County courthouse work near end

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK — Renovations to Shenandoah County’s historic courthouse are winding down and the building should open this summer.

Tourism Director Jenna French told the Board of Supervisors this week that her department and the Shenandoah County Historical Society plan to hold a ribbon-cutting for the building June 20. Vintage Woodstock takes place later that day. The county also has received all of the permits needed to begin occupying and using the courthouse, county facility manager Duane Williams told the board.

Historical Society President Barbara Adamson and French gave a tour of the courthouse to the Northern Virginia Daily on Tuesday afternoon. The organization is still working on its plans for how to use the restored courthouse, built in 1769. The society will put back the courtroom furniture it has stored during the restoration work but still leave space for displays that would relate the history of the building and the county.

“[It’s] kind of finding that balance so people can come in and envision what this looked like in the day, when it was used before,” French said.

Visitors enter through a handicapped-accessible door on Court Street. In the visitor’s center, people can learn about other activities and attractions in the area, Adamson said. The center will feature brochures for visitors and books on local history for sale, she added. Visitors can access the old courthouse through the center.

French noted that “it’s a good marriage between the two organizations because so many of the visitors coming in for information, they’re drawn to this area because of the history.

“So to have the historical society have that presence here and to have their information available is a great tie,” she said.

Adamson explained that the presentation to the supervisors on Tuesday gave more specifics about plans for the courthouse.

“But we’re getting close to having it open to the public, so it was time for them to be clued in,” Adamson said.

A task force created several years ago to look at ways to reuse the courthouse recommended that the county open the older section to the public as a tourist destination, information center, a museum and as a place to display historic materials and artifacts. Opening the visitor information center by this summer would meet one of the goals set by project supporters.

The county took more than $1 million left over from the new, general district courthouse and used it to renovate the historic building as well as the old Edinburg School. Caldwell Santmyer served as the contracted firm for both projects.

“Not all of that money spent is visible to us and to the public,” Adamson said.

The restoration work fixed the courthouse’s failing foundation as well as replaced utilities throughout the building, Adamson said.

With the money spent on the renovations and restoration, the Historical Society will use its own money to develop exhibits throughout the building.

“We’ll work with the county, if necessary, to move things forward,” Adamson said.

French added that she sees only a minimal need to spend more county money on the center.

The Historical Society will use space on the other side of the courtroom as its primary office area, Adamson said. The organization will move from its current site at St. Paul’s Heritage Center in Edinburg. The Tourism Department will keep its primary office in the county government building at 600 N. Main St. Space in rooms upstairs will be available to both agencies.

The county will use the second courtroom in a newer section of the building, possibly for bankruptcy cases, Adamson said. The original deed for the property says that the building would revert back to the heirs of the owner if the facility ceases to be used for court purposes. However, the courtroom also will be available for events put on by the Parks and Recreation Department.

On the second floor, the Historical Society has made efforts to uncover and protect graffiti found on the walls that a historian says dates back to the 1800s. French and Adamson said the second floor won’t necessarily be open to visitors but people can ask to go up and see the markings. French said she and the Historical Society are working on ways to represent the graffiti in a display on the ground floor for visitors.

Initially, the center will open for visitors Thursday-Saturday and during special occasion, such as the Route 11 Yard Crawl, Vintage Woodstock and holidays. The center will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., though the time may be extended as the county attracts more volunteers. The goal is to eventually open five days a week.

Both agencies are seeking volunteers to help run the visitor center. Those interested in volunteering at the center can contact French at 459-6227 or the Historical Society at 984-7842.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com