Martinsburg Roundhouse – History

Martinsburg Roundhouse

100 E Liberty Street

Martinsburg, WV 25404

 

Once a great location for a rail yard for both business and supply transportation, the Martinsburg Roundhouse still stands today after its’ closure in the late 1980’s. The history has been well preserved thanks to the state of West Virginia, allowing guests to experience the past hands on and in person. The location has been steeped in history from the enduring days of the Civil War to the beginnings of the Great Railroad Strike. The beautiful brick structure rests behind abandoned railroads and within a large railyard campus which, aside from its’ location, could still be used today if necessary. The unique designs call for architecture and engineering students to witness the great feats of the past and hope for an even better future. History also pulls students into the fold allowing them to study both wars and economics simultaneously. After all, those who don’t learn from the past are bound to repeat it. This is a lesson that could be hard pressed to recognize as it is very possible some stray entities and energies from the past are trapped at the roundhouse. Some say that citizens and soldiers alike are stuck in Martinsburg replaying the past for all eternity.

 

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The Past

Martinsburg, WV was a prime location for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O Railroad) to expand into as they grew through the young but blossoming country. In the early 1840’s the very first engine shops and machineries were constructed to allow B&O to open its’ railroad lines in the area. This brought a slew of jobs which brought with it employees and their families. Up until West Virginia’s secession from Virginia during the early Civil War, Martinsburg was a hot bed for growing industries. Following the states’ independence, its’ government and economy was thrown into chaos.

The rail yard in Martinsburg became a major target for both the Union and Confederacy due to its’ location and efficiency of travel, which was a huge military advantage back in the days of horse and buggy. Overall the Martinsburg Roundhouse changed hands nearly 50 times during the Civil War but the tug of war truly began when Thomas Jackson (better known as Stonewall Jackson, he just wasn’t yet given that nickname yet) stormed the railroad hub with his troops in May of 1861. The plan was to halt all train traffic from moving eastward. Once they completely stopped all known trains, they proceeded to destroy bridges to the west and block the eastern tracks with rock slides caused by explosions. With this raid, nearly 40 locomotives and upwards of 300 train cars were destroyed or severely damaged. Approximately 40 miles of track, 100 miles of telegraph wiring, and 20 bridges were destroyed. The Confederate raid also led to the B&O station and the machineries to be significantly damaged.

 

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In mid-July of 1864, a back and forth battle broke out in the streets of Martinsburg. The main strategy was for the Union to attack the Confederate cavalry which was stationed at the Roundhouse. As the Union attacked in waves, the Confederates fell back through the town. Amidst the chaotic fighting of the tight streets, the Union finally prevailed after a three-hour battle, driving the Confederates out of the town for the final time.

Martinsburg was left decimated after the Civil War. The economy that was growing took a huge hit and left the citizens without jobs and money. There was no way to export and sell goods, more importantly there was no way to import necessities either. A year after the war ended, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was granted a stipend from the newly unified government to rebuild their rail yard in Martinsburg. It took nearly six years, but the compound was rebuilt by 1872, most of which buildings still stand today. The newly reconstructed roundhouse and machining shops breathed fresh life into the town, nearly picking up where it left off pre-Civil War.

 

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The beginning of the railroad strike of 1877 actually started in the Roundhouse of Martinsburg. The B&O Railroad cut wages of its workers for the second time that year. The striking workers refused to allow the locomotives to leave, even if they were fully stocked for shipment. As the workers demanded the second wage cut to be withdrawn, the governor was not backing down and sent in state militia to get the train service moving. However, these militiamen would not participate in using military strength to force the strikers. This forced the state to send in federal troops to remove the workers who used any means necessary, even physical and deadly force. The strikers moved out of Martinsburg but began to shut down nearby rail yards, forcing the governor to follow suit and have soldiers trail the disgruntled workers from city to city. With limited resources, the strikers succeeded and the great strike only lasted 45 days.

The majority of the reconstructed buildings were in usage until 1988 when business began moving outside of Martinsburg. Vandals set fire to eastern portion of the roundhouse, nearly decimating the structure. The remainder of the buildings fell into disrepair and became a danger to any trespassers. In 1999, the Berkley County Commission purchased the property in order to transfer it into the state of West Virginia’s hands to solidify the campus as a historic rail yard and preserve the history for future generations.

 

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Paranormal Experiences

The most common activity that is experienced is said to stem from the Civil War era. However, it’s not just dead soldiers marching around; rather it’s the civilians who were caught off guard and lost so much during these awful and horrific years. Sure, some soldiers are said to still be lingering after the fighting, but they are also said to be mechanics and clergymen who helped with the aftermath.

There has been plenty of smoke or fog that has been captured and seen throughout the Martinsburg Roundhouse. Some claim that this smoke is the replaying of gunfire and explosives from the Confederate destruction of the rail yard. Others believe that this is actually the form of some lost entities who are stuck in the roundhouse unknowingly.

 

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The energy and experiences are not only just linked to the roundhouse itself, rather the building and the grounds themselves. Some visitors claim that they can smell the burning of wood and feel instantly hot as if right next to an open flame, most likely energy left over from the fires that were caused in the destruction during the Civil War. Others smell tobacco and see what appears to be puffs of smoke given off by a cigar or pipe. Lilacs are another commonly smelt aroma. Those who would have died in the field would have been covered with lilacs to cover up the scent of death exuding from the bodies. This was more to prevent the citizens, who still resided there, from getting sick and nauseous from the smells.

Temperature changes have been recorded both inside and outside. Some of these cold spots coincide with the sightings of mists moving around the grounds, almost in the form a walking person. 

 

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The attic of the roundhouse has been known to be active with odd colored foggy looking apparitions. This fog expands from a small orb which has been also experienced on numerous occasions. With this activity typically comes the aforementioned temperature drop, but only in specific locations.

Odd feelings have plagued guests to the roundhouse. They almost share the last feelings of those who perished at the site, or those that returned after their passing. Some people experience extreme dehydration and become in dire need of water. This was typical of soldiers who were dying; their last urge was to get a drink of water before passing. Others have felt headaches and stomach aches, to the point that they needed to either leave the site or step outside for some fresh air. These people were said to be in the direct presence of or standing in the same spot as an entity who wanted to be known.

 

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Whether it’s a cry for help or a conversation, recorders have been known to pick up full sentences and clear communication. Others have snapped photographs of oddities which believers claim to be actual apparitions caught in images. 

Whether this paranormal activity is simply residual hauntings playing the past over on repeat, or apparitions who want to help to leave this place and gain solace in a true afterlife, the Martinsburg Roundhouse has been active ever since its’ closing after nearly 150 years of service, destruction, and raw history.

 

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