AK Valley Heritage Museum Keeps History Close To Home

By Joshua Pilat

TARENTUM, Pa. – The Allegheny–Kiski Valley Heritage Museum is trying to preserve local history for the people who live there.

“We want to keep local history alive for future generations,” said Dolly Mistrik, the president of the board of the Allegheny-Kiski Valley Historical Society. The museum, located on East Seventh Ave in Tarentum, concentrates on history that involves the local area, and there is more than enough to keep visitors interested.

From Revolutionary War artifacts to local stores from the 1950’s, the museum offers a wide perspective of the history of the entire AK–Valley. The main ballroom of the former American Legion post, which houses most of the military exhibits, is highlighted by the PPG-made cobalt blue glass panels and legion crests, featuring the “ruptured duck” crest which denoted honorably discharged veterans returning from active duty during World War II.

Built in 1931 as an American Legion Post, with much of the labor provided by local veterans, the building is itself an historical display.

“The museum is actually inside an artifact,” said Mistrik. “We try to keep everything in building original…There is history in the antique doors and exit lamps.”

The museum has more to offer than just military history.

The museum’s Alcoa Room highlights the importance the aluminum industry has played in the development of the AK Valley. Aluminum is on display in all of its forms, from how it comes out of the ground to the myriad of aluminum products that Alcoa has manufactured.

The museum also has displays dedicated to local historical figures, such as famed environmentalist Rachel Carson and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Eddie Adams, who was a native of New Kensington.

The Adams display shows a large recreation of his famous “Saigon Execution” photograph, among others from his coverage of the Vietnam War and the 12 other wars which he covered.
Downstairs, local storefronts and businesses have been recreated with amazing accuracy. Some of the business owners donated the tools of their trades, right down to the signs and pricing sheets.

“Dr. Bruno’s Dentistry” has an authentic chair and foot powered tooth drill. Other houses in the village are “Grandma’s Kitchen,” “Grandpa’s Farm,” and “Bain’s Barber Shop.”

And the history keeps on coming.

“Every time I open a storage room, I find new things to put on display,” said Chris Ryan, who was recently hired as the new display coordinator. Ryan, a longtime history buff, is revamping some of the displays so that visitors can appreciate everything that the museum has to offer.

The museum is also actively involved in providing educational opportunities for children. The “Adopt-an-Artifact” program allows participants to examine the artifact and research its history. A printed copy of the research becomes part of the permanent display, along with a picture of the child and artifact.

“The kids all have something favorite in history, they really get involved,” said Mistrik.

The Heritage Museum is open Wednesday’s and Saturday’s 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. but will gladly open its doors for special visits by schools, scout groups and many other groups by appointment. The Allegheny-Kiski Valley Historical Society also holds a monthly “Flea-tique” every third Sunday from May through October to raise funds to keep the museum and all of its history alive.

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