Mahoning, Shenango Valleys Begin Planning for America’s 250th Birthday

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – As Americans celebrate this year’s Fourth of July holiday, planning is already underway for Independence Day 2026.

That might seem like a lot of lead time, but it’s also a big event – the semiquincentennial – or 250th anniversary – of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

States across the country, including Ohio and Pennsylvania, already have formed America 250 commissions to plan for the national birthday party.

Among the members of the Ohio Commission for the U.S. Semiquincentennial –
also called America 250-Ohio – is Samantha Turner, the city councilwoman representing Youngstown’s 3rd Ward. She was recommended to serve on the commission by Bill Lawson, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

“The U.S. sestercentennial is the celebration of 250 years of America, so it really is a telling of the story from the beginning to now,” she said. “We have to tell the story of Ohio’s 88 counties, and in telling that story we want to connect how Ohio has continued the national growth.”

Representatives of historical and tourism organizations in Pennsylvania, one of the original 13 colonies and first 13 states, acknowledge the semiquincentennial has a particular resonance in the commonwealth. Key landmarks include Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and Valley Forge, where Gen. George Washington and the Continental Army encamped during the winter of 1777-78.

“We actually were the first state to have a commission,” said Ginny Jacob, assistant director of Visit Lawrence County in New Castle. “Pennsylvania has a very strong sense of Americana, and there’s a lot of pride in our history.”

Planning in Mahoning Valley

Locally, Turner is partnering with Lawson and Aimee Fifarek, director and CEO of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County. Together, they are working to develop a coalition for what can be done in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties to commemorate the event.

In early June, they held a luncheon at PLYMC’s Main Library with local stakeholders, including area historical societies, museums and other organizations, where they heard from Todd Kleismit, executive director of America 250-Ohio, and his staff.

“We were able to talk about this very big project and how we can engage them, and also hear about how they want to be engaged,” Turner said. Many of the organizations already have projects and initiatives in place that the celebration can highlight.

MVHS is in the “very early steps” of determining what it wants to do internally and with community programming related to the semiquincentennial, Lawson said. One reason is that the historical society will celebrate its own 150th anniversary in 2025.

“So that’s a big deal for us, and it’s not a coincidence that we were founded in 1875,” he said. Many historical organizations formed as the nation’s centennial in 1876 and, 100 years later, the bicentennial approached.

Planning efforts for America 250-Ohio began about five years ago, said Meghan Reed, executive director of the Trumbull County Historical Society. Federal agencies began putting out planning grants to help organizations develop ideas for the anniversary.

Securing one such grant about three years ago, the Trumbull society began reaching out to the 30-some history-based organizations in the county to discover what items they possess that represent the county’s history and stories that could be told to celebrate in 2026.

“We know that there’s probably so many items that represent our history … that aren’t necessarily in our collection,” Reed said. Planning efforts to this point have entailed working with the other groups within Trumbull County to develop relationships and get a clearer sense of the stories they can tell.

“We’re really letting our historical societies and our historic organizations here in Trumbull County take the lead on planning those events,” Beth Carmichael, executive director of the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau, said. As those plans are finalized, local officials will report them to the state commission.

While Ohio wasn’t among the 13 original colonies, the Connecticut Western Reserve was land in the area that now makes up northeastern Ohio, including the Mahoning Valley, that was owned first by the colony – and later the state – of Connecticut, Carmichael said.

“The emigration from Connecticut to this area speaks to a lot of our architecture. It speaks to a lot of our history,” she said.

Among the progressive thinking coming from Connecticut that took root locally was opposition to slavery and support for abolition and the Underground Railroad, specifically in Trumbull County but throughout northeastern Ohio as well.

“That’s still a really important story to tell and really makes that direct connection to the original 13 colonies,” Carmichael said.

“There’s a few key things that we know we want to focus on,” Reed said. “Innovation is 100% at the top of the list – from everything from Warren having the first modern incandescent streetlights to the Packard brothers to innovations in steel and manufacturing.”

The Trumbull County Historical Society also plans to highlight the county’s role in social justice issues, including the Underground Railroad, “a huge piece of our history here that we’re starting to highlight a bit more,” as well as Warren being the national headquarters for the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

In Warren, the Upton House Association is looking at the commemoration as an opportunity to highlight women’s suffrage, Carmichael said. Representatives of the Ernie Hall Museum also are discussing ways to tie into the larger conversation around Ohio’s place in aviation history.

“Those stories are going to be able to connect with other regions of the state,” she said. “We feel like those events will be able to pull in that larger conversation, those larger stories that really had a true impact on national history.”

In addition, the county history society wants to call attention to significant natives, Reed said. Some, such as attorney Clarence Darrow of Kinsman and Warren musician Dave Grohl, are obvious, but there are others such as Ernest Scott, a Kinsman native involved in insulin research.

