With the influx of settlers into the frontier of North Carolina in the 1750s the Colonial Assembly authorized the creation of a courthouse and jail to provide for their justice needs. The location of this new county seat was at the junction of the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road that brought migrants south and the Trading Path that ran east-west. The new town began in February 1755 with James Carter platting the streets in four equal squares. Within a decade there would be about 40 houses and the town, thought to be named for the English cathedral village of Salisbury, would become the biggest and most important town of western Carolina well into the 19th century.
The railroad arrived in 1855 and during the Civil War Salisbury was a Confederate stronghold, staging troops and storing critical supplies. In 1861 an abandoned cotton mill was converted into a prison, first for Confederate deserters and then, notoriously, as a detention center for captured Union troops. The Salisbury Prison became infamous for its deplorable conditions and a target for General George Stoneman who raided the town on April 12, 1865 and burned the prison.
Stoneman, however, issued direct orders not to destroy any private residences or non-military structures and Salisbury emerged from the war in better shape than its Southern neighbors, with the railroad leading the way to recovery. In 1870 the Western North Carolina Railroad had es-tablished its shops in Salisbury and had become the largest single employer. In 1896, thanks to clandestine maneuverings by John Steele Henderson the Southern Railway established its largest steam locomotive facility on the outskirts of Salisbury, spawning a new town named for the first president of the line, Samuel Spencer. The Spencer Shops would employ some 3000 people until the mid 20th century.
Many of the buildings in Salisbury’s Historic District were constructed during this 1900 to 1930 period, the last time Salisbury ranked among the top ten largest cities in North Carolina. But antebellum buildings remain as well, including some that dip into the earliest decades of the 1800s. But our walking tour will begin with the railroad and a building constructed in the years of its greatest influence, when two score trains a day rolled into town...
Kentucky-born Franklin Pierce Milburn moved to Washington in 1902 to become the architect for the Southern Railway. Milburn designed 19 railroad stations and the Spanish Mission style Salisbury station, rendered in brick and ceramic tile, was one of his best. Opened on September 1, 1908 the Charlotte Observer gushed that Salisbury now boasted “the handsomest main line structure between Washington and Atlanta.” And it was busy - as many as 44 passenger trains per day passed through the town. A $3 million facelift revitalized the dark red brick base and tan brick body on the building that stretches the better part of two blocks. Look up to the red Spanish tile roof and the gargoyles protecting the square central tower. Over 100 years later the station is still serving passengers on the Amtrak line.
WITH YOUR BACK TO THE STATION, TURN LEFT AND WALK TO THE CORNER OF COUNCIL STREET. TURN RIGHT.
201 North Lee Street at Council Street
From the time it opened in 1912 until it closed in 1973, the five-story Yadkin Hotel was Salisbury’s most elegant gust house. Louis Asbury, considered the South’s first professional architect, gave the brick building a Spanish Revival flavor to complement the train station he designed next door from which the hotel garnered most of its business. One of the most famous of the Yadkin’s early guests was circus impresario Charles Sparks. Sparks selected Salisbury as the winter home for his Sparks World-Famous Shows throughout the 1910s for its convenient location and where the nearby Spencer Shops could service his 50-car railroad train.
WALK ONE MORE BLOCK TO MAIN STREET. AT THE INTERSECTION, ACROSS THE STREET TO THE RIGHT IS...
Old Rowan County Courthouse
202 North Main Street
Built in 1855 as Rowan County’s third courthouse, the two-story, temple-fronted structure is considered one of North Carolina’s finest and most important Greek Revival buildings. The building was erected by John W. Conrad and John Wilson Williams who may have provided the design as well. When Union General George Stoneman raided Salisbury on April 12, 1865 he burned and destroyed the Confederate States Military Prison and turned 200 tons of food and military supplies including 10,000 weapons and a million rounds of ammunition into a giant bonfire seen 30 miles away. But he did not torch the majestic Doric-columned courthouse. At the time it sported an octagonal clock tower but after being battered by the weather over the years it was removed.
