Local historical societies make changes during pandemic

Plan in place to return to some in-person events

After having to close their doors in March due to the coronavirus pandemic and cancel programming, local historical societies have been and will continue to offer online programs for children and adults.

They also are planning to return to some in-person programs and open historic buildings to the public later this summer.

Officials from historical societies in Mahoning and Trumbull counties have found that people were tuning in to the online programs — including those people who no longer live in the area. Plans are to continue with online offerings but also begin to open doors for other events and programs.


Bill Lawson, Mahoning Valley Historical Society executive director, said plans are in place for reopening sites. The Tyler History Center will reopen for limited hours noon to 4 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday starting July 10. The Arms Family Museum will reopen for the same limited hours per week starting Aug. 7. Reservations for events in the Tyler History Center ballroom are being taken starting in August. The archives resource center on the lower level of Tyler History Center will reopen by appointment only Aug. 7.

Dave Ragan, communications manager for the society, said there has been an increase in its online presence since adjustments have been made.

He also said, with the coronavirus receiving worldwide attention, there are plans to announce soon a focused collection effort to record the stories and preserve the artifacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Mahoning Valley.

“Ever since our pandemic closure on March 14, MVHS has been implementing a number of initiatives to continue our mission of collecting, preserving and teaching the history of the people of the Mahoning Valley. There are a myriad of details to address just with reopening our facilities alone. However, we knew early on that we needed to find new ways to keep engaged with our community,” Ragan said.

MVHS officials said the society has communicated its prioritization of health and safety as facilities were closed, and as events were canceled, reformatted or rescheduled.

“We have tried to be transparent and forthcoming about our operations. Our educational outreach and programming has seen the biggest transformation by producing video presentations versus in-person gatherings,” Ragan said.

Lawson said MVHS staff has been working remotely since mid-March and the decision to transition popular programs to an online format was quickly made.

“In addition to those standing programs, we have also worked to create new series that highlight various aspects of MVHS including its local history collection, decorative arts collection, We are looking to adapt several future programs to online and virtual versions in the coming months,” Ragan said.

Traci Manning, MVHS curator of education, said the society has moved its Bites and Bits of History program to an online format with video recordings of presentations traditionally held at noon Thursdays. Roslyn Torella’s program, “Lowellville, Ohio: Murders, Mayhem, and More,” will premiere on July 16. The video presentations are available on the MVHS YouTube and Facebook pages.

Manning said the Hands-On-History open house programs have been changed to an online challenge format. She said video challenges and coordinating activities will be posted each Wednesday from July 8 through Aug. 5. Participants will use the activities to create various museum works. Each week, participants are asked to share their creations on various social media platforms using #HistoryAtMyHouse2020.

MVHS has started a new series of Time Capsule posts. This new online series focuses on various historical topics with short blog style posts and images. The series has explored several topics, including the 50th anniversary of the Kent State shootings, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the history of Juneteenth.

With schools closed and students looking for interactive and hands-on learning options at home, MVHS has created new Did You Know Projects. The projects are available as downloadable documents via the MVHS website and feature a short history lesson about a historic person, place, or event and include at-home activities to continue the learning.

MVHS also continues to provide content for its Sunday column in The Vindicator’s “This Week in History.”

Laurie Fox of the Poland Historical Society said it has been relying on Facebook postings and emails to members during this pandemic for communicating current activities — which has mostly been cancellations of planned events.

“For the past several years, the Poland Historical Society members have provided a walking tour of Poland’s South Main Street for third graders during the last part of May as part of learning about their local history. Since this was not possible this year, historical society trustees Dave Smith and Larry Baughman put together a virtual walking tour of Poland narrated for the third-grade audience. The students were able to get their Poland history lesson on their computer,” Fox said.

Fox said the society is now discussing for adults possibly doing a similar virtual video tour of the cemetery and South Main Street that were missed this year.


Meghan Reed, Trumbull County Historical Society director, said it started online virtual programming in March and will begin returning to in-person programming starting in late July.

“We had shifted our walking tours to online and also our free Sunday speaker series. We weren’t sure what to expect but we did get many people who watched,” Reed said.

Reed said since moving programs and speakers online they have received more participants — noting that many former Warren residents are watching the programs online.

“We were surprised at first with all the people who signed up and watched online. There are people who grew up here who want to have that connection with Warren and this was one way they could do that,” she said.

She said when programs begin in-person, plans are to also continue to offer programs virtually.

The first in-person event will be a downtown Warren architectural walking tour on July 25. The first in-person Sunday speaker series will return the first Sunday in August and also be shown online.

“We will wait and see how the in-person works. I know there are some people who are not comfortable about coming to an event in person if there are many people there — but there are others who want to be able to get out and return to the events,” Reed said.

Another project being worked on by the historical society is an online Trumbull County encyclopedia of local people, businesses and organization.

Reed said the encyclopedia will include a directory of people and businesses (historic and current). The organization is relying on volunteers to submit entries. Eight Trumbull County volunteers are now working on the project.

Reed said 80 entries have been received since starting the online encyclopedia.

Christine Novicky, president of Vienna Historical Society, said while it has not done online programs the society has been putting more Facebook posts and emails out there to engage audiences with current projects.

“Mostly been emailing old school time photos and trying to get folks to identify who is who. … Had a big post about the tornado of 1947 that happened in June,” she wrote in an email.

Novicky said the monthly speakers series on the fourth Tuesday of the month is being lined up for fall after being postponed in the spring.

She has been busy updating and adding entries to Viennapedia. The latest new topics are listed on the front page: http://viennapedia.viennahistory.org.

She said a quarantine project she has been working on for the society is using the findagrave.com website and app to add photos and GPS coordinates of headstones in the Vienna Center Cemetery.

“This is important for folks working on their genealogy. Oftentimes no one remembers birth and death dates and these may be found on tombstones,” Novicky said.



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