Fort Collier looks to future Civil War center is renovated for events and other uses
Winchester — The Fort Collier Civil War Center was always meant to have two roles — being a place where history was preserved while helping the community celebrate the present and future.
The center is now fully ready to embrace both roles, and organizers are highly optimistic about the future of the home, which sits on the site of the beginning of the Third Battle of Winchester, said Katherine Solenberger, vice president of the organization’s board of directors.
In September, a wedding was held at the center — located 200 yards off Martinsburg Pike (U.S. 11) at the Winchester-Frederick County line — one of many special events she hopes will be held on the historic property.
The property has hosted other special events in the past, including concerts, camps, and living history events, but the wedding is the first since all renovations have been completed, she said.
“We have a lot to offer the general public and community,” said Solenberger of Frederick County. “We are really excited about the future.”
Helping lead the charge is Carol Light, director of events at Fort Collier, and Jenny Leigh Obert, music coordinator, both of whom are volunteers.
Light took on the position in June and started by decorating the Stine House and a new reception and conference room created out of a renovated three-car garage beside it. She spent her first few months spring cleaning “and looking to see what I had to use in here.”
Now that both buildings are ready, she will turn her attention to scheduling events such as weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries, and company and holiday parties, she said. “I would eventually like to do more tea parties, music events, kids camps, and cotillions.”
The center has a suggested donation pay scale depending on the event, and all of the money goes back to the operation of Fort Collier, said Light, of Clear Brook.
Having the center available as a special events venue has been a goal almost from the start, when a group of history lovers banded together in 2001 because of immediate threats to the Fort Collier site by encroaching industrial development, Solenberger said. The 10-acre property was purchased April 1, 2002, and improvements have been made steadily through the years to its buildings.
The improvement that really started the ball rolling on the site’s suitability for holding events was the completion this spring of the reception and conference room, she said.
The renovation was done by students in Construction Technology classes at Handley High School under the direction of the instructor, Jimmy Robertson, Solenberger said.
The center bought the materials, and between September 2012 and May 2013, the students provided the labor, she said. This included removing the old roof, repairing the rafters, replacing the sheathing and shingles, taking the garage doors off and replacing them with double French doors, siding it, and finishing the interior.
The renovation cost about $12,000, which is probably half of what they would have paid if the job was professionally contracted out, she said.
It wasn’t the first time students had a hand in helping restore the property, Solenberger said. Through the years, Boy Scouts working on Eagle Scout projects helped finish renovation projects on the house exterior, root cellar, blacksmith workshop, and smokehouse.
Other renovations through the years have been meant to return the house to more of its original look, she said. The original house was built in the 1700s, but much of it was damaged during the Battle of Third Winchester. A new addition was built on to the remaining part of the house in 1867 with Reconstruction funds.
The first floor, two porches, and a patio are available for events, while the upstairs is used as a rental apartment. The first floor includes a reception room, sitting room, dining room, and kitchen. An enclosed breezeway connecting the house to the reception and conference room also can be used.
When the center took ownership, the back patio had a restaurant-style atrium, the front porch was decayed, the exterior had been altered, Solenberger said. Those problems and a few others were fixed with the help of grants and donations, and for the most part, both the interior and exterior were in good condition.
The house was always in better condition than the center’s next project, the Millbank House, which the group has been working to acquire for several years to preserve it from being torn down and the land developed, Solenberger said.
After years of waiting, she said the group is “close to acquiring the house” but right now they are trying to work out closing fees, she said. “Then we will be in fundraising mode and have specific events at Fort Collier to raise money for Millbank.”
In decorating the Stine House and reception and conference room, Light said she tried to give the house plenty of personal touches that spoke to its history while making visitors feel at ease. Period furniture and decorations are offset by cheerful decorations in each room.
Having Light work on the house was “like a breath of fresh air for Fort Collier,” Solenberger said.
Obert, of Winchester, will assist Light with events as well as coordinating music. She has ideas for the future involving music camps and day clinics. She would like to bring in panels of professional musicians to “teach Americana roots, bluegrass, old-time, and classical music in a symposium setting.”
Despite all the plans for the house as an events venue, organizers haven’t forgotten the reason the group first worked together to save the site — because of its role in Third Winchester, Solenberger said. “We have one of the best preserved Civil War earthwork fortifications within 250 miles.”
Organizers are already working on a commemorative event for the 150th anniversary of the battle, which took place Sept. 19, 1864.
A grant from the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation enabled them to put up four interpretive markers about the battle there. There is also a Civil War Trails marker on the site.
The property is open to the public from dawn to dusk. The house is private and only open by appointment.
For more information about the Fort Collier Civil War Center or holding an event there, contact Light at 540-533-6672 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Contact Laura McFarland at email@example.com