Warren County Historical Society launches fundraising campaign to protect its artifacts

For the past 82 years, the Warren County Historical Society been a center of learning and preservation of historical artifacts going back more than 200 years.

However, the local organization’s facilities that include the Harmon Museum and the Armstrong Conference Center are in need of major system upgrades and some replacements.

Executive Director Michael Coyan said the society recently kicked off a $5 million multi-year fundraising campaign, “Celebrate Our Future,” to raise the funds needed to take care of its facilities and its assets that range from historical documents, artworks, paintings and other artifacts dating back to the Shakers and the Hopewell tribe that lived and settled throughout Warren County.

Coyan said among the systems to be replaced includes the climate control and humidity system in its storage vaults which include historical papers dating back to the days of George Washington and other presidents. He said the museum also holds the second largest art collection between the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Dayton Institute of Art.

“We have works that go back to 1770,” Coyan said. “We also have the second largest textiles collections in Ohio only behind Kent State (University)” he said.

The fundraising campaign was announced during the society’s Founder’s Day celebration May 6.

Coyan said other historians have described the Harmon Museum as “having a unique and diverse collection.”

Among some of the museum’s artifacts on display include a communion chalice belonging to one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Mary Todd Lincoln’s shawl, and the hand-written hymnal belonging to Benjamin Dunleavy, one of Warren County’s founders.

He called the system repairs and replacements are “a thing of necessity.” Last winter, the society had to resort to online Go Fund Me donations to raise the funds needed to repair severe roof damages to cover the museum’s high deductible. The repairs have been completed and the area has reopened to the public, he said.

Coyan said the fundraising revenues would go toward repairs, replenishing its endowment that was used for the seven months the museum was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Funds would be used to update electrical wiring, security and fire detection systems; replace the vault’s climate and humidity control system required for storage of fragile items; upgrade and integrate office computer systems; retire the mortgage on the new addition; and establish an operating fund to help with day-to-day operations

He said the last time the society conducted a fundraising campaign was 35 years ago.

Acknowledging the uncertainties of the current economy, Coyan said they “would not be asking the community for assistance if it wasn’t needed.”

“We want to make sure this institution is passed on to the next generation and that these artifacts can be preserved and secured,” he said. “Meeting this goal will be a challenge, but a necessary challenge. We have been entrusted with priceless artifacts which proudly reflect the history, art, and culture of Warren County. Now is the time to ensure that these precious artifacts are preserved and protected.

Coyan said last year, the museum attracted about 13,000 visitors. He said two weeks ago, the museum drew 467 visitors from all over Ohio, 26 states and five foreign nations.

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