A new interactive exhibit and education center in Martinsburg, “for the kids, by George,” is 90 percent to 95 percent complete and nearly ready for visitors, according to project director Jim Castleman.
The dedication and grand opening of the social studies and history-focused museum at the Caperton Train Station at 229 E. Martin St. is being planned for May, Castleman said last week.
Between now and then, groups of children are expected to be introduced to the center on a limited basis to gauge their reactions to the exhibits and to assess where they are spending time and for how long, Castleman said.
The train station also is a bus stop for the Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority (PanTran), and Castleman said they are working to determine how many adults are needed to accompany each group of children to ensure their safety at the station, which also sees a significant amount of daily CSX freight train traffic.
“We want to encourage adult participation,” Castleman said.
About 60 students, divided into three groups, are expected to be able to visit the museum at one time, Castleman said.
The Washington Heritage Trail Project, which is about 90 percent to 95 percent complete, was jump-started in the fall of 2008 by a $290,000 National Scenic Byways Program grant award announced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
Since then, the project has received additional funding, including a $50,000 grant from the North American Railway Foundation and another $50,000 grant from the National Scenic Byways program.
The railway foundation supported the creation of a gallery devoted to telling the story of railroad life as well as the national railroad strike of 1877. The strike began at the B&O roundhouse and maintenance shops across from the train station.
Castleman expects children will want to visit the roundhouse, and hopes to work out an agreement with the Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority to make that possible.
The $50,000 National Scenic Byways program grant was awarded for signage and other aspects of the center, including a 3-D projection map table and a wall map for the Washington Heritage Trail.
The Washington Heritage Trail is recognized by the Scenic Byways Program as a 136-mile loop in the Eastern Panhandle that takes tourists near more than 100 historic sites, ranging from a stone structure known as “George Washington’s Bathtub” in the Town of Bath in Morgan County to the Washington family estates in Jefferson County.
In addition to the grant money, the museum project has received significant community support, Castleman said.
A group of children, dubbed the “kid’s caucus,” routinely weighed in on what they thought would be interesting to their peers as the center was being planned, Castleman said.
A Lego model of downtown Martinsburg in the 1920s as well as models of Washington Heritage Trail historical sites, including the Morgan cabin, “John Brown’s Fort” at Harpers Ferry and the Berkeley Springs bath house, were built by children for the museum earlier this summer, project architect Lisa Dall’Olio said.
“They spent a lot time thinking about these structures and re-creating them,” Dall’Olio said while giving a tour of the train station’s original ticket office where the Lego models are on display.
Children will be able to build “their own main street” with Legos in a work area in front of the downtown Queen Street model and indulge in a number of hands-on activities as they learn about various railroad careers, the life of young George Washington and different periods of history.
Profiles of local people who held various railroad and roundhouse maintenance shop jobs, including station agent, telegraph operator, laborers and train engineers, are included to help tell the story of working on the railroad.
Among those featured are the late Theodore “Ted” Hare, who worked as a passenger and freight conductor and brakeman for the B&O Railroad for more than 40 years.
Family members donated Hare’s uniform, lantern, radios and belt for the railroad life gallery, Dall’Olio said.
“It’s absolutely amazing to me the number of contributions we have had,” Castleman said.
Castleman contributed toward the 20 percent local match in financial support that the 2008 federal grant required by providing in-kind services himself.
An admission fee has yet to be established and Castleman said operational funding also has yet to identified, but expects officials who have supported the project thus far will be pleased with what they see when the museum is dedicated this spring.
“Lisa’s done a great job with very little money,” Castleman said. “She’s just put her heart and soul into this thing.”