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Harpers Ferry hopes to save depot

August 28, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - Bruce Noble remembers when the old Baltimore and Ohio train station here was considered the "gateway" to Harpers Ferry.

City dwellers looking from respite from heat and congestion often boarded the train for a trip to Harpers Ferry to enjoy a refreshing retreat to the countryside, said Noble, chief of interpretation for the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

In the early 20th century, classic passenger trains like the Metropolitan, National and the Diplomat often rolled into town to drop off passengers.

"There was this whole era when train travel was so important. It was the only way to get around. There was a lot of status in these lines," said park spokeswoman Marsha Starkey.

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Park officials say recreating the character of the station during that time period could be one of the concepts behind the effort to save the depot.

Last week, the Great American Station Foundation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Harpers Ferry station as one of the Top 10 Most Endangered Stations in America.

Harpers Ferry town officials and the park hope the designation will help in their efforts to win funding for the restoration of the 107-year-old station. Supporters of the project said the station is an attractive building that could boost the area's tourism industry if it is restored.

The frame building was designed by Francis Baldwin, who designed many stations between Western Maryland and Washington, D.C. Among them is the train station in Silver Spring, Md. and one at Oakland, Md., which is considered to be one of Baldwin's grandest designs with its Queen Anne architecture, according to Diane Pecor, consultant with the Great American Station Foundation in Washington, D.C.

The Harpers Ferry station originally had a large steeple, which made is distinguishable from the other stations, but it was removed when the building was moved to its current site along Potomac Street in 1930, according to Starkey. The station was originally located near the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, but had to be moved when the railroad was realigned and the tunnel in Maryland Heights was enlarged, Starkey said.

The station was moved between foundations of the old U.S. Armory, the setting of abolitionist John Brown's famous raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. Athough the foundations still exist, some of them have been covered with gravel for the station operations, Starkey said.

Besides making the station a tourist attraction, Mayor Walton "Kip" Stowell said the project could include interpretive programs to tell the story of the armory and its ruins.

"Like so many areas of Harpers Ferry, threads of history come together," Starkey said.

Stowell said there could be interpretive programs inside the station, and a concession area. And with the effort to restore the old B&O roundhouse in Martinsburg, restoring the station could be a great addition to local train history, said Stowell.

The two projects could be used to compliment each other, like the formation of a scene train ride between the two locations, said Stowell.

Although the station remains a bustling area with MARC commuter line and Amtrak Captial Limited passengers, it has falled into disrepair, according to the park service, who is teaming up with the town to buy the station from CSX Corp. and refurbish it.

The station is "filthy dirty," according to Stowell, and needs a new roof, gutters and downspouts, windows and doors and other renovations.

It is not clear how much CSX wants for the building, or how much the repairs might cost. Project officials believe there is federal highway funding and depo restoration money available to do the work.

Stations named to the Top 10 Most Endangered Stations in America list are based on nominations from communities where they are located, said Pecor. Then foundation officials review the submissions and make their choices, she said.

The stations selected this year ranged in condition from good to bad, including one that is standing on jacks, said Pecor.

The other stations are located in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

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