Historic Salisbury Foundation makes ‘last-minute rescue’ of West Thomas Street house

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Historic Salisbury Foundation has acquired the McCanless-Busby-Thompson House at 128 W. Thomas St.

After a demolition hearing for the house was scheduled for Sept. 28, the foundation reached an agreement to purchase the property from John M. Cheek.

The sale closed Sept. 26, two days before the hearing.

“This amazing last-minute rescue saves an important house and helps protect a vital edge of the West Square Historic District,” said Edward Clement, a trustee for Historic Salisbury Foundation.

Built in 1922 for Charles McCanless, the son of Napoleon Bonaparte McCanless, the two-story brick Colonial Revival house is listed as a “contributing building” by the National Register of Historic Places and is located in the primary Salisbury Historic District.

Many of the neighbors present at the Sept. 28 demolition hearing expressed relief that the house, even in its deteriorated condition, would not be razed, foundation officials said.

The property sits at a critical juncture of the West Square neighborhood as it turns south to Chestnut Hill. Neighbors feared a “hole” on the site would signal the neighborhood’s decline, the foundation said.

While the house is in a state of disrepair, the foundation and several contractors agree that the front of it can be saved intact. Even now, its intricately patterned brickwork and Palladian-style entry create a striking visual impact on West Thomas Street, the foundation said.

The interior woodwork including mantels, curved stairs, moldings and paneling remains in reasonable condition in the front parlors.

The Historic Salisbury Foundation’s work on this house began 18 months ago when it asked for a 90-day stay of demolition from the Historic Properties Commission. In addition to researching its history and architecture, several foundation members explored the property inside and out. The exterior was hidden by an overgrowth of trees, vines and shrubs. Foundation volunteers have since removed much of the vegetation.

Foundation officials said the transformation has been amazing because the architecturally distinctive house could be seen by all for the first time in years. Interested buyers came forth, but it took another year for the property to be sold.

“We are grateful that we were able to acquire the property,” said Karen Hobson, the foundation’s executive director. “While the renovation will be a complex and lengthy project, we believe that the McCanless-Busby-Thompson House will once again be a stately presence on West Thomas Street.”