Youngstown, OH: Arms Family Museum and Tyler History Center

When I mentioned a few posts ago that I hadn’t done anything particularly Christmassy worth blogging about, it wasn’t entirely true. I did go to a decorated historic home, but it was after I wrote the post that would go out near Christmas, and I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the house’s interior, so this post won’t look very festive anyway. But yes, whilst I was in Youngstown, I also went to the Arms Family Museum, which is just a few buildings down from the Butler Institute on the edge of the YSU campus.

Admission to the house is normally $7, and though I can’t find confirmation of this on their website, I seem to recall that when we visited, it was a little bit more, maybe $9(?) presumably on account of their Christmas event “Memories of Christmas Past,” which runs throughout December. This also includes admission to the Tyler History Center, located across Youngstown, of which more later.

There wasn’t much about the family inside the home, other than a small display in the museum section, so I’m not even sure what they were known for, if anything, but I get the impression that they were sort of like the Seiberlings of Stan Hywet, on a much smaller scale (obviously not many are going to match the wealth of the founder of Goodyear). Like the Seiberlings, the Arms family were also ardent Anglophiles (say that five times fast), with a special interest in the Tudors (at least their architecture), and thus they collected as many old world antiques as they could reasonably stuff their home with. And, like Stan Hywet, the Arms House (named Greystone, another similarity, as Stan Hywet is old English for stone quarry – looks like the Seiberlings were more pretentious too) also goes all-out when decorating for Christmas, albeit not quite as all-out, since the Arms House doesn’t have gardens (or a glass house, or a restaurant or a gingerbread stall) like Stan Hywet. The two families would have roughly been contemporaries, though Greystone was actually built first, in 1905, whilst Stan Hywet wasn’t completed until 1915.

Anyway, enough about Stan Hywet, and more on Greystone. The ground floor of the house was adorned with vintage decorations, with a different era/theme being represented in each room. The only text in here was about the decorations, and there was a scavenger hunt where you had to try to find certain decorations in each room, which was probably intended for children, but of course Marcus and I did one together (there weren’t prizes though, just the satisfaction of having completed it, I guess). I do wish there had been more about the family – there were volunteers stationed in each room to make sure we didn’t touch anything, who would presumably have been happy to provide information if I’d asked, but I much prefer to just read it for myself. I did get the impression that 99% of their visitors were from Youngstown and come every year for the Christmas event, so maybe they just assumed everyone knew about the house already, but it’s not the best way to attract tourists, and it made the whole thing feel a bit cliquey, especially as everyone there seemed to know each other.

The decorations were mostly adorable though, and there was a lot more information (though mostly not on the house itself) once we got upstairs to the museum section. This included a room full of mid-century modern furniture manufactured in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, another full of the collections of Benjamin Franklin Wirt (a lawyer and Ohio state senator who loved collecting all sorts of crap), a display on the First World War (I was a little disappointed that the song they’d chosen to accompany it wasn’t “Over There” or the “Madamoiselle from Armentieres,” the latter of which has become a particular favourite since twice watching They Shall Not Grow Old), some illustrations from a Christmas children’s book that I’d never heard of (by a Youngstown-based author), and finally, a room full of Olive Arms’s architectural plans for the house, which I guess at least explained something, though not being particularly well versed in architectural terms, I would have much preferred something about the family and how they got the money to build their damn house in the first place.

Once we’d returned downstairs, we thought we had finished, but were instead directed to the “North Pole” in the basement. This was obviously aimed at children, though fortunately there was no Santa on site when we were there (he sometimes is though, I think), so we were free to put on teeny costumes and get a picture in Santa’s sleigh (the hat was about all we could fit into, and even that was a squeeze), or participate in craft activities (we gave those a miss). The shop on the ground floor had a wonderful collection of vintage decorations that you could actually purchase, and if I was richer I would have bought almost everything, but the prices were a little high and I was worried about transporting stuff back to the UK (my suitcase is always so full of bagels and cereal that I don’t have much room to spare), so I left empty-handed.

  
But we weren’t finished with the Mahoning Valley Historical Society yet, as we had to head across town to the Tyler History Center, which wasn’t actually all that far away, since Youngstown is pretty small. They had parking right outside, along with a creepy old advert for Good Humor products, since the company was started in Youngstown.
  
The museum is in quite a large building, as you can probably see, but only one floor of it is currently actually museum (they might occasionally have displays on some of the other floors, but one of them just looked like it was used for events, as it had tables set up on it). This was a reasonably comprehensive journey through the history of Youngstown, told mostly through panels, with some artefacts. It was fairly standard local history fare, but I did like many of the artefacts, especially the roller coaster car from Youngstown’s old amusement park (why is every amusement park that looked cool now defunct?!), and the old police ledger from 1932, where 90% of the arrests were for drunkenness (bearing in mind Prohibition was still in effect). I also thought the layout was quite good because the panels divided up the space and made it into more of an experience since you had to work your way through chronologically.
  
There was also a small gallery in the back that contained more of Benjamin Franklin Wirt’s possessions – at least we were allowed to take pictures of these ones, so you can get a better idea of the sort of thing he collected (other than my earlier evocative description of “crap”); mainly Eastern artefacts, and a bit of presidential memorabilia. The History Center had a shop with a freezer full of Good Humor products, which is smart if you ask me, because after reading about the company in the museum, I’m sure many people go on to crave an ice cream (I totally was, but since it was winter, I worried they might have been sitting around for a while, and it’s probably for the best that I didn’t, because we stopped for pizza at this little hole in the wall with a brick oven (literally a hole in the wall) in Akron on the way home, and I stuffed myself stupid on NY style thin crust margherita and fried provolone wedges). I did, however, buy a t-shirt for Marcus featuring anthropomorphic peppers in oil (apparently a Youngstown thing due to their large Italian population, but this wasn’t explained in the museum, so I looked it up later. I thought maybe it was peppers sauteed in oil, like some people (not me!) put on sausages or whatever, but apparently they just can peppers in olive oil, and eat them on bread or toast).
  
So I did learn a lot more about Youngstown (which to be fair I knew almost nothing about going in, other than Handel’s), and got to enjoy some Christmas decorations. I don’t think the Tyler History Center is worth the price of admission if you’re not visiting the Arms Family Museum as well, but I think they figure people will go to both properties, in which case I do think you get your money’s worth. 3/5 for the Mahoning Valley Historical Society as a whole (more signage in the Arms House though please!).

6 comments

  1. I was just looking at an old police log book at a museum here in Philly. Really interesting. I’m sure you could put together a fun anthropological project examining changes in policing using those old log books.

  2. That really is a creepy ad for Good Humour – sorry, Humor (my Canadian snuck in) – though I have to admit, I spent my childhood with that haircut. Come to think of it, it’s kind of close even now.
    Love that Wild Cat roller-coaster car, and I’d love an afternoon reading old police blotters. I even kind of like that Goebels doll, though that one in particular has a bit of “sullen teen” to it.
    I love the last photo with the well-dressed Penguin founder. What’s with Youngstown and penguins?

    1. Still better than my childhood haircut, which was basically a mullet. My mother claims it was because I hated having my hair cut, but then why not just grow it long all over? Why cut bangs and short sides?!
      No idea what the Youngstown penguin connection is. Maybe they just like penguins?

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