SALISBURY — An average October weekend in Salisbury: The leaves are starting to turn, there’s a little chill in the air.
And historic Salisbury opens its doors to visitors from far and wide for OctoberTour, this year’s being the 38th annual chance to see inside historic homes and businesses.
The event continues today around Salisbury, from noon to 5:30 p.m., with 14 tour sites open, in addition to musical entertainment, food and more.
At the Silliman-Peeler-Miller House, 424 E. Bank St., Evelyn Worthey, of Charlotte, enjoyed some of the sights of her first OctoberTour.
“I like to look at other people’s houses!” Worthey laughed, as she rode the trolley from Bank Street to her next destination.
“I love the work and the dedication that they put into the homes,” Worthey said. “They make every part of the house a special place.”
Hearing that, other guests chimed in with their own favorites from the tour so far.
Historic Salisbury Foundation Executive Director Brian Davis said turnout had been high early on the first day, with more than 300 people at some destinations by early afternoon.
At the Tankersley-Tatum House, on South Ellis Street, there were 200 guests in first hour.
At the Fulton-Mock-Blackmer House, on South Fulton Street, the charred walls and ceiling boards echoed with the footsteps of guests.
The home, damaged in a December 1984 fire, is under renovation by the Historic Salisbury Foundation, which owns the property.
Nearly 30 years after the fire, the house has been stabilized and was opened to guests so they could see the progress.
From the circa-1852 Weber piano, which survived the fire but needs restoration, to the unique wallpaper that survived the blaze beneath other layers, the Blackmer house drew comments from many who had seen the damaged home through the years.
Judy Page, who grew up on nearby Johnson Street, said she went to school with Johnny Blackmer, son of former owner Sidney Blackmer.
Standing in the front room, looking at a 1958 photo of the home, Page said she remembered the way the house looked when she was young, and how she had cried seeing it after the fire.
“I have seen other restorations, so I know how much more they can do,” Page said. “But it’s just amazing how much they have done.”
“It was such a beautiful home,” Page said. “Can’t you just image fixing this house up, using it for weddings, for parties?”
Docent Steve Cobb, leading tours of the Blackmer house, said it was “the highlight of the tour.”
“They’re very curious to see the inside of the house,” Cobb said.
Kay Paul and daughter Katherine were among those who toured the Blackmer House.
“I think it’s amazing to see the restoration in progress,” Katherine Paul said. “As the docent said, you usually only see the finished product.”
Katherine, a student at Anderson University, said she thinks people underestimate how important historic preservation is.
“I think it’s crucially important that this kind of work continues,” Paul said.
Another sign of October in Salisbury: Troops with muskets.
This year, they’re bivouacked along East Bank Street at the site of the former Confederate prison.
Also, unlike previous years, many of the re-enactors of the 63rd N.C. State Troops are dressed in Union garb for their Civil War encampment, presenting themselves as the 7th West Virginia cavalry.
A few of them, in full dress uniform, playacted earlier Saturday at the Hall House, pretending to threaten to torch the house.
They then proceeded to search for gold in the yard by poking around with their sabers.
A more serious note was sounded back at the encampment, where thousands of Union soldiers and many Confederate captors fought disease and starvation in the closing years of the war.
“Right over here, where the trucks are parked, would have been the barracks for the prison,” Kevin Britton said.
“There was a lot of suffering that happened here,” said Monte Bringle.
One of the younger members of the reenacting troupe, Ethan Todd, spoke humbly of the experience of being on a spot where history had been made.
“It’s awesome,” Todd said — in the sense of “awe-inspiring” — “just to know the history behind this place and our heritage.”
“This is where they died, over on this land,” said Sue Curtis, president of the Salisbury Confederate Prison Association, Inc.
Her husband, Ed, said one OctoberTour visitor from Michigan learned about how two of his state’s governors, one of whom was a mayor of Detroit, had been prisoners in Salisbury.
“This area changed the lives of those who survived, and the survivors’ families,” Ed Curtis said.
Joyce and Harry Krantz have owned the Silliman-Peeler-Miller house on South Fulton Street for less than a year.
The former owners, Preston Sales and Ken Weaver, came back to act as docents for the home’s first-ever OctoberTour appearance.
“We were so excited about doing it,” Joyce said.
Weaver, who said he lived there for 10 years, said it was great to have OctoberTour participants in the Brooklyn-South Square neighborhood where they lived for so long.
The house itself features some bits of history that have been preserved, including stained glass salvaged from the former First Presbyterian Church that was razed in 1971.
As crowds gathered on the porch to make their way inside, Joyce Krantz said it was great to be able to share the fruits of historic preservation with their new community.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.
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