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Martinsburg officials focus on Market House

February 21, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Fancy frilly dresses worn decades ago were in no danger, provided the ladies wearing them chose to dance the night away in the Market House.

Metal railing, erected about 2 feet away from the wall of the building's old ballroom, helped to ensure such gowns weren't singed on the wall's old radiators. It also kept revelers from crashing through the second-floor windows and onto the sidewalk below, Martinsburg City Councilman Richard Yauger said.

The railing is just one of the many interesting features of the city-owned Market House at the corner of Queen and Burke streets.

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Now that the city has completed its restoration of an old hotel adjacent to the Caperton Train Station, Yauger and fellow Councilman Roger Lewis hope attention and funding will be shifted to the Market House.

Yauger and Lewis gave a tour of the building one recent afternoon.

The first floor is occupied by several businesses, including offices and a restaurant, the Market House Grill.

The second floor, however, mostly is empty. One room is in a serious state of disrepair, with holes in the ceiling, chipped paint, cracked plaster and warped wooden floors.

It once was used by members of the Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization. There's a postcard-sized, eye-level door within the door, which enabled members of the group to see who was knocking on the other side.

A small closet once held the Odd Fellows' robes.

Now, the room is cold and empty, save for the city's Christmas decorations. It still retains its original dropped ceiling fans, arched glass windows, wooden flooring and intricate doors.

A small adjacent room once served as a kitchen. When Yauger spotted a sheaf of papers sticking out of a drawer in an old cabinet, he carefully opened the drawer to see if a treasure lay within. He only found old paper bags.

The old ballroom is in a better state, having been restored and repainted in recent years.

A history in deeds

According to an undated history of the building written by Decatur H. Rodgers Jr., until 1845 the Market House was "a rough stone structure, with roof reaching very near the ground, and open lattice wood-work for the front." It was crowded and needed to be repaired.

In June 1845, $900 was devoted to buying ground "and remodeling and rebuilding the present Market House."

The Society of Odd Fellows and the Society of Freemasons were allowed to build and maintain an upper story of the building at their own expense. The masons used the southern end of the upper floor, while the Odd Fellows used the northern end, Rodgers' history states.

A deed dated Dec. 16, 1872, indicates that the Supervisors of Berkeley County transferred ownership of the Market House, which also served as the police department, to the Corporation of Martinsburg for a fee of $5. The deed required that, should the city cease using the building as a market house, another market house had to be opened somewhere within the city's limits.

A deed dated Feb. 24, 1977, indicates that ownership of the building was transferred from the City of Martinsburg to the city's Historical Landmarks Commission so restoration and preservation of the building would occur.

Two years later, on Feb. 21, 1979, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows transferred its rights to the building to the Historical Landmarks Commission.

When the Landmarks Commission disbanded in 1988, the city resumed ownership of the building.

Today, all of the revenue generated by space leased in the Market House is put into a special fund dedicated to maintenance of the building, Yauger said.

Yauger, as chairman of the city's leasing committee, and Lewis, chairman of the property committee, both are actively involved with the building.

A boy's peek

During its days as a market house, what now are arched windows were open entryways. There originally were two towers on the building's corners, including one that contained a clock. In the 1800s, the intersection of Burke and Queen streets was considered to be the town square, not - as is the case today - the intersection of King and Queen streets, a block away.

Lewis and Yauger said they hope the building can be restored and the space leased for meetings or receptions. Currently, no site downtown allows for meetings or conventions of groups of around 50 or so people, Lewis said.

A small kitchen adequate for catering purposes also would be nice, Yauger said.

Lewis, who was born and raised in Martinsburg, was a member of a Boy Scout troop in his younger days. Decades ago, the Boy Scouts would awaken at 5 a.m. to line the downtown streets with American flags on holidays, he said.

Those flags were stored in a hallway on the second floor of the Market House. Sometimes Lewis, while helping to retrieve the flags, would venture slightly beyond the hallway.

He remembers seeing tables and chairs set up in the ballroom.

"Like a smoking room?" Yauger asked.

"I don't know. I just peeked in," Lewis responded.

In June 1998, a local contracting company provided an estimate of what it would take to restore the building, including adding a new fire alarm system, refinishing the front room and building an elevator shaft.

At that time, the cost was estimated at $214,000.

Yauger said the cost likely will be substantially higher now.

Because the Market House is considered to be a historic structure, the city might be able to obtain grants to restore it. Yauger said he hopes work can begin within the next year and a half.

"If it was up to Roger and I, we'd start on it tomorrow," Yauger said, before amending his statement. "If it were up to Roger and I, we'd already have it completed."

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