Kinsman House facelift finished

WARREN – Restoration work being done at the Kinsman House will have an early unveiling Feb. 16 and 17 during the Warren Heritage Center’s Black History programs.

Mayor Doug Franklin, Councilwoman Helen Rucker and local area historian Wendell Lauth will give presentations outlining the history and contributions of African-Americans in the Trumbull County region from the earliest years of the Western Reserve to the present. The lectures will begin at 6 p.m.

Black History Month begins today.

The 183-year-old Kinsman House, 303 Mahoning Ave., has been on the National Historic Register since 1970. When renovations are complete, it will become the Warren Heritage Center.

The center will be accepting artifacts and documents for display and study.

“We want to tell the city’s story,” Councilman Jim Valesky, D-at Large, said. “To tell the story of early Warren, with a special emphasis on Warren’s role as the first economic and judicial center of the Connecticut Western Reserve area, to collect, preserve and interpret objects that emphasize the uniqueness of our city.”

Rucker said the Warren Heritage Center is being designed to teach young people about the important contributions of every race and nationality in the city, including Irish, Italians, Greeks, Germans, African-Americans and others.

“We are starting with the contribution of blacks in Warren, because this is Black History Month,” Rucker said. “We are hoping to attract all people interested in the area’s history.

“People should know about the black migration to Warren and other communities in Ohio,” she said.

Rucker will discuss the contributions of black women in Warren, including Elma Curry, an African-American golfer who has a tournament named after her and still lives in Warren, and Judi Toles, who recently retired from the Trumbull County Board of Elections after working there for more than 43 years.

Toles was the first black woman hired at the Board of Elections as a full-time employee and remained the only one during her time at the board.

Franklin and Lauth plan to talk about the slave trade and how it manifested in this area, the area’s contribution to the underground railroad, blacks coming into the area to work in area steel mills and their growth in the labor unions, to Warren’s first black councilman, Earnie Breckenridge; first black councilwoman, Rucker; and first black mayor, Franklin.

“I am going to discuss the city’s first known black property owner, its first black business owner, and others whose lives were affected by Ohio’s black codes – which were laws that existed in Ohio that was very restrictive to the lives of black settlers in the state,” Franklin said.

Lauth described Warren and much of northeast Ohio being important stops for those traveling the underground railroad, because it is about 50 miles from the Ohio River, where slaves crossed into the state from southern slave states and traveled to Lake Erie, where they crossed into Canada.

“We were very much in the center of things,” Lauth said. “There were numerous stops on underground railroad in Trumbull County, including seven to eight locations in Warren.

Stops on the underground railroad were locations where fugitive slaves could rest on their way to their new homes.

“We believe it is important for young people to know when and why their parents and grandparents moved into the area and why they stayed,” Rucker said.

Rucker emphasized that while the heritage center will outline the works of prominent Warren residents, it also will discuss the contributions of ordinary residents who make up the city.

The Kinsman House was built in 1832 by Gen. Simon Perkins as a wedding gift for his daughter, Olive and fiancee’ Frederick Kinsman.

The total cost of renovation cost was $300,000, with half provided through a grant from Save America’s Treasures program of the Department of Interior’s National Park Service. The remaining money for the project was provided through the Housing of Urban Development.

A new elevator was placed on the outside of the building to maintain the historic nature of the home on the inside, and two handicapped accessible restrooms was placed on the first floor of the building. Kreidler Construction Co., the general contractor of the project, has been working to save as much as possible of the building’s original brick and stone work.

A formal unveiling of the restoration work done at the Kinsman House will take place later this year.

rsmith@tribtoday.com