GREENVILLE – The Darke County Historical Society (DCHS) is dedicated to preserving the history of the county and fostering education on its relevance to the American experience.
The DCHS operates the Garst Museum and its mission is to collect, preserve, exhibit, study, and interpret materials relating to the history and culture of Darke County.
“For those familiar with the county’s history, the area is rich in its history and traditions and its significance touches so many in the community. The Garst Museum recognizes this importance and feels it is important to honor those that join in its mission in celebrating the county’s past,” said Clay Johnson, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Garst Museum. “As a result, the DCHS’s Heritage Award has been given annually since 2004 to an outstanding citizen or organization for their distinguished contributions which help connect people to Darke County’s past.”
“The Darke County Parks District is truly representational of why the Heritage Award was created and I feel they are so deserving of this recognition, not only for what Roger Van Frank and the Darke County Parks does for the museum, but also for what they provide for the county and its citizens. From school tours to the Gathering at Garst, the Parks District has been a stellar partner in sharing the vision of preserving and interpreting the county’s history for generations to come. I was very pleased to have the honor of presenting the 2016 Heritage Award to Roger and the Darke County Parks District,” continued Johnson.
“I was completely surprised and was absolutely elated that we were chosen for the Heritage Award,” said Darke County Parks Director Roger Van Frank. “This is truly representative of a group effort between staff, commissioners, and volunteers who help maintain our historical values.”
While the Darke County Parks usually evokes thoughts of nature, the park district also does a great deal to preserve the historical heritage of Darke County.
“We work hand in hand with the museum,” Van Frank said. “Both maintain historical heritage in two completely different ways.”
The parks’ mission statement reads: “The mission of Darke County Park District is to acquire and preserve land areas possessing special natural and historical features and to manage and maintain these resources for the benefit of its residents through appropriate educational and passive recreational programs and activities.”
“We try to keep all facets of history alive,” said Van Frank. “We’re thankful for the foresight of Judge Edward Williams, who created the park district, and the original commissioners, Susan Gray, Dan Schipfer, and Dr. David Cox.”
The park district was created in 1972 and Coppess Nature Sanctuary became the first park in 1974. The Park District had an office at 601 S. Broadway until the Nature Center opened in 1997.
Garst Museum and the Park District often cooperate on projects. Both host many school tours during the year, and the students often spend half a day at the museum and the other half at the Nature Center. They also work together on the Gathering at Garst, which has made people more aware of the history of the county, as well as attracting many visitors to the area. The Gathering makes use of the Anthony Wayne Peace Council House and the newly-built Bowery. Both are located at Prairie Ridge Park, adjacent to the Garst Museum.
Darke County Parks also have several historical festivals. The largest is Prairie Days, which occurs on the last weekend of September. The two-day festival celebrates the past with demonstrations of 18th century skills, a tent where children can play old-fashioned games and try their hand at historical crafts, an encampment, pioneer living activities, and entertainment.
Other festivals include their Maple Syrup Festival in March, “Sugarin’ at the Prairie,” and their December “Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland.” The March festival includes a waffle breakfast and tours of the sugarbush and sugar shack. The December event features a walk through the woods and along the road to the blacksmith shop and log house. The path is marked with hundreds of luminaries containing candles. The blacksmith demonstrates his craft and at the log house, refreshments are served and children can participate in old-time crafts.
The log house at Shawnee Prairie Preserve was built using donated logs from several old log houses in the area. The house is the site of many historical programs, including pioneer cooking demonstrations. Volunteers in costume, staff the house when it is open. Each fall, several Candlelight Dinners are held in the house. These feature food from the log house era (1790-1820) served by volunteers in pioneer garb.
The blacksmith shop gives insight into the importance of a blacksmith in a pioneer society. Visitors can observe a blacksmith at work on Saturday afternoons and during the festivals.
The sugar shack makes it possible for volunteers to boil down sap collected in the area and make maple syrup the way it was made in pioneer days. Many school children, as well as adults, tour the sugar shack each spring.
All these buildings were mainly built by park volunteers.
The Park District offers many historical programs during the year. Some examples in the past year include “The Rock Man,” a program by geologist Mike Manning, “Sharks through the Ages,” by Dr. Chuck Ciampaglio, basket weaving, broom making, local expert Mick Maher’s program, “Roundup at Custer State Park,” a living history hike, a program on survival skills, local author Elaine Holzapfel’s book signing for her new geology book, and a recent encampment with demonstrations by the Ohio Valley Civil War Association. Some of the summer day camps for children also have historical themes. Last year children learned what it was like “Back in the Day,” and this year one of the choices is a survival camp.
The Darke County Historical Society presented the 2016 Heritage Award to the Darke County Park District at the Society’s annual meeting on March 22.