Battles to save roundhouses continue

August 16, 1998

roundhouseBy JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer [enlarge]

The Tri-State area lost a major piece of the region's railroad heritage in the fall of 1995 when bulldozers tore down the roundhouse in Brunswick, Md.

Now several citizens in Hagerstown and Martinsburg, W.Va., are trying to prevent the same thing from happening to their historical roundhouses, which are owned by CSX Real Property Inc.

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Government officials in both cities said preserving the two historical roundhouses would be costly and there are access problems.

Hagerstown's has the additional burden of being on land that may or may not be severely contaminated with diesel fuel and hydrocarbons.


That unknown liability led to Hagerstown City Council members rejecting an offer to buy the 46-acre complex along South Burhans Boulevard on Aug. 4.

CSX rejected a counteroffer on Aug. 12 for the city to buy just the five-acre parcel with the roundhouse on it because the city wanted access to that parcel as part of the deal.

Giving access to the city would have lessened the land's value and marketability, CSX officials said.

"CSX needs to be more realistic in their effort to get the city involved. We're not going to change our position. They can't change their position," Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said.

"They should be as willing to preserve their heritage as we are," Bruchey said.

CSX officials have been adamant about moving forward with razing the 36 structures at the roundhouse complex to protect the company against the liability of someone getting hurt since many of the buildings are dilapidated and there have been fires set by trespassers.

Asbestos removal is expected to begin Monday and CSX already has a permit to demolish 14 of the structures, the most significant of which is the turntable pit in front of the crescent-shaped roundhouse. The turntable allowed several trains from different tracks to enter the roundhouses where they would be repaired or maintained.

"Until the wrecking ball hits we're open to somebody coming forward and taking over the property," said CSX Real Property Director Kevin Hurley.

The roundhouse complexes in Hagerstown and Martinsburg are surplus properties CSX is trying to sell since they are no longer essential to railroad operations, Hurley said.

In Martinsburg, developer Moncure Chatfield-Taylor has a contract to buy the roundhouse parcel so it is not in immediate danger of being razed, Hurley said. That contract is expected to be settled by the end of the year, he said.

Chatfield-Taylor wants to preserve the roundhouse, Hurley said.

Chatfield-Taylor was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Since the Martinsburg City Council voted 5-2 on July 16 not to buy the roundhouse property from Chatfield-Taylor, several citizens have begun a petition drive to ask the council to reverse its decision.

Also, Berkeley County Commissioner Jim Smith said he wants city and county officials to discuss the roundhouse at a joint meeting in September, but he doesn't have any proposals to preserve it.

If it's impossible for the city to buy it, then "maybe we need to face up to that," Smith said.

But, if it's possible to preserve it, especially in light of the inability to save the Hagerstown roundhouse, Martinsburg officials need to keep talking about ways to save that city's roundhouse, he said.

Saving history

Supporters of both roundhouses tout their historical importance not only to the region, but the nation.

The Martinsburg roundhouse complex is a symbol for why the Eastern Panhandle counties are part of West Virginia, said Roger Boyer, project coordinator for Potomac Headwaters Research Conservation and Development Region Inc.

When it was obvious there was to be a Civil War and the railroad would play a vital role, the Panhandle seceded from Virginia to keep the strategically important railroad complex out of the South's hands, Boyer said.

Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson burned both roundhouses down around 1862, he said.

After the war, the roundhouses were rebuilt in Baltimore, disassembled, shipped to Martinsburg by railroad and reassembled, Boyer said. Only one remains after vandals burned down the south one several years ago, he said.

The roundhouse also is significant because it was the site of the nation's first organized railway strike in 1877, officials said.

The Hagerstown roundhouse is the largest railroad complex left from the steam era and features the second longest turntable in the world at about 115 feet, according to the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum Inc.

Museum officials want to renovate the 25-stall roundhouse into a working tourist attraction where steam and diesel locomotives could be rehabilitated.

The region has already lost the Brunswick roundhouse.

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