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Rail day boosts roundhouse

July 05, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - About 3,000 people turned out here Saturday to support restoration of a historic railroad roundhouse and, in many cases, get their first look inside the building they're trying to save.

Organizers of the first Roundhouse Rail Day got another pleasant surprise besides the turnout: W.Va. Del. Vicki Douglas, D-Berkeley, announced the state would give another $200,000 in grant money, about $140,000 more than was expected, for restoration of the B&O Roundhouse complex on Martin Street.

County Commissioner Robert L. Burkhart said the latest government gift puts the total collected for the project at about $1 million.

The community is buying the roundhouse, only one of two of its kind remaining in the country, and two adjacent buildings for $190,000 from CSX Corp. and local developer Moncure Chatfield-Taylor, owner of the Blue Ridge Outlet Mall.

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Some estimates put the cost of renovating all three buildings, constructed between 1866 and 1872, at $14 million to $16 million. But organizers are optimistic that limited use of the roundhouse can begin in about a year.

Clarence E. Martin, chairman of the committee behind the restoration, said there is enough money now to stabilize the two side buildings and replace their roofs and windows.

Martin said the buildings could become sites for major conventions, trade shows, concerts, and a theater in the round using the original turntable, which still works. The "frog and switch shop" could be converted to multiple uses from ball courts to circuses to a dining hall with a capacity of about 1,800.

"The community's vision is to restore (the buildings) for flexible use," he said.

Martin's wife, Judy Martin, was in charge of Saturday's Rail Day events.

She said the day's purpose was to raise awareness of the restoration project.

A highlight of the day's activities, which included arts and crafts booths, live music, concession stands, antique cars and a model train exhibit, was a visit to the roundhouse. Inside, volunteers, including retired railroad employees who worked in the buildings when they were operating, acted as tour guides.

One such visitor was Hugh Stablers, 82, of Inwood, W.Va. He said he and his wife have supported the restoration project since they first learned of it.

"They're historic buildings and they need to be built back up," Stables said. "I remember the first time I saw inside the roundhouse 15 years ago. I thought it was wonderful then, and I still think it is."

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