It was a cool day in late October in Martinsburg, West Virginia. The buildings I had come to see were bathed in the warm light of a late autumn afternoon and all was silent and still behind the vacant windows. It wasn’t always so.
Since before the Civil War and well into the 20th century, Martinsburg was a busy railroad town. That is all in the past now, a handful of silent brick buildings the only reminder of a time when the railroad fueled the towns pride and prosperity.
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad reached Martinsburg on May 21, 1842. Shops were erected along with a passenger station. During the Civil War, both sides fought to control this valuable railroad link, and the city changed hands several times. In October, 1862, “Stonewall” Jackson’s troops burned the shop complex and station, much of the rail line was torn up, and 21 engines along with other tools and machinery were dragged south to Winchester, Virginia.
At the end of the war, B&O faced massive rebuilding throughout its system. In 1866, the West Roundhouse was constructed. Designed by Albert Fink, the unique cast iron frame was assembled in Baltimore, then taken down and shipped to Martinsburg where it was erected and bricked. In 1872, the East Roundhouse was built to the same design. Both roundhouses were re-purposed by the railroad in 1898 when locomotive maintenance was moved to Brunswick, Maryland. The East Roundhouse was destroyed by fire in 1990 and today the West Roundhouse is the oldest fully covered roundhouse in the United States.
In 1877, railroad workers in Martinsburg rebelled against wage cuts and shabby treatment by the B&O, sparking the famous Strike of 1877 which spread across the nation and forever changed the relationship between labor and industry. But that is a story for another time.
In 1988, CSX transportation closed the facility. The property is now owned by the Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority.
Edd Fuller – Photographs and text Copyright 2017