Note: The tour was originally scheduled for December 8th, 2013. Due to inclement weather, the tour was rescheduled for Sunday, December 15th from 1 to 5 pm.
What makes downtown Harrisonburg unique? Is it the buildings and architecture? The business owners and stores? Or perhaps it is the lofts and studio apartments catering to young professionals, students, and artists yearning for an urban living environment with shopping, dining, and entertainment within walking distance? What about historic neighborhoods like Old Town with its eclectic mix of housing for families, retirees, and college students?
The Downtown Holiday Tour’s goal is to highlight how this diverse mix of people, buildings, and businesses creates our vibrant and active downtown environment.
David Nahm, whose Old Town home is featured on the Downtown Holiday Tour this year, notes:
As long as we have lived in Harrisonburg, we’ve lived downtown. Living downtown allows us both to walk to work and dinner, to the farmers market and Midtowne Market, to see bands play and meet friends for drinks or shop for records at Wonder. We love knowing our neighbors and living in a community that blends college students and professors, attorneys and musicians, scientists and artists. It is just a nice place to live.
Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance (HDR) presents the Downtown Holiday Tour this Saturday, December 8th from 1:00 to 5:00 pm to highlight the unique aspects of our downtown district. This festive event provides the opportunity to tour a selection of Old Town’s finest homes and visit downtown lofts and work spaces decorated for the holidays while enjoying a diversity of architectural details, festive refreshments, and carolers. Here is a sneak peek at some of the locations on the tour:
Virginia Quilt Museum
Tours will start at the 19th-century Warren-Sipe House, currently home to the Virginia Quilt Museum. Here you can pick up your tickets and maps, as well as tour exhibits about our quilting heritage. The exhibition, Stargazing at the Museum, features 25 quilts inspired by the traditional pattern of the star.
Old Town Neighborhood
Harrisonburg’s Old Town district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its late 19th– and early 20th-century architecture and history.
Connie & Paul Campbell live on Campbell Street in a two-story Queen Anne home built in 1905. The wood-framed house features a brick veneer with a large front porch that provides space for socializing on summer evenings, an essential element of Old Town culture both historically and today.
Franklin Street first opened in 1899 and Queen Anne homes like the Matter’s quickly created the street’s status as one of the most prestigious streets in the neighborhood.
Architectural styles built in Old Town and on Newman Avenue during the 1910s transitioned from the ubiquitous Queen Anne to Colonial Revival, Craftsman, and other styles. David Nahm and Jennifer Connerley live in the two-story Colonial Revival home on Newman Avenue. The limestone-piered front porch features Rockingham County’s native bluestone. This same local limestone can be seen on all of the foundations of the historic Old Town homes featured on this year’s tour. A one-story garage at the Newman residence indicates the appearance of the automobile in the daily lives of Harrisonburg’s residents.
Note: This home will not be on the 2013 tour due to the rescheduled date. Make sure you attend 2014 to see this lovely home!
From Automotive to Modern Service
With renewed efforts focused on business development and preservation in downtown Harrisonburg, many historic structures have been modified to meet the needs of contemporary businesses while maintaining their historic integrity and continuing to contribute to downtown’s historic look and feel. Two historic automotive dealerships on the tour illustrate adaptive reuse of older buildings.
J. Daniel Pezzoni noted in the 2004 registration form for Harrisonburg’s Downtown Historic District with the National Register of Historic Places:
The automobile dealerships of the 1920s and later are one demonstration of the impact of the car on Harrisonburg’s cityscape. [Rockingham Motor Company]… is Harrisonburg’s leading architectural relic of the early automobile age.
The Staunton architectural firm T. J. Collins & Son designed the Rocktown Motor Company Building, constructed in the early 1920s on the corner of West Market Street and South Liberty Street. The Tudor Revival and Art Deco building has American bond brickwork with large arches over the showroom windows. Blue stained glass lettering spells out “Rockingham Motor Co.” in the transoms. Today, Moseley Architects occupies the second level of this building and their space will be open on the tour. Court Square Theater, located on the first level of the building, will be open from 1:00 to 3:00 pm.
The Hartman Building was built in 1937 as Harrisonburg Motor Express Terminal and Dan’s Grill at 202 North Liberty Street. This building was converted to a Buick dealership in 1948 with the addition of an auto showroom. In 2011, the building won Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance’s Design Excellence Award for Adaptive Reuse after extensive historic renovation. The building currently serves as home to two local businesses, Matchbox Realty and Miller & Jameson.
Calling Industrial Spaces Home
The agricultural industry’s presence in Harrisonburg’s urban core reflects the importance of farming in our region. City Produce Exchange was constructed in 1908 with freight doors and loading docks along the railroad lines at 56 West Gay Street. Chickens, turkeys, eggs, and butter were all shipped from what a 1927 business directory claimed was the “largest fattening and packing plant in the world.” Wetsel Seed Company bought the building in 1949 to store orchard seeds and equipment. Purchased in 2005 by developers, the City Exchange building was restored following the rehabilitation guidelines of the Department of Historic Resources. The Flats at City Exchange provide 26 luxury one- and two-bedroom flats featuring historic elements like the original exposed beams and brick. The Local Chop & Grill House restaurant features locally-grown produce and meats on their menu and has received recent attention in culinary publications like Southern Living. The January/February 2013 issue of the national magazine, Main Street Now, featured the City Produce Exchange on its cover in an issue focusing on housing and urban living.
The Metro-Sancar Building at 28 West Rock Street is an industrial steel structure with a brick veneer originally constructed in the 1930s for Metro Pants Company. A lingerie manufacturer, the Sancar Corporation, bought the building around 1950 and constructed an addition on the east end with a similar design of cinder block walls with red brick. Opening in 2005, Sancar Flats now offers 47 upscale residential units in downtown Harrisonburg.
A collaborative effort
HDR relies on many volunteers to plan and implement the Downtown Holiday Tour, including the energy and enthusiasm of the Friends of Old Town, caroling groups, and volunteer tour guides. Students in a vernacular architecture class at James Madison University taught by Laura Purvis (also an employee of downtown’s Arts Council of the Valley) will provide in-depth research on the locations that will still be accessible in an online format after the event. Sponsors and businesses also support the event through contributions or in-kind donations to assist with decorations and refreshments.
Special thanks to this year’s sponsors for helping to make the event possible:
Derik Trissel with Kline May Realty, Linda Hoover with Ameriprise Financial, LD&B Insurance and Financial Services
Blue Ridge Architects, Lindsey Funeral Home, Nielsen Builders Inc., Scott and Shaena Rogers, Venture Builders, Yellow Cab Company of Harrisonburg
The Beauty Spa, Herr & Co. Building Contractors, Inc., Layman & Nichols, P.C., Matchbox Realty, Miller & Jameson, Taylor Painting & Wallpapering, Wharton, Aldhizer & Weaver, PLC,
How can I attend?
To attend the event, tickets can be purchased in advance for $20 online at www.downtownharrisonburg.org/downtowntour or at the Rocktown Gift Shoppe in the Hardesty-Higgins House Visitor Center at 212 South Main Street in downtown Harrisonburg. Tickets can also be purchased the day of the event for
$25 discounted rate of $20 at the Virginia Quilt Museum at 310 South Main Street. Proceeds benefit downtown revitalization.
This blog post has been adapted from an article that first appeared in the magazine, Harrisonburg Life.
Trisha Blosser is the Program Manager for Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and the main organizer of the Downtown Holiday Tour.