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Monument park builds up tribute to construction of W.Va. roundhouse

November 05, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - It is a polygon with 16 equal sides of red brick, 13 inches thick, and topped by a bell-shaped roof, stiffened by a cast-iron frame. It survived the first days of the Great Railway Strike of 1877, a pivotal episode in American labor history.

It is the last of its kind in the United States, an important example of mid-19th century industrial construction that used standardized, prefabricated structural elements to create an efficient and fire-resistant building.

It is the West Roundhouse at the B&O Roundhouse & Shop Complex in the rusted industrial heart of downtown Martinsburg.

Now, five years after the structure was named a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers, a small monument park celebrating the designation has been substantially completed at the intersection of East Race and Commerce streets.

"I've always thought it was a great building," said Richard W. Klein, CEO of Alpha Associates Inc., which donated design work for the park and construction management services for the $30,000 project.

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A bronze plaque that denotes the landmark's significance and notes it was constructed in 1866 and 1867. The plaque is affixed to a large chunk of granite at the top of a circle of brick pavers on a bluff overlooking the complex on the west side of the Capitol Limited rail line.

Two signs on either side of the monument will tell visitors about how Confederate troops burned the original roundhouse and other buildings during the Civil War, and about the engineering and architecture of the structure that remains today.

The East Roundhouse was destroyed by fire in May 1990.

Klein said members of the American Society of Civil Engineers' Eastern Panhandle branch who took part in the park project received permission to relocate the Civil War wayside sign about the roundhouse complex to the park. It had been at an isolated location closer to the train station.

The narrative board for the other wayside sign is expected to be put in place in the coming days, Klein said.

Once the national landmark designation was obtained in 2001, Klein said the group brainstormed on where to place the plaque since the renovations to the actual roundhouse were far from complete.

The first site selected was dashed by CSX Transportation's decision to locate a signal system bridge almost directly between it and the historic complex, Klein said.

Klein said city leaders agreed to allow the creation of the park, which included the addition of parking spaces and sidewalk approaches from both Commerce and Race streets.

"Perhaps, someday, someone will contribute benches," Klein said.

In the process of building the park, the city has agreed to allow the organization to trim some nearby trees this winter that were planted to improve the park view of the roundhouse and shop buildings.

"I just think the reuse of these older buildings is the right thing to do," said Klein, whose firm restored the historic Cumberland Valley Railroad Depot at 535 W. King St. for its Martinsburg office five years ago. "I'm a firm believer in that."

A number of engineering firms, associated American Society of Civil Engineers groups across West Virginia and area residents have made donations to help pay for the project's construction by purchasing brick pavers, which are engraved and placed at the park.

The engraved pavers still are available from Alpha Associates at a corporate rate of $150, and an individual price of $75, Klein said.

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