Working on a piece of history

Historic train station chugs toward a functional future

Historic train station chugs toward a functional future

December 20, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - The old, one-pint glass bottle still has some dirt on it and has embossed around its upper edge the warning, "Federal law forbids sale or re-use of this bottle."

The brown bottle, likely more than 70 years old, was found underneath the historic train station in Harpers Ferry, which is being restored. Recently, the station was elevated 6 feet off the ground while a construction crew builds a new concrete foundation and adds a new floor to the circa-1894 building.

Work on restoring the station began about two months ago and is expected to be finished in August 2006. A federally funded project, the restoration is expected to cost between $1.5 million and $2 million, said Michael Sauvageau, project supervisor for Massachusetts-based Lumus Construction Inc.


The station is being restored to its 1931 condition, when it was moved to its present site. Improvements will include heating and air conditioning upgrades, new electrical and plumbing work, relocating two bathrooms, and restoring the slate roof, windows, doors and interior woodwork. Lead paint will be removed from the crown molding, trim and beadboard inside the building before it is put back into place.

Had another five years passed, saving the building might not have been possible because it was in a serious state of disrepair, Sauvageau said.

The parking lot around the station, used by commuters who take trains into the Washington, D.C., metro area will be resurfaced and reconfigured. The same number of parking spaces will be available.

A tower on the building that was dismantled sometime in the 1950s will be replaced.

Sauvageau estimated that once finished, 95 percent of the interior of the station will be original.

Discoveries in the walls

While the brown bottle was found in the ground, a few other interesting items have been found in the building.

Inside the walls, workers found ticket stubs from 1896 for personal freight shipments as well as a license plate-sized metal sign that read "Buy your travel insurance here," Sauvageau said.

Another bottle found still contained some liquid. Because it was below freezing outside but the contents in the bottle were not solid, Sauvageau guessed the liquid is some form of alcohol.

All such items are being handed over to the National Park Service.

An archeologist is helping to oversee the project, said Marsha Wassel, public relations specialist for the park.

Curiosity seekers are common.

Nearly every day, someone stops by to ask questions about the work and some take pictures. One man stops by at least once a week to take photographs while another man, every morning at 9, takes a photograph of the ongoing work from the same spot on a porch across the street from the station.

Exactly how the building will be used once it is restored has not been determined.

Space will be set aside for use by the town of Harpers Ferry, possibly for events like art shows, Wassel said. Other areas will be open to the public and can be used by those waiting for or disembarking from trains.

The Capitol Limited, an Amtrak train that runs from Chicago to Washington, D.C., stops in Harpers Ferry and commuters sometimes wait for their trains inside the station during foul weather.

Historical items will be on display.

"To see it finished, I think it really will be a calling card and something people will actively seek out," Wassel said of the station.

Part of history

The railroad played an important part in the history of Harpers Ferry, but the site of the station is also of special importance to the National Park Service for another reason.

It was the site of an armory, which helped launch the industrial revolution. The armory included the building known as John Brown's fort, a fire engine and guard home in which John Brown and his followers barricaded themselves during a raid in October 1859.

The fort was the only armory building not destroyed during the Civil War. It was moved several times but now sits about 150 feet away from its original location.

Sauvageau, who had never been to Harpers Ferry, said overseeing the train station restoration is of personal interest to him. His company has worked on several projects near Boston that played a part in the American Revolution.

After visiting a castle on Africa's Ivory Coast that was a slave-trading post, he said he now is working on a project not only connected to the Civil War but which involved one man - John Brown's - fight to end slavery.

He also has never worked on a train station before.

"Every day I'm learning something new," he said.

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