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Roundhouse recognized as landmark

August 01, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

The list of National Historic Landmarks, which includes Mount Vernon, Pearl Harbor and Alcatraz, has a new addition - the B&O Roundhouse in Martinsburg, according to U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd's office.

Byrd, D-W.Va., announced Thursday that the roundhouse has received the designation from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Fewer than 2,500 historic places have received the distinction based on their significant contributions to the nation's history and culture, according to a news release from the senator's office.

The announcement came as a surprise to James Smith, vice chairman of the Roundhouse Authority.

"That's important to the future of the roundhouse," Smith said. "It's not just a Martinsburg treasure, but a national treasure."

In addition to recognizing the importance of the roundhouse's role in the development of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the designation will be a powerful tool in securing funding for its planned $18 million restoration, according to C. William Hayes, executive director of the Roundhouse Authority.

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Built between 1866 and 1872, the roundhouse was one of seven using the same unusual skeletal design, Hayes said.

"It has all of the main buildings made out of cast-iron, like a Tinkertoy," Smith said.

The roundhouse was manufactured and assembled in Baltimore, then taken apart and reassembled in Martinsburg, Smith said.

"As far as I know, it's the last one of its kind," Smith said.

The complex had two roundhouses, but one was burned by vandals in 1990, he said.

The roundhouses, built by Irish immigrants, replaced ones built before the Civil War, Smith said. Those workers settled nearby in an area known as Irish Hill, he said.

Smith said the first national railroad strike also began at the roundhouse.

"It's steeped in Civil War history, labor history and railroad history," he said.

"Through the roundhouse effort, local residents and organizations have helped to protect the Eastern Panhandle's historical and cultural foundation," Byrd said in the press release. "At the same time, residents created a solid anchor in the Martinsburg downtown revitalization plan."

Originally used for locomotive repairs, the complex of buildings remained in the hands of the B&O until it was sold to a developer in 1998.

Hayes said the three-building complex and its 13.5 acres were purchased by Berkeley County the following year for $25,000. Through the end of last year, Hayes said approximately $3 million has been spent on restorations, including roofs made out of recycled plastic car bumpers and stamped to look like the original slate.

The brick work has been repaired and repointed, and the ruins of the burned roundhouse stabilized in hopes of it being rebuilt, he said.

The authority last week sent out a request for proposals for the repair and replacement of doors and windows, Hayes said. Money for that, as well as lighting, heating and air-conditioning, will come out of $2 million Byrd added to an appropriations bill in 2001, he said.

The authority envisions the complex, with its 65,000 square feet of interior space, becoming a multiple-use facility for festivals like the recent Rail Days, conventions and exhibitions. Hayes said it will be a historically accurate restoration, with space for exhibits and stores.

"Hopefully, we'll get some rolling stock in there," Hayes said. "We have a caboose and we're hoping to work our way up to the front of the train."

Hayes said, however, that a restored, functioning steam locomotive can cost up to $1 million.

The authority has applied to the state for a $6.8 million economic development grant to build three bridges to the site and do landscaping. Rebuilding the burned roundhouse, according to Hayes, would cost an estimated $6 million.

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