Then & Now | WRHS in 2020



(Students viewing the Carl and Louis Stokes Making History Exhibit at the Cleveland History Center. 2020)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration – WRHS welcomed over 1,500 guests to the Cleveland History Center for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration. The African American Archives Auxiliary of WRHS, African American Genealogical Society, and the Genealogy Committee of WRHS partnered with staff to engage each visitor in exploring the CHC exhibits and dive deeper into NEO History with hands-on activities and additional archival collections. Families were encouraged to begin their own genealogy research, explore the Stokes oral history collection, and view images and headlines noting Dr. King’s visits to Cleveland.

Details are underway for 2021. Follow us @clestartshere for further announcements.

February- Black History Month

(Demetrius Williams in front of Celebrate Those Who Gives Black. 2020)

Black History Month at the Cleveland History Center – WRHS presented highlights of Black History throughout the Cleveland History Center in a unified self-guided experience.  Each stop provided guests with a deeper dive into a collective of organizations and individuals among the African American community who have made a positive impact on American History.  Highlights included local philanthropists featured in Celebrate Those Who Give Black such as the late Steve Minter, Robert P. Madison, and Christin Farmer. In addition to the permanent exhibits at the CHC, the Community History Cases featured boxer and inventor Paul A. Simpson, political activists Lethia & Thomas Fleming, and the Karamu House. Many of these stories are now available in our digital archive and virtual exhibits at

(Photograph from the AAAA Black History Month Open House. Photo credit: Hiram El-Bey.)

The African American Archives Auxiliary (AAAA) of WRHS Black History Month Open House – On February 29, AAAA hosted a meet and greet to share how this all-volunteer auxiliary founded in 1971 provides support and guidance for the development of the African American Archives collections at WRHS. The event included light refreshments, music, presentations by AAAA leadership and staff, and a special ‘white glove’ experience that gave guests the opportunity to view collections from the African American Archives, celebrating 50 years in 2020.

(Photograph from the WRHS History on Tap event, Living Legacy of Leo’s Casino. 2020)

History on Tap – WRHS opened the 2020 History on Tap series on February 22nd with Black History On Tap. Celebrating the Living Legacy of Leo’s Casino, guests of this evening event revisited when iconic singers like The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, John Coltrane, and Ray Charles all performed in Cleveland. The captivating sights and sounds of this historic 1960s Cleveland landmark were brought to life in partnership with the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and Flame Urban Chicken Grill.


(Judges evaluating a student project at the 2020 Region 3 Ohio History Day. )

National History Day – Region 3 – On March 7th, over 400 students representing public and private schools across Northeast Ohio participated in the Region 3 Ohio History Day.  This regional history competition, which was started 1974 in Cleveland is now a national competition.  Region 3 Ohio History Day, hosted annually at the Cleveland History Center and CWRU Campus, continues to be one of the largest competitions in the country.  Middle school and high school students compete for prizes and a spot at the state competition with entries in five categories: paper, website, exhibit, documentary, and performance, all tied to an annual theme.  The 2020 Theme was Breaking Barriers in History.  The 2021 competition, held virtually, will follow the theme Communication in History. The Region 3 Ohio History Day would not be possible without the countless hours of volunteer judges (nearly 150 judges each year!), volunteers, greeters, sponsors of special prizes, and our community partners.

ALL regional Ohio History Day contests will be held virtually for the 2021 contest season, and WRHS will continue to be an advocate for helping inspire the next generation to view historical thinking, communication, and argumentation skills as the cornerstone of education. SAVE THE DATE! The 2021 Region 3 Ohio History Day Competition will be held VIRTUALLY on March 27, 2021.

Cleveland Jews and the Making of a Midwestern Community – Published by Rutgers University Press in March – This publication, edited by WRHS’s Sean Martin and John J. Grabowski, is a project of the Cleveland Jewish Archives, completed in close collaboration and with the support of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. Cleveland Jews and the Making of a Midwestern Community, a collection of essays by prominent scholars, draws our attention to the ways in which the Jews of Cleveland grew and interacted with the larger community throughout the turbulent twentieth century. Ten essays by scholars from the United States, Canada, and Israel offer insight on topics such as the growth of the Orthodox, philanthropy, education, Jews and comics, Jewish participation in local and international politics, feminism, suburbanization and Black-Jewish relations, postwar Judaism, and Soviet Jewish immigration. The publication is available for purchase at


COVID-19 Impact on WRHS Operations– On March 14, WRHS closed the Cleveland History Center and Hale Farm & Village to the public, established a virtual headquarters and all administrative functions continued remotely and onsite. State of Ohio Stay at Home orders and reopening restrictions caused all onsite programs, exhibit installations, private events, and onsite K-12 programs to be cancelled or postponed. Following guidance from county Boards of Health, the State of Ohio, CDC, WHO, and scores of health experts, WRHS developed a comprehensive Restart Playbook that continues to guide operations and places the highest priority on the health and safety of staff, guests, volunteers, consultants,vendors, and stakeholders.


