Big plans for Roundhouse rely on funds

October 21, 2002|by CANDICE

The Roundhouse complex sits nearly abandoned in Martinsburg, its broken windows, sagging walls and peeling paint the victims of mischievous youths, weather and, the worst aggressor of all, time.

It's been more than 130 years since the complex was built - or rebuilt - since the original Roundhouse was burned by Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson during the Civil War.

It's been more than 10 years since the B&O railroad company abandoned the center, giving it up to weeds, pigeons and vandals.

One recent morning, however, life came again. Restoration workers from Pittsburgh, Pa., worked on rebuilding an arched entryway, original brick by original brick. Although many of the ground-floor windows are broken and boarded, light poured in from a ring of nearly intact windows halfway up the roof.


C. William "Bill" Hayes walked around pointing out small details of the three-building complex, telling its history and hoped-for future. Hayes started working as executive director of the Roundhouse Authority Sept. 1, after retiring from his former job in Maryland.

"You can see what a beautiful structure this is," Hayes said, standing in the center of the Roundhouse, the last of its kind still standing.

Seven were built, Hayes said, but only Martinsburg's remains.

"It's just a fabulous building."

There is a round pit at the center of the Roundhouse, with wooden beams forming a platform on top. Train engines or cars were rolled onto the platform, then spun around as workers made repairs. Afterward, they were rolled out on one of several tracks leading in different directions, Hayes said.

Although trains are the Roundhouse's past, they probably will not be its future, Hayes said.

"(We hope to) hold conferences, concerts, trade shows, that sort of thing," he said. "This will be the grand hall."

Future museum?

At the adjacent Frog and Switch Shop, a single small cart on train wheels sits solitary in one corner. About the size of a four-wheeler, the carts were used to haul supplies around the complex.

In this building sits a much smaller round platform - just a few feet across - on which the cart could be placed and then rolled in different directions.

Crushed rock replaces the former floor of wooden beams that had been soaked with decades worth of oil and other flammable materials.

At the rear of the building is a former blacksmith shop, with a steam hammer in place. Used to forge repair parts, the steam hammer was sold for scrap when B&O closed the complex in the late 1980s. Its owner donated the immense steam hammer back when restoration began, Hayes said.

The Frog and Switch Shop is the building that may hold tanks and other heavy artillery pieces as a satellite location of the U.S. Army Museum.

Although the Army is considering several sites, officials "let it slip" that Martinsburg is the only site with nearby rail access - the preferred way to move such heavy equipment, Hayes said.

No tank will move here, however, unless Roundhouse officials receive most or all of the $6.8 million they've requested from the state Economic Development Grant Committee, Hayes said.

Earlier this year, committee members heard proposals of projects from around the state. The Roundhouse project was one of more than 50 that made it past the first round of consideration.

Berkeley County owns the Roundhouse, having purchased it from B&O.

One other local project for which funding was requested, the Eastern Regional Airport, was granted $1 million Thursday to build a new terminal. There is no word on the status of other projects, including the Roundhouse.

Machine shop

Back at the complex, Hayes stood amid the rubble of what is left of the second Roundhouse, which caught fire and burned nearly to the ground several years ago. Hayes said he hopes Army officials might rebuild it. Little remains now but a few chunks of the outer wall, held up by metal support beams.

The last building on Hayes' impromptu tour was the Machine and Bridge Shop, which has little inside. A two-story building, it is long and rectangular, and seems the least interesting from the outside, Hayes said.

Minus graffiti on the wall, the shop is nearly empty. In one corner is an office, which was probably once impressive with its rounded woodwork but is now dirty and painted a lime green. Hayes said he hopes to use the space as his office.

The building's second floor will probably be rented out to light industrial companies or for use as offices, Hayes said. The main floor could be used for shops and restaurants.

Nothing is imminent.

With the state grant money, the project could probably be finished in five years, Hayes said. That money would also pay for a pedestrian bridge connecting the Caperton Train Station to the Roundhouse across still-used train tracks, and a bridge for car use off Queen Street.

Without that money, the project could take much longer, since Roundhouse officials would need to rely on miscellaneous grants from various sources, Hayes said.

"(The state grant money) is needed for us to really get the property to the point where you can begin to have people occupy it," Hayes said.

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