About > WRHS History

Our Organization's Roots 

The Western Reserve Historical Society is Cleveland’s oldest existing cultural institution. It was established on May 28, 1867 as the historical branch of the Cleveland Library Association which dated from 1848. The Society’s creation was part of an important trend in the United States, the establishment of private organizations to oversee the collection and preservation of documents and objects relating to various aspects of national, regional and local history. While its original focus was on the history of “…Cleveland and the Western Reserve, and generally what relates to the history of Ohio and the Great West,” it now concentrates on the history of Northeast Ohio.
Between 1867 and 1898, the Society was located in downtown Cleveland in a building which stood on what is now (2011) the site of the KeyBank headquarters.   During this period the Society’s collections grew rapidly as did its means of support as leading citizens, including John D. Rockefeller, collectors, and scholars became associated with its operations.  The growth and stature of its collections were such that it obtained a charter from the State of Ohio on March 7, 1892 which made it an independent organization, one on a par with other major cultural and educational institutions that had arisen in the post-Civil War period.
In 1898 the Society moved to the University Circle area, occupying a large new building that was situated at the southeast corner of the intersection of Euclid Avenue and what is now Stokes Boulevard.   It remained there until 1938 when it began a move to its current location on East Boulevard with its acquisition of the Hay-McKinney mansion to house its museum. During the next six decades the construction and acquisition of structures on East Boulevard would continue, to the point where, today, its “History Center” is one of the largest complexes of its kind in the United States. The Center today houses the Society’s library and its museum complex (which includes the Frederick C. Crawford Auto Aviation Collection and the Chisholm Halle Costume Collection) as well as its administrative offices.
This period also saw expansion outside of Cleveland including the donation of the 1815 Harper Family home, Shandy Hall near Unionville in 1948, the bequest of the Jonathan Hale Homestead in 1957 and Loghurst, near Canfield in 1978.
The physical and geographic expansion of the Society’s facilities was complemented by increased professionalism of its curatorial operations and an important topical expansion of its collections. Beginning in the late 1960s the Society began aggressive programs to acquire and preserve documents and artifacts that represented the histories of Northeast Ohio’s diverse populations.   Specific programs were established in African-American, Jewish, Italian, Irish, LGBT, labor, and other areas of community history which have provided it with unparalleled resources relating to urban, industrial, immigration, and family history. These provide a critical complement to its collections on the pioneer settlement and early growth of the Western Reserve as well as to major topics such as the American Civil War, decorative arts, genealogy, and automotive and aviation history. 

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1867: The Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) was founded and located on the third floor of the Society for Savings building on Monumental Square (now Public Square).

WRHS moved to the corner of Euclid Ave¬nue and Stokes Blvd (East 107th St) and joined the growing cultural and educational center in what would eventually be called University Circle.

The Garfield family donated the former home, and its contents, of James A. Garfield in Mentor to be main-tained as a memorial to the late President and Mrs. Garfield.

WRHS purchased the Price McKinney residence (the Hay-McKinney House) on East Boulevard in University Circle to house the WRHS Museum.

WRHS exchanged its building on Euclid Avenue for the residence (the Bingham-Hanna House) of Mrs. Leonard C. Hanna on East Boulevard, adjacent to the Hay-McKinney House, to house its Library.

The David Z. Norton Family donated Shandy Hall, the pioneer home of Colonel Robert Harper located near Unionville to WRHS.

: The Jonathan Hale Homestead (now Hale Farm & Village) in Bath Township, given to WRHS through the bequest of Clara Belle Ritchie, opened to the public in September 1958.

: The Norton Central Addition, which connected the Hay-McKinney House to the Bingham-Hanna House along East Boulevard, was completed and opened.

: The first residence, the Jagger House, was moved to the site of the Western Reserve Village at Hale Farm & Village.

The Frederick C. Crawford Auto Aviation wing of WRHS opened to the public.

The Mary Ann Sears Swetland Memorial Meetinghouse, a fine example of Greek Revival architecture, moved from Streetsboro to the Hale Farm & Village, was dedicated.

Josephine Kyle donated Loghurst, the oldest log house in Ohio, ca. 1803, located in Canfield, to WRHS.

: The new Library Building, originally free-standing behind the Crawford Auto Aviation wing, on Magnolia Drive, opened.

: A section of the Norton Central Addition was converted into storage and exhibition space for the costume collection and was named the Chisholm Halle Costume Wing.

: The Reinberger Entrance and Gallery, connecting the Library to the Crawford Museum, opened as well as the Thomas J. Lester Wing of the Crawford Museum.

