An Old House Gets A New Look

RYAN CORNELL Daily News-Record
PUBLICATION: Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA)


Photo courtesy of Lantz Construction Company

DATE: April 18, 2017

HARRISONBURG — For more than 160 years, the Warren-Sipe House at 301 S. Main St. has served a wide range of purposes.

The house, built in 1855, provided shelter to the two families — the Warrens and the Sipes — that called it home over the years. It weathered the storms known to barrel through the Valley during the spring and fall. And it kept them warm during the colder months.

The building was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers returning from the battlefield during the Civil War. Soldiers such as Joseph Latimer, who at 18 was the youngest artillery battalion commander in the Confederate Army, were treated for their injuries in its rooms. Some of them, including Latimer, died inside the house.

Starting in 1956, the structure housed the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, which hosted dances, classes and after-school programs within its walls. It served as the headquarters for the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society in 1978.

The modest Greek Revival-style building was even converted into a courthouse while the original was being renovated between 1993 and 1995. A holding cell was installed on the first floor of the house and remains there today.

Through it all, the front porch attached to the historic Warren-Sipe House — the site of the Virginia Quilt Museum since 1995 — has faithfully led family members, soldiers, lawyers, quilters and other visitors through its front door.

But last summer, the porch began to show its age.

The brick pillars supporting the porch leaned away from the house, presenting a safety hazard. The floorboards were in dire need of replacing.

After consulting with experts, including a preservation architect, the museum’s executive director, Kimberly McCray, said the group decided the entire porch needed to be replaced.

“The architect looked at it and said, ‘We definitely need to act,'” McCray recalled. “And so, of course, we just started your basic process of talking to different construction firms.”

Museum staff put out a call for bids on the project and accepted an offer from Broadway-based Lantz Construction Co., which McCray said worked with the museum to keep costs down.

“We’d definitely love to give them big props,” she said.

The museum remained open while one end of the porch was closed to the public, and McCray and others quickly went to work raising funds for a complete reconstruction.

In August, the museum launched its Rocking Chair campaign with a goal to raise $20,000 toward the project.

What it received by October was nearly $10,000 more than the goal.

That total funded about three-quarters of the project. The rest, McCray said, was covered by “hundreds upon hundreds” of volunteer hours spent framing the porch’s decking and taking down the old porch.

“When Lantz saw the framing that our volunteers had done, they were just blown away,” she said. “They said it was better than what they would have expected from volunteers.”

Originally, McCray said, the plan was to replace the floorboard and decking and keep the original railings and columns intact.

“We did not expect the cost to be that much, which is why we only had our goal at $20,000,” she said.

But under closer inspection, it was clear more work needed to be done. And that’s when Lantz and museum staffers realized their problem was a much bigger, and more expensive, one than they had thought.

The porch’s columns, banisters and railings, warped by the ravages of water and time, showed signs of deterioration.

“As soon as Lantz took down the columns — now these are from the 1850s — as soon as they came in … and took the columns out, the older ones basically started to crumble in their hands because there was just so much water damage and rot,” McCray said. “At that point, the cost went way up.”

Adding to costs was the project’s mission of keeping the porch attractive and historically accurate, while complying to code set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

McCray said work was done to keep the tongue-in-groove-style decking present in the original porch, and to match the old paint color.

“I’ve been told we’re [one of] the only antebellum residence[s] in downtown Harrisonburg,” McCray said, “so keeping that as historically accurate as we could was very important.”

Crews also raised the porch so that it would be level with the museum’s front door, and visitors would no longer need to step up to enter the building.

Work started on the porch in January, with crews adding their finishing touches to the project at the beginning of this week.

McCray credited Ken Reeves, chairman of the museum’s facilities committee, and the many volunteers for the project’s success. She said an official dedication for the new porch is planned for mid-May.

“I think our members know this house is a blessing to us,” she said, “and people really enjoy coming to a historic structure.”

Philip M. Herrington, an assistant professor of history at James Madison University, described the house as “one of the most historically and architecturally significant buildings in the city.”

