Saving an old hotel in Martinsburg

July 20, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

It's easy to wax romantic when imagining those who may have spent a night or two at the old Berkeley Hotel.

Perhaps a handful of cloaked celebrities sought anonymity in front of one of the room's fireplaces, or a ne'er-do-well sought a room served with a side of trouble.

Martinsburg City Council member Richard Yauger imagines people walking a few blocks away to the Market House and buying fruits before strolling back to their rooms.


"Sitting around, gabbing, probably chewing tobacco," Yauger said. "Waiting until the next train comes in."

Dark, dusty and hot, the top floors of the former hotel on East Martin Street remind one of an old attic visited more by wasps and spiders than by people.

That will soon change.

Plans are under way to restore all of the hotel's upper floors and use them for tourism-related exhibits and offices.

The bottom floor was renovated a few years ago and now houses the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

From the outside, the hotel is deceiving. Counting the windows upward, it appears to be five stories tall; actually, it's seven.

A central staircase winds up the center of the hotel and creates "half floors." Some of the hotel rooms on the floors are empty, while others contain sinks, yellowed papers or original mantels propped against fireplaces.

An old bench crowds a hallway, and in the corner of one room leans an old optometrist's eye chart.

Paint is peeling off the walls and ceilings, revealing skeletal framework. Some paint flakes have clustered on floors long covered by tiles, while others gather on original wood flooring.

Yauger, chair of the city's train station committee, hopes to keep intact as much of the original woodwork as possible.

"There's a lot of work to be done," said Yauger. "But a lot of it is superficial."

One of the old hotel rooms will be furnished and used to show how a room would have looked more than a century ago, Yauger said.

With its angled, low ceilings and rotten floorboards, the seventh floor could probably not be used for much besides storage, Yauger said.

Restoring a gem

"It's a gem," City Planner/Engineer Mike Covell said of the hotel. "It's hard to believe, either by luck or circumstance, we have a hotel that could be significant in the eyes of some people."

Covell said it may be one of the oldest unaltered hotels in the area, if not the nation.

"It's going to be beautiful," he said.

Construction on the hotel was finished in 1849 - seven years after workers with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad finished laying tracks through Martinsburg.

Known as the Depot House, the National Hotel and then the Berkeley Hotel, records indicate it housed travelers until around 1925.

When Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson ransacked and burned the original Roundhouse in 1861, he burned a train station adjacent to the hotel.

"It is not recorded as to whether the hotel was damaged and a search of the official reports in the main office of the B&O yielded nothing, as many of the records were destroyed during the great Baltimore fire in the early 1900s," according to information compiled by local historian Don Wood.

With their station destroyed, railroad officials started leasing space on the hotel's ground floor for a ticket window. That window is still intact.

In 1992, a century and a half after it was built, the hotel was condemned. Three years later, the city of Martinsburg bought it and surrounding acreage with restoration plans in mind.

New life in 2003

Three transportation grants that will be used to restore the hotel total more than $1 million, said city Finance Officer Mark Spickler.

The city received two federal grants totaling $634,536 to renovate the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh floors and install an elevator. The city contributed another $158,634 in matching funds, Spickler said.

The fourth and fifth floors will be reserved for administrative offices for the visitors bureau and possibly the Roundhouse Authority.

To renovate the second and third floors, which will house an interpretive center for the George Washington Heritage Trail, trail officials received $220,000 in federal money plus $55,000 in matching funds from the city.

The George Washington Heritage Trail is a driving tour that highlights places in the Panhandle connected to the first president.

All of the construction will be put out to bid as one project, Spickler said.

Architect Lisa Dall'Olio said she hopes to solicit bids next month and begin construction in September. Construction is expected to last around nine months, Dall'Olio said.

Although the visitors center has brochures and a few souvenirs available on the hotel's renovated first floor, Executive Director Bob O'Connor said he hopes to move into the space used by MARC officials as a ticket window and waiting area. That space is in the city-owned Caperton Train Station, which is connected to the hotel.

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