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The emotional side to preservation

Historic Salisbury Foundation deserves considerable credit for its boots-on-the-ground approach to preservation. Executive Director Brian M. Davis and the foundation’s board of trustees are taking on some of the more distressed, older properties the city has and helping to inject new enthusiasm into their neighborhoods at the same time.

“The Scaffolding House” at 1428 N. Main St. is a case in point. It was the kind of rundown house nobody wanted to touch for years — and that’s exactly what happened. Wooden scaffolding stood on the side of the house waiting for a restoration to begin, but it never did. The task seemed to be too enormous.

But HSF saw its potential. Since owner Al McCanless donated the property to the foundation’s revolving fund, HSF volunteers have set about the work of stabilizing this 1898 Myers-Morris House to the point where others are beginning to see the gem of a house it was — and is.

And HSF isn’t just cherry-picking the easy preservation projects. The houses it has bought, been given or taken options on are close to death-by-demolition status. HSF does the dirty but important work of  making the properties watertight, airtight and bug-free.

Lots of cleanup inside and outside occurs, and many boards are replaced, foundations reworked and windows rejuvenated in the whole process. Just over the past year alone, HSF has bought, stabilized and sold three on-the-brink properties in the Chestnut Hill area, with a fourth one now on the market.

HSF also has stabilized and offered for sale the Low House on Bringle Ferry Road. On North Main Street, the foundation has put its revolving fund to work on two properties and is negotiating to take an option out on a third.

By next spring or summer, the Myers-Morris House will be for sale to someone who can begin the real restoration and make it a dream home. Often, there’s an overlooked emotional side when  a property such as “The Scaffolding House” is reborn.

Elaine Morris Hillard knows firsthand. Hillard, who has long lived in the Washington, D.C., area but keeps in contact with her friends back home, was born in the Myers-Morris House. So were her four brothers. So was her mother.

When she thinks of the house — and the childhood memories come back often — Hillard remembers the Monday wash days, playing her piano in the front living room, sitting on the porch on summer evenings, the smells of her mother’s cooking in the kitchen and the playhouse her father built for her in the backyard.

She recalls the wonderful flowers her mother planted, having friends stay overnight in her upstairs bedroom and walking home from Henderson Elementary School to have lunch with her mother.

This was the house where her parents learned that Elaine’s brothers were wounded in World War II. This is where her Uncle Brownie’s body lay in state after his death in 1938. This is where her mother made all of Hillard’s dresses, even her wedding dress.

Though she has long been gone from Salisbury and this house, Hillard can’t put into words how overwhelmed and thankful she is that HSF is making an effort to preserve the place that meant so much to her family.

HSF isn’t just saving houses, it’s saving memories.

 

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