By: ERIC POSTON
Downtown Akron to open Akron History Center Next Year
DOWNTOWN AKRON — A dedicated space to tell the history of the City of Akron is expected to open next December. Construction of the Akron History Center at the Bowery is underway in Building D in the Bowery District, located at 172 S. Main St. near the intersection of South Main and Bowery streets. The Center will consist of three floors totaling approximately 3,000 square feet. Akron historian Dave Lieberth said the space is the “perfect location” as the building is in Downtown Akron and in an historic district. He added the idea of a history museum is something he has had in the back of his mind for the past 40 years. Planning for a rubber museum in Akron began in 1979 when University of Akron (UA) President Dominic Guzzetta proposed a new museum chronicling the history of the rubber industry. Lieberth, at the time a 32-year-old trustee of the Summit County Historical Society, led a committee that conducted a comprehensive review to determine whether or not Akron could support such a new museum — given that prior initiatives (1959, 1963 and 1970) were never executed.
Lieberth added that in 1987, when UA president William Muse was asked to help bring the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) to Akron, the 1980 report was dusted off. With a commitment from the Ohio Historical Society, this report was foundational to the decision by the National Council of Intellectual Property Lawyers to move the NIHF to Akron. He said with Akron’s 2025 Bicentennial celebration approaching, this was an opportunity to make the history center a reality.
“Akron is the only major city in Ohio without one,” Lieberth said.
He said planning and gathering collections for the exhibits has already begun. Development consultant for the project is Deborah McVay Williams, of Time to Spare LLC, and the design process is being led by Barrie Projects, of Cleveland Heights.
In addition, the Summit County Historical Society has established a relationship with the center, with President and CEO Leianne Neff Heppner as the curatorial consultant for the center and in charge of artifacts to be loaned from the society’s collections to the center for display, Lieberth said. The total cost for the project is estimated at $2 million and fundraising efforts so far have totaled more than $1 million in commitments, Lieberth said. The commitments include $500,000 from the City of Akron, $100,000 from Summit County government and $100,000 from the Akron Community Foundation, he added. “We’re excited to be a part of this effort that has been decades in the making,” said John Petures Jr., president and CEO of Akron Community Foundation. “The foundation at its core is dedicated to making a lasting impact on our community, and I can think of no better way to do that than by helping to preserve the history of our community.” Lieberth said there is about $400,000 outstanding in requests and a fundraising campaign will launch in the first quarter of 2023 aimed at businesses more than 60 years old.
The history center exhibits will feature the founding of Akron, the geology of Akron, construction of the Ohio and Erie Canal and the clay products and rubber industries. Exhibits will also look at the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous in Akron in 1935 and the American cereal industry, which was founded in Akron with Quaker Oats a 140-year fixture of Akron’s skyline in a factory where Cascade Plaza is located today. There will also be a focus on famous Akron residents such as the late Judith Resnik and music groups such as Devo and The Black Keys. Lieberth said there are many stories of Akron history that have not been told or have been forgotten, such as race relations and Akron City Hall being burned to the ground, just to name a few. “These stories need to be told,” he said. “It is important that people know the past that may have been forgotten or underreported.” The history center will be operated by the Akron-Summit County Public Library, but a license agreement that will detail the responsibilities of all parties is still to be completed and is expected to be presented to the Board of Trustees for the library in the first quarter of 2023, according to Lieberth.