Note: This post was previously listed under our "News from the Grey Box" blog series
By Jody Brumage
Between 1990 and 2001, the complete transformation of a derelict train station to a community health center was witnessed by the residents of Shepherdstown, West Virginia. The town’s historic Norfolk and Western Railroad Depot had stood unused for thirty years when Town Mayor Audrey Egle began an effort to restore the structure. Soon, the restoration project became a rehabilitation project, and then a call to Senator Byrd’s office was made.
In response to Mayor Egel’s interest, the Historic Shepherdstown Commission formed a committee, comprised of Robert Fodor, Harvey Heyser, and Joseph Snyder, to investigate the structure and determine what could be done with it.
The historic station had been built in 1909 to replace an earlier frame structure, built between 1880 and 1884. Train service had begun in Shepherdstown in 1879. The new station, built of brick at a cost of $22,000, represented the then fashionable Queen Anne style. The building was equipped with segregated waiting rooms divided by the station agent’s office. A 250 foot iron shed covered the walkway between the station and the tracks, allowing passengers to wait for the train outside during the warmer seasons. The Shepherdstown Station remained in active use until 1957, when passenger service was disbanded. For the next few decades, the building was used as storage, and its late-Victorian splendor was allowed to deteriorate. By 1990, the station was in a near ruinous state, and had been slated for demolition by the Norfolk and Western Railroad Company, along with the nearby station at Sharpsburg, Maryland.
When the committee set to work, the plan that developed not only involved the restoration of the structure, but also the rehabilitation of the building to house a community health clinic. This move not only aided in securing funding for the project, but also provided a clear plan for the future use of the building.
After receiving information on the project, Senator Byrd first encouraged the committee to approach the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The application, along with Senator Byrd’s endorsement, yielded a $1,500 grant which provided funds to produce informative pamphlets on the project and to start a fundraising campaign. However, Senator Byrd had bigger plans to gain support for the project.
Once the planning phase was set in motion, letters between the committee and Byrd’s office were frequent. The restoration and rehabilitation of the structure was projected to cost at least $250,000. With this data in hand, Senator Byrd took the project to the Appropriations Committee. In 1992, Byrd was able to announce to the committee that a grant of $500,000 in the Fiscal Year 1993 Veterans Affairs / Housing and Urban Development bill had been approved.
With these funds in hand, the committee, which by this time had formed into a separate organization, known as the Station at Shepherdstown, Inc., was able to begin the process of finding an architect and starting the restoration.
On September 25, 1996, with work ready to begin on the property, Senator Byrd hosted members of the committee and officials from Norfolk and Western at his Capitol Office in Washington D.C. to officially transfer the title. When Senator Byrd asked railroad officials what the cost for the transaction would be, they replied one dollar. In response, the senator produced two quarters, four nickels, and three dimes to pay the cost of transfer. By late 1996, restoration had begun and by July of 1997, the building was opened for limited public use.
However, the building’s completed restoration was only half of the project, and soon letters between local health care officials and the senator’s office began searching for ways to fund community health programs. Advice from Senator Byrd directed the group to West Virginia Health and Human Resources Rural Health Program. In May of 2001, Dr. Paul Davis opened a dental office in a section of the station.
A letter from one health care advocate to Senator Byrd states “We are indebted to you for your effort on behalf of this project. You, as you will recall, were instrumental in getting a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the restoration of the train station in Shepherdstown. That project has been completed, it looks splendid, and it is now being prepared to house the community’s new health care program.”
With the dream finally realized, a dedication ceremony was planned. On October 27, 2001, Senator Byrd delivered the dedication address and presented the group with the coins he had used to pay the transfer fee in 1996. Today, the station continues to operate as a community center, offering yoga, martial arts, and dancing; a venue for community events and concerts; and home to Dr. Davis’ office. The project, which started with a derelict building in 1990, has today produced a successful example of the advantages of historic preservation and rehabilitation as opposed to demolition and new construction in community development.
In his dedication address, Senator Byrd stated: “I believe that by investing in these types of projects, we are investing in our future. If we are to reap the benefits from an understanding of the unique historical and cultural fabric of our nation, we must take steps to preserve and protect these resources and others that provide a link to our past. We must work hard, especially now, to perpetuate that spirit that has made our nation great.”
For more information on the train station, visit the website of the Station at Shepherdstown, Inc.
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