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Cheryl Lewis, the Mahoning Valley Historical Society’s campaign director, shows plans for the third floor of the Tyler Mahoning Valley History Center. The floor will feature portable hands-on exhibits from some of the city’s iconic businesses, including Isaly’s, McKelvey’s and Arby’s.

By David Skolnick


Needing $1.3 million more to reach its $6 million goal to open its downtown history center, the Mahoning Valley Historical Society is having a series of events, starting today, to drum up more interest in the project.

The society is having invitation-only sneak previews of the Tyler Mahoning Valley History Center at 325 W. Federal St., the former Harry Burt/Ross Radio building.

The initial invitation-only event is from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. today, followed by the next three Tuesdays, July 31, Aug. 7 and 14.

Also, there will be a campaign gala for major donors Oct. 6.

“We’re hoping the [events] will attract more interest and membership,” said Cheryl Lewis, the society’s campaign director.

Society officials initially wanted to have the building project done earlier this year, but it won’t open until next summer.

“When we kicked off the capital campaign [in 2008], it was right before the recession,” said Leann Rich, the society’s manager of education and external affairs.

But the society plans to begin renting its second-floor ballroom for wedding receptions, class reunions, parties and other events, beginning in November. There already are three or four events scheduled, Lewis said.

“It will help with fundraising as the rental income will be part of our efforts,” she said.

With $4.7 million in pledges, including $3.6 million already collected, the society has spent nearly two years making improvements to the building.

“We’ve received a lot of support, and we need local people and businesses to continue to step up,” Lewis said. “To raise $4.7 million with the recession is excellent.”

Of the $6 million the society wants to raise, $4 million will be for the work being done to turn the building into the Tyler Mahoning Valley History Center.

The rest would go to assist in supporting the development of exhibits and programs at the facility.

Burt bought the building in 1921, two years after it was built, and turned it into a candy and ice-cream factory and retail store. Burt invented the Good Humor ice-cream bar and made the iconic treat in the building’s basement.

Burt died in 1926, and his wife, Cora, ran the business until 1935, when she sold the building to James Ross, who opened the Ross Radio Co. The historical society purchased the 22,400-square-foot building for $150,000 in September 2007.

“We want to make this building a place of pride and a success story for the Valley,” Lewis said.

About 75 percent of the work is complete.

When it’s done, the basement will house the society’s archive collection and serve as a place for people to do genealogical and academic research.

The first floor will have various historical exhibits.

The second floor is the ballroom.

The third floor will have portable hands-on exhibits from Youngstown’s “iconic businesses,” including Good Humor, Schwebel’s, Isaly’s, Arby’s, McKelvey’s and Idora Park, Rich said.

The society has outgrown its current location at the Arms Family Museum on Wick Avenue, Rich and Lewis said.

“We can do education programs for 18 to 20 children [at a time] at the Arms Museum,” Lewis said. “Now we’ll be able to have 150 kids at one time. It’s a quantum leap.”

Those wanting to contribute to the campaign, can contact Lewis at 330-743-2638 or by email at: Also, contributions can be made by going to the society’s website:

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