Model T historic district sought in Martinsburg

October 15, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - A lasting legacy of Henry Ford's mass production of the Model T - begun in earnest in 1910 - can be found in a neighborhood on Martinsburg's western side.

Just don't expect to find one of Ford's rare models if you go looking for the pioneering automaker's imprint on the community.

But what you will find along portions of Tennessee Avenue, North Red Hill Road and several streets in between are some of the spaciously allotted single-family, suburban homes that sprung up because of Ford's ingenuity and continued through the century.

"Now, we are talking about preserving what we call 'relics from the recent past,'" said architectural historian David Taylor of the historic suburbs off West King Street that he inventoried for a National Register nomination for the Berkeley County Landmarks Commission.


The West Martinsburg Historic District nomination is a 75-acre area comprised of 171 contributing homes and property that Taylor said fell within the National Register's guidelines for Early Automobile Suburbs (1908-45) and Post-World War II & Early Freeway Suburbs (1945-60).

"The rapid adoption of the mass-produced automobile by Americans led to the creation of the automobile-oriented suburb ... that has become the quintessential American landscape of the twentieth century," wrote University of Delaware professor David L. Ames and Linda Flint McClelland of the National Park Service in the 2002 National Register's bulletin that outlines evaluation and documentation of historic residential suburbs.

Ford's introduction of the Model T in 1908 spurred the nation's third wave of suburbanization, which began in the mid-19th century, the researchers concluded.

Hired by the Berkeley County Landmarks Commission to prepare the West Martinsburg nomination, Taylor is scheduled to present his work to the West Virginia Archives and History Commission for consideration on Oct. 26.

If approved by federal officials, west Martinsburg would be the 11th historic district in the city and likely the last to be eligible for such a designation, at least for now, according to Berkeley County Landmarks Commission leader Don C. Wood. Property must be at least 50 years old to be considered.

"Thousands and thousands of volunteer hours have gone into this," Wood said of the survey work, which he said began nearly 30 years ago.

Wood cautioned that the National Register designation, outside of the city's officially designated historic district, doesn't guarantee a similar protective review by the municipality.

"There's nothing to prevent them from tearing them down," said Wood, who supports an expansion of the city's historic district, which is centered in the city's downtown area.

Based on his experience of preparing more than 200 National Register nominations for communities from upstate New York to Kentucky, Taylor said Martinsburg's diverse architecture and preservation of numerous historic properties makes it "a gem."

"We work in a lot of communities that would absolutely kill to have what Martinsburg has," said Taylor, who separately noted that the Eastern Panhandle as a whole was "dripping with history."

"You have a lot left," Taylor said.

What it means

The National Register designation "assures protective review" of federally funded projects that could impact a contributing property in a historic district. A West Virginia tax credit also is available for rehabilitation work done on a contributing property, according to a Sept. 20 letter that Susan M. Pierce, the state's deputy historic preservation officer, sent to Mayor George Karos. Similar federal tax benefit also might be available, Pierce told Karos.

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