When West Virginia seceded from the Virginia in 1861, the regions social and government institutions were thrown in turmoil.
The Civil War decimated both the region and Martinsburg, specifically, because of the railroad yards. On May 22, 1861, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s troops stopped all trains going East at Martinsburg and Point of Rocks. Once he determined that all of the trains that could be caught had been caught, he blew up the bridges to the West and blew down the rocks on the tracks to the East, and the pirating of the B&O railroad was on. In total, 42 locomotives and 386 cars were stolen and destroyed, 36 and ½ miles of track, 17 bridges, 102 miles of telegraph wire, the “Colonnade” Bridge and the B&O roundhouse and machine shops were destroyed.
Martinsburg changed hands more than 50 times through-out the war, leaving this once-thriving community a desolate wasteland, unable to feed its inhabitants, much less export anything. Following the war in 1866, the B&O began reconstruction of the roundhouse and associated shops that stand on the site today, which were completed in a span of six years, from 1866 to 1872. The facilities were used until the mid-1980’s when all local operations were transferred to other locations and the complex has remained vacant ever since. The facility played a significant role in the history of the railroad and the city of Martinsburg. It was a major regional transportation node and one of the major employers in the region.
The history of the facility and the history of the city of Martinsburg and Berkeley County were intertwined in a number of ways. The railroad’s prosperity brought wealth to the region. Conversely, the decline of the railroad had a profound effect on the local economy in a cyclical manner. The loss of local jobs resulted in further economic hardships.
The buildings are rare and outstanding examples of their types, designed by the engineers of the B&O. It is believed that all original design concepts were developed in-house by the B&O and it also appears that there was a significant influence in the design from the visionary work of Willer-le-Duc, the pioneer French architect and theorist, as well as the work of Henri LaBrouste, who was responsible for the design of the Biblioteque National in Paris, construction between 1854 and 1872, the same periods as the B&O structures.
The B&O architects and engineers developed simple modular designs for cast iron components that could easily be executed in remote locations with readily available materials and components, such as bricks, wood trusses, and typical metal roofs.
The designs were simple, precise, elegant and typical of the great structures of the industrial revolution which form followed function in clear ways. The architecture of those structures provided strong, visual clues as to how they were to be used. In their simplicity, they were, indeed, brilliant designs. The Martinsburg Roundhouse is the only iron framed roundhouse still standing in the world today.
To learn about the our Roundhouse history during the Civil War, click here.