Battelle Darby Creek Park’s Naturalists Know How To Throw My Kind Of Kentucky Derby Party

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything,” William Shakespeare mused.  Here on Riverglen Drive, the last week of April always puts my neighbors in the spirit of partying.

It begins with the huge truckload of mulch dumped in their driveway, at which they shovel away as the week progresses. The garage is emptied and scrubbed down to be transformed into a bar, complete with walk-up order window and tip jar. At least one round of grass-mowing follows. Finally, a Rent-A-Center truck arrives on the first Saturday in May, unloading a massive LED high-definition television that will project a stunning picture and superb sound for gussied-up hosts and guests alike to watch “The Greatest Two Minutes in Racing.”

Yes, it’s time once more for the annual Kentucky Derby party next door that I attend vicariously. This year, however, I’ll take my place at my bedroom window swigging a mint julep mocktail and sporting a one-of-a-kind fascinator, both souvenirs of the fabulous Kentucky Derby Day party I attended last Sunday afternoon at Battelle Darby Creek Park.

Park naturalists and volunteers threw my kind of party — historic artifacts to admire, fun crafts to make, and tasty themed treats to eat. It was the perfect way to anticipate the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby.

The Kentucky Derby has taken place in Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday of May every year since 1875. The race occurs on an oval-shaped, mile-long dirt track at Churchill Downs, so named for the uncles of the race’s founder, Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., who provided the land for the racetrack. During the Derby, 20 three-year-old thoroughbred horses run one and one-quarter times around the track at speeds topping 35 miles an hour.

Battelle Darby Creek Park was the perfect location for the party. Franklin County Metro Parks’ largest property consists of some parcels of land that once were part of Darby Dan Farm, the estate on old Route 40 in Galloway that was the home of the late John W. Galbreath from 1935 until his death at age 90 in 1988. He named the farm after his son, Daniel M. Galbreath, and the Big Darby Creek, which runs across the land.

The farm is a local landmark, easily spotted by nearly 40 miles of white-painted fencing that borders it. For decades, Galbreath provided many students with summer fence-painting jobs.

Born the son of a Pickaway County farmer, Galbreath graduated from Ohio University in 1920. Four years later, he started his own real estate company, buying and rehabilitating company housing near mines and mills and selling them to workers. In the decades that followed, Galbreath became one of the country’s top real estate developers, making millions as he changed the face of skylines both in Columbus and beyond.

Galbreath was also the grandfather of Dianne Phillips Albrecht, my super-cool third-grade teacher at Columbus School for Girls, whose platform sandals were the envy of the “short people” she taught.  

Galbreath was a community philanthropist, as well as an avid sportsman. During his 40-year ownership of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1946 until 1985, the team won the World Series three times.

Starting in the 1930s, Galbreath bred and trained thoroughbred horses at Darby Dan Farm. President Gerald Ford and Britain’s Princess Margaret visited the farm to see Galbreath’s thoroughbreds.

One of those thoroughbreds was Chateaugay, the winner of the 1963 Kentucky Derby. That same year, Chateaugay won the Belmont Stakes, the third of three races that make up the Triple Crown. Another Galbreath horse, Proud Clarion, won the 1967 Kentucky Derby.

Chateaugay and Galbreath’s 1963 Kentucky Derby trophy was on display during the park’s party. The 22-inch-tall trophy sits on a base made of jade and weighs 56 ounces. Topped by a horse and rider, the trophy is decorated with 12 emeralds and 50 rubies, as well as an 18-karat gold horseshoe.

Darby Dan Farm’s current manager was on hand to talk about the farm and its Derby history. Other memorabilia displayed included the fawn and brown jockey silks of Darby Dan Farm…

and scrapbooks filled with photos and news articles of the Galbreaths and their prizewinning horses.

Best of all was the archival film footage of the 1963 Kentucky Derby. We watched fashionable hat-wearing fans singing “My Old Kentucky Home” and enjoying the traditional fare of mint juleps and burgoo, a thick stew made of beef, chicken, pork and vegetables; the traditional blanket of red roses being placed over Chateaugay; and Galbreath joining Chateaugay, his jockey and his trainer in the winner’s circle to receive the trophy and cash purse.

Partygoers sipped on mint julep mocktails in which ginger ale replaced the bourbon, and snacked on “Darby Tea Sandwiches” made with cream cheese, sweet onion, cucumber and redbud flowers.

Children could make horse puppets…

and anyone could whip up a clever hat.  My mother and I were presented with miniature trophies for our creations.

For decades, the Galbreath family has helped to preserve a large portion of land in the Darby Valley. They donated some of the land to Franklin County Metro Parks; the park system also purchased portions of additional land to create Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park. Today, the park includes more than 7,000 acres of forests, restored wetlands and prairies, bluffs, ponds and streams, including more than 17 miles of the Big and Little Darby Creeks, which have been designated as both State Scenic Rivers and National Wild & Scenic Rivers. The creeks are home to about 100 species of fish, five of which are endangered or threatened in Ohio, and more than 40 species of mussels, ten of which are endangered. Abundant wildlife can also be seen at the park, from great-horned owls, weasels and flying squirrels to wild turkeys, white-tailed deer and the endangered Indiana bat. Bison (both real and one fashioned from metal) also roam the hillsides in an area of the park near Big Darby Creek, as they used to do centuries ago.

This place is so special, unique and diverse that the Nature Conservancy named it “one of the last great places in the Western Hemisphere,” a sign near the Nature Center stated.

This weekend, Battelle Darby Creek Park is hosting the Ohio Folk Music Festival. Numerous concerts, dance instruction and participation, free children’s activities and over 45 teaching workshops on everything from playing guitar, banjo and fiddle to writing songs, will be held both Saturday, May 6 and Sunday, May 7.

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