Deems Park on Sunset Drive in West Pike Run Township will have a reopening event today as part of the 2013 National Pike Festival in Washington County. Its current owners, Robbie and Keren Hall Galis, hope this is the first of many such events in the park’s future.
The 13-acre park fell into disarray after the passing of Keren’s father, Harry Hall, a descendent of the Deems family, in 2004.
“I was 18 and a freshman in college when my dad, Harry, passed away. It was sort of understood that I would get the property,” Keren said.
At the time, Keren wasn’t in a position to maintain it. There was college to finish and a marriage to Robbie in her future first. Life seemed to get in the way of the best of intentions for Deems Park.
When the park was mentioned on the “Abandoned, Old and Interesting Places –Western Pennsylvania” Facebook page, there were 600 likes and 50 comments from those with memories of the park.
“I was blown away. One of the responses said, ‘Oh, it’s a shame they let the place go to ruin.’ It hit me hard,” Keren said. Although they had been trying to do something with the park for three years, things weren’t progressing as quickly as they would have liked.
Keren said they had already begun to plan the Pike Days event as a motivator to restore the park more quickly. She reached out through the “Friends of Deems Park” Facebook page and volunteers began stepping forward to help. Family, community members, local Boy Scout troops and friends of the Halls/Deems families made today’s event possible, according to Keren. Within six months, what was once a “big mess,” started to take shape, she said.
Keren said she hopes to obtain nonprofit status for the park and offer memberships at a nominal amount to cover the upkeep and open up opportunities to apply for grant monies. The long-term plans for Deems Park include a summer outdoor concert series, an ice skating rink and a location for weddings.
“When Harry had it (the park), there were two pavilions and a swing set. The pavilions are still original from 1934. The trees all died and had to be cut down. That was a big job,” she said. “Now the possibilities are endless for us. We want to build new pavilions, add a walking track and upgrade the equipment, but don’t want anything to happen to the existing pavilions for historical sake.”
Keren said the idea is to return the dignity of Deems Park and keep the history alive. A World War I canon on the property is also something that she wants to protect and preserve. It was placed there by the effort of Wilbur Deems, a former West Pike Run Township supervisor. It was Wilbur, Keren’s great-great-grandfather, who founded the park in 1918 after Bentleyville Presbyterian Church requested to hold its annual picnic on the property.
Today’s event will hopefully bring back memories of family reunions, picnics, church gatherings and other social events, Keren said.
Although the park has not been in active use in recent years, it has continued to serve as the home of the Washington County Buckskinners, a black-powder muzzleloader shooting club. The club holds a spring and fall weekend-long rendezvous at the park. The fall rendezvous, open to the public, is held in memory of Keren’s brother, Caleb Jay Hall. The proceeds from the rendezvous benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Western Pennsylvania.
Among the offerings at Deems Park today will be free children’s activities from 10 a.m. to noon. Music will be provided by the Weedrags at 1 p.m., followed by Scott and Rosanna. Vendors include After Dinner Designs, Origami Owl, Grace in Abundance, Nola’s Crate, Avante Garde Jewelry, Sassa Frass Boutique and Twisted Grain will show their handmade works. Other vendors include It Works, His Harvest CSA, Jamberry, Pink Zebra and 31 Gifts.
Keren’s sister, Deirdre Hall Otto, of Gluten Free N’at, will be selling Celiac and gluten-free pies, pasta salad, hot dogs, kabobs and vegetarian humus.
Shortbread City designer desserts of Monessen will be selling its salted caramel, peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter cup, banana pudding, chocolate intensity, french vanilla, tiramisu and raspberry macaroon cupcakes. Shortbread City will also offer french vanilla and milk chocolate covered popcorn.
Parking and admission to Deems Park is free for the day.
From Route 40, turn onto Richeyville Road and take a left across the bridge a mile and a half down the road. There will be signs directing visitors to the park from Route 40.