Cornerstone: West Rowan masonry students leave mark on Beacon Hall

Published 12:10 am Saturday, September 16, 2023

SALISBURY — Time has a way of taking its toll on things, and even the best-built structures need little attention every now and then.

Students from the West Rowan High School masonry classes joined their teacher, Rodney Harrington, last week to leave their mark on a historic property in Salisbury.

Beacon Hall is located at 121 Ridge Avenue. It’s more than 100 years old. When the building was first constructed, it served as a second Presbyterian church for the residents of Salisbury.

“The reason they built it was it was too far from the first Presbyterian church downtown,” said Jody Blackwell, the owner of the property. “It’s a little over a mile, but it was too far. These were horse-and-buggy days.”

Blackwell has big plans for the property he purchased in 2017, intending to convert it into a music and literacy teaching center for at-risk children in the community.

“I think we will be a lot bigger than that,” Blackwell said. “It will also be the future home for the youth orchestra of the Salisbury Symphony. We already have that arranged. Whenever this gets open, it will be a hub for the youth orchestra to come and practice.”

The old building needs a facelift, which is where the masonry students came in. They were repairing multiple corners of the building’s brick exterior that had been weathered by a hundred years of wind and rain.

“Some of these corners and just over the years, the weather has taken its toll on this place,” Harrington said. “When you walk up on this building, it’s pretty evident.”

One key part of any restoration project is making it look as much like the original as possible, which can be tricky with brick.

“Normally, we use regular sand plus a type of brick cement,” Harrington said. “That makes more of a gray look. Now we use a buff mortar, which is more a white mortar, with a different type of sand, and hopefully, we can try and match this as best we can.”

It’s hard to estimate how many bricks a project will need.

“We’ll just find out as we go,” Harrington said.

Ultimately, Harrington believes the hard work will be worth the results.

“(Blackwell) has an awesome dream here,” Harrington said. “We think it’s pretty good, and we want to be a part of it.”

Up til now, Blackwell would have hesitated to give an exact date for opening the center.

“Now we are getting to the point where I am feeling fairly confident that we can have this some kind of open in spring of 2024,” Blackwell said.

The West Rowan Masonry students’ assistance with Blackwell’s restoration project goes a long way toward the overall restoration.

“Just in this alone, the structure, it’s in bad shape and being able to get this quality of work done by these high school students and their instructor is paramount,” Blackwell said.

One of those students was senior Adrian Nava. He signed up for masonry courses to explore a possible career field. Actually getting out in the field and seeing what that work would look and feel like was valuable for his perspective.

“We are taking it as a learning experience to see how different joints work around here,” Nava said. “I have never seen this on a house.”

In masonry, mortar joints are the spaces between bricks, concrete blocks, or glass blocks that are filled with mortar or grout.

Nava said they would typically be in class laying on a concrete block to practice for competitions.

“We are actually working on a foundation (today),” Nava said.

The weight of restoring a landmark is not lost on Nava, who hopes to look back on his handiwork one day and maybe even show his own kids the hand he had in saving a building.

“It makes it a whole lot better when you look back at it like that,” Nava said.