YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Local history museums and historical sites serve as windows to the past, providing visitors a glimpse of how residents lived, worked, played and dressed centuries ago.
Folks interested in learning more about the area’s heritage are visiting them in ever-increasing numbers.
Automobiles, aviation, steel, the pottery industry and attention to social causes such as the abolition of slavery are some of the things that helped build the Mahoning Valley’s character. Preserving their stories are paramount for those who maintain and organize area historical societies.
The Trumbull County Historical Society owns and operates two historic homes in the region: The 1807 John Stark Edwards House and the 1894 Morgan History Center, which opened in 2021. The Morgan houses the society’s archives, research center, exhibit galleries and offices.
“We preserve a collection of over 30,000 items for the community that are relevant to Trumbull County,” says Meghan Reed, director.
Trumbull County has 31 history groups, she says.
Some notable themed museums are the National Packard Museum and the Ernie Hall Aviation Museum. There are also some hidden gems.
“I don’t think that a lot of people know that Bristol Square has the first Civil War monument in the state of Ohio,” she says. “There are [also] a ton of Underground Railroad spots locally that I don’t think get that much attention. There are a couple of houses in North Bloomfield that are confirmed sites on the Underground Railroad.”
The Sutliff Museum in Warren features 19th-century history about the Underground Railroad and the Victorian era. Additional Underground Railroad sites can be found in Gustavus, Braceville and Brookfield, Reed says.
Reed says thousands of visitors come to see the historical attractions in Trumbull County every year.
“History and heritage tourism is currently on the rise,” she says. “National trends show that visitors are looking for history and heritage tourism in numbers that are continually growing, and all of the sites throughout the county really give us a sense of place and sense of identity that makes us different from other areas throughout the country.”
Some of the newest history organizations are the Braceville Community Foundation and the Braceville Historical Society, Reed says. Both started in the past year, gathering a collection of items and mounting a lecture series.
“We are in the process now at the Morgan History Center of adding a 2,000-square-foot expansion onto the back of our building,” she says. “Right now, our archives are open and accessible to the public, but we do have a very large artifact collection of larger items that we have in storage and are not accessible to the public.”
David Shivers is the curator of the Salem Historical Society, which has five buildings.
One of its most recent displays looks at the Salem China Company.
Shivers says the society receives many donated artifacts from the local community – often discovered by residents when they clean out their homes.
“We easily received 5,000 items during 2020,” he says. “We just got a 1960s perming set from a beauty salon.”
Local businesses also contribute to the Salem Historical Society.
“Butech-Bliss gave us one of the earliest chopping machines and now they’re giving us a mill,” he says. “There is something always being added.”
Another popular attraction is Millionaire’s Row in central Warren, says Beth Kotwis Carmichael, executive director of the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau. The walking tour map helps one follow 23 mansions from the 1800s, which now are museums, businesses and private residences on Mahoning Avenue.
Carmichael says another hidden gem is the Ernie Hall Aviation Museum. The museum focuses on the birth of aviation and includes various collectibles, displays, pictures, models and historical aircraft.
“We do have people from all over the world that come and visit [Trumbull County],” she says. “Our National Packard Museum has a lot of international interest as well, and then the Medici Museum with the [Norman] Rockwell collection has had a lot of national and international interest.”
Carmichael says all three of those museums are open Saturdays and Sundays.
Jessica Trickett, collections manager at Mahoning Valley Historical Society, says although the Tyler History Center opened in 2014, many Valley residents don’t know that it is there. The museum has a variety of historical exhibits and an archive available for public use.
The attendance between the MVHS’ two museums is usually over 10,000 people per year, Trickett says.
“We have quite a large attendance, particularly at Christmas time, especially at the Arms Family Museum,” she says.
Trickett says many people come from out of town for the “Memories of Christmas Past” exhibit.
“We have been doing it for over 10 years and it has become pretty popular amongst local families and people that are collectors,” she says.
The Tyler History Museum is located in a building that was once owned by Harry Burt, the founder of Good Humor ice cream.
“He had his Good Humor factory here and he also had a multifloor operation where he made candy,” Trickett says. “He had restaurants [and] he of course made ice cream here. He invited the public to basically visit all throughout the building so they could see everything as it was happening.”
A 1905 Mahoning Touring Car is on display near the entrance of the building. The car manufacturing plant was in downtown Youngstown.
“As far as we know, it is the only one left of its kind,” Trickett says. “That’s something that people find fascinating when they stop here.”
A new costume exhibit opened at the Arms Family Museum this year. It features clothing and accessories that were made in local homes or by local professionals.
“I think it is important for all of us to be able to connect with our heritage – the area that we come from and the people that have been here before – and learn about what made the area what it is,” she says.
Other niche museums focus on industries that were once prominent in the area. Susan Weaver, director of the Museum of Ceramics in East Liverpool, says the museum collects and displays pottery of the tristate area.
“East Liverpool was the pottery capital of the nation, making 50% of the dinnerware for this country around 1900,” she says. “We tell that history and offer programs and events that are pottery related.”
Weaver says the museum’s collection includes pieces from as early as 1840 to around 1940.
The museum is divided into two floors – a main floor with the history of the town chronologically arranged, and a downstairs area that focuses on how the pottery was made.
“There are three full-size dioramas of a jigger shop, a kiln and a decorating shop,” she says. “The rest of that area is a display of pottery by company.”
Pictured at top: Display of pilot Ed Tracey at the Ernie Hall Aviation Museum.