1870: WRHS began its publication program with Tract No. 1 “Battle of Frenchtown, Michigan, January, 1813” by Rev. Thomas P. Dudley

1881: After the funeral ceremonies on Public Square and in Lake View Cemetery, memorials, wreaths, and portraits of assassinated President James A. Garfield were given to WRHS.

1892: WRHS formally separated from the Cleveland Library Association and adopted a new state charter incorporating it as an indepen­dent not-for-profit organization.  The campaign to raise money to purchase its building on Public Square was initiated by a $10,000 gift from John D. Rockefeller and $5,000 from Jeptha Homer Wade II.

Moving to expanded facilities at 107th & Euclid permitted growth of library and museum collections and more frequent public lectures.

1911: William P. Palmer officially donated his extensive Civil War Collection, one of the largest in private hands at that time.

1912: The first classes of Cleveland schoolchildren were invited to tour the WRHS Museum and, by 1928, more than three hundred school classes visited the Muse­um each year.

1925: The WRHS costume collection began with the donation of the wedding dress worn by the wife of Cleveland’s first mayor, John Willey.

1929: The Great Depression brought a halt to WRHS growth and only through the leadership and generosity of Laurence H. Norton did WRHS survive the 1930s.

1940: One of the original versions of the “Spirit of ‘76” painting by Archibald Willard was accessioned by the WRHS Museum.

1942: The Women’s Advisory Council (now the Museum Advisory Council) was created.

1947: The Cleveland Board of Education assigned a fulltime teacher to WRHS to work with Cleveland Public School classes.

1953: WRHS celebrated the State of Ohio’s Sesquicentennial with a year-long series of lectures, educational programs, and exhibits. The Bingham Doll House, built for Charles W. Bingham’s daughters, was presented to WRHS by Mrs. Elizabeth Blossom and Mrs. Frances Payne Bolton.

1963: The TRW Auto-Aviation collection, formerly known at the Thompson Products Auto Album and Aviation Museum, was presented to WRHS.

1965: Robert Manry accomplished a solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in the Tinkerbelle, a 13.5 foot sloop that he formally presented to WRHS in 1967.

1970:  The Black History Archives (now the African-American Archives) was established, one of the first centers for African American scholarship in the U.S.

1971: WRHS established the Cleveland Regional Ethnic Archives Project to document the history of the many ethnic communities in Northeastern Ohio. It would eventually lead to the creation of specially funded collecting programs in Jewish, Irish, and Italian history

1974: WRHS was selected to host the national conference celebrating the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Shakers in America because it possessed the Wallace H. Cathcart Shaker Collection, the finest in the world.

1976: The Bicentennial Conference on American Genealogy, the second national event ever held, was hosted by WRHS in Cleveland.
The Cleveland Jewish Archives Program was formally established.

1978: The Concours d’Elegance, one of the first national exquisite collector car events, was hosted by WRHS at Hawken School.

1987: WRHS presented “Signatures for Liberty,” an exhibition showcasing one of the four surviving handwritten copies of the Magna Carta and other historic documents of freedom.

1991: The “Showplace of America” exhibit, accompanied by a well-researched book, told the story of famous old Euclid Avenue, Cleveland’s Millionaires’ Row, judged “one of the most beautiful streets in the world.”

1996: WRHS partnered with Case Western Reserve University in the publication of the second edition of The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History and the publication of the Dictionary of Cleveland Biography.

2005: The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage opened, highlighted by an exhibition of local Jewish history based on collections and research provided by WRHS.

2007: WRHS hosted “Diana a Celebration” a world touring exhibition, attended by more than 80,000 visitors in a four month span.

2008: WRHS hosted “Vatican Splendors from Saint Peters Basilica and the Vatican Museums.”

2011: The Jewish Federation of Cleveland successfully completed its campaign to raise a $2,000,000 endowment to support the Jewish archives program at WRHS.
WRHS received a bequest of $12,000,000 from the estate of Kay Crawford for support of the Crawford Auto-Aviation Collection.

Charles Whittlesey


Charles Candee Baldwin


Henry Clay Ranney


Liberty Emery Holden


Wallace Hugh Cathcart


William Pendleton Palmer


Otto Miller


Laurence Harper Norton


Herman Lansing Vail


Frederick C. Crawford


Robert C. McDowell


Paul W. Walter


Douglas N. Barr


Patrick H. Reymann

James A. Schoff


Gary S. Adams

Don Dailey

Wallace H. Cathcart


Elbert J. Benton


Russell H. Anderson


Colton Storm

Meredith B. Colket, Jr.


Theodore Anton Sande


Richard L. Ehrlich


Patrick H. Reymann

Gainor B. Davis, Ph.D.

2013 - Present
Kelly Falcone-Hall, Interim CEO