“To my knowledge there is not another high-style Greek Revival house in Harrisonburg,” he wrote in an email. “Unfortunately a house very similar in size and style to the Warren-Sipe house, the John T. Harris house, which stood on an adjacent lot, was demolished in the 1960s, and such losses only heighten the necessity of preserving the Warren-Sipe house.”


According to the Virginia Quilt Museum, the Warren-Sipe House was first owned by Edward T. Harrison Warren, a direct descendant of Thomas Harrison, the founding father of Harrisonburg.

Warren’s uncle, William Rice, built the house for Warren and his new wife, Virginia Magruder, a brochure about the house’s history says.

The cost of building the house was about $6,000, it says.

Warren, a prominent lawyer in the city before the Civil War, commanded the 10th Virginia Volunteer Infantry as a colonel in the Confederate Army. He died at the Battle of Wilderness in May 1864.

In 1873, the property was sold out of the family, and in 1894, George Sipe purchased the home.

Sipe, a well-known lawyer and civic leader in Harrisonburg, served as state delegate and general receiver for Rockingham County. After purchasing the house, he made several changes to it, including adding two fireplaces and an attic and extending its porch.

After Sipe’s death in 1939, his heirs sold the property to the city of Harrisonburg, which kept it until 2000.

Sacred Heart Academy Gymnasium Dedication

Work in Progress

ERIN FLYNN Daily News-Record
PUBLICATION: Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA)

SECTION: Harrisonburg

Photo courtesy of Lantz Construction Company

DATE: February 1, 2017

HARRISONBURG — Akyra Boatswain is a frequent visitor of the Explore More Discovery Museum in downtown Harrisonburg.

Once a month, Akyra and her mother, Amanda Boatswain, check out various exhibits that fill the first floor of the museum. That’s how the two spent Wednesday afternoon.

“It makes me think of fun things,” said Akyra, a home-schooler from McGaheysville. “It [makes] me think of making things.”

A station that teaches children how to milk a cow is one that caught the 5-year-old’s eye.

“She loves animals,” Boatswain said.

As Akyra explored the exhibits that fill the first floor, construction and exhibit installation continued upstairs.

In June, Lantz Construction began working on the 33,000-square-foot building’s second and third floors.

So far, the museum has raised $1.35 million for the expansion project, said Lisa Shull, Explore More Discovery Museum’s executive director. Nearly $1 million has been used for work on the two floors.

Construction is now complete on the second floor, where permanent exhibits will be installed as funding becomes available, Shull said.

Work also has begun on the third floor, which has new windows that were installed between June and November. The remaining projects, such as installing a heating, ventilation and air conditioning unit, are at a standstill until more funds can be raised.

A treehouse exhibit is the only permanent one expected to open on the second floor in the next couple of months.

An area where children can participate in weather-related activities is among its features.

“Teachers will love that,” she added.

The rest of the second floor’s space will feature a ball maze and construction and aviation exhibits.

“This year, we’ll be raising funds to put in more permanent exhibits, but in the meantime we’ll be outfitting this space with temporary exhibits and activities,” Shull said.

The third floor will eventually house a community education center featuring a multipurpose room for art shows and classes.

“We’d also love to have demo kitchen where we can hold children’s classes,” Shull said.

The expansion project aims to offer more wiggle room for the 60,000 yearly visitors.

“Sometimes, we have so many people in here and just not enough space,” she said.

Museum leaders also are planning to serve older children with the expansion.

A 1,250-square-foot room on the first floor will offer children 7 and older a place to build machinery and work on various projects. The space will feature laser cutters, sewing machines, hand and power tools, and possibly a music studio.

“We’ll certainly have some idea-launching activities,” said Marcia Zook, the museum’s exhibit director. “They’re also welcome to bring their own ideas and their own thoughts in to work on those.”


Sacred Heart Academy Gymnasium Project

Plains Museum Completes Lecture Room

NOLAN STOUT Daily News-Record
PUBLICATION: Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA)


DATE: July 24, 2016

TIMBERVILLE — There just never seemed to be enough room for events at Plains District Memorial Museum.

