The city of Martinsburg is celebrating its 250th anniversary. That milestone comes with city-wide events planned throughout the year.
City officials and historians celebrated with a tree planting ceremony last month, kicking off a project that will plant 250 trees at sites of interest across Berkeley County.
The project kicked off at Martinsburg’s Adam Stephen House, a historical site and home of one of Martinsburg’s founders. Keith Hammersla, curator for the General Adam Stephen Memorial Association, notes Stephen’s arrival in the area as the beginning of the town’s development.
“He had two tracts of land. He purchased one tract in 1770, where he built this house. A second tract he purchased in 1773. And on that tract, he laid out lots to start the town of Martinsburg,” Hammersla said.
Today, Martinsburg is the largest city in the Eastern Panhandle and the center of the fastest growing area in West Virginia.
Berkeley County’s population grew by nearly 17 percent in the past decade, while West Virginia’s population shrank by almost 4 percent.
Michael Benson, a member of the association’s executive committee, thinks this is because of how different Berkeley County’s economy is compared to the rest of the state.
“I think it’s the diversity of the economy and in the area versus the other parts of the state being more reliant on two or three industries. You don’t have that concentration in Berkeley County or in the panhandle,” Benson said.
Berkeley County historian Todd Funkhouser says the town has historically benefited because of its location. Martinsburg became known as a railroad town after the construction of its roundhouse during the 19th century, becoming a major checkpoint for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company.
“All of the associated buildings popped up from the railroad itself. They had multiple theaters, multiple newspapers, downtown businesses were thriving. And there was a credit union, the beginning of the banking system,” Funkhouser said.
Today, Martinsburg is notable for its connection to Interstate 81 and accessibility to major business markets like Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and northern Virginia. Sandy Hamilton, executive director of the Berkeley County Development Authority, says this proximity is a big appeal of the region.
“It just makes perfect sense, from a logistics standpoint, that businesses would want to be in Berkeley County, where the cost of living is still less, the price of land is still less, the price to do business here is less,” Hamilton said.
Martinsburg’s rapid growth isn’t without its problems. Funkhouser worries that as the area continues to grow, infrastructure won’t be able to keep up.
“The local road system is at a breaking point because of the accessibility and ease of the interstate,” Funkhouser said. “A majority of our water is groundwater sourced, which creates all kinds of problems, and our sewer system is going to be a concern in the future.”
Historical preservation is also an issue, according to Marty Keesecker, president of the Adam Stephen Memorial Association. He says development has meant historic buildings were demolished for new businesses, but notes a recent resurgence of interest in preservation and beautification.
“You’ve seen a lot of work along the Tuscarora Creek to clean it up. There’s some little parks nearby,” Keesecker said. “So I think I see some positive – really positive – moves. And maybe that’s geared to the 250th anniversary. Who cares – it’s being done.”
Concerns aside, the region’s growth shows no signs of slowing down. From 2020 to 2021 alone, Berkeley County posted a population growth of nearly 4,000.