Historic Salisbury Foundation will buy Blackmer House

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 20, 2012

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — Historic Salisbury Foundation announced this morning it will buy the former home of the city’s most celebrated actors, the late Sidney and Suzanne Blackmer.
Susan Sides, president of the foundation, sat beside Jonathan Blackmer, son of the famed thespians, to outline a plan for the house’s preservation and what most probably will be a community-supported effort to recreate and restore one of Salisbury’s oldest structures.
“Historic Salisbury Foundation can preserve this house,” Sides promised.
Significant portions of the 1820-21 house were destroyed by a Dec. 1, 1984, fire, but Suzanne Blackmer, followed by Jonathan Blackmer, fought doggedly through the years to save it from being razed. At times, Historic Salisbury Foundation and private benefactors stepped in with repairs and funds to provide some stabilization for the endangered property.
The Blackmer House is located at 112 S. Fulton St. HSF Executive Director Brian Davis said its preservation will provide an important bookend to the West Square Historic District.
The house’s original owner/builder was John Fulton, for whom Fulton Street and the Fulton Masonic Lodge in Salisbury are named. Noted Salisbury preservationist Ed Clement said the home has important ties to educational history in North Carolina.
A Jan. 1, 1821, advertisement from an early Salisbury newspaper, the Western Carolinian, noted the house’s construction was being finished, and it would serve as a boarding house for young ladies attending the Salisbury Academy.
“Many communities don’t have any structure that dates to the time the Fulton house was built,” Sides said. “A thought that impacts me about the age of this house is that it was built before Andrew Jackson ever served as president of the United States.”
Sides said Davis and a number of HSF trustees examined the house and “are in agreement that there is enough of the early fabric left in the house to be the basis for an accurate restoration and recreation of the old house.”
“We are so pleased,” Sides added, “that Mr. Blackmer has entrusted his childhood home into the hands of the foundation.”
A closing on the foundation’s purchase from Blackmer is set for July 2. Davis declined to disclose the purchase price until it becomes public record with the sale.
Meanwhile, Blackmer will begin emptying the house of any personal belongings. He also plans a yard sale June 28-30 at the Fulton-Blackmer House.
“When he has completed the removal of his property,” Sides said, “the foundation will begin a cleanup of the property and a well-planned preservation study.
“We want this home to be a source of pride in the community, and we feel it will be a most interesting educational study in the preservation of a home that has stood on Fulton Street since 1820.”
Blackmer gave a lot of credit to his coming to an agreement with Historic Salisbury Foundation to Betty Dan Spencer. He said she is a wonderful historian whose tireless efforts over the years were directed at making sure he nor anyone else bulldozed the house.
Blackmer, an attorney who lives in Alexandria, Va., and who does some acting himself, didn’t have control of the property until 2004. “It was always on my mind,” he said, but he refused to label it an albatross.
It actually was a motivating factor in his life that kept him focused on family and friends, he said.
Blackmer acknowledged he was under some pressure — and attacks — from people who wanted to see the home razed, but he credited the city for being tolerant and giving him eight years to come up with the solution reached this week.
He also saluted many friends, such as Larry Edwards and the late Vic Shive, for helping him with the property. Blackmer said it has been “very difficult to deal with over the years,” beyond the emotional ties he has to the house.
Clement, who grew up in this neighborhood and personally knew the Blackmers, said the house’s significance will add tremendously to Salisbury’s credentials as a historic city. It also goes to prove something else, Clement said.
“Patience pays with preservation, because it has been a long process,” he said.
Clement said Sides also deserves a lot of credit in the agreement announced today.
Foundation officials said cleanup and extensive research into the house’s history will come first. Clement predicted the house’s return to glory will be a combination of restoration and re-creation, which could take several years.
What the home will be in the end — a private residence or house museum, for example — is still to be determined.
The Post will have more on this story in Thursday’s edition.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.