Special to Pennsylvanians

Andrew Henley, director of New Castle Public Library and president of the Lawrence County Historical Society, said the 250th anniversary of America’s founding is special to Pennsylvanians because of its role in America’s history, but western Pennsylvania has “a different culture that doesn’t have the same narrative in history.” During the Revolutionary War period, this part of Pennsylvania was “native land,” he pointed out.

“What we are looking at is partnering with the Heinz History Center and working with our other constituents in our region to review what our history is in western Pennsylvania, how much of that is in connection with the Native American populations and what our landscape looked like in 1776,” he said.

The 14 focus areas of Pennsylvania’s commemoration include agriculture, arts and entertainment, history and event programs promoting physical fitness by hiking, walking and hiking on Pennsylvania’s trails and greenways, Visit Lawrence County’s Jacob said.

Plans to commemorate the semiquincentennial include an initiative partnering colleges and universities in the commonwealth with the U.S. Postal Service to create marketing campaigns for America250PA, and the Young Heroes Outreach Program, which encourages students in grades four through eight to engage in civic projects.

“It gives them a sense of community pride at a young age,” Jacob said.

Another commonwealth-wide effort is Bells Across PA, in which artists will be commissioned to create fiberglass replicas of the Liberty Bell for each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. Lawrence County’s will be at Arts & Education at the Hoyt in New Castle, Jacob said. Ellwood City secured a beautification grant through America250PA.

Mercer County also plans to participate in the semiquincentennial bells project, said Peggy Mazyck, executive director of the Mercer County Convention & Visitors Bureau. Sites being considered include the first iron ore furnace in Mercer, Pa., one of the stops on the Underground Railroad in Jamestown and Buhl Park. The park also is being considered for the Liberty Tree project.

“Mercer County was very much involved in the Underground Railroad, so we’ve been conducting tours,” Mazyck said. Pennsylvania was the first state that began a gradual emancipation of Blacks, making anyone born in the commonwealth automatically free.

Stories of All Ohio’s People

Although the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County will run events and programs of its own in conjunction with the America 250 celebration, Fifarek said she sees her role primarily as a convener. “We frequently say the library is everyone’s best partner, so that is the role that we are playing in this – bringing people together to discuss priorities and goals.”

In addition to providing support for grants, as either a co-signer or helping to draft applications, Fifarek said she expects the library to host or otherwise be involved with the events that are planned as well as continuing to host planning meetings gearing up to the celebration. The recently renovated Main Library provides “a wonderful new venue” for hosting programs, as do the system’s larger branches.

“And you can’t discount the kitchen,” she added. “One of the reasons we created the culinary literacy center was that food unites everybody.”

Other libraries have successfully used the kitchen to help new arrivals learn English through reading recipes and having conversations while preparing food, she said. Possible programming includes preparing recipes that would have been used at the time of the nation’s founding and exploring the “different culinary ways of all the different peoples, from indigenous forward, who made up our demographic profile at the time of the founding and the signing of the Declaration of Independence.”

Among those organizations collaborating with the local America 250-Ohio effort is the Mahoning Valley Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Marty Campana of Boardman, who until a few weeks ago was regent of the Valley DAR chapter and now serves as honorary regent, can trace her ancestry back to a colonel who served in the Continental Army and was instrumental in developing key fortifications in Pennsylvania, she said.

“For three years now our organization has been gearing up for this celebration,” Campana said.

In addition to educating people about “the heroics of the founding of our country,” the chapter wants to call attention to the “Rock of Remembrance” on Market Street in Boardman, which is fashioned from stones from the battles at Lexington and Concord. “Most people don’t even realize that that’s right here in our Valley,” she said.

In presenting the Mahoning Valley’s narrative, Turner said she wants to make sure to include the stories of all Ohio’s people. That includes the Native Americans who lived in the territory that became Ohio, Blacks who migrated from the South and immigrants who came to work in local steel mills.

“One of my biggest things is making sure that the story is told from all cultural perspectives,” Turner emphasized.

“There was so much going on in this territory” during the American Revolution, even though much of what was happening was taking place in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York, MVHS’s Lawson said. “We need to talk about that in terms of settlers’ interactions with indigenous people and the conflicts that arose from that, the fact that during the American Revolution, there was a western front.”

He agreed that stories about those who were enslaved and people of color in the colonies need to be told. “They were very much involved in the revolution, he said.

Fifarek, who grew up in Wisconsin and worked in Arizona before accepting her current post at the library system in 2017, acknowledged just the few meetings she has participated in so far have been “eye opening” for her.

“I’ve learned things about Youngstown and Mahoning County and our Valley that I certainly did not know,” she said. “A lot of this information that might be talked about and promoted during the America 250 celebration may be a learning experience even for natives.”

Pictured at top: A painting depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence. (

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.