Each Monday, we'll blog about our members! Our Member Monday posts will feature stories, pictures and ideas from the members that make up St. Joe Today.
I’m on a mission to meet all of our members- Eden Springs Park at House of David joined St. Joe Today in February 2016, and I was immediately curious about what this could be. I had done some Google research, but knew that was just the beginning. Whitney and I ventured out on a Wednesday afternoon, muck boots ready.
The House of David is a Benton Harbor historical institution. In years past, they had operated an amusement park as a revenue stream. Eden Springs Park at House of David was a resort drawing in visitors from near and far with miniature train rides, music and dancing, racing cars, pony rides, and so much more. It thrived through the Great Depression, foregoing an entrance fee to make it accessible for everyone. Over the years, it was more difficult to maintain, eventually shuttering in the 70’s, lying dormant until it was sold by the House of David in 2009.
However…it’s coming back.
Eden Springs Park is being restored, entirely by volunteers. Many are locals interested in being part of the re-birth. Others have historical family connections to the House of David. Others remember the heyday, or have heard about it as a legend. One volunteer, Wendy, lives in Utah but dedicates one week per year to the park. Throughout the year, the volunteers work diligently on Wednesday nights, and over the weekend (officially). Unofficially, there is always work happening. Debbie Boyersmith has been with the restoration project for 4 years; she is our tour guide for the afternoon.
We start at the old engine house and find miniature trains in various states of repair. Some Christmas decorations dangle from a caboose; they are on hiatus until it warms up. The empty park gives us space for an amazing tour. Whitney and I followed Debbie into the hand-hewn log cabins being restored. These offered shelter for summer guests. They are bright, simple, and steps away from a thoroughfare. This road brings up an old visitor-Al Capone. Legend has it, you always knew when he was in the park by the 3 cars lined up, and facing the exit.
Next, we head to the train depot with vaulted ceilings and track through the middle. I’m amazed at Debbie’s knowledge of the park; she is picking up pieces of an old bowling set, pointing out the old souvenir shop, clearing leaves to show us historic markings, and pointing out the original and reclaimed countertops. You can see the restaurant walls, the hotel under repair, and a greenhouse. A volunteer, Cindi, has repainted the signs and they are vibrant against the sparkly stone invented by House of David members.
Cindi, Eden Springs Park Volunteer and Campground Manager
Cindi, who manages the adjacent campground, too, joins us as we walk into the valley. We pass under a bridge with sparkly stone, with just enough pieces exposed to showcase the volunteer’s work. As we head toward the old stage, Debbie points out the “holding cell” for rowdy beer garden patrons. Undoubtedly, this place was a good time! We pass the fountain, the race track, and see foundations of cabins.
We walk uphill to the original entrance to the park, across the street from Shiloh and other original House of David structures. The power house is amazing, and Debbie tells us about the variety of members that called the House of David home. This amusement park was one of their ventures, and capitalized on the array of talents. It was also a training opportunity for younger members, like Debbie’s own grandfather. Her grandfather was a member of the House of David as a young boy; Debbie tells us stories passed down from him. He was a player on the baseball team, and worked on the trains. His experience with the trains was a basis for later careers.
Our final stop is the small zoo on the premises, and the “Lion House”. At the park’s heyday, there were lions, bears, and more. Debbie shows us the old crocodile pond, and we follow the tracks back to the depot, and back to the entrance.
This park was built by volunteers; House of David members lived communally, pooled assets, and dedicated their time and talent to creating a destination in Benton Harbor. It’s being restored with the same dedication, with significant effort spent on honoring the history behind it. To Debbie, and the other volunteers, this is a labor of love for the park and the community.
This summer, the trains will be running, and historic baseball will be played in the field. The House of David is generously paying for free rides Memorial Day weekend in the park. You can follow their progress and see upcoming events on their Facebook page, and their website at http://www.edenspringspark.org/.