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Roundhouse ground broken - again

April 20, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Ground was broken on Martinsburg's B&O Roundhouse more than 130 years ago. It was done again on Thursday.

U.S. Sens. Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller and West Virginia Gov. Cecil Underwood were among those who gathered at the historic structure to praise the work of a committee overseeing its refurbishment.

Byrd, known for his oratory skills, unintentionally stole the show with uncanny timing.

As jubilant speakers took turns addressing the crowd, Byrd read a rousing 1841 news account of the anticipated arrival of the railroad. Immediately after he uttered the words, "She's coming!" two loud toots were heard from outside as a freight train chugged past.

"Hallelujah!" Byrd exclaimed, sparking the crowd.

The event was billed as a ground-breaking, and dirt was drawn, but work has been under way for some time.

Clarence E. "CEM" Martin III, chairman of the Roundhouse Authority, said work on new roofs began a few months ago.

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An insulated roof is being installed on top of the 23,000-square-foot bridge and machine shop and on the 20,000-square-foot "frog and switch" shop. The insulation will be on top of the roof, allowing the inner features to be seen, Martin said.

The roof on the 25,000-square-foot roundhouse will be replaced afterward, he said.

The next phase will consist of replacing the 134-year-old buildings' windows and restoring their bricks, Martin said.

A second 25,000-square-foot roundhouse was destroyed by a fire in 1990, according to Grove & Dall'Olio, the Martinsburg architecture firm working on the project.

The Roundhouse Authority has raised about $1.3 million through state and federal grants and private donations, according to Martin.

There are many suggestions for how the buildings should be used when they're repaired - museums, convention centers, performing arts arenas - but no decisions. Martin said a consultant has been hired to prepare a use report by September.

A business plan discussed by the authority earlier this year mentioned concerts, theater productions and spectator sports as ideas for the roundhouse, and trade shows, banquets, classrooms and a farmers market in the shops.

Underwood said he expects the roundhouse to serve as an economic hub for Martinsburg the same way it was a transportation hub before.

"The cultural and economic importance of this project cannot be underestimated," he said.

"I like the idea of a complex that the community can be proud of," Rockefeller said.

"Some see a drafty old building ... but today I see vision and I see accomplishment and I see progress and growth," said U.S. Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va.

"This is a deep, deep, deep part of the history of our state," Rockefeller added.

The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad reached Martinsburg in the 1840's. The roundhouses and shops were built to service steam locomotives, according to the B&O Museum. Blacksmiths, machinists, boilermakers and others worked there 24 hours a day.

Confederate troops burned the buildings at the onset of the Civil War, but the B&O rebuilt them.

Larger locomotives in the late 20th century made the roundhouses and their turntables functionally obsolete. The roundhouses and the shops were shut down in 1988.

The Berkeley County Commission agreed to purchase them, saving them from probable ruin, according to Martin.

On Thursday, thanks were offered to the commission and many others, in and out of government, who enlisted in the preservation effort.

An ensemble called Morning Star Consort played Celtic music. Martin said it was a fitting honor to "the Irish railroad workers who built the line."

"I have never seen our community so energized over a project as I have with this project," Martin said.

Jhan and Glen Price of Bluestone Design in Martinsburg said they are working on a Web site that likely will include a virtual reality tour of the buildings' interiors.

A temporary site probably will go online within a month, and a "full-blown" site will be ready in about two months, they said.

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