MIDDLETOWN – Belle Grove Plantation will open its new welcome center to the public on Saturday.

The Beverley B. Shoemaker Welcome Center, which is the renovated barn that was built near the plantation manor house in 1918, will house the museum shop and exhibits. Visitors who will be touring the manor house will have to purchase tickets at the welcome center. Belle Grove will also rent out the upper level of the center for events and weddings, as well as a meeting room in the lower level for smaller groups.

The idea for the project began in 2011, but it didn’t move forward until 2016 when Fred Andreae, of Frederick Andreae Architects in Front Royal, donated funds and oversaw the initial phase of construction of the barn's upper level. Andreae is a past chairman of the Belle Grove executive committee.

In 2018, $1.1 million of the $1.2 million project was gifted to the plantation by the Shoemaker Family Charitable Trust to fully renovate the barn. The Belle Grove Board of Directors named the facility after Beverley Shoemaker, a trustee of the charitable trust and a member of the Belle Grove Board of Directors, in honor of her commitment to Belle Grove.

“It’s a very humbling experience,” Shoemaker said.

Construction began on the facility in May 2018 with KEE Construction Services Inc. serving as the project's general contractor.

“We’re very grateful to KEE,” Belle Grove Executive Director Kristen Laise said. “They knew it would be a very challenging project and they took it on.”

Laise said that one of the project ideas was trying to keep as much of the original barn intact as possible and to paint and stain the new material being added to match the old barn.

Andreae said that much of the original barn is still there and that only four of the original white oak beams had to be replaced. He said that replacing the beams was one of the challenges faced when renovating the barn.

“During the construction, there were beams that looked just fine, but when you started wiggling them, there was one in the corner of the barn that had a hole that was about 8 feet long in the center, so we had to replace them.”

Andreae said another challenge was replacing the upper-level floor.

“You obviously want the floor to be level, but, when it was a barn, it didn’t make much of a difference if the floor was level,” Andreae said. “Some of the beams and posts downstairs were sitting on the ground, so we had to dig out and put in new footings for them.”

Laise said the new upper level can now be used to host weddings.

“Most people like to have their ceremonies with the mountain view,” she said. “The heartache if it rains. The barn is a wonderful solution for that because the space we have upstairs is suited for weddings. You can have the ceremony and the reception there.”

Laise said the plantation hosts between four and six weddings per year. She noted that the upper level can accommodate up to 150 people.

The lower level of the welcome center, including access to the museum shop, will be free to the public when the plantation is open. Laise said the upper level will not be open to the public as often due to not having the personnel to monitor it.

Belle Grove will celebrate the opening of the facility from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Visitors may purchase manor house tour tickets at a special rate of $5 for those 12 and older. The plantation's regular hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

For more information about the new event space, contact Belle Grove at 540-869-2028.

Contact Donald Lambert at dlambert@nvdaily.com