Martinsburg’s historic train station now is home to a museum that brings to life George Washington – who worked in the Panhandle as a young surveyor – and other highlights of our area’s transportation history.
[cleeng_content id="116146831" description="Read it now!" price="0.15" t="article"]Now that Martinsburg’s newest museum has visits from local and state dignitaries such as Mayor George Karos and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin under its belt, it’s time to usher in the intended audience: 4- to 12-year-olds.
The “For the kids, by George Children’s Museum” in the Caperton Train Station downtown is now open on Saturdays with more summer hours in the works.
And while the museum is brand new, the ideas behind it, the building that houses it and the stories it tells all go much farther back.
The notion of a museum in the Caperton Train Station was present even when the building was being brought back to life from condemnation nearly two decades ago, according to architect Lisa Dall’Olio, the museum’s designer.
The original portion of the building was first built in the 1840s as a hotel, she said. After the Civil War, the B&O Railroad turned it into a train station, she said.
Owned by the city of Martinsburg, the building underwent major restoration beginning in the 1990s. Dall’Olio and her husband Matt Grove served as the architects during those projects, during which a museum was always part of the potential concept, she explained.
In particular, grant money was more readily available for museums that tell transportation stories, Dall’Olio said.
Eventually, grants came through from the National Scenic Byway Foundation and the North American Railway Foundation to make the museum possible as part of the Washington Heritage Trail, the 136-mile designated national scenic byway that runs through the three counties of the Eastern Panhandle.
Dall’Olio was hired as the museum’s designer, but it was Jim Castleman, she said, who came up with the idea of using the space for stories of the Washington Heritage Trail aimed toward children.
Castleman, the museum’s project director, said the idea sparked with the simple observation that kids love the train station.
While Castleman is quick to note that there is still much to be done before the museum is finished, there already are showstoppers on view, including a grand, life-size depiction of a 19-year-old George Washington in a canoe to greet visitors to the station.
Colored dots help visitors navigate three different journeys through the multi-level train station.
Passports take children to a wall featuring the profiles of many different historical figures important to the region, from Martinsburg founder Adam Stephen to the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
Kids also can take a 3-D simulated bike ride featuring stops along the Washington Heritage Trail.
A “Working on the Railroad” room shines the spotlight on different jobs along the railroad such as a station agent and Pullman porter, each featuring interactive components.
Along the low wall of the room, a toy wooden railway for toddlers will entertain the younger siblings so that older children can spend more time exploring the rest of the gallery.
In another room behind that exhibit, an impressive re-creation of Martinsburg’s Queen Street has been built entirely out of Legos.
Several bins contain all the extra pieces, offering museum visitors a chance to be architects, too.
In another part of the museum, three rooms represent three different centuries along the Washington Heritage Trail. In one, a store is represented replete with a reproduction image from a dry goods store in Harpers Ferry.
From the Lego pieces to a long wall featuring train cars and moveable magnets in the “bridge” between the station and the nearby Roundhouse , there are seemingly endless parts and piece in the museum for children to explore.
Dall’Olio designed all of them.
“The city was kind of crazy to let me do this because I am an architect, not a museum designer,” she joked. The project was nonetheless one that she poured herself into over the course of a few years.
She commends city leaders for being smart enough to see the potential of a museum as an economic generator – and for their cooperation during the design, including relocating police evidence when she asked to turn a storage spot into exhibition room.
While the museum’s summer staffing and hours are still being ironed out, the museum will be open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment by calling 304-264-9977.
Want to go?
What: “For the kids by George, Children’s Museum”
Where: Inside the Caperton Train Station at 229 E. Martin St., Martinsburg
When: Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and by appointment by calling 304-264-9977.
How much: Admission costs $7; children under 4 get in free.
For details: Find “For the kids, by George Children’s Museum” on Facebook or at forthekidsbygeorge.org[/cleeng_content]