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W.Va. works to resurrect roundhouse

November 05, 2000

W.Va. works to resurrect roundhouse



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The past may hold the future for the historic B&O Railroad Roundhouse complex as workers repair buildings at the site and planners try to determine what might lie ahead.

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Much is going on at the site in the old industrial section along the railroad tracks on land filled next to Tuscarora Creek on the edge of downtown.

More than $2 million has been raised to restore the distinctive looking, 22,000-square foot round building and the two adjacent structures. That's about two-thirds of the $3- $3.5 million estimated to be needed to get the buildings and site ready for what comes next, said Clarence E. Martin, president of the 11-member Roundhouse Authority created by the West Virginia Legislature to preserve and develop the site - the last of its kind in the country.

Much of the money is federal and state, although the Mountain Stage radio show came to Martinsburg for the second time last night to help raise private donations for the complex.

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Workers are fixing trusses inside the buildings and repairing the roof. As with many such projects, costs are higher than expected.

The Fruit Exchange building has been acquired on the 13-acre site.

The Roundhouse Authority is negotiating to get the old freight depot.

The old hotel and depot across the tracts already has been rehabilitated and is used by MARC for passengers.

A consultant has been hired to start looking at what comes next. The history of the site seems the mostly likely foundation on which to build the future, say those working closely on the project.

"Commercial redevelopment of it would be inappropriate," said Matthew Grove, a Martinsburg architect working on the project. "It's a national treasure."

The site won't work as a civic center because too many changes would be needed to the historic structures, Martin said. And trains rumbling by create a lot of noise. Recreation facilities probably won't pay for themselves.

"These projects must be self-supporting," he said. That's why using history is being considered so seriously.

In 1861, Confederates destroyed the first Roundhouse complex built in 1842. The destruction was so complete it may have angered enough people from Maryland that it kept the state from seceding. The second event was the first-ever national labor strike begun by Martinsburg railroad workers in 1877.

The site lies in the middle of Civil War country, and the labor movement does not have a national museum,

"I could see a Holocaust-type museum for the labor movement," Martin said. "The site really cries out as a site to have these events become a national tourist attraction."

The Roundhouse was "essentially a garage, where they would park the engines in the evening, wash out the boilers, do minor maintenance to them," Grove said. The turntable still works and can be turned to any of the 16 service bays that were used. Machine and bridge shops, a foundry, a shop to build switches and other rail equipment and a part of a second Roundhouse that burned in 1990 all are part of the site.

Martin said one of the first goals might be using part of the site for a local park or green space. There's enough land and it's right by the creek. And if the site is not suitable for regular performances or civic events, it still can be used for such activities as high school graduations, he said. A bridge will be built from the current terminal to connect with a new railroad platform on the other side.

"We look at it like we're in Phase I, which is preserving the structure," Grove said. "Phase II is adaptive re-use. But the structure has to be preserved, no matter what the end use."

Once the roofs are fixed and the other repairs are done, the city will have a tremendous asset most other communities would envy, Martin said.

"We sometimes get frustrated at the pace of what is going on, but our consultant tells us, 'you've done things in one year it takes other communities five years or more to do,'" Martin said.

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