Centennial Celebration honors 100 years of Yadkin Hotel
By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY - It was downtown's showplace - marble in the lobby, ornate woodwork, beautiful and modern. It was the first stop for travelers riding the rails, and for families passing through town from across the eastern seaboard. It was the Yadkin Hotel. Officials broke ground for it 100 years ago this month. Today, the Yadkin House Apartments at 201 N. Lee St. are home to seniors and disabled adults, and many locals drive past without knowing the building's past. They may not know, for instance, that presidents and first ladies once walked the halls. Or that honeymooners stayed there, bachelors and businesspeople lived there, and that its restaurant was touted as "one of Carolina's finest restaurants." Saturday, about 50 people gathered to learn about the Yadkin Hotel's storied past. Karen Stephenson, community director of the Yadkin House Apartments, said her staff worked to make the event possible as a way of celebrating the place their residents live. "What I found most intriguing were the stories of the people who stayed here," said Stephenson, who's worked at Yadkin House for nine years. Among those who either slept or spoke there, Stephenson said, was Lyndon Johnson, who she said stopped at the Yadkin House during a visit to Salisbury. Staff of the Yadkin House Apartments traveled to the Rowan Public Library history room, where librarian Gretchen Witt assisted them in tracking down records and newspaper articles. From them, they compiled a three-page historical timeline, tracing the building from its 1912 groundbreaking and construction to its expansions in 1922. Throughout the hotel lobby, photos and displays showed milestones not just in the building's history, but in Salisbury's. Five years after the hotel opened, owner L.D. Peeler would create Cheerwine in the basement of his grocery store, just across the railroad tracks. Radio station WSTP first broadcast from the hotel's ballroom on New Year's Eve, 1939. Historical tidbit: Those call letters stood for "Salisbury Times and Post," the city's morning and evening newspapers in those days. The Hurley family, owners and publishers of the Salisbury Post until 1997, also had an ownership stake in WSTP, as the exhibit explained. "I've learned a lot about the building I live in today," said resident Deborah Robins, who lives at Yadkin House Apartments with her husband, Leonard. They were looking over all the exhibits. Nearby, framed copies of articles traced the hotel's decline, its closure in 1973 and the six years of decay that followed. A fire, water damage and vagrants resulted in the hotel being "essentially gutted," said Liz Tennent. She and sister Patricia joined their mother, architect Anne Tennent, at Saturday's celebration. Anne Tennent and her late husband, Douglas, of architectural firm Tennent & Tennent, oversaw the building's renovation in 1980. "It was really one of our most important projects," Anne Tennent said. "It was a pleasure to be reclaiming a historic building for a worthy cause," she said. Still, the auction held as the Yadkin Hotel closed, followed by years when it wasn't used, meant that much of the building's original appearance has long passed away. But much still remains, Stephenson said, including dishes, matchbooks, letters on Yadkin Hotel stationery and more. These items from the Rowan Museum collection were on display Saturday. Kit Haynes, wife of the late J. Earl Haynes, pointed to a photo of her husband's father in 1918. J.E. "Pat" Haynes, who died in 1981, worked for 11 years as auditor and assistant manager of the Yadkin Hotel. He went on to serve as Rowan County auditor and treasurer from the 1930s until his retirement in 1954. Kit Haynes said that, before his death last month, her husband had planned to appear at the event to share his memories. She was there in his place."I am very proud of the Yadkin House and of Salisbury," she said, going on to praise the sense of community and the spirit of those who now live on the historic site. Former Salisbury Mayor Elmer "Sonny" Allen, who served from 1971 to 1973, said likewise during the ceremony. "This is a good place," Allen said. "I've enjoyed seeing it progress over the years." During the event, a painting of the Yadkin Hotel by resident Steve Thacker was unveiled. Painted in acrylic on glass, it incorporates images from the building's history: railroad tracks, Cheerwine's logo, the WSTP radio tower. The painting will remain on display in the building lobby. And, as the former Yadkin Hotel starts its second century, it will help remind residents of the history and the memories that surround them, unseen. Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor's desk at 704-797-4244.