Salisbury’s the Place: City could stand a boost from a 100-year-old slogan

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 14, 2013

SALISBURY — Our fair city has taken its lumps lately.
The “Sleepy Hollow” television series ended up choosing Wilmington, not Salisbury. We’re losing our JC Penney store. Historic Grimes Mills went up in flames. The tiny shoe repair shop on the Square closed, as did Bernhardt Hardware and J&M Florist on North Main Street.
Interesting Salisburians such as Billy Burke, Arnold Loflin and Scotty Mitchell have passed on. State legislators de-annexed the Rowan County Airport from Salisbury, taking considerable tax revenues away from the city.
And it looks as though the county commissioners will leave it up to the city, not themselves, to finance a new central office for Rowan-Salisbury Schools.
You could say Salisbury’s the place for bickering, back-stabbing, whining and losing. If you feel that way and can’t take it any longer, Interstate 85 will give you quick passage elsewhere. It’s up to you.
But there were times — and there should be again — when Salisbury trumpeted to the world that it was the place for commerce and trade, a place for the worn and weary traveler, a place to shop, a place for finance, a place for education and government, a place for the railroad, a place for agricultural goods and a place for strong neighborhoods and family.
Salisbury remains that, of course, but it’s disturbing we did a better job 100 years ago of letting people know. It was accomplished with a simple slogan:
“Salisbury’s the Place.”

A researcher who likes to remain anonymous (Betty Dan Spencer) rounded up some interesting background on this one-time message for the city.
Back in 1913, the Salisbury Industrial Club, which I’m guessing was the forerunner to today’s Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission, ordered 5,000 lapel buttons to boost the city.
The face of the button was about the size of a nickel, and on a black background with a red-bordered white diamond in the middle, it said “Salisbury’s the Place.”
The Industrial Club’s secretary requested all members secure these lapel buttons to their coats “and also that all Salisburians have the welfare of the city at heart and wear one of these buttons,” the Salisbury Evening Post reported Jan. 10, 1913.
But something much bigger than lapel buttons was in the works. A week later, the Post reported a “mammoth sky sign” was sitting at the Public Service Co. waiting to be erected somewhere near the Southern Railroad passenger station.
“It is a special order, made by the General Electric Sign Company, of New York, and is the only electric sign in North Carolina advertising a city,” the Post says.
Assembled on the ground because of its size, the sign was 34 feet wide, 19 feet tall and weighed 1,315 pounds. Its design was associated with the Salisbury Industrial Club — a red diamond, inside of which were white letters spelling out “Salisbury’s the Place.”
The sign would be visible by day and especially at night, when 400 red and white lights were turned on. The letters alone were 2 feet high.
“Salisburians will be proud of this sign when they see it up and no one can then pass through this city on a train, day or night, without being told in letters of fire or iron that ‘Salisbury’s the Place,’” the Post said in its Jan. 17, 1913, edition.
Before a week had passed, an army of laborers and electricians secured the sign to the East Council Street side of the new Yadkin Hotel. Rain interfered with the work started Jan. 23, 1913, so the installation wasn’t completed until the afternoon of Jan. 24.
The lights went on that night, with a good-sized crowd on hand. Passengers on the No. 12 train from the south were the first to catch a view of the “brilliant slogan with its diamond border,” the newspaper said.
The coolest thing about the sign at night was you could not see the cables securing it to the hotel. It was as though the words “Salisbury’s the Place” were suspended in the air within a big, red diamond.
The Salisbury Industrial Club paid for the sign. The Public Service Co. agreed to furnish the power for lighting it up for free for several years.
Hundreds of thousands of passengers going through Salisbury on the train in years to come saw that sign and remembered, if nothing else, that Salisbury was the place.
The Salisbury Evening Post loved the slogan so much it started running a regular column of condensed news items under the heading of “Salisbury’s the Place.”
I wish I could tell you what happened to the sign and when it came down. Did it become an eyesore? Was it turned into scrap metal during World War II? Did a storm twist it off the building?
I just don’t know.

This will come across as blatant boosterism, but wouldn’t it be great to see that simple, three-word slogan suspended in the sky again for all to see?
Sometimes a city needs to beat its chest. Sometimes its residents should remind each other they’re living in a pretty good place. Sometimes you have to make your point in an extraordinary way.
We still have passenger trains going through Salisbury, but the real traffic today exists on I-85.
Near the interstate, maybe spread across East Innes Street, there’s a chance to shout out again that “Salisbury’s the Place.”
Let’s do it in lights, in letters of fire and iron.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or