NEXT DOOR IS...
Rowan County Courthouse
210 North Main Street
This is the fourth courthouse for Rowan County, completed in 1914. Atlanta architect A. Ten Eyck Brown, who peppered Georgia with courthouses in the early decades of the 20th century, snuck over the line to deliver this Neoclassical ashlar and white brick structure fronted by a massive quartet of fluted Ionic columns.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON NORTH MAIN STREET AND CROSS COUNCIL STREET.
City of Salisbury Administration Building
132 North Main Street
Now an office building for the city, this Neoclassical building fronted by stout, engaged Doric columns, was originally the home of Wachovia Bank in Salisbury. When Wachovia opened its operation in 1903 it was the first venture for the bank outside of its Winston-Salem headquarters.
Horace Beard House
131 North Main Street
John Lewis Beard was born in Germany and came to the New World to Pennsylvania but stayed only briefly, just long enough to acquire a wife. In 1753 the Beards settled on a farm on Crane Creek, becoming the first settler in Salisbury. Horace Beard was his grandson and built this five-bay Federal-style house in the late 1830s atop a rough granite foundation. One of the town’s earliest structures it features a soaring parapet gable on the side end. Horace Beard passed away in 1858 and after the house passed out of the Beard family it has done extensive commercial duty.
118-120 North Main Street
Lee Slater Overman was born in Salisbury on January 3, 1854 and at the age of 23 was appointed private secretary to Governor Zebulon Vance. While working with Vance, Overman decided to pursue the practice of law and was shortly in the political arena himself. Overman became a state representative in 1883, the first of many terms in the North Carolina legislature. Outside of politics he was appointed president of the North Carolina Railroad and the Salisbury Savings Bank. He hired Charles Christian Hook, one of the state’s first professional architects, to construct this commercial building in 1902. Hook created a picturesque three-story confection heavily influenced by the work of Henry Hobson Richardson, America’s most famous architect of the late 19th century - broad, powerful arches, rough-faced stone bartizans, a checkerboard facade and groupings of windows in sets of three. He gave the roof a Spanish Mission feel. The ground floor has been compromised by a Neoclassical entrance so look up to see Hook’s work. Overman didn’t own the building long; in 1903 he became the first United States senator from North Carolina to be elected by popular vote and sold the property in 1906. Overman was noted for his support of America’s entry into World War I and eventually died in office in 1930 at the age of 76. The Washington building takes its name from its historic location: George Washington stayed in the Yarborough House on this site during his tour of the Southern states in 1791.
Spanky’s Ice Cream
101 North Main Street
This three-story brick building was considered the tallest commercial building in North Carolina when it was constructed in 1858. Look up to see the exceptionally fine brickwork in the windowhoods and at the cornice. The cast iron storefront is a later Victorian affectation. For many years this was the home of Purcell’s Drug Store andfor many years Klutz’s Drug Store.
101 West Innes Street at Main Street
When this light brown brick tower was completed in 1913 it was tallest steel frame building in North Carolina and it has been the tallest building in Salisbury for almost 100 years. If you look up over the entrance you can see the initials of the man who “built a seven-story building in a three-story town” carved inside the scallop ornament. Henry Clay Grubb was either a criminal or just a “colorful character.” Ostensibly a farmer, most of Grubb’s money came from distilling liquor. Known far and wide for his volcanic temper, in 1905 Grubb shot and killed his brother-in-law but was acquitted of murder. Afterwards he turned his business attentions more towards real estate development. He hired one of the South’s pre-eminent architects, Frank Milburn, to design his statement building. Milburn delivered an ornate Beaux Arts confection but Grubb never saw its completion. On August 9, 1913 Henry Clay Grubb returned to house drunk and irritated and ultimately began attacking his wife with a knife. Emma Grubb was able to grab her husband’s gun and shot him dead. With his reputation preceding him, Emma Grubb was cleared completely in Henry Grubb’s death the next day.
