GREENVILLE — The annual Gathering at Garst is coming back in 2024. The annual event has been held since 2011. Although many of the events and activities will remain the same, visitors may notice a few positive changes.
One of the biggest changes for the event will be the organization running the event. In past years, the Gathering at Garst committee and the Garst Museum have been the driving force behind the event. This year, Darke County Parks will assume management of the event.
Garst Museum CEO Clay Johnson, Ph.D., explained the Darke County Historical Society and Garst Museum feel the event is not only a significant part of the community’s summer event schedule, but it has also found niche in telling the story of early American history, as well as highlighting a lot of local history.
The event has come a long way since its beginning. In the first year, they used the porch on the Lowell Thomas House as the entertainment stage and the festival was primarily an antique and art show. Now, thousands of people gather to hear the incredible entertainment offered under the big tent or to visit the encampment area and shop at the many local vendor sites set up on the museum’s grounds.
The success of the event can certainly be attributed to the originators of the event and past chairpersons of the committee, Jenny Clark and her successor and daughter, Katie Gabbard.
After Gabbard stepped down after the 2023 event, there were questions about what would happen next.
Garst Museum looked no further than an organization that it has built a partnership with over the past several years, the Darke County Parks (DCP). The partnership first began with DCP’s former director, Roger Van Frank, and has continued with the current director, Robb Clifford. Both organizations have combined their resources for several events, including the upcoming Solar Eclipse.
DCP jumped at the chance to continue a tradition that has moved into its second decade of delighting local residents and one that brings visitors to the community.
DCP has had a long history with The Gathering. In fact, they have been responsible for putting together the encampment area and making sure there are historical programs available that preserve the stories of an area that is brimming with history.
After several meetings between Garst Museum and the Parks, Clifford and his staff decided The Gathering falls into their mission of preserving history as well as encouraging residents to get out and get moving. The festival is a natural fit to help fulfill their mission.
The 2024 version of The Gathering at Garst, brought to you by the Darke County Parks, will be held at the same location it has been held for the past 13 years, Garst Museum and Prairie Ridge Meadow, and on the same weekend. This year’s event will be held Saturday and Sunday, July 27 and 28.
According to Clifford and Megan Hammaker, special events coordinator for DCP, visitors won’t see a lot of change to the festival this year. The event will continue with the same name and will be held in the same location. Johnson has pledged Garst Museum’s support in this transitional year and will work with the Parks to ensure they have what they need on the Garst property. The encampment will continue to be held at Prairie Ridge Meadow, which is operated by DCP.
Clifford also noted that many of the committee chairpersons from the previous Gathering at Garst committee have agreed to continue and help DCP with the event. For example, visitors have come to expect incredible entertainment and, according to Clifford, that won’t change. David Warner has booked the talent for The Gathering for many years and is already looking for entertainment to secure in 2024.
According to Hammaker, The Gathering will be bringing back a fan-favorite to the festival. The Artist Tent was absent last year but will be back again this year. Hammaker said they will have six artists showcasing their talents during the festival.
DCP and Garst are continuing to work together to figure out some of the other festival favorites and will continue to update the public on these events and activities.
With Darke County Parks taking over The Gathering, Clifford pointed out they will not be having the annual Prairie Days event in 2024. He cited declining attendance over the past few years and the festival’s format heavily relied on large numbers of volunteers pulling long hours as reasons to let it rest. Although they may not have a large festival this fall, they will continue much of their usual autumn programming.
As DCP gets comfortable in this new endeavor, Clifford believes some of the most popular aspects of Prairie Days could eventually find their way into The Gathering at Garst.