SALISBURY — About five years, ago, Karen Stephenson was on a trolley tour of downtown Salisbury.
As the trolley rolled past the Yadkin House at East Council and Depot streets, the tour guide made only passing mention of the monstrous five-story building’s once being the Yadkin Hotel.
Stephenson was quietly fuming, thinking to herself, “You have just missed so much.”
Since that day, the community director for the Yadkin House has become a champion for this grand old lady — especially this year as the building marks the 100th anniversary of its groundbreaking in 1912.
For the past 30 years, the Salisbury landmark — now known as the Yadkin House — has provided subsidized housing for the elderly and disabled.
Thanks to a significant rehabilitation of its exterior, the old hotel looks renewed and ready for the October celebration Stephenson is planning in its honor.
But until then, she seeks the public’s help, asking old-timers to come forward with oral histories related to the hotel or add to the slim artifacts her staff has accumulated so far.
“There are gaps in our history,” she says.
For example, she longs for more interior photographs of the old hotel and items that still carry the Yadkin Hotel name on them.
Stephenson and other members of the Yadkin House staff have been to Rowan Public Library and Rowan Museum in search of any information related to the hotel.
They even bought an old Yadkin Hotel matchbox and letterhead that were being offered on eBay. Those and other artifacts, surviving photographs and newspaper stories on the hotel’s past are now part of a wall display in the Yadkin House lobby near the elevator.
But Stephenson would like more, lots more.
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In the Yadkin Hotel’s early history, a huge, diamond-shaped sign was attached to its Council Street side that said, “Salisbury’s the Place.”
The sign supposedly was designed to be the answer for train passengers who would ask from their window seats, “What is this place?”
If our city ever had a motto, “Salisbury’s the Place” was it.
The sign also described the Yadkin Hotel for much of its existence.
It was the place.
Hopping off trains to call on Salisbury businesses, traveling salesmen usually stayed at the Yadkin Hotel overnight.
It became a fashionable place for honeymooners who couldn’t afford to travel too far.
For the town, it was a center for civic club meetings, ballroom dances, banquets, political functions, proms and eating out.
A Salisbury Post editorial from Sept. 21, 1973, just days before the Yadkin Hotel’s closing, said, “it was a true community center before that concept was thought of.”
In a story from Sept. 15, 1932, the Post wrote that “traveling men from all over America have come to feel somewhat personally attached to the Yadkin.”
“Few hotels,” it added, “enjoy the prestige the Yadkin enjoys locally, throughout the state or the United States.”
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Stephenson’s research shows that the groundbreaking for the hotel occurred Oct. 15, 1912, but the exact date (probably in 1913) for when the $100,000 facility opened for business is not known.
On the date of the groundbreaking, the Post said the hotel’s construction “means the beginning of the end of eyesores around the station.”
J.C. Petty of Charlotte was described as the “leading spirit” behind the hotel enterprise. He let the contract for its construction to J.A. Gardner, also of Charlotte.
Sterne and Wheeler of Charlotte was the architectural firm.
The hotel started with 74 rooms, but after two additions in the early 1920s, the Yadkin Hotel offered 160 rooms, including 120 with a bathroom.
“Each room is well-furnished, and Yadkin beds have long been known for their superiority over average hotel beds,” one newspaper article said.
In 1929, the Yadkin Hotel lobby underwent a significant remodeling, and the changes made it “one of the most beautiful places of its kind in the state,” the Post said.
The Yadkin Hotel also was sort of an early mall unto itself.
Over time, it housed an all-night cafe, drugstore, news stand in the lobby, a barbershop with three full-time barbers, a fine dining room, a place for billiards and the bus terminal.
Besides its famous beds, visitors remarked on the hotels marble counter tops, beveled glass, tiled floor and soft chairs.
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Ownership of the hotel passed in 1925 to L.D. Peeler, the founder of Carolina Beverage and maker of Cheerwine. The building remained with the Peeler family for the rest of its run as a hotel.
The late Clifford A. Peeler, a Salisbury mayor and longtime president and chairman of Carolina Beverage, served as the hotel company’s secretary-treasurer from 1932 on.
But the Yadkin Hotel’s managers — people such as A.F. Jones, Elwood Goodson, Robert Shinn, E.P. Horne, John I. Steele and George A. Lippard — became the men the community usually associated with the hotel.
Their arrivals and departures were usually noted with newspaper stories.
Members of the Sparks Circus often made the Yadkin Hotel their winter residence.
When Salisbury’s WSTP radio station went on the air in 1939, its first broadcast was from the Yadkin Hotel.
The Yadkin went through some renovations and modernization after World War II, including the $20,000 installation of a sprinkler system in each of the 160 rooms.
Changes in the way America traveled led to dramatic changes for rail-dependent hotels such as the Yadkin. And the location went from an advantage to a drawback.
In its later days as a hotel, the Yadkin provided rooms for railroad men who needed a place to stay after the Spencer YMCA closed.
Single folks — older men and women — also were renting rooms by the week or month.
When Southern Railway built a new dormitory in Spencer, it robbed the Yadkin Hotel of its last, solid source of revenue.
“Despite the stalwart efforts of the Peeler family to shore up its services,” the Post said in the 1973 editorial, “the ultimate death of the Yadkin was decreed by changing customs and, ultimately, hard economics.”
The Yadkin was the downtown’s last “hotel.”
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What was described as the biggest auction in Rowan County history occurred at the Yadkin Hotel on Nov. 24, 1973, about two months after it had closed for good.
A crowd of 900 people came for that five-hour auction, which continued the next weekend.
People bought brass beds, plates, televisions, chairs, coffee pots, towels, lamps, glass pitchers, office equipment and even broken hat racks.
The building fell rapidly into decline after that, becoming a home to the homeless — and pigeons and rats.
The inside became a mess of trash, rotting mattresses, liquor bottles, excrement, shattered glass, raggedy carpet, peeling paint and falling ceilings — all this despite how impenetrable the fortress-like building has always looked from the outside.
The city of Salisbury officially condemned the building in February 1978 after a mattress fire. Meanwhile, city officials kept trying to find a way to transform the old hotel into housing.
In 1979, Yadkin Associates (two New York developers) received approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide 67 units of Section 8 rent-subsidized housing for the elderly and disabled.
The approach, developer Neil S. Piro said at the time, was to recycle the old shell with a new yolk. It was a $2 million redevelopment, and part of considerable urban renewal in the East Council Street section of Salisbury.
In December 1981, the Yadkin House’s first residents moved in, and the grand opening was celebrated April 29, 1982.
• • •
Today, Walden Affordable Group of Texas owns the Yadkin House, which has 71 tenants.
All of its 67 units are one-bedroom apartments, except for one. Generally the apartments are 650 to 700 square feet.
Residents come and go as they please. They are allowed one pet and one vehicle. Preference is given to qualified people over 61.
Michael Dodson, the residence services coordinator, provides assistance, if needed, for residents making the transition from their independent homes to assisted-living facilities.
Shaun Shrewsbury serves as maintenance manager for the Yadkin House, and Jason Daniel is the maintenance tech.
They say the recent facade renovations replaced dangerous and rotting dentil blocks along the top of the building, sealed bricks and hand-sanded the whole building. It even helped to remove soot that passing steam engines had left behind many years ago.
To Stephenson, the place remains full of character and charm.
“We’re just really proud of it,” she says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org