TURN RIGHT ON INNES STREET.
121 West Innes Street
This two-story, three-bay building of well-crafted handmade brick was erected in 1883 for the First National Bank. First National was a financial pillar of the community until it merged with Scottish Bank in 1951. The building underwent a pain-staking restoration in 1990.
United States Post Office and Courthouse
130 West Innes Street
Salisbury was granted a U.S. Post Office on June 12, 1792; this federal facility came along in 1909. The monumental Beaux Arts building crafted in fine white Italian marble far outshines most similar mail-handling facilities in towns the size of Salisbury. That is the handiwork of native son Senator Lee Slater Overman who introduced a bill in Congress for the construction of the building that included a federal court. When Overman died in 1930 the building was expanded even more as a tribute to the Senator. The post office was converted to county offices in 1996. Look up to see aluminum letters finished in bronze declaring “In God We Trust” - it was one of many public buildings around the county to have the motto added in 2007.
center of Innes Street at Church Street
This memorial to Rowan County’s Confederate dead was dedicated on May 10, 1909 before a crowd that included Mrs. Stonewall Jackson. The 14-foot bronze is a replica of Frederick W. Ruckstuhl’s statue in Baltimore, Maryland and rests on a pedestal of pink granite.
St. John’s Lutheran Church
200 West Innes Street
This congregation was founded in the homes of German immigrants in 1747 and 200 years later it was the largest Lutheran congregation between Washington and Atlanta. The first meetinghouse was a log structure in 1768 and this sprawling Gothic Revival church, rendered in light tan brick, held its first service on January 2, 1927. It boasts flanking towers of differing sizes decorated with corner bartizans.
First Presbyterian Church Bell Tower
225 West Innes Street
The congregation organized on August 1, 1821 with 13 members. A church on the corner of Jackson and Innes streets rose in 1826. Working from plans drawn by Charles W. Bolton of Philadelphia, one of the country’s leading ecclesiastical architects, materials from the original church were incorporated into a new Romanesque building in 1892. When that church was torn down in 1971 its soaring bell tower was saved. The red brick, arched windows trimmed in rough stone, stone belt courses, conical bartizans, and patterned slate roof provide a glimpse of what tis much-admired church looked like. Access is through a bracketed wooden entrance. The current Neoclassical Presbyterian church stands on the square.
Maxwell Chambers House
West Innes Street at Jackson Street
Maxwell Chambers was born in Salisbury in 1780 and early on departed for Charleston, South Carolina. When he returned to Salisbury at the age of 45 he was a very rich man but there is no paper trail as to where that money came from. No Maxwell Chambers can be found in Charleston business records. There is speculation the money came from the illegal slave trade; one of his brothers operated a slave business in Alexandria, Virginia. Once in Salisbury Chambers used his money as a one-man bank, expanding his interests across the town. A believer in education, Chambers funneled $250,000 to Davidson College, turning it into one of the leading schools in the South. Although not a member of any church, Chambers willed all the property here to the First Presbyterian Church and after Maxwell Chambers died in 1855 this brick Greek Revival Session House was constructed over the graves of the Chambers and Nesbit families, as specified in his will. Chambers’ final document stipulated that should these graves ever be disturbed the land would become the property of Davidson College.
TURN LEFT ON JACKSON STREET.
Salisbury Female Academy
115 South Jackson Street
The first classes were held in Salisbury in 1784 when a school from Charlotte re-located here and named the Salisbury Academy. This Federal-style brick building, laid in elegant Flemish bond, was constructed in 1839 to house the Salisbury Female Academy; it sports dramatic stepped gable ends. The historic academy building now operates as a restaurant.
116 South Jackson Street
Jacob Stirewelt, Salisbury’s master builder of the time, constructed this Federal-style townhouse in 1819. It stands as one of the few surviving such houses in North Carolina’s Piedmont region. It was later owned by Maxwell Chambers and now is ministered to by the Rowan Museum.
