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Garden tour and tea set for May 28

By Staff | Apr 29, 2011

With a month to go until the the Back Alley Garden Tour and Tea takes place, organizers and participants alike are anticipating the continued success of the fundraiser that showcases Shepherdstown’s green spaces.

Michael Austin, president of the Shepherdstown Men’s Club, said he “inherited” the organization of the club’s biggest fundraiser, which this year will not only focus more on the east end of town but also highlight gardens and historical aspects of town, such as churches’ graveyards.

“We tried to strike a balance,” Michael said.

Bonnie Austin, SMC hospitality chair, volunteer to put on the tea and has done so for the past five years.

The Austins acknowledge that the tour and tea is the largest fundraiser for the SMC, which last year brought in about 500 attendees. But, they said, it is also a community effort.

Patrinka Kelch, owner and keeper of the Thomas Shepherd Grist Mill, will showcase the mill’s garden and water wheel the weekend of the tour.

“I don’t have the mill open to the public so it allows for Shepherdstown people to come and see the water wheel running,” she said. “I put on the water wheel for special occasions.”

Kelch said the wheel, a 40-foot diameter Fitz overshot wheel made of wrought iron, was first installed in 1894 and ran until 1939.

“Being the oldest town in West Virginia, it’s very special for people to learn about the historical facts,” she said.

Kelch added, “I think it’s very exciting for local people, out of town people because it’s like seeing it for the first time whether you’ve seen the water wheel run or not.”

Bonnie said at last year’s event, she had 89 individuals volunteer at the tea, which is held on the second floor of the War Memorial building, at the corner of German and King Streets. She also said that the antique tea cups are loaned to the SMC each year by Donn Marshall from the Shelly A. Marshall Foundation.

Michael acknowledged other community members and organizations that assist in making the tour and tea a success. He said Shepherd University offers parking, the local boy scouts help set up the logistics of the tour and the Sweet Shop Bakery and Village Florist sell tickets.

And of course, the Austins said the event is much more than a fundraiser. Michael said it is a way for locals and out-of-towners alike to “soak up the ambiance of the town.”

“It’s the whole thing of peeking over the back fence into a yard,” he said. “It’s a way to highlight the unique features of Shepherdstown.”

This year’s tour will take place May 28 and 29. For ticket information, times and other general information, visit www.smc25443.org.