Early years of the Wayne County Historical Society

Writer Ann Gasbarre details how the Wayne County Historical Society and Museum got it’s start via a souvenir from the 1904 St. Louis Exposition.

In a Wooster Daily Record article dated April 1, 1920, George J. Swartz of Wooster recalled the beginning of what is now known as the Wayne County Historical Society. Swartz headed the committee in charge of organizing what was called “The Wooster Museum” back then. “In 1903,” he wrote, “the Public Library was completed and occupied, except the second floor which remained unused. In 1905 the Trustees permitted me to start a museum. Funds for the library could not be used. For more than a year I tried in vain to interest someone. “One day I met the president of our library board at the station on his way to visit the St. Louis Exposition and requested him on his return to bring a souvenir to start the museum. In due time he returned and brought a package of photographs of mounted birds. These were given me to select 12 most useful for the students of our high school. With the help of teachers these were purchased and later some 30 more. This, then was the beginning.”

Through newspaper articles, Swartz said the local papers helped materially in obtaining historical, pioneer and other valuable documents and relics. “Then,” he continued, “I gave an excursion netting enough to enable me to order seven cases and stands for the birds. By last November a large amount of relics had accumulated; more cases were absolutely necessary.”

Swartz said he appealed to friends for financial help and “with the aid of our manual training department, eight more cases were added. “Our room (at the library),” he explained, “is 70×30 with a high ceiling. At the north end of the room are placed the tables containing cases of mounted birds. Some of the most beautiful cases are attached to the walls.

“The floor cases are used as follows: two for historical documents relating to the town; two for pioneer relics; two for Mound Builders for Indian relics (only choice specimens are exhibited, all from our county); two cases contain minerals, all mounted on blocks covered with black velvet and properly labeled.

“One case with beautiful geology specimens; one case of obsolete money; two cases contain West African relics donated by missionaries; one case of Philippine relics; one case of a miscellaneous collection from various countries; one case from north-west Canada contains a fine collection of clothing and implements used by the Indians, all ornamented with bead work. Also, some very rare specimens from Chile; a good collection of petrified wood from Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado; also a splendid collection from the Bad Lands of North Dakota.

“Want of more cases,” he said, “prevents me from showing a fine collection of shells, corals and birds’ eggs. “For 15 years,” he continued, “I have been interested in and have devoted much time and labor to promote the museum at no expense to the library or town, but an interest is being aroused and the Board of Education sees the value of the museum and proposes to give some assistance financially.”

He concluded by saying he was doing “something toward making others happy.”

Ann Gasbarre is a member of the board of trustees of the Wayne County Historical Society. She is also a writer for The Daily Record, with a column appearing every Friday.

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