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W.Va. roundhouse items on display

October 15, 2000

W.Va. roundhouse items on display



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - When the 134-year-old B&O Roundhouse off East Martin Street was shut down 12 years ago, the massive machinery used to make railroad track and other products inside was either moved out of the building or scrapped on site.

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Local architects and officials who are retracing the history of the roundhouse have had to rely largely on the memories of former railroad workers to learn how the building operated.

Additional information on the history of the operation has been unearthed in the form of artifacts found during the early stages of a restoration project at the roundhouse. An inspection turned up shovels used to stoke forges or wood stoves, parts of workbenches, samples of track, railroad spikes, machinery gears and light fixtures.

The artifacts were found among trash and other debris in the building, said Lisa Dall'olio, a member of the Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority, the agency in charge of renovating the structure.

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Now the public can see the first artifacts recovered.

The items will be displayed through October in the front entrance of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library.

The exhibit includes small pieces of track in varying sizes that illustrate how track design evolved at the roundhouse. Other items include a paper towel dispenser that was issued in 1927 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and curved brick that was used to create fluted designs on the roundhouse, Dall'olio said.

"It has been popular. We've had a lot of people come in and say how much they have enjoyed it," said Jane Levitan, exhibit coordinator at the library.

Accompanying the artifacts are presentation boards the authority has used in meetings and special events to explain the history of the roundhouse, where train bridges were made and locomotives were repaired.

Dall'olio said authority members felt they should publicly display the artifacts so citizens can learn more about the roundhouse.

"The better we can educate the community, hopefully, the more willing they will be to help us fight to save (the roundhouse), Dall'olio said. "I think people know this structure is important, but they may not exactly understand why."

The first roundhouse was built at the site in 1854, but the complex was burned by Confederate troops in 1861. The roundhouse that stands today was built in 1866.

Besides its Civil War history, the roundhouse stood through other significant events such as a large railroad strike in 1877 in which workers protested wage cuts.

John P. Hankey, a historian who agreed to research the history of the roundhouse, recently described the building as one of the finest 19th-century railroad buildings.

The authority is considering turning the building into a performing arts center where live music concerts and other events can be held.

Levitan said exhibits like the one at the library are important for people who have recently moved into the area and are not aware of the county's history.

"It doesn't have the high profile of someplace like Harpers Ferry," Levitan said.

Bill Taylor is one of three former CSX Transportation Inc. employees who have been taking authority members through the roundhouse to show them how the machinery in the building was laid out.

Much of the equipment was scrapped at the site when CSX closed the roundhouse in 1988, Taylor said. Taylor said he remembered two planers - one 24 feet long and the other 30 feet long - that were used to shape track.

"They just took a two-ton ball and broke all those up," said Taylor, a Martinsburg resident who began working at the roundhouse in 1962.

Other equipment, such as a shearing machine and a lathe, were taken to Barboursville, W.Va., Taylor said.

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