The museum collects materials relating to the economic, social, and political history of the Mahoning Valley from earliest times to the present. Since 1875, the Mahoning Valley Historical Society has been accumulating the physical pieces of the past that tie us in the present to history. To date, there are tens of thousands of individual objects in the collection, which includes both paper-based and non-paper based materials.
The largest and most significant elements of the three-dimensional collections are historic structures. These include the site of the Arms Family Museum of Local History at 648 Wick Avenue in Youngstown, and the Harry Burt/Ross Radio Building at 325 West Federal Street in downtown Youngstown, the future site of the Mahoning Valley History Center. The current museum site includes Greystone, the former Arms residence property, its surroundings, and contents. The real and personal property that once belonged to the Arms family – from furniture, to dinnerware, to clothing – create an almost complete physical connection to the life of the estate. The house itself is an excellent example of its style. The reception room fireplace has been sited by architectural historian Sara Chase as “one of the most fully realized Arts and Crafts fireplaces in America.” From floor to ceiling, the craftsmanship, attention to detail, and overall harmony of the house combine to make a significant site for the local as well as the national community.
Another of the largest individual collections managed by MVHS is the Wirt Collection. Benjamin Franklin Wirt, prominent Youngstown public servant, collected these materials in the nineteenth century. In common with many gentlemen of his day, he amassed an assembly of ethnographic material, fine arts, curiosities, and books. (He was a dedicated and discerning bibliophile.) Through an agreement with the trustees of his estate, the museum has maintained and exhibited the Wirt Collection since 1965.
The very recent acquisition agreement for the Business and Media Archives of the Mahoning Valley collection represents a new milestone in the collecting history of MVHS. The collection features the business records as well as audio, film and videotape archives from WKBN Broadcasting Corp., the first local commercial broadcast company, dating back to 1926.
The bulk of the museum collection has been received in smaller lots since 1875. It consists of: a furnishings collection that includes more than 100 pieces of furniture outside of the Arms collection, plus floor coverings, household accessories, and lighting devices; a large personal artifacts collection, including several thousand pieces of clothing, plus personal gear and toilet articles; several thousand tools and pieces of equipment associated with work performed inside or outside the home from prehistory to the present; and several hundred games, dolls and other toys with history of local ownership or representative of significant trends in recreation history.
Numerically great in the collection are communication artifacts, which include locally produced or associated artwork, and more than one hundred thousand documentary artifacts. The documentary artifact collections include photographs, manuscripts, atlases and maps, books, blueprints, drawings, audio and video recordings, postcards, and newspapers. These relate to local families, business and industry, government, immigration, military service, religious congregations, hospitals, cemeteries, fraternal and social organizations, and other aspects of daily life in the Mahoning Valley. Large collections within the documentary artifacts are the papers of the local International Institute, photographs and drawings from the major steel producers in the Valley, the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation’s Archives, and Mahoning County government records on permanent loan.