Share Your Story – In June, in partnership with the African American Archives Auxiliary (AAAA), we invited the community to share their stories  about Black life, culture, and consciousness during a year described as the “parallel plagues ravaging America: the coronavirus and police killings of black men and women.” WRHS began collecting photographs, correspondence, journals, artwork, music, and poetry, anything that illustrates how individuals, families, and neighbors are responding to the challenges of these ongoing crises.

The African American Archives (AAA) and African American Archives Auxiliary (AAAA, or Quad A) 50th Anniversary – In 2019 and 2020, Quad A, the all-volunteer auxiliary founded in 1971 to provide support and guidance for the development of WRHS’s African American Archives, in partnership with WRHS, has been reenergized under new leadership of President Raymond A. Weeden, African American Archives Archivist Patrice Hamiter, and Distinguished Scholar of African American History Dr. Regennia Williams, staff and so many committed to preserving and elevating the history and heritage of African Americans in Northeast Ohio and throughout the United States.


WRHS Reopens to the Public – Hale Farm & Village reopened Thursday, July 9, and the Cleveland History Center reopened on Friday, July 24. On November 19, WRHS temporarily closed the Cleveland History Center due to the recent escalation of coronavirus cases in Ohio, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health’s Stay At Home Advisory, and to protect the safety and well-being of WRHS and the communities we serve.  While Hale Farm & Village remains open to the public for Holiday Lantern Tours, WRHS is now operating with a hybrid model that blends in person, place based experiences with a host of online opportunities for continuing public engagement with our collections, stories, local and American history.

(Photos of Fall and Winter activities at Hale Farm & Village, 2020.)

In addition to doing all that we can to maintain normal levels of public operation, WRHS continued to advance a number of strategic imperatives, programs, and capital projects in 2020:


Diversity, Equity, Access and Inclusion (DEAI) – With support from the Burton D. Morgan Foundation and the GAR Foundation, WRHS initiated a facilitated process to operationalize and institutionalize its current and future DEAI work. Part of our work involves a critical evaluation of how WRHS interprets collections and experiences, including those that are racist or may perpetuate racist stereotypes.  WRHS’s mission is to inspire people to discover the American experience by exploring the tangible history of northeast Ohio and while our collections are diverse, they do not represent all of the communities we serve. As such, WRHS – as we approach our 154th year – is a work in progress. Our work – to inspire, to be representative, diverse and inclusive – is urgent. While our work will never be complete, this facilitated process will change WRHS’s relationship with the community, increase representation of northeast Ohioans in WRHS collections and experiences, and improve understanding and mutual respect for and between all members of our community.

(Mary Ann Sears Swetland Memorial Meetinghouse. 2020)

Capital Projects at Hale Farm & Village and the Cleveland History Center (CHC) – Work to complete the restoration on the 1852 Meetinghouse at HFV continued in the fall, thanks to major leadership support from the August W. and J. Belle Bowman Fund and the Howland Memorial Fund. Stay tuned for further capital improvement announcements coming early 2021!

Youth Entrepreneurship Education (YEE for CLE) and K-12 Programming – Since the spring, thanks to support from the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, staff have continued to work with partners at the Foundation and Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) to adapt curriculum to virtual formats and present programs to teachers and students. This work continues as we get deeper into the 2020-2021 academic year. This month, WRHS presented new virtual Professional Development sessions for teachers, and the delivery of virtual YEE programs will begin in January. On December 7, WRHS released the (virtual) 100 Year Club of the Western Reserve event that supports YEE for CLE.

The WRHS Experience – In the spring, WRHS launched a number of new online experiences, including a weekly newsletter for WRHS members and the new Then and Now, a weekly content-rich blog with links to articles, online exhibits, photographs and resources highlighting Cleveland and northeast Ohio history. The first edition focused on the history of Cleveland’s St. Patrick’s Day traditions. Topics since then have included Life in the 1920s, Women’s History, Politics, Activism in Cleveland, and more. Check out History@Home, our online resource for teachers, students and families.

Recent Acquisitions – Although the COVID-19 pandemic changed many aspects of how the Western Reserve Historical Society operates, the museum’s commitment to collecting and interpreting the story of Northeast Ohio remains unchanged. WRHS started several new collecting initiatives in 2020, including collecting oral histories about how the pandemic has affected the area. The museum, working in conjunction with the African American Archives Auxiliary, has also become a repository for stories related to the Black Lives Matter movement.

WRHS continued to collect physical artifacts. One exciting addition to the collection is a fully restored and operational 1956 Citroen Traction Avant Familiale. This front-wheel-drive, unibody automobile was well ahead of its time when it was first introduced in the 1930s. The Citroen is an excellent example of a European family sedan and is an excellent addition to the Crawford Auto-Aviation collection. We look forward to displaying the Citroen when car shows start up again.

