Brooklyn-South Square Historic District
The Brooklyn-South Square Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2012, The Gombach Group.
The Brooklyn-South Square Historic District, consisting of the large, elaborate houses of prosperous businessmen and merchants, as well as the smaller, more modest dwellings of railroad workers, salesmen, and clerks, is an important element in the development of residential neighborhoods around the edge of Salisbury's downtown commercial district during the mid- and late-nineteenth and early twentieth century. Although its earliest dwellings were built during the two decades before the Civil War, most of the Brooklyn-South Square Historic District's structures were built during the last quarter of the nineteenth and the first quarter of the twentieth century as Salisbury developed into an important regional manufacturing and commercial center. Much of the Brooklyn-South Square Historic District was developed on the site of Salisbury's Civil War Confederate prison. It contains a rich variety of late Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, and late Victorian domestic architecture, as well as modest turn-of-the century dwellings, and bungalows of the early twentieth century. It therefore provides an example of the physical evolution of residential neighborhoods around downtown Salisbury from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the third decade of the twentieth century.
Spurred first by nearby industrial development in the mid-nineteenth century and later by Salisbury's development into an important manufacturing and commercial center during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the development of the Southern Railway's facilities during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the Brooklyn-South Square Historic District developed during the period 1840-1930. Its development occurred as Salisbury expanded from a small town of under 1,000 people in 1840, into a city with a population of more than 20,000 people in 1930. The Brooklyn-South Square neighborhood, therefore, provides an example of the physical and social evolution of residential areas that developed around the edge of downtown Salisbury from the mid-nineteenth century until the end of the third decade of the twentieth century.
The history of the Brooklyn-South Square Historic District can be divided into several distinct periods. The initial phase spans the period from 1840 until the beginning of the Civil War. This initial period was residential as well as industrial in nature. In 1839 a steam-powered cotton factory was established on the southeastern edge of the district in the area now bounded by E. Bank, S. Long, and Horah streets. Plans for a cotton factory in Salisbury had been discussed as early as 1828, and when finally completed in December, 1839, the factory consisted of a four-story brick main building surrounded by several brick cottages. Not long after construction of the cotton factory the Brooklyn-South Square Historic District's first dwelling (224 E. Bank Street) was erected on what is now the northwest side of East Bank Street where the street crosses the railroad tracks. This two-story dwelling is believed to have been built about 1840 by Obadiah Woodson. The Brooklyn-South Square Historic District's next dwelling (203 South Lee Street) was not erected until the late 1850s when Luke Blackmer, a prominent lawyer, built a large two-story house at the corner of S. Lee and E. Fisher Streets. During this period, the cotton factory continued to operate but had difficulty in competing with more efficient water-powered mills in New England. It eventually closed in 1857.
The next phase in the history of the Brooklyn-South Square Historic District took place during the period 1861-1865 when the nation was embroiled in the Civil War. The vacant factory building was purchased by the Confederate Government in 1861 and converted into a military prison for captured Union troops. To adapt the area for use as a prison, the Confederate Government enclosed it with a high wooden stockade, and appropriated the nearby Woodson House (224 E. Bank Street), which was then owned by William Valentine, a free black, for use as a guard house. According to historical drawings and maps published in Louis A. Brown's The Salisbury Prison, the prison included about sixteen acres of land in the southern half of the district presently bounded by the railroad tracks, E. Fisher, E. Horah and S. Shaver streets. This area continued to be used as the Confederate prison until 1865 when all prisoners were released and the prison compound was burned by Union troops under General George Stoneman.
The next period of development covered the period 1866-1882. During this sixteen year period, the northern edge of the district developed slowly as a residential area, but the southern half remained sparsely developed. In 1866 the ten acres of land comprising the prison complex was purchased from the Federal Government by Reuben and Moses Holmes. The Holmes brothers were prosperous merchants who had just located in Salisbury. They were born in Davidson County and established themselves in the mercantile and mining business in Gold Hill. After coming to Salisbury both brothers became prosperous and respected businessmen. Reuben Holmes ( -1889) built several houses and downtown store buildings, amassed large real estate holdings and invested in railroads, banks, and cotton factories. Moses Holmes eventually served as Salisbury's mayor from 1881-1883.
