Belle Grove Plantation Announces the Beverley B. Shoemaker Welcome Center
On May 7, 2018, Belle Grove Plantation announced that it has received a $1.1 million gift from The Shoemaker Family Charitable Trust. This gift was given for an innovative restoration of the Belle Grove 1918 Bank Barn. In addition to preserving this 100-year old structure, the renovation will create spaces for the Museum Shop, exhibits, events, and visitor amenities.
“This gift will allow Belle Grove to undertake its most extensive infrastructure improvement since its founding as a museum 50 years ago,” stated Chair Suzanne Conrad. “In honor of this tremendous act of generosity, the Belle Grove Board of Directors has unanimously decided to dedicate the renovated structure as the Beverley B. Shoemaker Welcome Center.”
Mrs. Beverley Bowman Shoemaker serves as Trustee of The Shoemaker Family Charitable Trust and was a member of the Belle Grove Plantation Board of Directors from 2012 to 2017. In her tenure, she chaired the Building and Grounds Committee, which acquainted her with the preservation needs of the site’s historic buildings and its need for additional space and facilities to serve visitors.
Mrs. Shoemaker has been a major donor on projects to restore the Plantation Office and Store historic structure and Fort Bowman/Harmony Hall in Strasburg, both of which are owned by Belle Grove. “We are so pleased to be able to provide this gift for Belle Grove. The Bowman family connection makes it even more so very special in my heart,” said Mrs. Shoemaker. “The gift will assist in expanding Belle Grove’s mission. It will allow for the lower level of the mansion to be interpreted, offer the community a new venue for group events, add space for displays, and best of all, to provide much needed rest rooms!”
The idea to restore the 1918 Bank Barn began in 2011 with a convening of preservation and history professionals under the leadership of Belle Grove President Elizabeth McClung, who retired in 2013. Fred Andreae of Frederick Andreae Architects in Front Royal and past Chair of Belle Grove served on this committee and donated his services to design the building. He worked with current Executive Director, Kristen Laise and Belle Grove’s staff and board on an extensive planning process for the last several years.
The 1918 Bank Barn is timber-framed with an adjacent concrete silo northwest of the Belle Grove Manor House. It was constructed in 1918 by J. Herbert Brumback. The Brumback family owned Belle Grove from 1907 to 1929 and farmed the land and, for a time, operated an inn in the Belle Grove Manor House. While Belle Grove is still actively farmed today by Mr. Brumback’s grandson, the barn no longer serves an agricultural function. New exhibits in the Welcome Center will present the history of the building and Belle Grove’s role in Shenandoah Valley agriculture.
Mr. Andreae designed the Welcome Center to preserve the “barn-ness” of the structure and the heavy oak timbers, sliding doors, slatted openings, red painted siding, gambrel roof, and other iconic features will be retained. The lower level that is built into a hillside, or bank, will be a climate-controlled finished space accommodating a gift shop, ticket desk, exhibits, restrooms, vending machines, and a media room. A lift and staircase will go to a lightly restored upper level that will be used seasonally for special events and group gatherings. It will include a kitchen designed for caterers to hold and serve food.
Mr. Andreae explained, “the renovation is designed to preserve the barn’s historic character. It modernizes the building while retaining its original materials, structural components, and the feel of a working barn."
In 2016, Mr. Andreae donated funds and oversaw an initial phase of construction on the upper level. New flooring, railings, interior and exterior lighting, and ceiling fans were installed. The doors were adapted to meet code and the electrical system was upgraded. This allowed the barn to begin to be used as an event space. Belle Grove’s leadership and supporters immediately recognized the potential of the entire project and spearheaded efforts to make the vision for the Welcome Center a reality.
In late 2017, Belle Grove issued a request for proposals for the construction of the Barn Welcome Center and has awarded KEE Construction Services, Inc. of Winchester the contract. The project will begin on May 14, 2018 and will be completed by spring 2019.
“The National Trust for Historic Preservation congratulates Belle Grove on initiating this project that represents best practices in adaptive reuse and will bring renewed life to this very significant structure. We are grateful for the generosity of The Shoemaker Family Charitable Trust and the work of our partner, Belle Grove Inc. to preserve and interpret the site and its rich and diverse history,” said Katherine Malone-France, Senior Vice President for Historic Sites at the National Trust.
The $1.1 million gift will substantially fund the renovation and related infrastructure upgrades. Some elements of the project will require additional funds and there are opportunities for other donors to join The Shoemaker Family Charitable Trust in transforming operations and outreach at Belle Grove.
“We have chosen the term Welcome Center because this building will be more than just a visitor’s center or event space, it will be the way that guests are welcomed to our site,” stated Kristen Laise. “It will also make Belle Grove a gathering place for our community, something that is central to our mission and important to our donor Beverley Shoemaker.”