By Sally Voth
A rebuilt horse barn will be ready in time for this year's Shenandoah County Fair.
All but 12 of the 97-year-old barn's 42 stalls were burned to the ground in a Valentine's Day fire. Only one horse was staying in the stables, and it was rescued. Two dogs died.
Shenandoah County Fire Marshal David Ferguson said the fire remains under investigation.
The Shenandoah County Fair Association's Board of Directors met Monday to discuss what to do, fair General Manager Tom Eshelman said Tuesday.
"We're going to go ahead and start clean up commencing this Friday," he said. "The fair has voted to basically restore, resurrect, to rebuild them. The ends [that were not burnt] will be salvaged. We're going to try to get it as close to resemble [the original] as possible."
The fair hasn't received an insurance estimate yet, Eshelman said.
"Our goal is to at least get the two buildings connected and have some stalls built [by fair time]," he said. "Whether we get all the stalls built or not will be a matter of money."
Community response has been swift, said Eshelman, and a fund has been set up to help pay reconstruction costs. Donations can be sent to the Shenandoah County Horse Barn Fund, P.O. Box 264, Woodstock, Va. 22664, or by calling 540-459-3867.
Harness racing, a staple at the Shenandoah County Fair, will go on as planned this year -- and a few months earlier, too, Eshelman said.
"Harness racing has never been held on the grounds other than fair time, and on May 11, we're hosting our first-ever Wine and Trot Festival," he said. "I'm hoping to do it every year."
The fair is partnering with the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail to bring in at least 10 wineries, craft vendors, food and music, plus at least four harness races, Eshelman said.
Woodstock resident Betsy Brown estimates she lost $30,000 worth of riding and grooming equipment in the 12 stalls she had been using. She said she keeps her horses boarded at a farm.
"I bring them in every morning," Brown said of coming to the fairgrounds. "After they're exercised and cooled out, I bring them back to [the] farm, and they're out in the big fields with running sheds."
Brown, whose property wasn't insured, said she sometimes races her horses in the harness races, and other times has other drivers. She said she is hoping there are enough donations to rebuild the barn.
"Shenandoah County Fairgrounds is the only fair in Virginia that had harness racing," Brown said. "It's part of history in Virginia."
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org