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Martinsburg land donated for recreation

October 31, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Property along Tuscarora Creek in Martinsburg where Union Civil War general and future President Rutherford B. Hayes was said to lay ill for several days in July 1864 is being donated for public recreation use.

What is known as the Wegenast Brewery property at 253-255 E. Burke St. unanimously was accepted by the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation Board, said R. Stephen Catlett, executive director of the board.

The land, which includes two parcels about a half-acre in size, is being donated by Mark and Sue Ann Palmer and their son, Chris, and is a significant "dot to the puzzle" of creating a trail-oriented park in the heart of the city, Catlett said.

The land is expected be deeded to the city because the recreation board is not allowed to own the title for real estate, Catlett said.

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The Palmer family has been a "huge" supporter of parks and recreation for a long time, Catlett said.

"I hope it works well for them and the citizens of the community," said Mark Palmer, who serves on the Martinsburg Planning Commission. "It has a lot of nice potential."

The property donation could help restart a project to develop a linear park along Tuscarora Creek, at least along the section between East Burke and North Queen streets adjoining the historic B&O Roundhouse and shops buildings, Catlett said.

The donated property is across East Burke Street from land already owned by the city. That area could be used for parking for the recreation area, Catlett said.

"It's a very nice piece of property," Catlett said.

The lay of the donated parcels is good for recreation development because elevation differences with neighboring residential owners "gives a sense of separation, which is good," Catlett said.

"The ultimate resource would be the creek," Catlett said.

Catlett described the donated land as a "dot" that could be connected to other recreation and cultural areas along a trail-like park, including the Adam Stephen House and Oak Street and P.O. Faulkner parks. Catlett also said the trail eventually could be connected to a bicycle path that has been built along the new four-lane route for W.Va. 9 just outside the city.

Don C. Wood, outgoing president of the Berkeley County Historical Society, said Saturday the organization voted not to oppose razing a blighted wood-frame house on the property, which is part of the East Martinsburg Historic District.

Wood said he has told a parks and recreation board member the historical society would like the state archeologist to look into the possibility of a tunnel in the basement of the house that might be connected to the historic residence of Revolutionary War Gen. Adam Stephen, who is credited for founding Martinsburg.

Christian Wegenast is said to have operated a brewery at the property during the Civil War era, according to the district's National Register nomination form, and the structure's cellar purportedly was to be honeycombed with brew and storage rooms.

Hayes, who was president from 1877 to 1881, served in the U.S. Army, where he rose to the rank of brevet major general. He was severely wounded in September 1862 at the Battle of South Mountain, according to the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center Web site at www.rbhayes.org/hayes/.

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