Josephus Hall House
226 South Jackson Street
This building was constructed as one of a group of classrooms for the Salisbury Academy in 1820. It doesn’t look like a typical early-19th century plain schoolhouse and that is the handiwork of Josephus Wells Hall, a physician who owned extensive farmland around Salisbury, who took possession of the property in 1859 and added the double veranda with delicate cast iron detailing. After the Civil War began in 1861, Hall served as hospital surgeon at the Confederate States Military Prison at Salisbury. The house remained in the Hall family until 1972 and more additions came along, including a steep hip roof.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO FISHER STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Rowan Public Library
201 West Fisher Street
The first books were lent in Salisbury in 1911. This brick library, entered through a pair of Corinthian columns, dates to 1951. Money for its construction came from Burton Craig. On the grounds is the old town well that is said to date back to 1760. It provided drinking water for the town for well over 100 years until Salisbury constructed a municipal water system.
Henderson Law Office
northwest corner of South Church and West Fisher streets
This small frame building was the law office for Archibald Henderson (1768-1822), a distinguished lawyer, a member of the United States Congress, and a three-term member of the North Carolina General Assembly. The building that rests on a Flemish bond brick foundation was constructed sometime between 1795 and 1818 and may be the oldest surviving structure in Salisbury.
north side of West Fisher Street between Church Street and Main Street
It took three years for Cynvia Arthur Rankin to complete “Crossroads: Past Into Present,” which was dedicated in 1980. Over the past thirty years the artist has returned periodically to renew the 140 portraits and make the mural more historically accurate. The mural is painted in latex and sealed with a plastic sealant to delay weathering. Look for Ginger the dog, a fixture on Salisbury streets, roaming in and out of stores in her day.
AT MAIN STREET TURN RIGHT.
212-226 South Main Street
Nathaniel Boyden started building a guest house here in 1855 and his Boyden House opened in 1859. The hotel catered to traveling salesmen who could display their goods in a large 80-foot by 30-foot room. While architect Frank Milburn was in town building the Salisbury Depot in 1907 he gave the 50-year old hotel a Beaux Arts facelift. It also picked up a new name, the Central Hotel and eventually the Empire Hotel. There also was a tunnel under Main Street from the hotel to the Meroney Theatre across the street so the actors could go back and forth without the hassle of crowds. The Empire shuttered in 1963 and although the building has lost some of its splendid architectural details it still stands with an uncertain future.
213 South Main Street
This is the second Meroney Theatre in town. In 1873 brothers T.J. and P.P. Meroney purchased a dilapidated building in 1873 and converted it into a “place of amusement” called the Meroney Opera House. This better model, with seating for 1,200, opened in 1905. The most famous performers of the day - Sarah Bernhardt, Lillian Russell and John Phillip Sousa among them - all graced the Meroney stage. In 1907 the Bijou screened the town’s first motion pictures in rented space on the first floor. Over the years the building has gone through many name changes, been the home to the Masons and a gentleman’s social club known as Old Hickory but after a 1995 refurbishment is the Meroney once more.
217 South Main Street
The Salisbury government operates out of this Neoclassical box that is wrapped in corner quoins and boasts fluted Ionic pilasters between its five bays. It began life as a Security Bank and Trust building.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON MAIN STREET, CROSSING FISHER STREET.
First Union National Bank
117 South Main Street
Alfred Charles Bossom was an English architect who began his architectural practice in America in 1903 at the age of 22. He came to specialize in banks, mostly in the Italian Renaissance style, from the Northeast to Texas. Bossom was known for his high-rise structures but here he contributed a smallish Beaux Arts vault with a monumental Roman arch for the First Union National Bank in 1920. Bossom abandoned his American architectural career in 1926 and returned to England where he became a member of Parliament in 1931.
TURN RIGHT ON INNES STREET AND LEFT ON DEPOT STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT SALISBURY STATION.