downtown area.”

On weekdays, Mike stated that everyone would go to Dietz’s to get themselves a cherry coke, Miller’s for an ice cream or to Daughtery’s for triangles.

“We tried on the most recent fashions at Hilmert’s and looked at all the albums,” Mike Heivilin said.

Mike has over three quarters of the west side of downtown Three Rivers completed. All of the architecture on the replica is an exact match of downtown.

“If you go out and look at the real buildings you will see the same window work with just a little different coloring on the model. You have the old hotel, the First National Bank which is now the walkway to the parking lot. My father used to work at the bank,” Mike Heivilin said.

Fibre Converters in Constantine donated some of the fiber boards that Mike has used for the project.

“Everything is scratch built except for two buildings. It’s made out of fiber board, balsa wood and basswood. The interior work is a conglomeration of photos that I’ve made by hand,” said Mike Heivilin, who estimates he’s spent between 400-500 hours to complete what he’s got done so far on the project.

“It’s a labor of love. I’ve probably got eight or nine buildings left to finish the west side of town. I’ve started the east side of two and have the Squeeze In done that some people know as the Kosy Korner Lunch. It keeps me busy and I’m enjoying doing it," Heivilin said.

The completed buildings for the west side were on display at the St. Joseph County Historical Society in downtown during the Water Festival.

“When I get done with it, I’ll probably donate it to the DDA, Historical Society or the Carnegie Center. A lot of people are following the project and it’s fun when I get a building completed,” said Mike Heivilin, who also constructed a replica of the old Pealer Street Bridge with Tim Ryan playing basketball on it.

“He saw the replica of the bridge posted on the Facebook page and remembered we used to get the old black creosote on us when we walked across it. Tim got a big kick out of that when he saw the post,” Mike Heivilin laughed.

Mike has made the project sharable on “You Know You Are from Three Rivers 49093 If…”, a special group page on Facebook.

Scott Hassinger can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 25 or sports@threeriversnews.com.

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