On the Road Collaborative at the Depot

On the Road Collaborative at the Depot

On The Road Collaborative students with Asha and Charles

The Gaines Group has had a long-standing partnership with On The Road Collaborative and we could not be more excited to be a part of it again this year! On the Road Collaborative (OTRC) is an organization that gives middle and high-school students educational and hands-on opportunities outside of school, and their commitment to the youth and community, both in the future and in the here and now, is inspiring.

Throughout the years, we have participated in many opportunities with students, including a class on architecture as a career option to Skyline middle-schoolers that was led by Deborah and Charles in 2016 and a sustainable farm house tour in partnership with Eric Beck with Beck Builders. This year, Deborah is teaching another class about architecture called Design Hive to middle-schoolers from Skyline Middle School.

In this class, they’ll be learning about what architecture is and how it affects our communities and day to day lives. They’ll also learn the process of becoming an architect and what an architect does by going through the design process and understanding the thoughts and decisions that go into designing a building.

This week, we hosted these students at the Depot, our office building. Here Charles gave a tour to talk about the rich history of the building that used to be a railroad station. He showed them the many items, sketches, and photos that we have preserved here, as well as details of structural preservation: sections of floor that are different colors, charred doorframes, and old windows without panes. The students enjoyed interacting with the window especially, as you can see below.

Looking through the old pane-less window.

Touring the structure outside.

When asked what made her want to teach this class, Deborah said that “it’s fun to share about what I do with a group of students that are interested in learning about architecture.” Passing on excitement for design and giving opportunities for exposure to architecture for younger students is something that is very important to us.

Deborah is also structuring the class so that in the second half of the session, students will get a taste of what a college architecture studio class might be like. Students will work to create a neighborhood of houses designed by them. This neighborhood project is based on a similar project that her studio worked on during her time at Virginia Tech. They’ll draw out plans of their houses and then make cardboard models to see the neighborhood in 3D. We can’t wait to see what they create!

Design is everywhere, and whether or not each participating student decides to go into an architectural or design field, we hope that the experience enriches their understanding of how design impacts their daily lives. Awareness of this can be applicable to any field, and we’re grateful to OTRC for giving us this opportunity to meet these bright students from the community and pass on some of this knowledge. Check out their website to see how you can get more involved with OTRC!

Deering Hall: Restoring and Celebrating a Historic Landmark

Deering Hall: Restoring and Celebrating a Historic Landmark

Design can build a better future. We believe this holds true for both ground-up projects and the preservation of historical landmarks such as Deering Hall in Broadway, Virginia. Still standing from the 1890’s, Deering Hall is a local building housing over a century of history within its walls. It has adapted over the years and ushered in the changes of the decades by functioning as a town hall, school, opera house, and storefront for various local businesses. Our team jumped on the opportunity to partner with Anthony Slater in achieving his dream of seeing Deering Hall added to the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

New life and another century of history are ahead of this special building as Slater plans to use part of it to house his local business A-Able plumbing, while the other half will preserve and celebrate its history by functioning as a community meeting space. The restoration of this building will gain increased visibility as the Shenandoah Rail Trail is slated to run behind the property.

The front façade of Deering Hall on Main St, in Broadway.

Until recently, there were no houses or buildings in Broadway on the national registry of historical buildings. The town itself had not been deemed “historical” until Anthony sought to preserve and share the history housed within the walls of Deering Hall. History is truly written on the walls inside as there are signatures and sketches carefully preserved from the 1890’s in the upstairs walls. Thanks to a book found at the local municipal building, meeting notes from 1896-1914 were uncovered and Deering Hall was specifically named as Broadway’s first town hall. This critical piece of information cemented the history of this building and the town. This discovery led to the approval of Deering Hall to be added to the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Registrar.

Signatures circa 1898 displayed on the walls.
An original painted medallion preserved from the 19th century.

The Gaines Group partnered with Anthony to successfully complete the National Registry applications as well as code research and renovation permit drawings. Similar to our partnership in the historic Minor-Nelson project, it has been a rewarding experience to see a time-worn building be restored for new life ahead.

