Friends of Harbour Town 1837 is alive and well under new leadership

By: Melanie Williamson

Friends of Harbour Town 1837 is a non-profit organization with an over forty-year history in Vermilion. Run entirely by volunteers, this organization has stood by their vision to maintain, restore, and support the historic area. Don and Diane Chesnut stood at the helm of this organization from the beginning and worked actively to establish several traditions including the holiday greenery in the downtown area, horse drawn trolleys, the Historic SummerFare Antiques, Vintage and Jewelry Artisans Show, Antiques in the Park, and Fall into Autumn among others.

In July of 2017, Diane Chesnut sadly passed, only months after her husband Don had passed. With Diane being the cornerstone of the organization, many have wondered what the future will hold. Having worked alongside Diane for several years, Charl Gabel stepped into the position of deputy executive director following Diane’s passing. After this initial period of transition, Gabel will be named executive director this fall.

Gabel asserted that it is her goal to maintain and build on the vision the organization was originally built on. She went on to explain that this means they will continue planning and overseeing the events and traditions that they have become known for, and they will add new events to the historic downtown area.

One of these new events will bring residents and business leaders together to celebrate autumn and the changing of the seasons. Saturday, September 9, will be the annual Fall into Autumn and Holiday Gift Giving event. To coincide with this event, Vermilion businesses have been asked to make and display scarecrows. The downtown businesses will display their scarecrows outside of their businesses, while businesses outside the downtown area will display theirs in Exchange Park.

Residents and visitors to Vermilion will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite scarecrow. Voting slips will be available in local businesses and there will be a ballot box located at The Encore Shoppe on Liberty east of Main Street. The winning scarecrow will be announced at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 21, at the final Third Thursday of the season.

Gabel excitedly shared that being the first year for the scarecrows; it has been opened up to businesses only. However, next year the event will be opened up to anyone that wants to make a scarecrow. Gabel hopes to be able to fill Exchange Park with a variety of unique and lovingly made scarecrows from businesses, organizations, and residents.

When asked what else is on the horizon for Friends of Harbour Town 1837, Gabel shared they want to work to bring more bus tours back to Vermilion. She also wants to build up to offering a monthly family-friendly event in Exchange Park. She explained that the scarecrow contest will be an annual event for October, and she is already planning to host a Pirate Fest in September of 2018, making it an annual event.

Gabel did state that being in a period of transition, there are a lot of possibilities and opportunities that aren’t solid yet, but she is excited to pursue them and will share them with the community as they develop. If anyone is interested in volunteering or in any way getting involved, they can call Charl Gabel at 967-6972.


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