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Berkeley County's visitors center will move to Historical Society museum building

August 31, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Berkeley County Historical Society’s museum in Martinsburg is expected to be open daily thanks to a new partnership with the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The CVB’s visitors center will move to the museum at 126 E. Race St. no later than Dec. 1, said Laura Gassler, executive director of the CVB.

The move comes at the end of a three-year lease for the visitors center’s current location at 115 N. Queen St., Gassler said.

“For the CVB, it will save a considerable amount of money on rent, which we can then put into other tourism projects,” Gassler said.

The rent paid by the CVB will give the Berkeley County Historical Society money to put toward maintenance and restoration work at the museum building, President Todd Funkhouser said.

“It is a good partnership across the board,” Funkhouser said.

Gassler and Funkhouser said the partnership will save each nonprofit organization thousands of dollars annually and support an effort to get a circuit of historic sites open regularly so that tourists will stay overnight at area hotels. Hotel/motel tax revenue supports the CVB and the community’s public parks and recreation system. 

The pooling of resources will allow the museum to have the same hours as the visitors center, which is open daily except on major holidays.

The museum currently has regular hours on Fridays and Saturdays, and by appointment on Thursdays between May and September, Funkhouser said.

Under the new arrangement, the historical society no longer will charge admission to the museum, Funkhouser said. Gassler said the CVB agreed to handle sales of the historical society’s books and publications, which have been sold at what is known as the Ben Boyd Store on the west side of the building.

For the first year, visitors only will be allowed to tour the first floor of the museum while restoration work is being completed on the second floor of the building, known as the Belle Boyd House.

Marie Isabelle “Belle” Boyd was a famous Confederate spy during the Civil War. Her father, Ben Boyd, built the Greek revival-style house in the 1850s, and operated a general store where the bookstore currently is located, according to the historical society. The historical society acquired the building in 1992 after the Martinsburg City Council prevented it from being demolished.

The museum’s displays are to be configured in a self-guided style that will require minimal explanation, Gassler said.

Though the proposed move of the visitors center was unanimously approved last month by the CVB’s board, Gassler said there was some discussion as to whether the new location would result in a loss of visibility.

Gassler said she thinks most visitors to the current location use GPS-enabled devices to get there or have seen the address posted on a sign along King Street and “are not just random walk-ins.” 

“We may lose those people, but I think it will be counter-balanced by the number of people that go to the Belle Boyd House expecting it to be open and finding it closed, and now, we’ll be there,” Gassler said.

With few volunteers available and no budget, Funkhouser said the historical society currently puts a sign on the door of the museum directing visitors to the organization’s archives center to arrange for tours.

Gassler said the new location positions the visitors center near the 19th-century Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’s Martinsburg shops, a national historic landmark, and the new children’s museum at the Caperton Train Station, which is slated to open regularly starting this month. The visitors center previously was at the train station before moving to North Queen Street.

While the B&O roundhouse and shop building site isn’t open regularly, Gassler said the visitors center would be positioned perfectly should developments progress there, along nearby Tuscarora Creek or the historic Matthews Foundry building where a new revitalization effort has been launched.

The visitors center’s move to the Belle Boyd House also comes as the CVB has worked to develop a heritage tourism strategy to help the community’s museums stay open due to a shortage of volunteers, Gassler said.

One facet of the plan is to try to have all of the museums open one weekend each month.

Gassler said an idea being considered is the creation of a docent program, which could provide a guide with keys to a circuit of historic sites for tours.

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