The mission of the Wayne County Historical Society is to collect, preserve, and interpret artifacts and experiences that reflect the cultural heritage of the county for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations.
The society can trace its beginnings to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, at which Wooster businessman James Mullins found his attention riveted by a huge taxidermied collection of birds and mammals. When the World’s Fair closed, Mullins purchased the collection and rented a railroad boxcar to transport the collection back to Wooster. James Mullins served on the board of the Wooster Free Library Association, along with friend George Swartz, who had retired from Foss & Swartz (which became the Wooster Brush Co.). In 1904 the Wooster Free Library Association received a gift from Andrew Carnegie, the founder of U.S. Steel and literacy philanthropist, via the Carnegie Foundation to construct the Wayne County Public Library in 1905. It was decided that a Museum would be created on the second floor of the new library and George Swartz was named curator. The stuffed-animal collection procured by James Mullins, was the first artifact placed in the Wooster Museum and more items immediately began to flow in. That same year the museum obtained the Indian artifact collection of Dr. Joseph Todd, and in 1907 received the mineral collection of C.C. Parsons. Swartz continued as curator of the Wooster Museum until his death in 1924, at which time he was succeeded by Alvin Rich, who also ran the Rich & Co. Hardware store on the northeast corner of Public Square, and had worked alongside George Swartz to expand the museum collections during Swartz’s tenure. After Swartz’s death, Alvin Rich spent the next three decades building the museum’s collections. He wrote many scholarly articles and carefully documented the early history and development of the county. Rich used his personal time and resources to expand the collections of the museum and was not content to just collect artifacts but recorded the context and use of each item.
In the late 1940s a group of Wayne County educators and historians began meeting to promote history education in the area. The group incorporated in 1954 as the Wayne County Historical Society. In 1955 The College of Wooster approached the newly incorporated historical society with an offer to perpetually lease the Beall-Stibbs Homestead and grounds on E. Bowman St. to the historical society so long as the Society remains a historical society. At the same time the Wayne County Public Library needed the space occupied by the museum on the second floor of their building and wanted it moved out so they had space for more books. At this point in time the old Wooster Museum decided to merge with the Wayne County Historical Society. The Museum’s collections were moved to the Beall-Stibbs Homestead in 1957 and following a number of renovations, the museum opened to the public in 1958 under the auspices of the Wayne County Historical Society.
Dramatic changes occurred to the site over the next 50 years that included the acquisition of a pre-Civil War log cabin, an 1873 Wooster Township #3 Schoolhouse, the 1880’s Fredericksburg General Store, a carriage building, an enlarged replica of Relief #4 Fire Station, the construction and multiple expansions of the Kister building, and greater renovation of the Beall-Stibbs Homestead. However, to this day, the Museum’s three original collections, Mullin’s stuffed-birds, Todd’s American Indian artifacts, and Parson’s mineral collection, remain a nucleus of the Wayne County Historical Society’s acquisitions.
This all volunteer Society depends entirely on donations, fundraisers, and admission fees, including the investment income from two permanently endowed funds under the management of the Wayne County Community Foundation. These endowed funds are known as the Permanent General Endowment Fund, created to provide continuing financial support to the WCHS in order to fulfill its mission of preservation and education of Wayne County’s history; and the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Permanent Endowment Fund, established to provide continuing financial support for the mission of the WCHS based on a prior funding agreement from the GAR Foundation. With your help, the Wayne County Historical Society can continue to educate future generations about this area’s fascinating heritage.
Wayne County Historical Society
546 E. Bowman Street
Wooster, OH 44691