Media Archives Renamed to Honor Founder Stewart

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The late Lowry A. Stewart saw the value of preserving decades of WKBN-TV news reels to help future generations understand the history of the Mahoning Valley.

Now – with the help of almost $600,000 raised by his family – those archives will forever honor him.

On Friday, the collection and the building that houses it – the former Arms family carriage house, located behind the Arms Family Museum – were rededicated as the Lowry A. Stewart Business and Media Archives Center. Stewart was the driving force behind the archives and Friday’s action is intended to create a lasting legacy to him.

Television station WKBN was founded in 1953 by the late Warren P. Williamson, who also launched WKBN radio in 1926. 

Members of the Williamson and Stewart families owned the station until they sold it in 1999. The family members mostly live in other states now but came to Youngstown for Friday’s ceremony.

A large plaque that identifies the building as the Lowry A. Stewart Media Archives Center was unveiled near the entrance door.

“This collection will be the best representation of our region’s rich history in the second half of 20th century and the fact that it’s media-based means you have these compelling voices represented,” said William Lawson, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, which controls and manages the archives, as well as the Arms museum and the Tyler History Center.

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Gallery photos include images of news reels and equipment now on display at the Lowry A. Stewart Media Archives Center, as well as informational plaques on Stewart and the collection.

Stewart, who died suddenly early last year at age 65, was the driving force behind creating the archives. His goal was to preserve the delicate footage and make it accessible to the public.

In 1994, the collection was turned over to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, which it previously referred to as the business and media archives.

Lawson said Stewart’s “laser focus and passion for the archives project were a constant for 26 years.”

The Stewart and Williamson families have raised $582,000 to ensure the continuation of the archives. Lawson said $250,000 of that amount is earmarked for stipends for interns to manage the center and for maintenance, video restoration and other improvements. The remainder will be placed in a fund and used for the ongoing administration of the archives.

The video and film are delicate and perishable, Lawson said, and the process of transferring it to formats that are permanent and easier to access has been ongoing.

The archives include the entire library of WKBN news film from 1955 to 1978, and most of the WKBN videotape library from 1977 to 2000, plus some recordings and other material from WKBN radio and other Valley media outlets. Lawson called it an invaluable source of accurate history of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.

Dave Stewart, son of Lowry Stewart, spoke of his father’s efforts to create the media archives and his family’s continued commitment to it.

“My dad came by his interest in history honestly,” Stewart said. “His grandfather, Warren P. Williamson, more commonly known as ‘the Boss,’ was founder of WKBN and was president of the board of directors of the historical society for years.”

After returning home to Youngstown from San Francisco, where he was a cameraman and documentarian, Lowry Stewart “found himself poking around some forgotten corners of WKBN, opening storage cabinets with the goal of finding artifacts of value,” Dave Stewart said. “He took newsreels out of boxes and starting lacing them up on a projector and it occurred to him that we as a family needed to do something to preserve this film that WKBN had captured over decades of reporting news.”

Lowry Stewart approached Lawson of the MVHS in 1993 and the archives project was set in motion. The MVHS took control of the WKBN archives in 2006 and moved them them from the Tyler History Center to their present location in 2015.

Dave Stewart said his father was a “big-picture” man who had many ideas for the archives that were lost when he died in 2020. “But what I can promise is that our family will stay dedicated to [the MVHS] for decades to come. We’re thrilled to see his contributions memorialized today. The Mahoning valley will forever be part of our family’s history. We’re looking forward to helping preserve that history long into the future.”

Stewart said historical societies in every city in the country should preserve and archive local television newscasts.

The Lowry A. Stewart Media Archives building has climate-controlled vaults to enhance preservation of the aging film, a meeting room, and a research room that is available on an appointment-only basis. There are also broadcasting exhibits and artifacts that can be viewed by visitors to the Arms Family Museum during normal business hours. 

To make an appointment to conduct research, and for information about fees, go to Mahoninghistory.org/media-archives or call Connie Jones, archives project manager, at 330 743 2589, ext. 105.

Pictured at top: On hand for the dedication were Lowry Stewart’s family, including daughter Christina Sparks, son David Stewart, their mother Rita Stewart, Lowry’s sister, Martha Stewart, and his daughter Kathryn Stewart.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.