Historic Arms mansion presents regular life of city's wealthy after holiday displays
By Kalea Hall
An iron lizard on the back of a Gothic door, a snake by the fireplace and a squirrel in the kitchen.
There are all sorts of hidden creatures and collectibles inside the Mahoning Valley Historical Society’s Arms Museum on Wick Avenue.
The house is in the midst of returning to its historic state before it reopens for guided tours on Feb. 1.
Anthony Worrellia, Lea Mollman and others transitioned the house from “Christmas of Memories Past” back to the way Olive F.A. Arms lived in it from 1905 to 1960. After her death, Arms donated the home and its collectible contents to the historical society.
“We recreate a house that was built in 1905, and that changed little over time,” said Mollman, the museum curator.
Up until after the holidays, the Arms Museum was decked out in old Christmas collectibles in a display with different stories in each of the seven rooms. Worrellia, buildings and grounds superintendent for the historical society, is the mastermind behind the design, and he has some special displays coming this year – the 10th anniversary of “Memories of Christmas Past.” His plan is to bring back some of the community’s favorite displays over the years.
It all began with Worrellia’s Christmas collection.
“I collect vintage Christmas items, and a couple of the folks saw my collection and said, ‘You need to display this for Christmas,’” he said. “Christmas was always a very special time of year. [My mother] always had the house decorated. There’s something about [Christmas].”
Many of the displays he comes up with are from his personal collection. He finds pieces, such as a nodding Santa made in Germany in the 1930s, at antique shops and other places. Many of the pieces are German-born. The country was filled with artisans taking their time to turn out collectible Christmas decorations and ship them to America.
The whimsy of the displays comes alive for people who walk through “Memories of Christmas Past.” In the reception area this year, a German woodland filled with gnomes, mushrooms and pigs invited guests to explore their imaginations and take in some new knowledge: mushrooms are a symbol of good luck. “Memories of Christmas Past” is as much of a moving experience as it is an educational one.
“One of the most interesting things is how it moves people,” Worrellia said. “People can come in and remember their childhood, and it moves them to tears.”
People also say there’s a bit of Fifth Avenue inside the Arms Museum. There’s a fancy feel to it that makes visitors feel like they are a part of something grand.
The house serves as a perfect place to display the Christmas antiques.
“With the house, they take on more feeling,” Worrellia said.
Olive Arms didn’t think much of architects, so she designed the house herself.
“The style of the house is Arts and Crafts,” Mollman said.
The Arts and Crafts style is based on the philosophy of having a house with a personal touch. Inside the Arms Museum are items you wouldn’t find just anywhere.
For example, there’s the Solomon Chest which dates back to 1654 and was carved in the Netherlands. The creature iron fixtures found throughout the house were made by blacksmiths in Pittsburgh.
“The house itself is just so unique,” Mollman said. “To have this here in Northeast Ohio is just one of a kind.”