Gray's Map of Salisbury provides an interesting picture of the physical development of the district between 1866, when the prison area was purchased by the Holmes brothers, and 1882, the date of the map. The map shows that in 1882 the area now comprising the Brooklyn-South Square Historic District was bounded by residential development along E. Innes Street on the north, by the Salisbury Fair Grounds on the east, by a black settlement along Concord Road on the south, and by the edge of the downtown commercial development on the west. The map also reveals that the Brooklyn-South Square Historic District's present street pattern and the railroad bridges on East Bank and East Fisher Streets had been developed by 1882.
An examination of Gray's Map also shows that an interesting pattern of development had taken place during the period. Twenty-one houses were built in the area, bringing the total number of dwellings in the area to twenty-three by 1882. Only seven of those structures still survive in 1984. All but two of these twenty-one dwellings built during the period 1866-1882 were built on the northern and western edges of the district, while only two dwellings, those of prosperous businessmen Reuben Holmes and George Mowery, had been built in the remaining area of the district, the former site of the Confederate prison. This very distinct pattern of development is probably a result of the reluctance of Reuben Holmes to sell his land in the area of the former prison site, and not the result of any stigma associated with living in the area of the former prison.
Most of the houses built in the district during the period 1866-1882 were constructed during the last half of the 1870s and the first two years of the 1880s by prosperous businessmen and other white citizens. Although exact dates for construction of those dwellings cannot be determined, a comparison of deeds, marriage records, local tradition and architectural evidence indicates that most were built during the last half of the 1870s and early 1880s as Salisbury began to recover from the economic effects of the Civil War. This theory is supported by local historical tradition which states that poor economic conditions restricted building activity in Salisbury from the end of the Civil War until about the mid 1870s. The resumption of large-scale building activities during the mid 1870s occurred all across the state of North Carolina with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Building activity in Salisbury was stimulated by the establishment of the tobacco and distilling industries and by the effect of new markets for local products provided by the town's rail facilities. The dwellings that were built included the homes of such prosperous businessmen as Reuben Holmes (329 E. Bank Street), George Mowery (229 S. Long Street), Benjamin F. Fraley (502 E. Fisher Street), and William Lambeth, as well as citizens such as William Eagle (214 E. Bank Street), J. Boyden, and Henry Crowell (422 E. Fisher Street), about whom little information has been found. The variety of family names of these newer residents indicates that this period of development can probably not be characterized as an influx of a certain ethnic or cultural population from other portions of Rowan County.
The Brooklyn-South Square Historic District's most intense period of development began during the late 1880s and continued into the first few years of the twentieth century. Although only twenty-three dwellings had been built in the district by 1882, fifty-five were built between 1882 and 1902. If there had been a stigma about living in the area of the former Confederate prison prior to the early 1880s, it was forgotten during the late 1880s and 1890s as the former prison site was developed into an attractive white residential area known as "Brooklyn." The area comprising the district was known as South Square in 1984. This name was probably derived from the district's location in the original Great South Square of Salisbury. However, local deeds and wills reveal that during the 1880s and early 1890s the area was known as Brooklyn. In his will, drawn in 1889, Reuben Holmes bequeathed a house and lot, "...situated in that portion of Salisbury known as Brooklyn on Bank Street east of the railroad tracks." In 1892, William Huff purchased a lot, "...located at the corner of Bank and Long Streets in Brooklyn." By 1902 Miller's Map of Salisbury designates the area as Brooklyn. The origin of the name Brooklyn has not been discovered. It was probably copied from Brooklyn, New York, a fashionable area during the 1890s, and was adopted to provide a special sense of character to the developing neighborhood.
