Sherry Hamilton, October 13, 2022; Section 3, Vol LXXXV, no. 41, NEW SERIES
Original Article can be found here. www.gazettejournal.net
The historic Sibley’s General Store on Mathews Main Street needs a new foundation and associated preservation work, and the Mathews County Visitor and Information Center’s Saving Sibley’s Committee has been fundraising to make sure the work gets done.
The restoration will cost a hefty $625,000, and private individuals and small businesses and organizations have already pledged 91 percent of that amount, or $572,000, said MCVIC Executive Director Emily Allen.
Now, MCVIC is asking the community to help take the fund drive to the finish line, giving everyone who cares about the beloved structure a chance to help preserve it well into the future.
Allen said that MCVIC itself committed $100,000 to pay for the engineering and design phase of the project, so donors can rest assured that every dime they donate will go toward actual preservation costs. Clarification submitted 10/20/22: [MCVIC would like to make a clarification to the original Article published 10/13/22. MCVIC’s $100,000 pledge to the soft costs of the project are extensive, not just the engineering and design phase of the project. We do not wish the community to assume all the soft costs are attributed to the services of Engineering Design Associates and Hudgins Design Collaborative, who’s help with the project has been nothing short of generous and significant. Other soft costs include the hiring of professional fundraising counsel and grant editors, land surveying, soil sampling, permitting, admin costs including fundraising expenses and accounting, costs associated with 5 to 10 months of MCVIC’s closure during construction, and contingency funding. MCVIC strives to be prepared for any known and unknown expenses attributed to the campaign, so donors can be assured their funds are allocated to the costs of construction.]
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
The structural engineering firm Engineering Design Associates of Richmond found several years ago that the store’s foundation was “at a critical stage,” said MCVIC President and construction liaison Greg Dusenberry, with work that would have to be done within a five-to 10-year time frame in order to avoid a structural failure that would significantly increase the cost of repairs. In addition to an aging foundation, there is water damage, he said, with structural timbers that need to be replaced or reinforced, including a beam that supports the second floor.
“Old buildings are so often lost because a girder suddenly fails,” he said.
MCVIC talked to contractors, the county administrator, and members of the Mathews Board of Supervisors and the Mathews Planning Commission “in order to make sure the work is done in a sound, cost efficient, effective manner,” said Dusenberry. In addition, Mathews resident and [previous] MCVIC board member Frances Hudgins, who is an architect, came up with a plan for the project.
In order to ensure that the building is able to last “multiple decades or even centuries into the future,” said Dusenberry, a concrete slab will be poured under the entire structure, and the foundation will be raised one to two feet higher than it currently is. A drainage system will also be installed.
Before these tasks begin, the building will have to be elevated. It will then be lowered onto the new foundation when it’s completed.
The work also includes demolishing the hyphen that attaches the back part of the building, a one-story structure built in the 1840s, to the front part, which was built in 1899, and adding a new hyphen that will house a kitchenette, a bathroom, a mechanical room, and handicapped-accessible stairs to access the second floor of the two-story front section. The rickety exterior steps on the Maple Avenue side of the building, currently the only way to access the second oor, will be demolished.
Finally, some pieces of siding will need to be replaced, and the entire structure will get a brand-new paint job.
Allen said it’s important to preserve the historical character of the building, so nothing about the façade will change, except that there will be one or two additional steps up to the door.
Archive photos from Gloucester-Mathews Gazette Journal
The project committee, which was led by fundraising chair Hunt Thompson and historic preservation advisor Bobbi Hatton, felt it was crucial to use a professional consultant to raise so much money, said Allen, and the committee was advised to start fundraising with private donors first. The fund drive began in 2020 and was conducted in honor of Jim Taylor and in memory of Amanda Taylor, who was “a very important figure in acquiring the building and making sure MCVIC could be a central component of the community,” said Allen.
The initial fund drive raised $185,000, and that has grown over time. Among the donations, the County of Mathews has included $20,000 in its Capital Improvement Plan for the project, and that is being matched by a private donor. The Mathews Economic Development Authority has committed $50,000, and the Cabell Foundation in Richmond has approved a $30,000 matching grant to help incentivize donors. Allen said that even visitors to the county have been helping with the fund drive, sometimes donating clothing for the visitor’s center to sell to raise money.
In addition to cash donations, the community will also have the opportunity to purchase a “Save Sibley’s” line of apparel beginning next month, said Allen. There will be T-shirts and other items of clothing available.
“We’re committed to having the full amount pledged before we start construction,” said Dusenberry.
“We’re optimistic we’ll reach the goal by the end of the year,” added Allen.
Dusenberry said that Sibley’s is a symbol for small- town life and has played a large part in creating the atmosphere in downtown Mathews. Allen said the store has maximized the impact that MCVIC has had in the community and has helped the organization be a part of the activities and events that happen downtown.
For Allen personally, she said, the volunteers that help out and the visitors that drop by and share stories from the past “have brought this place to life and created nostalgia for the charm that Mathews has.”