Wineka column: Open structure to be built around the Old Town Well on Church Street

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 30, 2012

SALISBURY — Well, well, well. Later this spring, when you drive along the South Church Street side of Rowan Public Library, you’ll see something new over something old.
The something old is the “Old Town Well,” where a young Andrew Jackson, our seventh president, likely quenched his thirst during his breaks from studying the law.
The something new will be an open well house, with a late Victorian style closely matching what was in place around the turn of the 20th century.
The law office where Jackson spent many of his Salisbury days was just steps away from the well, which historians also assume (with confidence) that Lord Cornwallis’ troops used during their occupation of Salisbury in 1781.
Even Gen. George Stoneman’s Union raiders probably pulled water from the well during their invasion of Salisbury at the end of the Civil War.
The well house will be a 10-foot, 10-inch square with a pyramid-styled roof. The four supporting posts or columns will be trunks of black locust, covered with bark.
The 45-degree support braces near the top also will be spiny limbs of black locust. (Photographs of the former well cover reveal that the supporting wood was rough, not milled lumber.)
“It should be quite interesting,” says Doug Black, property manager for Historic Salisbury Foundation.
The rafters will be made of yellow pine; the roof, cedar shakes.
For safety reasons, the well was capped long ago. Even with the improvements, it will neither be a working model, nor have a water fountain.
The well project represents a collaboration of Rowan Public Library and Historic Salisbury Foundation.
Two representatives from each organization — Betty Dan Spencer and Susan Waller from the library and Susan Sides and Black from the foundation — formed a committee to guide the project, funded by a gift from Jim Whitton and his children.
The well house is being done in memory of Whitton’s late first wife, Christine, a strong advocate for historic preservation.
Spencer says the project passed its final hurdle last week when the Salisbury Historic Preservation Commission gave its approval.
“Doug Black deserves infinite credit for keeping everyone informed,” she adds.
F.E. Goodman Construction of Salisbury, a subsidiary of Goodman Millwork, will build the 9-foot-high structure.
Chad Vriesema’s Central Piedmont Builders Inc. will be shifting the curb of the existing side driveway 4 feet to the north and resurfacing the asphalt.
The driveway’s width narrows from 15 feet, 6 inches to 11 feet, 2 inches.
“We intentionally did not enlarge the driveway to the north,” Black says, “because of concern of the root system for the last remaining ginkgo tree donated by Sen. (Lee) Overman.”
Previously, an archaeology team from Wake Forest University had determined boundaries of an earlier two-room well house that probably included a “dairy” section — a place for storage and keeping milk and cream.
But the committee members didn’t have pictures of the well when it included a dairy. They felt more confident, Spencer says, going with a design they were sure of, based on a Theo Buerbaum postcard from circa 1910.
The vintage postcard shows the well, Mayor A.H. “Baldy” Boyden’s residence and the Henderson Law Office at the corner of Fisher and Church streets.
Boyden’s house was where today’s Rowan Public Library is. Andrew Jackson actually studied law at Spruce Macay’s office, which would have been just to the right of the well and left of the Henderson Law Office.
Adlai Osborne purchased the property where the well is located in 1773. In 1783, the property was sold to Macay, a prominent attorney, and he erected at least two law offices along the street.
Macay sold the property to Archibald Henderson in 1796. Henderson died in 1822, and the property likely passed on to his daughter, Jane, whose second husband was Nathaniel Boyden.
By the mid 1800s, the Boydens lived in the huge house facing South Church Street. The well stood at the front of this property.
Historians speculate that a two-room well house, typical of affluent residences, probably appeared before the Civil War.
Godley’s Garden Center & Nursery will be landscaping the project. Gillespie’s Fabrication and Design will be doing ironwork connected to restoring the pulley and windlass, the winding device used to lift buckets of water out of the well.
Salisbury Marble and Granite Co. will create a commemorative stone.
All the contractors are local.
Black says the project has received all the important approvals from the city, the foundation and library boards, neighbors such as AT&T and First United Methodist Church and the Whittons.
Black and Spencer expect the project to have a small dedication ceremony in June. Work in moving the driveway curb is expected to start soon.
According to Spencer’s research, Salisbury relied entirely on public and private wells — she thinks the library’s well was a private one — until construction began on a “stand pipe” water system in 1887.
Spencer says the well shows up on Sanborn fire insurance maps in 1896, 1902 and 1907. A likely reason it didn’t appear on maps after that, Spencer concludes, is that the stand pipe system had become residents’ primary source of water.
By then, a 4-inch water pipe ran under South Church Street just yards from the old well.
The new well house will provide a good stop for school groups who tour the historic downtown annually on field trips.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@