Roundhouse meeting set

October 05, 2000

Roundhouse meeting set

By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Area residents will have a chance to review the rich history of the B&O Roundhouse complex tonight as a historian who has documented its past talks about his work during a public meeting.

"This is one of the finest collections of 19th century railroad buildings in the country," said John P. Hankey, who studied the site as community leaders continue efforts to restore it and reuse it. Hankey said the community's efforts of the past 10 years are important.

"There are so many opportunities when a community has an opportunity and the community blew it," he said. "This community almost lost this complex."

The one remaining roundhouse - used to repair steam locomotives from 1866 to 1897 and for track maintenance and repair from then until the 1980s - and other buildings on the site are a vital part of the history of the town and area, he said. The original complex dates to 1842.


In 1859, railroaders boarded trains to Harpers Ferry, where they rushed the fire hall being held by John Brown and his men. They were shot and rebuffed by Brown's raiders.

The Confederate Army destroyed the original roundhouse complex and all the tracks early in the Civil War.

"They just laid it to ruins," Hankey said.

He believes the destruction was so massive that it angered people in Maryland who were teetering between joining the South or staying in the Union. They stayed in the Union. The structures were rebuilt after the war.

Workers at the roundhouse site also were the first to go on strike in 1877 when the railroad cut wages during a depression.

"The railroad technically won," but a few years later, set up a pension system that became the model for Social Security in 1934, Hankey said.

The newly refurbished train depot, originally a hotel and station, was the center of many comings and goings.

County Commissioners Robert Burkhart and John Wright recently recalled all the young men who left from the station to fight in World War II.

"Many came back and they were greeted by girlfriends and wives and family at the station," he said. "But many did not come back. I can remember Brown (Funeral Home) coming to get the bodies. There were some emotional times."

Hall of Fame baseball player Hack Wilson, who lived portions of his life in Martinsburg and is buried here, was greeted by thousands residents at the station following his spectacular season 70 years ago this week.

Martinsburg resident A.A. Lehman dropped by with pictures of train crews standing with the last steam locomotive to come through the city in the mid-1950s. Another picture shows a crew standing by a diesel engine.

He remembered his father-in-law C.C. Williams working at the roundhouse.

"He'd crawl into those boilers and sometimes they were still warm," Lehman said.

The railroad closed down through mergers and downsizing, but community leaders are trying to get it listed as a national landmark, the highest historical preservation designation. The roundhouse is the last in the country.

Plans for its future use have not yet been approved by the Roundhouse Authority set up to preserve and rebuild the structures.


What: Discussion of the Historic Structure Report of the B&O Railroad Roundhouse complex

When: Tonight, 7 p.m. County Courthouse, second floor courtroom. Artifacts, drawings and other information will be available for viewing in October at the Martinsburg Public Library across King Street

Historian John Hankey will present his report and take questions.

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