Historic Salisbury Foundation’s 46th OctoberTour offers lessons in resilience, peek into history

Published 1:19 am Monday, October 11, 2021

SALISBURY — Several of Salisbury’s most-storied homes were filled with awestruck observers Saturday and Sunday afternoon during the Historic Salisbury Foundation’s 46th annual OctoberTour.

The tour returned from its virtual format last year to offer participants a walk through six historic sites built between 1820-1925. 

“I’m super impressed with not only our volunteers and planners and staff who made sure the event went smoothly, but with all of the attendees,” said Sada Stewart Troutman, executive director of the Historic Salisbury Foundation. “We had an enthusiastic group of attendees who made sure they rolled with all of the requirements and changes this year. Everybody was happy to not just support the Historic Salisbury Foundation, but to enjoy the tour again.”

A virtual component was offered for those unable or not comfortable with attending in person. Patrons were required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test and had to wear masks in each home.

Four of the homes on tour were within walking distance of each other, including the Fulton-Mock-Blackmer House and the Rock House on South Fulton Street, the Leo Wallace Sr. House on West Fisher Street and the Josephus W. Hall House on South Jackson Street. The Napoleon Bonaparte McCanless House on South Main Street and the Walter F. McCanless House on Confederate Avenue were just a short drive away.

Partaking in this year’s OctoberTour was about more than seeing some of Salisbury’s finest homes for Ellis Furst and her daughter, Paris, who lives in Germany. For them, it was a way to reconnect with their family’s past.

Ellis is the great-great-granddaughter of Napoleon Bonaparte McCanless, who built the granite house on South Main Street for his family in 1897. The house has changed hands and condition over the years, but was recently sold by the Historic Salisbury Foundation to private owners.

Ellis spent the first four years of her life on the street in Salisbury she was named for and now resides in Wilmington. She’s investigated her family’s rich genealogy over the years and has been targeting a trip back to her hometown to see her ancestor’s home.

Walking through the upstairs rooms of the house, Ellis said, was an experience that surpassed her expectations. 

“It was better than I imagined,” Ellis said. “It’s down to the bare bones and has the patina and smell of age, so you can really see through the floors and the walls. It’s like somebody without any clothes on. The house is bearing its soul at this point.”

The new owners of the house, Sandra Toscano and C.P. Edgar, plan to convert the home into a wedding and events venue. To preview the future of the structure, wedding dresses and floor plans were on display in the house during OctoberTour.

Toscano and Edgar might already have a customer lined up.

“It’s wonderful,” Ellis said. “All my daughters are going to get married here.”

There’s plenty of work left to be done on the Napoleon Bonaparte McCanless House, but Toscano and Edgar could find inspiration in several of the other homes featured on the tour.

It was only a few years ago that kiddie pools were being used to collect water pouring onto the second floor of the Leo Wallace Sr. House. The home, purchased by Sherry and Steve Beck in 2015, needed a roof replacement and extensive renovations throughout.

“We did a lot of the work,” Sherry said. “My husband did all of the tile work, he did all of the work outside. He did the garage, he did the patio, he did the entrance to the basement. We did the fountain, we scraped all the wood to have it painted.”

The Becks have always felt the pressure of having their home on OctoberTour.

“I’ll be out there in the front weeding and somebody will drive over, I don’t even know who they are, they’ll pull up in their car and say, ‘When is your house going to be on tour?’” Sherry said. “It was almost like we had to do it for the people because everybody has wanted to see it.”

But Sherry, a landscape architect, wanted everything to be perfect before it was seen by dozens of friends and strangers. Finally letting the public inside the home, Sherry said, was a rewarding experience.

“It has been a really fun project and I feel like we’ve given this house back to Salisbury for another 100 years,” Sherry said. “It’s a gift to Salisbury.”

David Andersen and John Ringland aren’t Salisbury residents, but they enjoyed walking through the Leo Wallace Sr. House. Andersen, from Greensboro, and Ringland, from Hillsborough, are historic architecture enthusiasts and visited Salisbury on Sunday afternoon for the tour.

“The labor of love that the owners have put into this was amazing,” Andersen said. “I think that’s what made us fall in love with some of the details we saw in the house, simply because they did a lot of the work themselves.”

Like the Leo Wallace Sr. House, the Fulton-Mock-Blackmer House was also brought back from the brink. Built in 1820, the historic Fulton Street home suffered a devastating fire in 1984 and sat vacant for three decades, but it has since been revitalized and is currently home to the Dixon family. 

Spencer Dixon and his sister Susannah Dixon, using a script written primarily by their mother, Beth, were part of the crew giving tours of their own home on Sunday afternoon. 

“It’s become a family adventure,” Spencer said.

Katie and Mike Jones, the wife and husband who own the Rock House, spent time Sunday afternoon checking out other homes on the tour while patrons visited theirs. The couple bought the Rock House three years ago and were excited to be a part of this year’s event. 

“This whole weekend has been so fun,” Katie said.

Katie and Mike said they were thankful that the Historic Salisbury Foundation made it easy for them to open their home to the public.

A full list of the houses featured on this year’s OctoberTour with detailed historical information can be found online at octobertour.com.

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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