Historic Minor-Nelson House

Historic Minor-Nelson House

Our team recently had the opportunity to help preserve a slice of history in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Minor-Nelson house is a historic home dating back to the early 1800s and we were tasked with recreating a historic façade that appropriately honors the Georgian form it was originally built to reflect. The façade needed to include a front porch, steps, and other pediment and architectural detailing to make it appear “original” to its early 19th century roots. Before beginning the design process, we first investigated the home at UVA’s archives and Charlottesville’s Historical Society to uncover more information. Named after the original owner Martha Minor, the home was built between 1827-1840 and served multiple uses in its lifetime. It was originally built as a private residence but during the Civil War, the house functioned as a branch of Charlottesville General Hospital. It continued to serve as a medical practice after the war and changed hands to Dr. Hugh Nelson.

Although there was limited information specific to the front porch detailing, we uncovered the photograph below and took clues from the original construction. We based the design around the indications noted from this early photograph as well as the details found in the current door surround. The side veranda was also used as a guide to influence the design of the front porch as it displays many original architectural details.

The carpenter gothic porch and front gable detailing were added to the house in the early 1900’s. This photograph shows the house in the 1960’s.
Around 1971, the front covered porch was removed and replaced with brick and stone double curved stairs. The door surround was used as a guide to rebuild to covered porch.

Referencing the early photos and Georgian style, we planned for the removal of the existing porch and double stairs. We designed a gothic gable and porch using both tapered half-square and “Temple of the Winds” columns. Additional architectural elements utilized in the design were the additions of cornice, entablature, dental mould, and frieze board. Although still under construction, the following photographs show the porch near completion.

Current (2022) photograph of the Minor-Nelson House porch.

After presenting our design to the Charlottesville Board of Architecture Review, the design was approved in record time! We enjoyed working on this historical project and serving as a resource in restoring a historical landmark in Charlottesville.

Tinky Bryan’s Bench at The Depot

Tinky Bryan’s Bench at The Depot

With First Friday fast approaching, we are taking time to highlight the rich history of our gallery space. Before The Depot was “The Depot” it was The Chesapeake Western Railroad Depot and was constructed in 1913 to rival other railroad companies in a location that blocked off possible expansions. It’s no surprise that a building constructed out of spite would house some of the hardest working railwaymen in Virginia. This summer we had the privilege of hosting a bench dedication for Walter P. “Tinky” Bryan and took time to honor his legacy with his family.

We invited several members of the community to come and speak about the history of the building and the similarity between the strength of the building itself and the railway workers that made it what it is. Our very own Charles Hendricks discussed the power of the Depot in the Harrisonburg community and how it functions as a symbol of resilience, history, and restoration.

Walter P. “Tinky” Bryan, was a man dedicated to his work, and his family, making sure to reserve Sunday mornings for taking his family to church. His goal in life was to go out with his boots on and sure enough, his wish was granted. We are incredibly honored to share The Depot with Tinky’s family and share the historic relics that live here. We are even more thrilled that Tinky has his very own bench at his favorite place for friends and family to enjoy and remember his strength, resiliency, and passion for his work.

2016: What Did We Get Done And What Is Next?

I have heard from some of you and I know you agree, 2016 was not the best of years…. There seemed to be a cloud of negative over much of the year. Certainly this happens each Presidential election cycle, but this year seemed somehow more sticky. In addition, I faced some of the most challenging times of my adult life this year resulting in some burn-out through the year.  There seemed to be more death this year or perhaps I am just coming to an age where more people who have had influence over my life are passing. In any case, it was sad to see so many go including my Aunt Debbie and my favorite musician of all time, Prince. Violence around the world somehow seemed louder and closer to home this year more than I ever remember – especially through the hate filled comments on social media. Let’s face it, 2016 had a lot of wrong going on.

However, there was good that came out of all the rubble over the last 12 months. There is a silver lining. In face, so much was GOOD that happened in 2016, here are some of our stories.

Right at the tail end of 2015 I ran in the Harrisonburg Glow Run with these folks and had a great time.

Harrisonburg Glow Run

I started my year off right with these beautiful souls and a trip to see my mom, dad, brother, and nephews – our New Year Day tradition. Each day I get to spend with them is truly a treasure. I need to make sure I focus on that as I do love to give my time to all sorts of efforts around the community – this is the one that is most important.