Bringing in speakers created a challenge for museum officials, especially with finding room for spectators.

“Whenever we had lectures … or special programs, we had to move all the display boards in the museum for seating,” said Helen Smith, chairman of the museum’s board of directors and exhibit coordinator. “We realized that that was a whole lot of unnecessary work.”

After two years and a few bumps in the road, the museum has completed a new lecture room.

The new 1,300-square-foot Carpenter Foundation Community Room has space for chairs and contains two bathrooms, three storage rooms and office space. It is in the back of the museum.

“The museum had a real need for this room,” Smith said.

Design work began more than two years ago, she said. Construction started in February and wrapped up in June.

The room, constructed by Lantz Construction Co. of Broadway, cost $185,000, Smith said.

The museum contracted with Frazier Associates in Staunton for design work.

It is named after the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, which gave a $75,000 grant for the work in 2014 and supports arts projects around the country. Local businesses, museum members and civic organizations also contributed.

“We are a free museum, operated entirely by volunteers,” Smith said. “And totally dependent on the community and the local government for our funding.”

She said Earl Fink, whose wife Sharon is on the museum’s board, contributed an “invaluable” amount of time and work to reduce the project’s cost.

It will be used for museum-sponsored events, such as the monthly lecture series and other special programs, Smith said.

“We feel like this offers an opportunity for us to do some new things that would be important to the whole Plains District Community,” she said.

The first use came on June 5 for a presentation of local servicemen who died in foreign wars.

The museum has an exhibit on local veterans which will run through November, Smith said.

The next use will come during a September reception recognizing donors.

The museum was founded in 1998 and operated in the building housing the Timberville Police Department until 2008, when it moved to the former Rockingham Mill Co. building. The lecture room is the first major expansion of the building since the relocation.

Beverly Garber, the town historian, said the museum has used about half the building at 176 Main St.

“We haven’t even got a good start yet,” he said.

Contact Nolan Stout at 574-6278 or

Riddleberger Set To Expand Shop

PUBLICATION: Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA)

SECTION: News (Local)

DATE: July 6, 2016

MOUNT CRAWFORD — Riddleberger Brothers Inc. needs a bigger home after taking on work from an affiliated company and moving some of its own job-site work in-house.

Daniel Blosser, Riddleberger’s president and CEO, said the mechanical contractor will expand the sheet-metal shop at its South Valley Pike office partly because it’s begun prefabricating ductwork in the shop instead of building it at job sites.

It’s also taken over metal production for Hess Mechanical Corp., a fellow Comfort Systems USA company in Upper Marlboro, Md., and has started making spiral ductwork for some customers.

Riddleberger, Blosser said, is investing $1.6 million for the building expansion and equipment for the space, which is almost as large as its existing sheet-metal shop. Two to five employees likely will be added to handle the extra production.

Lantz Construction has been contracted to design and build the addition, which will be attached to the rear of the sheet-metal shop at Riddleberger’s office just north of Mount Crawford. Work should begin this month, with the goal of having employees working in the new section by year’s end.

“It’s a pretty substantial investment for a company our size,” Blosser said, “but we think it will pay dividends with the increased business we get from it.”


Blosser said business has been growing since the recession ended in 2009, and the company has been involved in more projects. Prefabricating heating, ventilation and air conditioning duct systems in-house improves efficiency, quality and safety, but is a space eater.

“Ductwork, when it’s prefabricated, it takes up a lot of space,” he said. “With the increase in prefabrication, we needed more space for our own work.”

The need for the addition increased, Blosser said, when Hess’s expansion plans were tabled because it’s considerably less expensive to do the sheet-metal work here and deliver it to Maryland. Riddleberger added a driver to make those deliveries to its payroll, which stands at 326 workers.

The company also had to operate its plasma table, which cuts metal, in two shifts when it took on the Hess business, he said.

The transition began in February 2014, Blosser said. Riddleberger now handles virtually all Hess’ sheet-metal production.

Contact Vic Bradshaw at 574-6279 or