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Letters to the Editor

July 24, 1998|By Robert Rollins II

A little history




The "Roundhouse" property is a triangular, 46-acre property surrounded and split by rail lines. It is across the tracks from City Park and is entered from Antietam Street. It was purchased by the Western Maryland Railway in the early 1900's and eventually employed over 2000 workers worked there. It has not been used by the railroad for over 15 years. The roundhouse and 20 other buildings remain.

In 1987, the roundhouse was rented for storage and restoration of steam locomotives. CSX Transportation planned to demolish the roundhouse and other buildings after locomotive restoration was completed. This aroused the community, and the "Mayor's Committee to Save the Roundhouse" was formed, led by Steve Sager and Bob Tracey.

With the help of interested citizens, a small grant, and with support from Ron Bowers, Don Munson, Pete Callas, and Governor Schaefer, the railroad was persuaded to delay its demolition plans and to hold the property for a railroad museum.

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In 1988, the Hagerstown Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society had been founded for that purpose. Following the CSX decision to hold its demolition plans in abeyance in 1989, Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum, a nonprofit corporation, was founded to secure the property. The building which presently houses the museum opened to the public in April 1990. A lease was also signed for the 46-acre property and buildings to be developed as the museum's permanent home

The lease for the larger property does not allow for use of the land, as environmental cleanup of the property has not been completed. Beginning in the early 1990's, all above- and underground tanks, a sewage pretreatment plant, and hazards were removed, and test wells for groundwater pollution bored.

Following that work, inspection of the findings revealed only minor problems with underground water which have been continually monitored.

The Current Museum




The "temporary" museum has been very successful, attracting visitors from all of the United States and 38 foreign countries since it opened. Visitation in 1997 averaged 40 visitors per day. It has operated for more than eight years with a completely volunteer staff and financially in the black. From its beginnings in one room of the rented building, the exhibits of the Museum have grown to completely fill the two-story building to overflowing, with additional exhibits in the trolley stationed next to the building.

Exhibits areotated,and many have been seen in periodic shows at the Public Square,done as a community service. Thirteen of the museum's volunteers have been qualified as "Operation Lifesaver" instructors and present rail safety information to the county's school children and school bus drivers.

This program was initiated by the railroads, who are greatly appreciative of the museum's efforts. Except for 1997, the museum has operated one or more rail excursions from Hagerstown each year since it opened. Almost 10,000 people have been drawn to these events.

Three trips are planned for this year; two in October and one in December. The Museum collection of railway equipment has grown over the years with donations of locomotives and railroad cars and now stands at 12 pieces, with three passenger cars donated by the stateexpected to arrive soon.

The collection is visible from Burhans Boulevard.

Recent Events




In early 1997, the Museum embarked on a new initiative to secure the property with the strong support of our Mayor and Council, County Commissioners and the Western Maryland Delegation of the General Assembly. CSX was persuaded to donate the 46-acre property and structures to the Museum. The terms of the proposed property conveyance were outlined that August.

First, more environmental cleanup work associated with the structures had to be completed. Second, safety hazards had to be removed before transfer of the property.

This work, to cost $500,000, was to be paid for by the museum. Finally, CSX desired to convey the property to a responsible government body which could indemnify them against future environmental problems once the property had been cleared by the Maryland Department of Environment.

The conveyance was to be made with the condition that a long-term lease be provided the museum.

The museum and CSX defined the structures and equipment to be preserved. The museum began planning for a major fundraising effort. In May of this year, CSX announced that the funds for environmental and safety work were needed prior to its initiation, which created a crisis in the Museum's fund.

Today, contributions, pledges, and the capital of the museum amount to about $100,000. Negotiations for acceptance of the property by a government body are not complete and involvement of corporations and private individuals as sponsors and investors being considered. The recent and current situation has been covered by the media and does not need to be reiterated here.

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