Our Rotary Club continues to change the world by putting service above self. We have so much in this community and together as a group of Rotarians, we can share our gifts with the world. This year we raised money for many good local organizations, packed food for the hungry around the world, hosted a Soapbox Derby, and so much more.


We moved into our new office at the DEPOT!!!! also HERE. I have literally fallen in love with this building. I am so thankful to Jim Monger for allowing us to be part of the project and to have our office here. It is such a joy to work in a building like this one.

Harrisonburg architectural office

Harmony Square Dairy Queen opened their doors this past January. Talk about wonderful clients – it has been such a gift to have Jane and Mike as clients. Not only are they wonderful people, they have soft serve ice cream!

Dairy Queen Harmony Square

We helped to organize the first ever Harrisonburg Homesteading Festival. I hope this becomes an annual tradition and grows this year (at the SVBA Home and Living Expo).

homesteading festival

I got to bowl for Kid’s Sake on the SVBA team! I do love events that help kids, this one especially benefits Big Brothers Big Sisters of Harrisonburg-Rockingham County. Want to be part of my team this year?

Bowl for kids sake

I was able to go on a field trip with Sophia to Washington D.C. Each day I get to spend with my girls is such a treat. 

2016 in review

We helped to coordinate Canstruction Harrisonburg for the second year. This year we were able to raise 6,098 pounds of food for those in need in our community.

Canstruction Harrisonburg

Several on our Charlottesville team are now Construction Document Technologists (CDT)! Congratulations on passing this difficult exam Adrienne and Paul!

CSI construction specifications

James continues to serve the Charlottesville community as a Sherrif’s Deputy. Deborah gives her time to HDR to help grow our downtown. Ray continues to volunteer in the Albemarle County School district.  Our firm continues to have a strong emphasis on the importance of volunteering in your community. We can change our future for the better if we all work together doing it.

albemarle sheriff's deputy

Construction was completed on another design project we did for Innisfree Village. This organization does some great work in the community. We are so proud to be part of their team.

villageInnisfree Village Meadow II model

Deborah and I were able to teach 5th and 6th graders at Skyline Middle School sketch-up and several finished the design of “dream homes.” On the Road Collaborative is an organization making a difference in our community. Want to support someone doing good – check out these folks.

on the road collaborative

I was able to assist 6th graders at North Fork Middle School in taking their next step to building a zero-energy science lab.

North Fork Middle School

Progress continues on the townhouses we designed for Preston Lake Community in Harrisonburg. 

Preston Lake

Deborah finished her Master of Business Administration degree from EMU! She was able to do this while working full-time.

Deborah Smith

I had a great trip to D.C. including lunch with a wonderful friend (since 5th grade). Thanks for inviting me up to speak at the Department of Energy Mary!

Day Trip Washington DCDay Trip Washington DC

Construction finished on this beautiful farmhouse we designed in Rockingham County. This was another project we did with Beck Builders.


Nephew Jared graduated from high school and started college at PVCC.

2016 in review

We are once again able to host First Friday art openings in our new space and have had some incredible artists in our space this year. I love supporting our art community and it gives us a chance to show off our building each month. Mark your calendar, these openings happen every month on the first Friday.

Stronge DesignsDepot Tee Green

Gaines Group Christmas

W A Berkshire

First Friday Downtown

Open House

I helped to organize Valley Business Keynote and it was another amazing event! This year Dan Pallotta joined us. I absolutely love working with this bunch of leaders.

vbk 2016

Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance is helping the downtown thrive and grow under the leadership of Andrea Dono. We have now done three jobs downtown and are in our long-term downtown office space – this is my professional home. We have seen such huge growth downtown since arriving in 2004. Eddie Bumbaugh did a great job in building the framework for success. We look forward to seeing where Andrea takes our town.

michael sheeler depot harrisonburg

Michael Sheeler photography

We got to see Jamal Millner play a Prince Tribute Concert. I have known Jamal since before I can remember – literally. He was often at our house when I was very young. This concert that he organized was AMAZING.

2016 in review

Our family took a much-needed vacation to Williamsburg over the summer. It was hot, but I think we all had fun.

