By Mark Wineka
Today, if she could rewind her life, Betty Dan Spencer probably would flash back to 1963 and, at the very least, talk to everyone living in the East End and Dixonville sections of Salisbury.
She might even throw herself in front of a bulldozer or two, in hopes of saving some of her more favorite homes, churches and businesses that were lost with Salisbury’s Urban Renewal Project in the ’60s.Spencer no doubt wishes she could see the Big “V” Service Station, the Big “V” Barber Shop and the Big “V” Grocery one more time.
For East End residents, the Big “V” was formed where Concord Road, Boundary and Shaver streets once came together. “It’s very much a landmark,” Spencer says.
It would be fun to drive by Clark’s Smoke Shop again. Or Johnny’s Cafe. The Shaver Street Grocery. Myrtle’s Place. Bennett’s. Kincaid’s.
Spencer knows preservationists would die for some of the period architecture lost with several of the homes. And wouldn’t it be fun to stop and talk with residents such as “Fruitsy” again?
Spencer recently immersed herself in 609 photographs taken by Salisbury appraiser John Cline before demolition occurred and the federal government built public housing, much of which remains today.
While there was nothing artistic about Cline’s 4- by 3-inch, black-and-white snapshots of each property in Dixonville and the East End, taken collectively, they spoke to Spencer and painted a picture of an important community in the city’s history.
Impoverished, yes. But as Spencer did her best to link names, faces and histories to each photograph, she learned how the residents in these homes, stores and churches relied on each other and have great memories of growing up there.”The village raised the children on that side,” Spencer said recently.
Spencer’s “Dixonville Photo Exhibit Presentation” is showing through July 20 in the main lobby of Rowan Public Library. Spencer kicked off the exhibit by sharing some of her experiences behind the photographs at a well-attended presentation last Thursday night at the library.
For the exhibit, Spencer has enlarged roughly 60 of Cline’s photographs, and the display includes some general notes on Salisbury’s urban renewal, part of the federal government’s Southeastern Urban Renewal Area Project.
“All of them bring back memories,” said Harold Broadway, who grew up in the area and recently looked over the library exhibit with John Cole.
One memory, Broadway said, was how he and his friends always had to walk through the Dixonville Cemetery on their way to Lincoln School.
Broadway spent considerable time one day with Spencer, helping her to identify correctly many of the properties in the photographs.
At Thursday night’s gathering, another former resident stopped at the book holding all the appraisal snapshots and pointed to a property with a big shade tree. As a child, she hit that tree and broke her arm while playing church, she said.
The tree today would stand in the parking lot of the Salisbury Civic Center.
Spencer’s interest in the photographs began with her research of the Dixonville Cemetery, which dates back to 1874. Her pursuit led to tracking down the appraisal photographs that were donated to Rowan Public Library’s History Room by the family of the late Salisbury Mayor Wiley Lash.
(Lash himself saved his set of photographs from being tossed into the trash or lost several times.)
Spencer scanned the photographs and met and talked with all the former residents she could to help in identifying the snapshots.
Her interviews and study of old city maps, directories and deeds also revealed how many of the streets in the East End have been reconfigured and renamed over the years. Streets such as Mowery Lane, Surratt Alley, Clark’s Alley and Nassau Terrace are familiar to former residents.
Spencer has learned that eight sets of the appraisal photographs existed. Julian “Sonny” Carpenter, who headed the city’s redevelopment efforts at one time, told Spencer that Salisbury’s redevelopment projects were the 21st and 39th ones undertaken in North Carolina.
But Salisbury may have been among the first in which a city built back a residential community instead of making it a commercial area.
Exhibit notes state that the city made efforts ó sometimes difficult ó to relocate families before their homes were demolished. Displaced families were given first priority in choosing existing and planned low-rent housing.
Of 197 families displaced over the five-year project, 43 had owned their homes. Some families purchased lots and built homes in the area. Most went into the new public housing that replaced their old community.
Salisbury’s urban renewal began July 16, 1963, with demolition of the Shaver Street Grocery. Forty buildings were down by the end of the year. In all, 230 structures were torn down for a newly designed public housing community.
Construction on new housing began in late September 1963.
The federal government funded three-quarters of the $1.62 million project.
Salisbury’s post office today takes up an area where 17 East End houses once stood. Those houses are pictured in Spencer’s exhibit at the library around an enlarged photograph of the post office.
Spencer says no one would be happier today than Wiley Lash to see the old East End and Dixonville photographs on display.
And she hasn’t stopped trying to identify every property in the photographs and the people who may have lived or worked there.
“If you know anybody, please let me know,” Spencer said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or email@example.com.
By Mark Wineka