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Don C. Wood had a passion for history, Berkeley County

September 04, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • In this file photo, Don C. Wood, outgoing president of the Berkeley County Historical Society, stands outside the society's Archives and Research Center's record storage building on North Spring Street in Martinsburg, W.Va. Wood died Sunday after a brief illness.
Herald-Mail file photo

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — For more than 50 years, Don C. Wood had two passions — his roses and collecting and writing the history of Berkeley County, W.Va., its people, its historic properties and its way of life.

Wood, who died Sunday after a brief illness, was born in Berkeley County in 1933 and, except for brief periods, rarely left the county, or for that matter, West Virginia, said Todd Funkhouser, president of the Berkeley County Historical Society. Wood belonged to the society for 40 years, including 20 years as its president.

“There’s nobody who can replace Mr. Wood,” said Sandra Riggleman of Martinsburg, who succeeded Wood as society president when he retired in 2009. She held the post until 2010 when Funkhouser took over.

“Wood was very knowledgeable about and understood the technical architecture and design of historic buildings,” said Billy Riggleman, Sandra’s husband.

He was always quick to point out structural errors, wrong paint scheme or other violation on a historic structure when he was a member of Martinsburg’s Historic Review Commission, Riggleman said.

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Wood also served on the Berkeley County Landmarks Commission, Main Street Martinsburg and was instrumental in getting local properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Funkhouser said.

“He argued a lot,” Funkhouser recalled. “It was easy to have a difference of opinion with Don but if you did you had to prove it. It wasn’t out of maliciousness or because he was ill-mannered, it’s just that Don was so passionate about the purity of history.”

John Small, Berkeley County Clerk, said that while Wood was never on the county’s payroll, he used to come into the office every day to research ancient county property and genealogical records.

“He was the only person I would allow into the old county records room, those that go back to 1772,” Small said.

Small said he and Wood went to Martinsburg High School at the same time.

“He was a very fine gentleman and he knew local history. The county will be lost without him,” Small said.

Wood led the historical society in its effort to purchase and restore the Belle Boyd house on East Race Street, Sandra Riggleman said.

“A gentleman in Cumberland, Md., saw a story about it in The Herald-Mail and donated $20,000 to buy the house,” she said. Wood was instrumental in getting the society to buy the house that adjoins the Belle Boyd House that now serves as its book store.

The society’s third building, in the adjoining block, is another historic brick structure that houses the organization’s archives, Riggleman said. A fourth structure, at the edge of the archives parking lot, is the society’s storage building.

“Mr. Wood pushed for everything,” she said. “The board always went along with him because he knew so many people that he could get money from.”

Inside the archives building sit rows of large filing cabinets that contain the bulwark of Wood’s life’s work.

In them are genealogical records of nearly every longtime family in Berkeley County, according to Funkhouser.

Riggleman and Funkhouser showed examples of the more than 50 books, picture books, journals and pamphlets published by the society dealing with local history.

“All of them have Don Wood’s handprint on them,” Funkhouser said.

Another important element in Wood’s life is his roses. The backyard of the Belle Boyd House was his canvas, dotted as it is with roses, many of ancient varieties and colors, that invite passers-by to stop by for a smell.

Wood transplanted roses from his former home in Hedgesville, W.Va., and the family farm in Swan Pond.

“Needless to say,” said Martinsburg Mayor George Karos, “Don Wood will be missed.”

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