Williamsburg VA

2016 in review

2016 in review

I was once again a speaker at Construct, a national building industry conference that gathers people from all aspects of the construction industry to advance construction knowledge. This annual conference continues to be the best I attend each year. I have been an invited speaker at multiple events over the years. This one was in Austin, TX.

2016 in review

2016 in review

2016 in review

I got to see George Clinton lay down the funk in Roanoke. This was the third time I have seen him play live and probably the last time. He remains a great performer, but has lost some his gusto.

2016 in review

We broke ground on our Net-Zero house. This one is being built by Mark Bergman. Our clients make everything else we do possible, I am very thankful for those allowing us to design “green” homes in the community.

Net Zero Build

I attended City Works Expo and got to hang out with some cool people, learn some new stuff, and see this incredible art. Thanks to Brad for getting me to attend. This conference was inspirational. The oddest part was at this particular conference, I was one of the old guys. I guess it is a sign of the times, but also uplifting to see so many younger than me looking for innovative ways to build community.

20161006_124645 20161008_091956-01 20161008_100902 20161008_104959

I was able to host several school groups at my office and me in their classrooms this year. I am honored to have so many opportunities to share my passion for building science, architecture, and design with the next generation.


I ran a few races, each time improving my time a little over the previous. One of the biggest lessons I have learned this year, I need to take care of me so I can better take care of others. The time has come to stop putting it off.

fb_img_1467686613092-01 fb_img_1467640834671-01img_20161016_081943710 img_20161016_102930804

We marched in Harrisonburg to raise awareness of climate change. Really, anytime I get to hang out with Charlie is a great time, but walking in this parade and showing my girls how much our future depends on them was powerful. We have a problem. We can, I hope, solve the problem. We just need to adjust our priorities.


We broke ground on our Carbon Neutral House. This is another Beck Builders project and another client I am thankful for giving me a chance. I look forward to sharing more with you about this project.


I had a chance to do a BUNCH of energy audit to help folks in the community reduce their energy bills. There is so much work that can be done to reduce your monthly energy bills and our community impact on the environment. I have knowledge about the solutions and I am happy to share it with you. Just call for an energy audit.


I got to spend some special time with this beautiful lady. I need to do this more – I love my family and I need to spend more time with them!


We added staff in both office locations, Ivan, Maggie, and Rebecca in Harrisonburg and Trevor in Charlottesville. Welcome to the team, the biggest our team has ever been. Wait until you see what we are able to accomplish now.


We attended Red Wing Roots! The Steel Wheels have quickly become my favorite musical group. We were in a position this year to be able to sponsor this event that it turns out a LOT of our clients attend. What a fun-filled three days of music and community!

20160709_204506 20160708_194946 20160708_155911-01 20160708_194907

The girls and I went to see this bush cut out in my likeness and to ride some rides .


I had a chance to hang out with Hannah looking at cool art in Charlottesville. It is rare that I get invited to school functions at the middle school – glad I got the invite for this one.

Eastern mennonite School Eastern mennonite School

We attended a Tennessee Women’s Basketball game. I do enjoy seeing Tennessee play!

20161111_201452-01 20161111_201319

We started the Chesapeake Western Railroad history collection in our building. If you have not been by our space yet, please come and visit. If you are interested in the history of the building stay a while and check out the display.

depot-train Chesapeake Western Depot

I got to see this guy wearing this shirt on facebook! I think he may be a UVA Fan now!


This project in downtown Harrisonburg is almost done. We love saving old buildings through design. This new apartment building on South Main street is being renovated by Nesselrodt Construction.

20161221_130328 20161221_133104

I ended the year with a run – the second annual New Year’s Eve Glow Run and improved my 5K time. Thanks to the guys at VA Momentum for a well-organized and fun event!

20161231_165958-01 20161231_171020-01-01

I hope you have a chance to remember all the GOOD that happened for you in 2016. Going through this list certainly lifted my spirits. I think I am ready for 2017.


