Organizer Says New Akron History Museum Will Partner, Not Compete, With City Institutions
Akron is approaching its 200th anniversary, and a museum celebrating the city’s history is set to open Downtown in fall 2023.
“We have 16 different history organizations,” said Dave Lieberth, executive secretary of the Bicentennial Commission. “There is no one place where visitors or residents can see all of Akron’s 200-year history.”
Lieberth has been working on the idea since 1983, when he chaired a Summit County Historical Society committee to determine if the town needed a rubber museum. After a year, he says the consensus was that any museum should be bigger than just one industry.
“Forty years later, the stars have finally aligned,” he said.
These stars include a rent-free lease on a building in the Bowery Project, which has received historic federal and state tax credits and cannot be used for retail. Instead, it will house the three-story museum and serve as a hallway between Main Street and Lock 4. The museum will partner with sources such as the Akron-Summit County Historical Society and Public Library. . The library will operate the museum as soon as it opens.
Lieberth calls it an “umbrella” for the city’s other historic institutions, such as Stan Hywet, Hower House, Perkins Mansion, John Brown House, and the Cascade Locks Park Association. He plans to shine a light on Akron’s spirit of innovation: canal construction, lighter-than-air aviation, and even Akron-born astronaut Judith Resnik, who perished in the space shuttle. Challenger. The museum will also include artifacts from the city’s cultural history.
“There is no other place where the African-American story is told,” he said. “Or the stories of the immigrants who passed through Akron and found a place there to start a new life. Those stories will be told in this center, including some of the stories that aren’t so nice, but [are] part of our history.”
This includes the construction of the inner belt. The remains of this “urban renewal” project will be visible from the new museum.
“When 3,000 homes in Akron were relocated… [it was] usually without enough money to build a new house, and there were no new homes being built. This is one of the stories that needs to be told. Maybe it’s the kind of thing where people don’t get everything in one visit,” he said.
Lieberth has written extensively on the city’s history and served as Mayor Don Plusquellic’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2012. He hopes to announce a major sponsor for the project later this year. The Akron City Council last week approved a $450,000 grant toward the project’s $2 million goal.
The museum is designed by Barrie Projects of Cleveland Heights. Dennis Barrie was founding director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Kathy Barrie ran Cleveland’s LAND studio.