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Westerville Symphony Grove at Ben Hanby Park

I am always on the lookout for ways for the orchestra to serve the community outside of its customary role.  Giving concerts, serving as the cultural epicenter, and place for the community to come together are all vital services, but finding ways to touch those outside of our usual constituency is essential to assuring the orchestra’s indispensability.

I recently came up with such an idea for the Westerville Symphony that we labeled Symphony Grove.  The vision was to plant a grove a trees in an area of our community that would create long lasting beauty to the City for years to come.  We looked at several locations from the proximity to our outdoor venue to the new Veteran’s Memorial plaza that is taking shape at the community sports complex.  What we settled on, at the Westerville Parks and Recreation department’s suggestion, was a total remake of Hanby Park, located in the historic uptown Westerville area.

The timing of this project was perfect in that it coincided with the opening of our 40th anniversary season.

Benjamin Hanby, according to his Wikipedia entry, “was an American composereducatorpastor, and abolitionist who wrote approximately 80 songs. The most famous are “Darling Nelly Gray” and the Christmas songs “Up on the House Top” and “Who Is He In Yonder Stall?”.

Hanby was born in Rushville, Ohio. He moved to Westerville, Ohio in 1849, at the age of sixteen, to enroll at Otterbein University.He was involved in the Underground Railroad with his father, Bishop William Hanby.

Hanby composed the popular anti-slavery ballad Darling Nelly Gray in 1856 in what is now a national historical site, the Hanby House,located at the corner of Grove and Main Streets (in the 1830s, when Hanby was still a child his family moved to 160 West Main Street) in Westerville, adjacent to the campus of Otterbein University. The song was based on the Hanby family’s encounter with Joseph Selby, a runaway slave from Kentucky who died at the Hanby home in Rushville after relating the moving story of his escape to freedom and having to leave behind his lost love. Hanby wrote several other notable anti-slavery songs during this period including Ole Shady, The Song of the Contraband and Little Tillie’s Grave.

At age 33, Hanby died from tuberculosis in Chicago on March 16, 1867. He is buried in Otterbein Cemetery in Westerville.”

The City horticulturalist designed the space that included the installation of trees, shrubs, and perennials that will provide color during every season of the year. We enlisted the aid of First Impressions Landscape and Garden Center to procure the plant materials and provide the professional leadership we needed.  We then recruited around 20 volunteers from the Orchestra, Otterbein College Music Department, music students from the Westerville Public Schools, our Board of Trustees, various area garden clubs, and a wide push on social media.  We also developed funding from our generous philanthropic family to fund the cost of the finance the cost of the project, around $10,000.  Eventually, we will offer some memorial/honorary benches to be installed and the proceeds beyond those costs will go to our endowment fund.

I look forward to pausing during a stroll through Hanby Park and enjoying the Symphony Grove as I reflect on 30 plus years of music making with this extraordinary group of musicians and music lovers.