Keeping History Present

By John Stran

The Tyler Mahoning Valley History Center in downtown Youngstown holds more than just exhibitions, archives and sold out events — it also holds keys to Youngstown’s past.

Located on West Federal Street across from the WRTA bus station, the history center holds information on the Mahoning county and parts of Columbiana and Trumbull counties. This is also known as the Mahoning River Shed.

Before it was the history center, the 100-year-old building’s purpose was an interior design firm and a furniture warehouse. In 1921, it would then be repurposed and restored into a confectionery for Good Humor bars.

The building still wears a lot of its past and as it gets renovations, the goal is to keep the look the building currently has, only polished.

Leann Rich, the external relations manager at the history center, said the center now is used to teach youth, especially those who are homeschooled, about the valley using classes, activities and exhibits.

Rich said the schooling program educates students by using hands on history and information that directly impacts the area the students live in.

For example, the spaces where the classrooms are used to be where Good Humor bars were made.

Glass walls surround the two rooms, which was believed to be a business ploy so customers could see the chocolate being made and want to buy it.

The chocolate was then sold on the first floor of the building, which now holds the History Center’s main exhibition.

Right now, the exhibit holds memorabilia from the Youngstown Police and Fire stations, presenting items such as a door from a cop car, police and fireman badges and vintage police scanners.

“This area holds the overall history of the Mahoning Valley,” Rich said. “From the era of the Native Americans to a more recent day.”

Down the stairs on the bottom floor, a hefty door preserves what is known as the archives. The confined space holds thousands of photographs and other artifacts all pertaining to Youngstown —  some of which are seen when walking in while others are stored in a vault.

Archivist Pam Speis said that when it comes to Mahoning Valley history, the archives have just about anything and everything.

“If it’s two dimensional or paper based, there’s a good chance that we have a representation of it,” Speis said.

Everything in the archives tells a small part of the Mahoning Valley’s story.

“It’s not just for genealogists and local historians,” Speis said. “There’s so much in our history that impacts what we do today and if you don’t know your own history, you’re bound to make the same mistakes.”

Speis talked about news crews coming into the history center from as far as Japan and Great Britain prior to the election. The crews were looking for information on the valley’s political history to see how the whole political process has evolved and remained the same.

To keep the archives and the rest of the building a local history resource for both valley natives and foreigners alike, the building must undergo some repairs.

Their most recent event, the fifth annual Cookie Table & Cocktails that was held on Feb. 24, sold out all 260 tickets. The goal was to raise money to help pay for renovations for the center.

To get more information about signing up for classes and current exhibitions, log onto mahoninghistory.org. Go to the Tyler Mahoning Valley History Center’s Facebook page for any upcoming events.

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