No evidence has been found to indicate that a specific land company was formed to market the Brooklyn area, as happened in other contemporary Salisbury neighborhoods. Instead, deeds indicate that the development of the neighborhood during the late 1880s and 1890s was heavily influenced by two prosperous residents, Reuben Holmes and George Mowery, who owned most of the area and sold individual lots or parcels to their children and other citizens. Holmes, whose now demolished house occupied the former prison site along the southwest side of E. Bank Street, sold the entire block bounded by Long, Fisher, Shaver, and Bank streets to Mowery's wife, Margaret, in 1880. Rowan County deeds show that Holmes sold off other portions of the prison site to various individuals until his death in 1889. George Mowery (1831-1913) settled in Salisbury after the Civil War and established himself in the moving and transfer business. In the twenty years following the construction of his own house at the intersection of S. Long and E. Bank Streets, Mowery settled four of his children in houses on the block he occupied. Mowery also sold lots on the block to other citizens.
A comparison of the Miller and Gray maps of Salisbury reveals that between 1882 and 1902, the southern and central portions of the district, formerly the site of the Confederate prison, had been developed by an interesting mix of large and elaborate owner occupied houses as well as smaller and more modest rental homes. Some of the residents who built their homes in the district during this period included D.R. Jullian (307 E. Bank Street), Sheriff of Rowan County from 1900 to 1906; prosperous shoemaker, J.W. Glover (318 E. Fisher Street, later 200 S. Long Street); Charles Mowery (427 E. Fisher Street) and James Mowery (428 E. Bank Street), sons of George Mowery (229 S. Long Street); Milton Rufty (310 E. Bank Street), a prosperous merchant; and William Huff (403 E. Bank Street), a prosperous grocer. These and other middle income white citizens not only built their own houses in the district during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but they also built smaller, less elaborate dwellings near their principal residences which they rented to a variety of skilled workmen, store clerks and railroad employees. Although no blacks had settled in the district, Miller's Map shows that the area just to the south of the district, along Horah Street and Concord Road, had developed into the black settlement of Dixonville by 1902. With its blending of prosperous merchants, artisans, and railroad employees, along with owner occupied and rental homes, Brooklyn was typical of other wealthy neighborhoods that developed in Salisbury and in Charlotte during the late nineteenth century.
The heavy development of the Brooklyn-South Square neighborhood during the late 1880s and 1890s was encouraged by two major factors. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Salisbury, because of its excellent rail facilities, central location, and a good supply of cheap labor from the surrounding local area, developed into an important manufacturing and commercial center. Beginning in the late 1880s, the expansion of Salisbury's industrial base continued until by 1896 the city contained seventeen manufacturing firms. These firms included three cotton mills, a knitting mill, three sash and blind factories, a marble works, and a rope factory. Complimenting these industrial firms, Salisbury also had two banks, a building and loan association, a gas company, thirty general stores, fifteen grocers, four druggists, and seven hotels..
The expansion of Southern Railway's facilities in Salisbury and nearby Spencer during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also encouraged the development of the Brooklyn-South Square area. The company established its repair and maintenance facility at Spencer in 1896 and expanded their operations several times, eventually making it the largest repair and maintenance facility in the Southern system. These expansions provided jobs for a large number of workers, many of whom lived in the Brooklyn-South Square neighborhood, infused large amounts of capital into the local economy, and provided Salisbury with a major stimulus for growth. According to local tradition, neighborhood railroad workers could ride a daily train to Spencer for work there, and after 1904 could ride electric streetcars down E. Innes and N. Main Streets to work.
As a result of these stimuli, Salisbury's population increased at a rapid pace during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when much of the Brooklyn-South Square area was developing. Between 1880 and 1900, the city's population increased from 2,773 to 6,277. According to a 1902 report published by the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce, the city's population doubled during the brief period of 1897-1902. The same report stated that between 1900 and 1902 homes were built in Salisbury at the rate of one a week.
Although no new dwellings were built during the next twelve years, some construction work did take place in the Brooklyn-South Square area between 1902 and 1914. The comparison of Sanborn Insurance Company maps with neighborhood tradition confirms that several of the Brooklyn-South Square Historic District's dwellings were expanded or remodeled during this period. As a result, several one-story dwellings were given a second story and many earlier dwellings were given a more contemporary architectural motif.
