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Our View: Roundhouse project shows Berkeley's vision

May 05, 1999

Thanks to U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, the City of Martinsburg, W.Va. has received a $300,000 grant to restore the historic roundhouse there. The grant is no guarantee of success, but it will be interesting to watch Martinsburg's restoration effort with an eye on what might have been in Hagerstown.

In Hagerstown, a volunteer group labored to save Hagerstown's historic roundhouse for 10 years, but despite many encouraging words, when it came time for elected officials to make a commitment, they backed away. In contrast, Berkeley County officials voted to buy the Martinsburg structure from CSX Realty for $150,000.

But the starkest contrast between the two jurisdictions may be that the Berkeley County group's commitment to save the 1866 structure came prior to any decision about what it will be used for. Possibilities include a Civil War history museum or a center for new businesses, but such a commitment on this side of the river would have required at least two consultant studies and a set of architectural drawings.

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The difference is not just that the Berkeley County Commission has decided in favor of preserving its history, but that it has decided in favor of something on its own, as opposed to giving the forces of development total control over the area's future.

We have no doubt that the local campaign to raise the remainder of the cash needed to purchase the roundhouse will be successful, and that within 10 years it will be a destination for tourists or an interesting location for business.

With the help of developers like Moncure Chatfield-Taylor, who turned a series of old Martinsburg structures into manufacturers' outlets, the roundhouse can become, as Byrd said, "a centerpiece in the renewal efforts of downtown Martinsburg."

The grant obtained by Byrd helped, to be sure. But getting it required a decision to take a risk on turning part of the region's past into something useful for the future. And we'll bet that long after the public gets tired of the sameness of the strip malls, they'll still be visiting this important piece of Berkeley County's history.

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