Reliving Martinsburg in pictures

November 23, 2008|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Don Silvius believes in the old Kodak motto, "A picture is worth a thousand words."

After spending weeks sorting through old photographs at the Berkeley County Historical Society's Research and Archives Center, Silvius has been transported through time by looking at photos depicting Berkeley County from the 1880s to the 1980s.

Silvius has put together "A Martinsburg Picture Book" showing what life used to be like in the West Virginia town and its outskirts. He was assisted by Don C. Wood, president of the Berkeley County Historical Society, and fellow board member Cinda O'Neill.

"Some of the photos have never been published before," Silvius said.

The 6 1/2-inch-by-9-1/2-inch soft-bound book costs $15 and is a fundraiser for the historical society. The historical society recently acquired land adjacent to the Research and Archives Center and the money will help pay for the land. A book signing will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 28.


Silvius said he started pulling photos in mid-June and O'Neill helped him select the ones that would be in the book. By August, Wood was writing captions. The book recently went to press and will be delivered just days before the book signing. "It's hot off the presses," Silvius said.

Silvius said there are "thousands and thousands" of photos at the archive. He said there are filing cabinets that are packed with photo-filled folders labeled by streets.

A project like this, he said, is more than just a fundraiser for the archives center.

"It really helps us out to identify some of the photos," he said.

One of the aspects he said he enjoyed working on for the "A Martinsburg Picture Book" was locating contemporary locations of buildings shown in old photos. Silvius said he and Wood recently discovered the modern location of one of the buildings in the book. The photo was taken in the 1890s. A sign on the building reads "Little Bro's." A horse-pulled wagon is in front. On the wagon are painted the words: "Little Bros. Cheap/Cash Grocery/Free Delivery."

"Don Wood saw (a) building on North Queen Street and said it had to be the same one," he said.

Sure enough, Silvius visited the building, at 214 N. Queen St., and was able to match the exact location with the photo in the book.

Silvius said some of his favorite photos are the aerial shots of the square circa 1940s or '50s. One photo shows what downtown Martinsburg looked like before the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library was built on King Street. Where the library now stands, Silvius said, there is a bus station. In that same photo, Kings Daughters Hospital is shown under construction.

He estimates that there are about 350 photos included in the book.

"A Martinsburg Picture Book" includes more than just photos, Silvius said. An information technician at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., during the day, Silvius said he was able to include digital images of advertising from old newspapers. He said they tried to make sure the ads or other memorabilia related to the businesses in the photos including one from the Shenandoah Hotel, located on Queen Street.

"Sometimes we even had old receipts for some of the businesses," he said.

Silvius said they are continuing to collect more photos. Anyone who has old photos of Berkeley County are welcome to come to the Archives and Research Center to have his or her photo scanned into the system.

An Inwood, W.Va., native, Silvius said this project has given him a new appreciation for Berkeley County.

"I drive around town and things look different to me," he said.

If you go ...

WHAT: Book signing for "A Martinsburg Picture Book"

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 28

WHERE: Belle Boyd House, 126 E. Race St., Martinsburg, W.Va.

COST: The book costs $15.

CONTACT: Call the Belle Boyd House at 304-267-4713

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