Railroad heritage could be key to revival of Martinsburg downtown

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MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (WDVM) – COVID has put many things on hold over the past year. In one eastern panhandle city of the Mountain State, Mayor Harriet Johnson is running out of patience.

Under her leadership, the city of Martinsburg is capitalizing on its historic railroad “ties” to build its future.

Elected last year as Martinsburg’s first female mayor since the city’s founding in 1868, Johnson has been in a hurry to get things “on track.” Johnson wants to build on Martinsburg’s long and rich railroad history (the great B&O Railroad strike of 1877 was centered here) for economic development.

“There aren’t many people in this town that didn’t have a father or an uncle that worked at the train station or the roundhouse or something related to it,” Mayor Johnson said. “So it is a deep rich history.”

As it is, Amtrak makes stops in Martinsburg, MARC rail service shuttles commuters to Washington, D.C. and CSX has a presence. For City Manager Mark Baldwin, a retail plaza to complement a historic streetscape from the rail station to downtown is perfect for revitalizing these strategic city blocks.

Baldwin said, “The gateway signs, the pedestrian plaza and now this train station corridor – that’s our investment for the community.”

With tenants filling apartments in the newly converted high-rise Shenandoah Hotel 2 blocks away, Mayor Johnson sees a “trainload” of possibilities for Martinsburg’s future.

“It’ll just be endless what will be able to happen when this is completed,” Mayor Johnson says proudly.

The project will evolve over three phases to be completed by the end of the summer.

Mayor Johnson noted that the B&O Railroad built shops by the roundhouse in 1849 only to have them destroyed during the Civil War. She envisions their being brought back to life.

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