In November 2020, the Research Library acquired the collection of Dr. A. Grace Lee Mims (1930-2019). Dr. Mims was an educator, a librarian, a soprano vocalist, a philanthropist, and an advocate for the arts and humanities. For more than 40 years, she hosted WCLV’s “The Black Arts” radio program. In 1971, she joined 22 other community leaders in co-founding the group that would become the African American Archives Auxiliary of the Western Reserve Historical Society. The collection includes paper documents, sound recordings, photographs, and other items.

Strategic Asset Review – This summer, WRHS initiated a comprehensive review of its assets – Properties, Collections, and Services. WRHS is uniquely positioned to leverage its many assets – six campuses, land, historic buildings, and collections, into one of a kind experiences, engagement and opportunities for WRHS that will build institutional capacity and sustain the organization over time.

New Canal Boat Exhibit at Hale Farm & Village – On July 22, 2020, Hale Farm & Village announced the grand opening of a new Canal Boat Exhibit! The exhibit, with a hand-crafted replica canal boat stern as the centerpiece, was gifted to Hale Farm & Village in 2020 by the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP). Formerly located at the Boston Store Visitor Center, the exhibit focuses on the construction and use of canal boats during the 19th century when Boston and Peninsula Townships thrived on canal boat construction and commerce.

(Photograph of Siegfried Buerling.)

During the 1990s, craftsmen from Hale Farm & Village – led by master cabinetmaker Siegfried Buerling (pictured above), the beloved former and longest serving Director of Hale Farm & Village – built a full-scale model of the stern based on a photograph of the canal boat Sterling for CVNP’s Boston Store. Hale Farm’s historic Aten Log Barn, built in 1812 and moved to the museum from Wellington, Ohio is the exhibit venue.

WRHS thanks the National Park Service and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Partners for entrusting Hale Farm & Village with an exhibit that explores canal-era history, as well as the tradition of skilled craftsmanship at Hale Farm & Village for more than 60 years!

Hale Farm & Village also announced that the Mary Ann Sears Swetland Memorial Meetinghouse restoration project as a focus for 2020. This multi-year project began in 2019 with restoration of the spire and steeple base. The next phase of the project will include steeple details, window glazing, pulpit, pew and floor restoration, new handspun floor runners and exterior work. The project is made possible with generous support from the Howland Memorial Fund, an anonymous charitable trust, and Ohio and Erie Canalway Association (OECA).



Women and Politics: Empowered to Vote, Empowered to Lead, presented by PNC – In partnership with the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland, WRHS was determined to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020 and adapted its new Women and Politics: Empowered to Vote, Empowered to Lead exhibit, presented by PNC, to an online format. The new online exhibit, along with Failure is Impossible, a film that highlights local and national women’s activists were released in August allowing people everywhere to discover Ohio’s contributions to the suffrage movement, the successful fight for the 19th Amendment, the birth and growth of the League of Women Voters as a force for good government and the election of northern Ohio women to positions of power. WRHS expects to open the permanent Women and Politics exhibit at the Cleveland History Center in 2021!


(WRHS Political collections on display at the Intercontinental Hotel, Cleveland. 2020.)

WRHS and the 2020 Presidential Debate in Cleveland –  WRHS, with one of the largest ever-growing collections of Presidential campaign memorabilia in the US, showcased its significant political collections at the debate media hub in the Intercontinental Hotel. WRHS worked closely with debate organizers and the Cleveland Clinic to install a small exhibit that provided additional content for media coverage and served as a historical backdrop for recording news segments.

The debate, as well as the political climate of 2020 further exemplified the importance of WRHS’s Women & Politics exhibit.


100 Year Club of the Western Reserve – Cleveland and Northeast Ohio are recognized leaders in cultivation of the entrepreneurial spirit, innovation and support of business startups, having been on the cutting edge for over 200 years of history. On December 7, 2020 WRHS celebrated entrepreneurship past, present and future by recognizing business longevity at the 67th annual 100 Year Club of the Western Reserve, this time over a virtual platform. Just like the organizations that make up the more than 200 members of the 100 Year Club, 2020 reminded us that change must be embraced in order to survive, and to thrive. CLICK HERE to watch the Induction Ceremony.

Congratulations to the 2020 Inductees:

The Butler Institute of American Art

Cleveland Institute of Music


*Fincun-Mancini, Inc.

Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP

*League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland

*The Millcraft Paper Company

*The National Council of Jewish Women Cleveland

*Three Arts Club of Lakewood

Western Reserve Group

*denotes minority/women led organizations

Since 1867, Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) has served the community as the trusted steward of more than 220 years of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio history.  We are your historical society. As we ALL look forward to 2021, WRHS will continue to serve you. We remain committed to listening to and learning from our fellow citizens, working to further community awareness of regional history, and presenting programs and special events that are consistent with our mission.


Thank you!