No Place Like Downtown For The Holidays
Harrisonburg Putting On The Seasonal Ritz
Posted: November 23, 2013
Thanks to the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, everyone can experience the thrill of the season.
For the fourth year, HDR is hosting the Downtown Holiday Tour featuring Old Town homes, historic buildings and downtown businesses.
HDR is a nonprofit organization that works closely with private and public partners to revitalize downtown Harrisonburg, Trisha Blosser, program manager for HDR, explained.
The group was founded in 2003 in response to the growing desire to revive downtown — a place that once served as a central attraction to the Friendly City. The previously lively streets became bare when downtown businesses and stores relocated to more commercialized areas in the 1970s and ’80s after the interstate was built, Blosser said.
As a member of Virginia Main Street community, HDR has worked extensively in restoring the historic downtown district, understanding that creating an inviting Main Street is often pivotal for the city and surrounding counties, as a booming downtown brings visitors to the area and helps maintain local businesses that support it, Blosser explained.
Blosser says that over the last few years, the changes in Harrisonburg’s downtown have been encouraging, including the growing nightlife and expanding art scene.
“People who have been in the area the last five to 10 years notice the difference,” she said.
“There’s a lot of vibrancy downtown.”
“It’s a trend we’re really excited about,” Blosser continued, adding that HDR has sparked a full-fledge revitalization stemming from the community support received.
In order to continue and expand that trend, HDR provides community events intended to showcase the downtown region, including the Downtown Holiday Tour.
Featured For Historical Value
When this annual event was established four years ago, it focused solely on the homes of Old Town Harrisonburg, a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places. The homes date from the 19th and 20th century, and include architectural styles ranging from the Late Victorian to 19th- and 20th-century revivals.
Within the last few years, HDR expanded the event to include additional areas, such as local businesses and newer apartment complexes, in order to provide a more inclusive view of downtown Harrisonburg’s diversity.
“The goal is to highlight everything downtown has to offer,” Blosser said. “We want to highlight how vibrant and active we’ve become.”
This year, eight locations will be featured, with a large focus on the northern end of the city.
Home For The Holidays
The tour will start at the Virginia Quilt Museum, which is located at the 19th-century Warren-Sipe House on Main Street. The museum will host an exhibit, titled “Stargazing at the Museum,” which features quilts inspired by the traditional pattern of the star.
There will be three Old Town neighborhood homes on the tour, including a two-story Queen Anne home on Campbell Street.
Cannie and Paul Campbell, as well as their two children, are the current residents of the home, which was built in 1905.
The Campbells moved to Old Town in 2006, which Cannie says was a perfect fit as both she and her husband grew up in older homes and enjoy the history that comes with the properties.
They also both enjoy decorating for the holidays, inheriting “Christmas heirlooms” from their families, which they include in their decorating extravaganza.
Though the Campbells have been a part of the committee that brings the event to the public, this is the first time the family will open their doors for the tour. Cannie says they’re excited to be a focal point this year, and are “just going to do [their] normal decorations, which is probably a little over the top for the normal family,” Cannie said, laughing.
Two other homes will also be decorated and open for public viewing: a two-story Queen Anne home on Franklin Street from the early 20th century, and a Craftsman home on Newman Avenue, built during the 1910s.
Blosser says having an opportunity to view a variety of homes with differing styles is one of the benefits of this event.
“It’s a chance to look at the architecture and get a sense of the history of the homes,” Blosser said.
There are also several buildings featured for the fourth tour, as well, including the Rocktown Motor Company Building, which was constructed in the early 1920s. The building was renovated and currently houses Moseley Architects and Court Square Theater, which will both be open to guests.
The Hartman Building, located on North Liberty Street, will also be welcoming holiday tour goers. The structure, built in 1937, originally served as a Motor Express Terminal before being converted into a Buick dealership. It was extensively renovated in recent years, earning the building the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance’s Design Excellence Award for Adaptive Reuse in 2011, and currently houses two local businesses: Matchbox Realty and Miller & Jameson, LLP.
Those in attendance can also see how chickens, turkeys, eggs and butter historically made their way by train to the City Produce Exchange building. The building on West Gay Street, which now consists of apartments known as the Flats@City Exchange, was constructed in 1908, and was later bought and turned into a storage space for orchard seed and equipment by Wetsel Seed Company.
The Metro-Sancar Building will also be featured. The 1930s structure was bought by the Sancar Corporation, a lingerie manufacturer, several decades after its construction. After building an addition, the space was converted into residential units known as the Sancar Flats, which opened in 2005.
These locations, chosen on a volunteer basis, help demonstrate the history of Harrisonburg.
In order to fully understand how each location contributes individually to the historic area of downtown Harrisonburg, a Vernacular Architecture class taught by Laura Purvis at James Madison University, is responsible for researching each location featured on the tour.
In a press release, Purvis said the Downtown Holiday Tour is about providing a better understanding of and appreciation for Harrisonburg.
“Harrisonburg’s downtown represents a history of growth, redevelopment and dramatic change,” she said. “The buildings that you will see on the tour demonstrate turning points in the city’s transition from a town filled with horses and stables to a bustling center adapted to the automobile.”
Blosser encourages people to attend the event and witness the vitality of downtown, spending the day in the city that’s grown to be a tourist attraction.
Blosser says she’s excited for the event and to see this year’s adornments.
“The decorations are always so different; every year always has its own unique feeling,” she said.
“Until everyone gets the decorations up — it’s always a surprise and interesting to see what people come up with.”
Downtown restaurants will be open for lunch, and carolers will also perform during the event.
There is no particular order for the tour; participants are encourage to set their pace. Tour goers can walk, but shuttles will be provided and participants can also drive themselves.
Proceeds from the event benefit downtown revitalization efforts.
The tour will be held from 1-5 p.m. Dec. 8. Tickets, which cost $20, can be purchased in advance downtownharrisonburg.org/downtowntour or at the Rocktown Gift Shoppe located in the Hardesty-Higgins House Visitor Center, 212 South Main Street, or for $25 on the day of event at Virginia Quilt Museum, 310 South Main Street.
HDR is still looking for volunteers; each will receive a complimentary ticket. For more information or to volunteer, contact Blosser at 432-8921 or email@example.com.
Contact Sarah Stacy at 574-6292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.