Ownership has changed hands, the place is re-opened, and new faces are arriving at Stonehedge Gardens as the sprawling artists' colony looks to its future with a renewed sense of purpose.
"We want to develop a community center for culture and arts," says Kevin Smith, 31, a Lansdale native who volunteers at Stonehedge. Smith is a students of the arts - painter, sculptor, videographer, musician and jewelry designer.
He is currently working on renovating the gift shop and setting up a library. The small library in the re-opened gift shop will feature books on gardening. Open Mic and Movie Nights will be held there as well. The shop currently has wireless Internet service but no computers. Stonehedge is seeking donations from the public and business community to give the facility a jumpstart.
"The idea of the library is to be educational and show different styles of gardens," says artist Lauren Hamby, 23. Hamby, a native of Bridgewater, NJ, specializes in ceramics, stained glass, painting, and unique genres such as images and designs in marbleized paper.
Smith and Hamby are artists-in-residence at Stonehedge Gardens and the pair is working with the board of directors in a development effort to help rejuvenate the site. They are hoping that local residents will step forward and help infuse the center with a special blend of talent and cooperation to help the site reach new goals. The place had been closed in recent months, except for the annual Stonehedge Tree Lighting activity.
There are changes at the highest levels. Ownership of Stonehedge was transferred from private hands to a nonprofit corporation on December 4, 2009, for $200,000, according to courthouse records. The move will help the facility qualify for a wider array of grants and funding.
To understand Stonehedge, one must understand how it came to be.
The story of Stonehedge Gardens is a direct reflection of the unbridled energy and artistic freedom of two local natives, Russell Keich and Don Herring, who took an old farmhouse and wilderness and established a showcase of nature and man's creativity.
On August 16, 1966, Keich and Herring purchased a farmhouse, built 1911, gutted the structure and redesigned it using salvage from dismantled churches, barns and other buildings.
Three years later, the basement and first floor became a pottery workshop and ceramic teaching studio. That led to the 1980 debut of the on-site Stonehedge Originals Gift Shop, featuring the work of Keich, Herring and other artists and craftsmen.
Over the same time span, the duo took the farm's stream and cornfield and transformed those assets into a spectacular landscape of color. They added a large dam, waterfall, a continuum of ponds, rock and boulder gardens, fountains and alfresco hideaways.
As years passed, the gardens of Keich and Herring matured and flourished, becoming a symphony of flora, including perennials, formal culinary herbs, exotic tropical spice and flowering specimen gardens, hosta and water gardens and one of the country's largest collections of chili pepper hybrids.
The six acres of Stonehedge, surrounded by 22 additional acres of woodland and meadows, became a local tourist attraction. With both men working in high gear over a span of 20 years, Stonehedge had gained popularity as an artists' haven, an emporium for the creative mind.
Nourished by imagination, the gardens and farmhouse embodied the creativity of the two men working in concert with nature's limitless potential. Of special interest was their annual Christmas Tree Lighting, a project which continues today. The event is a visual and musical spectacle in which a holiday tree is gradually illuminated - in artistic increments - to the strains of a recorded symphony concert.
For all their successes, some of the men's concepts never went beyond planning stages.
For instance, the men spoke of adding a lunar garden, a spot devoted to plants that bloom only at night. They had high hopes to create something the area had never seen.
But sometimes the best laid plans never materialize due to events beyond man's control.
Such was the case at Stonehedge. One day - without any hint or warning - Don Herring unexpectedly passed away at the age of 52.
His death left Keich the sole manager of the unique panorama in South Tamaqua, a wonderland of nature far too large for any one person to maintain.
"There was no way I could take care of it all," Keich told the TIMES NEWS as plans shifted. "I had to make some difficult decisions."
What resulted in 1999 was the establishment of a nonprofit association to perpetuate their dreams. Since then, the association has worked to keep the site viable and to blend the many assets into a growing tourism movement in the Tamaqua area. The effort is led by Board President Dick Lane, retired Cedar Brook administrator, who says, along with the board, that Stonehedge needs to be recognized as the tremendous local asset it is. Many board members hail from the Lehigh Valley but there is a desire to incorporate local influence. Tamaqua native Debi Dodson, long time supporter of arts and culture, has served as board vice president for the past several years.
There have been many innovations at the site, which hosts a full schedule of art, music, poetry and other cultural events.
"We've had a jewelry workshop, stained glass workshop and children's workshops," said Smith. Currently, the gallery is showing the work of artist Margie Long, featuring paintings of the Jim Thorpe area.
Stonehedge also has received a grant to rebuild the pottery studio.
National recognition has come as well. In 2002, Stonehedge Gardens was featured on cable television's Home and Garden Network.
Interestingly, the Denver-based network had discovered Stonehedge by searching the topic of 'formal gardens of Philadelphia.' Even though South Tamaqua is located 75 miles from Philadelphia, the appeal of Stonehedge Gardens was so compelling that the HGN Network expanded its criteria in order to include the West Penn Township site.
The mission at Stonehedge has been one of the arts, but it also is evolving into an educational center devoted to ecology, wellness and the environment. Part of the farmhouse will continue to provide a residence for co-founder Keich, who will continue to serve in an advisory capacity.
The formal mission of Stonehedge Gardens, Inc. is to provide a healing, sacred and inclusive environment for the cultivation of personal and community transformation and wellness. To achieve those goals, Stonehedge uses gardens, nature, the arts and holistic education.
There are still hopes for an elaborate lunar garden - perhaps something which would be one of its kind. Stonehedge is a work in progress, a facility turning to the local public to help define its role in the community. Stonehedge welcomes the general public, musicians, artists, non-artists - everybody. To be part of Stonehedge is to recognize the power of a dream.
Stonehedge is located at 51 Dairy Road, across from the former Leiby's Restaurant. More information is available by calling (570) 386-4276 or visiting http://www.stonehedge.org, the Garden's website.