A Saturday afternoon ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the culmination of almost five years of planning and fundraising for downtown Carlisle’s first pocket park.
Located adjacent to the Cumberland County Historical Society’s building on North Pitt Street, Vale-Himes Park includes gardens, walkways and benches.
“Already, Vale-Himes Park is being enjoyed and utilized by our community,” said Jason Illari, executive director of the Cumberland County Historical Society.
Arrows built into the walkways point to prominent county landmarks such as the mansion at King’s Gap and the Two-Mile house, and list the distance to each place to situate the visitor among the county’s historic places, Illari said. A display panel near the park’s entrance explains the historical significance of the places featured on the arrows.
“The landmark lines ... serve to remind us that we are the Cumberland County Historical Society and that we must orient ourselves literally and figuratively in countywide directions,” he said.
The historical society’s building was also incorporated into the park’s design, which Illari said offers a new and modern feel while fitting in with the surrounding spaces and buildings.
“It’s harmonious with the society’s building on Pitt Street,” he said.
Bill Rush gave an endowment to the historical society for the park, which is named after two historic family lines of which he is a descendent. Sarah E. Vale was the granddaughter of Dr. Charles F. Himes, professor of physics at Dickinson College from 1865-1896. Himes served for a time as president of the Hamilton Library Association and Cumberland County Historical Society.
Ruby Vale, a legal scholar is best known for his contributions to Pennsylvania law through the publication of Vale’s Pennsylvania Digest.
“I’m glad to do this in honor of all the Vales and Dr. Himes,” Rush said, before cutting a ribbon to officially open the park.
Illari said the historical society is excited about the park because it offers not only a green space downtown, but also an outdoor exhibit, classroom and event space.
“It also serves as a prominent advertisement, or billboard if you will, of CCHS and was designed purposefully to intrigue casual passers-by to enter the society and engage with our mission,” Illari said.
The park’s land dates back to the earliest history of Carlisle, said David Smith, president of the historical society. It went through several owners in the early decades before it was purchased by James Hamilton Jr. around 1801.
A graduate of Dickinson College, member of the bar and supporter of public education, he built his home there and deeded the back end of the lot for the construction of a town library upon his death.
During the 19th century, a variety of structures occupied the space after the Hamilton home was demolished. The buildings changed over the years with different renovations, and the historical society was built in 1881.
Sometime around the turn of the century, a three-story building was built on the site. The building initially held commercial businesses and a lodge hall, but eventually commercial space was used only on the first floor with apartments on the floors above.
In 1993, the historical society bought the building in order to get the parking lot that came with it. By 2005, the building was closed and remained empty until plans were made for a pocket park.
Ideas to use the space for an education space or for archival storage were floated, but none of those ever proved to be viable, Smith said.
The borough’s Historic and Architectural Review Board approved a proposal to remove the deteriorating building in 2013, acknowledging that no historical elements remained.
That’s when the plans for a pocket park started to take shape.
Vale-Himes Park will be available to rent for private events with gates on either side that can be closed.
“You can rent your own outside park for an evening,” he said.
Saturday’s event was the first of two opening celebrations for the historical society this month. From 5-7 p.m. on April 26, the society will hold a ribbon cutting for its updated and refreshed permanent galleries in the museum. The society raised more than $10,000 to help fund the project.