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Belle Boyd house mortgage is paid

January 31, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Local historian Don Wood remembers when people told him that the Belle Boyd house "wasn't worth one penny."

That was in 1992 when Wood and the Berkeley County Historical Society were trying to buy the house.

Wood said he went to local banks to inquire about getting a loan, but none of them would consider a loan unless members of the society also signed for the money.

Wood finally received a $65,000 loan from Blue Ridge Bank, and work started to restore the house and turn it into a museum honoring the life of Boyd, who was a Confederate spy during the Civil War.

It's now a thriving museum, attracting an estimated 15,000 people a year who come to learn about Boyd and trace their family history, Wood said.

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"We're busy every day anymore. Even if it snows people come," said Wood, president of the historical society.

The historical society made its last mortgage payment in December, and on Feb. 12, museum officials will hold a "note burning celebration" to honor the accomplishment.

The house will be open for tours that day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and museum volunteers will brief visitors on the progress that has been made at the house since it was purchased eight years ago, Wood said.

Besides historical artifacts pertaining to Belle Boyd, the house includes exhibits of Civil Wars photographs and artifacts, an Abraham Lincoln room, a military museum containing uniforms from the Spanish-American war to the present and a small collection of American Indian artifacts.

The richly decorated home includes original marbleized slate fireplaces and the Ben Boyd store, where a wide selection of books relating to the Civil War and other local history are for sale.

But as the historical society is paying off one building, it is buying another.

The organization has purchased the house next door at 136 E. Race St. and plans to use it to house the society's rapidly growing records collection.

The house will have to be renovated to store the society's court records, microfilm and letters, and it is hoped it can be opened by early next year, Wood said.

Within the last two years, local residents have been generous in donating photographs and documents that help detail Berkeley County's history, Wood said. Three rooms in the second floor of the Belle Boyd house are used for archives, and there are 150,000 documents about historical landmarks in the county, Wood said.

"We're running out of space," he said.

One of the recent donations came from Berkeley County Circuit Clerk Virginia Sine, who gave Wood 15 boxes of old documents from her office.

The records offered a wealth of historical accounts of Berkeley County, Wood said.

Some of the documents referred to efforts to have freed blacks moved out of the county in about 1840, Wood said. The documents explained how some blacks were arrested for not leaving the area, Wood said.

Other records detailed meetings between local Revolutionary War soldiers and government officials. The war veterans had to tell government officials about their involvement in the war so they could get their pension, Wood said.

"We spent a couple of years going through those," he said. "They are wonderful documents."

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