From its humble beginnings as a history center with no permanent home to its current incarnation, The Historical Society of Mount Lebanon has seen its share of transformations.
As the society prepares to celebrate its silver anniversary, Mt. Lebanon Magazine sat down with five presidents—four former and one current—to discuss the history of the history center.
Prior to the society’s founding—its official birthday is November 4, 1998—much of Mt. Lebanon’s history was crammed into a filing cabinet at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library, and later in a storage facility along Route 88.
Prompted by an article in the March, 1998, issue of Mt. Lebanon Magazine, in which an appeal went out for volunteers to help spark an interest in reviving the original historical society, which disbanded in the mid-’70s, the late Wally Workmaster became the founding president.
Karen and Mike Cahall, Vermont Avenue, M.A. Jackson, who grew up on Fieldbrook Drive, Jim Wojcik, Longridge Drive, and Geoff Hurd, Tampa Avenue, all followed in Workmaster’s footsteps.
It was during Jackson’s presidency that the center moved from the library into the basement of the building it now occupies, the former Mt. Lebanon Tax Office. Although the stucco building’s main entrance is at 794 Washington Road, the society’s front door was on Lebanon Avenue, and the space was cramped from the beginning. Finding a location was Jackson’s No. 1 priority. “We don’t know what’s in storage and the people who gave us these things probably want the community to see them,” she said.
Jim Wojcik was at the helm when the center brokered a deal to take over the entire building. “We reopened the history center in September 2018 with our very first exhibit in the new space on the first floor. It was to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the Mt. Lebanon Fire Department,” he said.
The Historical Society of Mount Lebanon is open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The next rotating exhibit, opening in early October, is called “Unpacked and Rediscovered.”
“We could be open more hours if we had more volunteers,” Wojcik said. “We’re a 100 percent volunteer organization. There’s no paid staff. So, the more volunteers we have, the more things we can do for the community, including being open more than just Saturdays from 9 to 3.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS A HISTORY CENTER TO A COMMUNITY LIKE MT. LEBANON, WITH SUCH A RICH HISTORY?
Geoff Hurd: “There’s interesting and fascinating stories that deserve to be preserved. It’s amazing how fast we forget things, so we’re trying to be the institutional memory for stuff that’s worth remembering.”
Mike Cahall: “I would argue that all history is local. The past influences the present. To make people be good residents, they need to have some kind of historic background to understand how this place developed and how it grew and how it got to be what it is.”
Jim Wojcik: “This represents a place where they can find out a little more about their roots. This way, when they come into the community and they come into the history center they’ll learn something more about the community and from that I think become better residents, better citizens of the community and take a little more pride in Mt. Lebanon. I think it’s part of what makes Mt. Lebanon such a special place.”
M.A. Jackson: “We are history and that’s what I wanted to do when I became president—make everybody in this community realize that they are the history of Mt. Lebanon, whether they live here for a week or their entire lives. They are the history of Mt. Lebanon.”
Karen Cahall: “For me, not being from Mt. Lebanon, even though we’ve lived here a significant number of years now, the historical society really shares those stories, shares what’s special about the community. If you don’t have an organization doing that, you go about your daily life not aware of what made Mt. Lebanon so incredible.”
The Historical Society of Mount Lebanon will mark its silver anniversary with a party at the History Center, 794 Washington Road, Thursday, October 5, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50. An online auction of more than 60 items takes place through October 5. For more information, to purchase tickets or to place a bid, visit www.lebohistory.org.