Akron is the only major city in Ohio without a space dedicated to chronicling its history — an issue officials plan to resolve with a grant to begin construction on a new museum slated to open downtown next fall.
Located at the Bowery at 172 S. Main St., the three-story, 3,000-square foot building will include exhibits, artifacts and photos sharing the city’s history over 200 years, including “stories that maybe haven’t always been told,” Bicentennial Commission Executive Secretary David Lieberth said.
“Some of Akron’s past that wasn’t so good,” Lieberth said in a May 16 presentation to Akron City Council, citing the prevalence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s and the failed innerbelt project that displaced thousands of Black households in the 1960s. “We like to brag about Akron’s successes… but we’ve had failures in society and in the course of moving forward, there have been backward steps. Those are parts of Akron as well.”
The first floor will feature Akron’s earliest history of the area’s indigenous people, the construction of the Ohio Erie Canal and more. The second floor, called “Boomtown,” will tell the stories of the industries that made Akron, including clay production, farm machinery, cereal and, of course, rubber. Social movements, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, which was founded in Akron, also will be documented in exhibits.
“The whole history of Akron will be revealed,” said Lieberth, who formerly served as the mayor’s chief of staff and deputy mayor of administration from 2002 to 2012. “We really want people to learn about that history.”
Items and images come from the Summit County Historical Society, Akron-Summit County Public Library and the University of Akron archives, including an eight-inch flint blade unearthed by archaeologists along Portage Path, early tire making equipment and a flag and patch from the space uniform of Judith Resnik, an Akron native who died on the Challenger mission.
Following passage of legislation by Akron City Council on Monday, the mayor’s office will disburse a $450,000 grant over two years to begin construction of the exhibits. The total fundraising goal is $2 million. The space is ready to use, with infrastructure, lighting, security cameras and more.
Consultants are currently assisting with the design phase.
Doors are scheduled to open in September 2023. Admission will be free to the public.
The space will be operated by the Akron Summit County Public Library.
Building D, where the center will be housed, is the only space in the six-building block of the Bowery zoned for nonprofit use. The library will not pay rent and will only be responsible for paying utilities once opened. The $2 million fundraising goal includes utility assistance for the first year.
One employee from the library’s special collections division will be assigned to the exhibit. It will be staffed on a volunteer basis throughout the day with paid security.
The history center is part of Akron’s upcoming yearlong bicentennial celebration in 2025. The bicentennial’s commission, made up of 24 residents from each of Akron’s wards and neighborhoods, will consult on the Akron history center and other projects associated with the celebration.
“If history teaches us nothing else, we can overcome our differences, we can overcome those setbacks and we can be where we are today, which is a city moving forward,” Lieberth said.
Reporter Abbey Marshall is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Learn more at reportforamerica.org. Contact her at at [email protected]