New barn going up at fairgrounds

By Ryan Cornell

WOODSTOCK — With the Shenandoah County Fair only a few weeks away, a horse barn under construction on the fairgrounds is racing to meet the Aug. 23 start date.

Ground for the barn didn’t break until July 22, but Fair General Manager Thomas Eshelman is optimistic about the progress.

“We are hoping to use this barn for this year’s fair,” he said on Tuesday. “It probably will not be totally done, but it will be under a roof and enclosed.”

The barn, which measures 40 by 120 feet and will include 24 stalls, predominantly will be used to house the horses that compete in the fair’s harness racing events.

A wooden frame already is constructed on the site and trusses for its roof will be added on Thursday, Eshelman said.

The Kennedy Konstruction Kompany, based out of Edinburg, won the bid to build the barn. G B Foltz Contracting, also in Edinburg, provided the land preparations for the site. Concrete came from Rockingham Redi-Mix, which has a location in Mount Jackson. The trusses for the barn are provided by Blue Ridge Truss & Supply in Basye, and the electrical work will be completed by Ortts Electric from Edinburg.

“Everyone we’ve been doing business with has been local,” Eshelman said.

He added that each of the companies has provided generous reductions that have helped drive the cost down. He said the fairgrounds is about halfway to raising its financial goal.

Horses at the fairgrounds were originally housed in a 97-year-old stable. A fire gutted the middle of the stable on Valentine’s Day and destroyed 30 of its 42 stalls.

The insurance for the stable covered $20,000 of damage. The total damage resulted in nearly five times that.

“Basically, they were insured for what it costs to build them a long, long time ago,” Eshelman said. “Not what it costs to build them now. So it’s a wake up call, obviously, to reevaluate what our buildings are insured for and everything.”

Eshelman said he was on vacation, sitting in the terminal of the Tampa Bay, Fla., airport with a dead cellphone, when he first heard about the fire.

“I plug my phone in and about four minutes later, I had about 26 missed messages,” he said. “When I saw the pictures, it looked like the town of Woodstock was on fire.”

He said the cause of the fire was never officially determined, but he thinks it could be blamed on old wiring that caused a short and ignited the stable’s old timber.

Eshelman said the board of directors’ buildings and grounds committee had spent up to two months after the fire planning to rebuild the stable, but decided to build an entirely new structure when they realized it was cost-prohibitive.

If they wanted to rebuild the stable, they would also have had to add a firewall, which Eshelman said would drive up the cost by about $15,000.

“It was either build fewer stalls or come up with a new idea,” he said. “So we came up with the new idea of building a pole barn.”

“By going with the pole barn, it made it a little more cost-effective,” he said. “It offered a lot more versatility, and ultimately, that was the way they decided to go.”

The new barn is being built less than 100 feet from the old stable. Eshelman said it will have new wiring, metal walls and a metal roof.

The barn will not only house the horses used in harness racing events during the county fair and Wine and Trotter Festival in May, but also serves as a place for horse owners traveling down the highway to keep their horses.

“Now we’ll have a place where people can bring their horses in for a couple days, maybe they’re going camping, they’re here visiting the area and need a place to lodge a horse, we’ll be able to accommodate them,” Eshelman said. “It’s kind of like a horse hotel.”

The Woodstock fairgrounds, located near the intersection of Interstate 81 and Reservoir Road, is the only county fair in Virginia to continue the tradition of harness racing and sustain a harness racing racetrack.

“It’s incredibly prevalent in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio,” Eshelman said about the sport. “It’s big money, not Kentucky Derby money, but Preakness money. Hundreds of thousands of dollars for the winners. We may have a horse here on our track that may grace those bigger races.”

Equestrian people are a tightly knit community, he said. He said he’s gotten donors from out-of-state harness racing enthusiasts as well as supporters from the Woodstock community.

The fairgrounds is searching for sponsors to help fund the barn. Eshelman said sponsors would be given naming rights and a plaque to hang above one of the 22 stalls they plan to sell.

For more information about being a sponsor, people are asked to contact Eshelman at 540-459-3867 or tom@shencofair.com

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com