The “Winchester Research Laboratory” grew out of an earlier project in which five experimental orchards were established in the Shenandoah Valley between 1912 and 1920 to study fertilizers, cultivation and spraying. This laboratory was established in 1921 when an entomologist, Dr. W. S. Hough, was employed by the Crop Pest Commission. A 5'x 7' building on runners was built to serve as a lab and was located in an orchard behind his barn. The pest problems of that day were codling moths and leafrollers, pests that Dr. Hough studied through his forty-two year career and continue as serious pests even today.
In 1922 the Frederick County Fruit Grower's Association, with contributions from a few fruit growers in nearby counties, donated $2,027 for the construction of the original laboratory and insectary. Use of the land on which the laboratory was situated was granted by the Shenandoah Valley Vinegar Corporation. Soon thereafter a plant pathologist was added to the staff.
Grower support enabled expansion of facilities in 1924 and 1928, and land purchases of 1.8 acres in 1940 and 2.0 acres in 1943. By the late 1940's it was evident that research required that scientists exercise more complete control over experiments than was possible in grower orchards. In 1949 a 10-acre site was purchased on Route 11 south of Winchester and a new laboratory and support buildings were constructed over the period 1949 - 1954. Fruit plantings were soon made at the new lab and very active extension and research programs were developed and implemented from that site for the next forty-three years. Staff increased as programs and services to the fruit industry expanded.
By the late 1960s it was evident that another relocation of the laboratory was going to be necessary. In 1971 a 124-acre site was purchased for the laboratory by the Frederick County Fruit Growers Association. Tree planting and site preparation were soon underway and plans for new program development and staff expansion to meet the needs of the fruit industry were formulated. The Association leased the farm to Virginia Tech for one dollar per year; however, in 1973 the University purchased the property for $85,000.
Research and extension were conducted from the Route 11 laboratory and at the new farm for the next 23 years while the possibilities of new lab construction were discussed, revised, tabled, and revisited. During this interval the Winchester Research Laboratory was renamed the Winchester Fruit Research Laboratory. Full departmental status was granted by the University in 1977. The process of relocating the laboratory and staff to the new farm was lengthy and often frustrating to those involved, but in the end it resulted in the evolution of well designed laboratories and other facilities.
Because of the obvious need, strong support for this project was given by the local member of the House of Delegates (Alson H. Smith Jr.). A special referendum was passed that endorsed the sale of education bonds for this capital project. Funding of $2.4 million was finally obtained in 1992 for construction of the office/lab, shop and equipment buildings. Construction of the new facilities began that fall and was completed by March 1994. The office/lab building is 24,500 sq. ft. and includes an auditorium for 100 persons, administrative and scientists' offices, laboratories, two walk-in coolers, a walk-in freezer, a walk-in environmental chamber, and a greenhouse. The shop/equipment building has a fifteen bay equipment storage area and a small mechanical and woodworking shop. The buildings were designed to work well with the pesticide storage and handling building constructed in 1987. This unit has been a model for pesticide containment and storage and frequently receives visits from delegations of similar research centers in the eastern United States. This new facility was named the Alson H. Smith Jr., Agricultural Research and Extension Center, and was dedicated on May 6, 1994.