Historic Salisbury: Wide range of architecture in district

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 3, 2012

As part of Historic Salisbury Foundation’s 40th anniversary year, the Post is sharing some photographs and articles written in the past about historic preservation in Salisbury. In December 1986, Ron Buffaloe wrote this piece for the foundation about the first and best-known National Register of Historic Places district — the Salisbury District.
Entered on the National Register in November 1975, the Salisbury Historic District consists of two overlapping rectangular areas: to the west, a residential area; and to the east, the central business district. All or parts of 20 blocks of the residential area have been designated a local historic district called the West Square Historic District.
The entire National Register district, including parts of 12 blocks in downtown Salisbury, contains approximately 260 buildings and numerous parking lots. Fortunately, an impressive collection of examples of architectural styles from most of Salisbury’s history has survived.
Salisbury’s downtown grew up along the two main streets, Main and Innes, which originally divided the town into four quadrants or squares. It’s a solid, tightly packed collection of buildings mainly dating from shortly after the Civil War up to the 1920s. Existing pre-Civil War buildings include the Archibald Henderson Law Office, the Cowan House, the Beard House and the Kluttz Drug Store (now Spanky’s). Most, however, are late Victorian. Also found are the Richardsonian Romanesque Bell Block Building and the Beaux-Arts Hedrick Block and Empire Hotel.
Important churches and other buildings can also be found in the Salisbury Historic District. The oldest church, St. Luke’s Episcopal, was built in 1827-1828 and is a fine Gothic Revival building. Located at the edge of the residential section of the district stands the Bell Tower, a local landmark and all that remains of the Richardsonian Romanesque First Presbyterian Church. Important public buildings in the district include the two Rowan County Courthouses: the earlier Greek Revival building built in 1855-57 and the later Neo Classical Revival building built in 1911. Other examples of Neo-Classical Revival civic buildings are the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse and City Hall (the former City Hall on North Main Street).
The residential portion of the Salisbury Historic District owes its existence in a great part to the coming of the railroad in 1855. Prior to the railroad’s introduction, the south and east quadrants of the city were considerably the choicer residential area. According to local tradition, however, the prevailing southwesterly winds swept train soot and cinders throughout these neighborhoods and, as a result, a cross-town migration occurred with the “great western ward” becoming the most fashionable residential area.
As in the commercial part of the district, most of the existing buildings were built after the Civil War, but outstanding examples of earlier architecture do exist. Federal-style frame construction is well-represented by the Judge James Martin House (the former Rowan Museum and now the Utzman-Chambers House on South Jackson Street) and the original design of the Dr. Josephus Hall House. Greek Revival domestic architecture using brick construction is best shown in the Gov. John Ellis House, while the same style was equally popular in the double veranda frame houses. Good examples are the Brown-Coffin House on South Fulton Street and the Murphy House on West Bank Street, both built in the 1850s.
Another pre-war style represented in the Salisbury Historic District is the bracketed Italian villa style represented by the flamboyant Murdoch-Wiley House.
A recognizably different style was introduced during the first years after the Civil War. West Bank Street has excellent examples of the Italianate style in the John Knox House, the Kerr Craige House and the Bingham House, all built in the 1870s.
Around the turn of the century, new residences in Salisbury embraced the Queen Anne style of architecture, represented first by the Gaskill-Pierce House and then the more contemporary McKenzie-Grimes and Clements houses. Also still existing from this period are houses of the Shingle style, as well as many small but handsomely ornamented cottages, some with patterned tin roofs.
The early 20th century saw many competing styles of architecture, all linked by a common concern with the past. Such concern was represented by Neo-Classical and Colonial Revivals or more picturesque styles such as Jacobean and Spanish Mission. The Cannon-Guille and Wright houses are great examples of the domestic Neo-Classical Revival in Salisbury, each having colossal bowed porticoes. The more picturesque styles are best represented by the Jacobean Hambley-Wallace House — Salisbury’s own castle — and the Spanish Mission-styled Franklin Smith Sr. House.
Rounding out the historic district’s major architectural styles is the bungalow, built primarily in the 1920s. A notable example can be found at 434 S. Fulton St. The moderate-priced, moderate-sized dwelling style can be found throughout the district, as well as throughout the town. Salisbury’s stable economy, the absence of rapid growth (the town’s original 655-acre area was not enlarged between 1755 and 1877), and an effective preservation effort of late have contributed to the survival of the commercial and residential parts that make up the historic district. As James Brawley wrote, “Unlike many larger, faster-growing cities in North Carolina, Salisbury has been able to adhere to the original checkerboard pattern of streets. Early developments of suburban property followed the streets already in existence and thus were able to continue an orderly growth of the city.” The Salisbury Historic District stands today as tangible evidence of that orderly growth — and of Salisburians’ regard for their town and its history.