Gaines Group Architects in Harrisonburg

Gaines Group Architects in Harrisonburg

We have been building our firm here in the valley for a little more than 8 years. I opened our branch office in Harrisonburg in July 2008 in the basement of my Timberville home. Most of my jobs were still in the Central Virginia area at the time. There was a lot of driving over the mountain and many many hours networking and building our brand here in the valley. Our first job in the valley was a LEED Consulting job for Glen Stoltzfus – we had met months before at a building science seminar in Charlottesville. It was the start of a real business in the valley.

Wellness Concepts

As jobs grew and more important for this decision – we lost jobs because we did not have a Harrisonburg office location (this was the specific reason given by one client that did not hire us) we started looking for space. Our budget was small in the slow economy so I was using old desks from storage, shelving from my house, and paper print art work of past projects for the walls to decorate. We opened our first Harrisonburg office space in May 2009. It was nice office space with north light, but was small and hard to find. I started my blog, social media marketing, and volunteering to build our brand. Each First Friday we hosted a new artist in  our space and had lots of visitors. We worked hard to establish our firm as the go to for healthy, energy-efficient, and durable design solutions in the valley. This is a reputation we had already developed in Central Virginia, but the valley market had less opportunity and less demand for these ideas and for architectural design in general. We spent two years in that small office space, enjoying our art openings and building a client base. 

Harrisonburg architectural officeHarrisonburg architectural officeHarrisonburg architectural office

As time went on we needed to add staff and we needed a more professional space. So we found a new spot just up the street on court square in a building with other professionals. We still did not have outside signage, so finding us could be a challenge. The location was in the heart of downtown across from Jack Brown’s. There was an opportunity to have a private conference room and two offices. We upgraded some of our furniture, but the budget was still tight so we still had the same desks and shelving as before. It worked for our two person firm as I added an interior designer to my team in the valley. We were getting larger projects and building great relationships along with our brand awareness growing. The networking and blogging was working to establish our firm in the valley as a trusted and reliable source for design. This growth led us to grow our team again and our space was getting crowded again.

Harrisonburg architectural officeHarrisonburg architectural officeHarrisonburg architectural officeHarrisonburg architectural office

We started looking for available space with a focus of our attention on staying downtown. There were several options to be considered and each had obstacles to making it work. There was the old office building that had a mold issue. Then there was the incredible space that was just too much for us to renovate ourselves. Then there was the space that was just a little too small… I started to wonder if I could stay downtown. I had just one more option to look at on the outside edge of downtown.

Harrisonburg architectural officeHarrisonburg architectural officeHarrisonburg architectural office

As luck would have it, when I called Jim Monger to ask about The Depot he was ready to start a renovation project. We worked together to rezone the building to allow for professional office space, design the renovation, and apply for tax credits. Our work on the building started in March 2015. We hoped to finish in a year, but the tax credit process slowed us down a couple of times as we waited on a response to design options. The building had gone through a major fire and 20+ years of water damage. It was in rough shape, but it was perfect for our firm.

Harrisonburg architectural officeHarrisonburg architectural officeHarrisonburg architectural office

We figured out ways to make the building energy-efficient and comfortable. We started asking around to see who might want to share the second floor office space with us and had the floor full before construction began. The design started taking shape over the next few months.

harrisonburg depot cropped-h9e0429_mlsheeler_cwstation.jpg

The work took just over a year from our first visit in March of 2015.  We moved in July 5, 2016 along with Herr and Company and Estland Design. The first floor space is almost ready to open and will be a Monger Building Supply Show Room. Our office furniture and shelving is no longer “what we had left over in storage.” It feels like a professional office finally. We had the opportunity to have our hands in the design from start to finish. The details are coordinated and work well together. It feels good to have a long-term home that we helped create.

20160715_171147-01 Harrisonburg architectural office 20160716_133058-01 20160715_171204-02

It has been a lot of work and a long road to establish our firm in the valley. We started out with no clients and no reputation in a very slow economy. It has taken many hours of work to build to this point, to even survive to this point. However, I feel like we are becoming a resource for many in the community that are hoping to build a more sustainable future. This is the work that I want to do and the work that we are doing. So many people have helped us get here and I am very appreciative. However, I have to say, I am most appreciative today of the sign guy. It only took us 8 years, but we finally have a street sign so our clients have a better chance of finding our office.

Harrisonburg architectural officeHarrisonburg architectural office