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Norwalk group gets grant, support

February 13, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The return of a luxury car built in Martinsburg more than 90 years ago has garnered international interest and financial support from the West Virginia Development Office since a nonprofit group negotiated a $300,000 deal to purchase the antique last summer from a Colorado rancher.

The bright yellow 1914 Norwalk Underslung Six purchased by The Friends of the Norwalk Foundation inc. is believed to be the only automobile that was manufactured by the Norwalk Motor Car Co. to exist in the world.

Foundation vice president Chris Breeze told Berkeley County commissioners on Thursday that $51,000 had been raised for the car's purchase, which was made possible by a $280,000 loan that the group obtained from Centra Bank.

Breeze on Thursday credited State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, for helping the foundation land a $50,000 state community partnership grant from the development office for the group's fundraising efforts.

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A car show, tractor pull and performance by The Hubcaps has been scheduled at the Berkeley County Youth Fairgrounds on Sept. 26 and 27 as part of ongoing private fundraising efforts, Breeze said.

"This car is actually acting as a reunion piece for a lot of people," Breeze said.

Three daughters of a previous owner of the car are planning a trip to Martinsburg to get together and see the car their father had restored before Shirley Hoffman in Longmont, Colo., purchased it in 1989, Breeze said.

An account of the vehicle's return to Martinsburg last fall was distributed by The Associated Press, which Breeze said attracted far flung interest, including contact from The Netherlands.

Breeze said the original owner had the car shipped to Minnesota from Martinsburg where the Norwalk company produced the cars in a large brick building near the intersection of Porter and John streets.

The Norwalk Motor Car Co. started in Norwalk, Ohio, in 1910 but folded quickly and investors in Martinsburg bought the company and its remaining parts and moved the operation to the city, according to the foundation.

Yet, production in Martinsburg was relatively short-lived and Breeze said records that expound on the company's eventual collapse were found in Berkeley County Clerk Virginia M. Sine's office.

Unger said Thursday the foundation's effort to bring the vehicle home and put it on public display qualified for state support from the development office because the car highlights the history and culture of industrial development in West Virginia.

"I'm working with them to show it off in Charleston," Unger said.

Plans are in the works to display the Norwalk at The Cultural Center, which houses the state museum, next to the state capitol, Unger said.

"They're really good people and I was glad to be part of the team," Unger said.

Before presenting Breeze with a copy of a resolution needed for the release of the state grant, Commission President Ronald K. Collins commended the Norwalk foundation for their efforts.

"I think it's fantastic, we got the car back home," Collins said.

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