Member Spotlight: Lorain Historical Society
Written by Rebecca Larson-Troyer, originally published February 4, 2014
The Lorain Historical Society, formerly Black River Historical Society, has undergone some major changes over the past year. In early 2013, the organization hired Executive Director Barb Piscopo, followed by the acquisition of Lorain’s former Carnegie Library building in August and an organizational name change in November. Current projects and new partnerships are helping the 33-year-old organization move toward its goal of expansion, both in square footage and community presence.
The Lorain Historical Society operates the Moore House Museum and a research center also located within this historic early twentieth century home. Saved from demolition in the 1990s, the Moore House Museum combines historic room displays with exhibits that showcase the collections of the Historical Society. Exhibits mark the accomplishments of distinguished residents, commemorate the city’s industrial heritage and honor the ethnic groups that contributed to the city’s culture and prosperity. Veterans and local safety and service officers are well remembered, along with the 72 residents killed during the 1924 Lorain Tornado—a disaster which claimed the lives of 85 Ohioans in all and ranks as the state’s deadliest tornado.
In addition to collaborative projects with the local school district, the public library, the city and local genealogical groups, Lorain Historical Society serves to preserve, interpret and educate the public about the history of Lorain, Ohio. The work of the Lorain Historical Society is managed by Executive Director Barb Piscopo—the organization’s only paid staff member. Her efforts are supported by a team of roughly 20 volunteers whom Piscopo describes as, “passionate about Lorain and its history.” Since her arrival at the organization, Piscopo has built on the work of dedicated volunteers to ramp up membership, forge community partnerships and reorganize and strengthen the volunteer base. Renovation already underway on the recently acquired Carnegie building will provide a new museum and center for the Historical Society, which Piscopo hopes will provide opportunities for additional paid staff to more effectively serve the community.
Like many once-thriving industrial cities, Lorain suffered economic losses beginning in the 1960s. A core generation who remains in the city fondly remembers Lorain’s most prosperous times, but the Historical Society has committed itself to similarly capturing the interests of younger generations. Piscopo considers this a guiding factor in the renovation of the Carnegie building, which is in part aimed at engaging residents whose memories do not extend back to the city’s “heyday.” With the help of a consultant, the Historical Society is working to identify themes in Lorain’s history that will resonate with Baby Boomers and Millennials alike. Efforts include building technology into the museum experience and involving residents and those beyond the city in the preservation and retelling of Lorain’s history digitally. Piscopo also looks to the future, saying “We cannot stop at the past. We need to be able to imagine a future for the city and engage people in creating a new story to be told.”
New projects and renewed efforts are helping the Lorain Historical Society look toward this future. Piscopo sums up her organization’s work nicely:
“There is an excitement and engagement around preserving history and being able to pass that history on as a legacy to succeeding generations. Even though people are limited by age, finances or other resources, they want to participate in handing down a legacy. That is what historical societies do, and the Lorain Historical Society is no different.”
The Lorain Historical Society’s Moore House Museum, 309 West 5th Street, Lorain, Ohio, is open Wednesday – Friday, 11 am to 4 pm, Saturday 11 am to 3 pm. For more information, visit www.loraincityhistory.org or contact the Lorain Historical Society at 440.245.2563.
Rebecca Larson-Troyer is a Region 3 representative of the Ohio Local History Alliance and a librarian in the Special Collections Division of the Akron-Summit County Public Library in Akron, Ohio.