On October 7, 2023, the Westerville History Museum was recognized by the Ohio Local History Alliance for So You Think You Know Westerville, a 24-episode video series featuring little-known stories, new spins on old stories, and myth-busting about Westerville, Ohio.
The History Outreach Awards are presented to outstanding projects that have educational content, that have contributed to the promotion and understanding of local and state history, and that have had an impact on the community– in other words, projects that inspired, connected, and educated their audiences to local history.
Created by staff Nina (former museum manager), Katy (museum specialist), and Jim (museum associate), this series has inspired conversations about landmarks, such as a semi-abandoned building formerly known as the Ohio Home for the Aged & Infirm Deaf. In addition, it has provided fascinating insights into the research process, such as the real-time search for an indigenous peoples' mound that appeared (and then disappeared) from area maps over time. And most importantly, it has amplified the stories of trailblazing residents, such as a woman named Minerva France who helped set a precedent for Black women in librarianship and higher education - and for whom a new elementary school in the district was recently named (in large part due to the research efforts of museum staff).
By filming on location, those who watch the videos are able to merge their knowledge of present-day Westerville with what came before, providing a deeper level of understanding of where we are today and how we got here.
Launched in March 2020, within 1 week of the COVID-19 shutdown, the series helped keep the doors of the museum open and provide the Westerville community with a safe way to connect with fellow residents and their personal history during a time of great uncertainty and divisiveness.
"Visit Westerville is grateful to outstanding partners like the Westerville History Museum who continue to exceed our expectations in finding ways to showcase our great city through creative thinking and innovation, even in the most challenging of times." - Robin Collins, Executive Director for Visit Westerville
A mix of timely/popular topics helped garner 51,655 views (and counting). “The 1918 Influenza Pandemic” episode aired in the early days of the COVID-19 shutdown. “Minerva France” - an episode about a local Black woman’s accomplishments - aired the same month that the new Minerva France Elementary School opened. (Notably, the new school was named after Minerva France in large part due to the research efforts of museum staff.) “An African Prince” - about Joseph Hannibal Caulker - inspired a Black History Month project in partnership with Westerville City Schools that eventually led to sixth-grader Magnus Hunter discovering more about his uncle’s life and accomplishments within his community.
After Nancy Giles' episode about being the first woman police officer in Westerville aired, many opportunities open up for her to share her story. She has since presented to the Central Ohio Law Enforcement History Society, numerous Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs, and even two cruise ships!
Feedback from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. Many have shared their own memories of the people and places featured, from someone who delivered newspapers to the Ohio Home for Aged & Infrim Deaf in the 1970s to someone whose father helped build the Japanese Tea House and assemble the mural now preserved within a local restaurant’s facade. When the episode “An African Prince” aired, Linda Williams Dorage (a descendant of Minerva France) shared, “Great story! My 2nd great grandfather, Henry Wheatley Sr. is another black man buried in Otterbein Cemetery but he was not a prince. He was a former slave born in KY in 1841 who lived for a time in Hanby House.”
Personally, living in Westerville has held so much more significance to me after being introduced to the SYTYKW video series by the Westerville History Museum, and I’ll never look at Westerville through the same eyes. I’ll be looking forward to “looking backward” should there be a Season 3! - Breanne Reamsnider, teacher at Robert Frost Elementary
Community members have also shared how much this series has meant to them. “Love these little snippets of history!” exclaimed Diana Jordan. When the episode “Africa” aired, Bev Larson said, “I knew that the underground railroad had been in the area. But I didn’t know about the town or the Olson family.” And Michael D. Bauer shared, “Knew some of it, but not to this extent. I grew up just off Africa Rd. My mom still has her house there. In fact, the sign at 4:12 in the video marks the area."
The entire video series can be viewed via the Westerville History's YouTube channel.