The expansion and modernization of older dwellings in the Brooklyn-South Square neighborhood was stimulated by the continued expansion of Salisbury's manufacturing and commercial economy. The 1913 Annual Report of the Salisbury Industrial Club stated that twelve new businesses, with a combined capital stock of $213,000 and a combined annual payroll of more than $80,000, had located in the city in 1911. Because of this prosperity, civic boosters began promoting the city with the slogan, "Salisbury's The Place To Be." Between 1915 and 1919, however, only eight dwellings were built in the area. Unlike most of the new houses that were built in the area during the late 1880s and 1890s, most of these houses were typical, inexpensive bungalows of middle class store owners and skilled railroad workers. By 1919, seventy-three of the eighty-two structures comprising the district (in 1984) had been built.
Although the area was already heavily developed, the economic effects of World War I were probably more responsible for the low amount of building activity in the Brooklyn-South Square neighborhood during the period of 1915-1919. No specific information about the effects of the war on construction activity in Salisbury has been found, but the involvement of the United States in the conflict had a negative effect on home building in other nearby North Carolina cities. A 1918 editorial in the Greensboro Daily News pointed out that the construction of new homes in that city had suffered because of the war. This editorial stated that labor and material, which otherwise would have been used for home building, were allocated to the war effort. In addition, the last half of the second decade of the twentieth century was characterized by a nationwide depression of the housing industry. In a 1920 article published in the Architectural Record, the Secretary of the National Housing Association claimed that the construction of new homes in all parts of the country had dropped dramatically over the previous five years. His article blamed a nationwide housing shortage of one to three million homes on rising material prices which made new homes "...beyond the purchasing power of those for whose occupancy they were intended." The article further stated that only 20,000 new homes were constructed in the entire country during 1918 and only 70,000 in 1919.
The final phase in the development of the Brooklyn-South Square district took place during the period 1920-1930. During this period thirteen structures were built. These structures included not only a number of bungalow houses but the district's first commercial structures as well. As in the World War I years, this twentieth century period of neighborhood development was characterized by the construction of several typical and inexpensive bungalow houses. Evidently the larger, more elaborate, and more expensive dwellings of prosperous Salisbury businessmen and merchants were being built in other neighborhoods during the first three decades of the twentieth century.
This period of development of the Brooklyn-South Square area was again stimulated by Salisbury's prosperous economy. By 1929 the fifty manufacturing firms in and around Salisbury were producing over one hundred different types of products valued at over $16 million, and the city's population increased 40% between 1910 and 1929. The tremendous amount of building activity that was taking place all over Salisbury during the 1920s is pointed out in the June 1926 issue of The Wachovia, a regional business report published by Wachovia Bank and Trust Co. The report, which stated that Salisbury's citizens received "...renewed inspiration from the great march of progress that has been underway in their city...," detailed the significant increase in the total amount of building permits issued in the city during the mid 1920s. These permits totaled $756,000 in 1923, $990,095 in 1924, and increased to $1,451,771 in 1925.
The Brooklyn-South Square neighborhood remained relatively stable for three decades after 1930. Many late nineteenth and early twentieth century residents continued to reside in their houses. During the late 1950s, however, the economic, social and racial character of the neighborhood began to change. Many of the houses were purchased by absentee owners and converted into low-cost rental housing. As a result, some houses were allowed to deteriorate and some received unsympathetic renovations. The neighborhood was also affected by local transportation development in 1981. South Long Street, which had been a two-lane street was widened into a four-lane thoroughfare. The widening resulted in the loss of seven dwellings along S. Long Street and the slight eastward relocation of four more dwellings near the intersection of S. Long and E. Bank Street.
Today, although much of the Brooklyn-South Square Historic District's property is still owned by absentee landlords, new families have moved into the area, a neighborhood organization is forming , and the seeds of revitalization are being planted.
McCubbins Collection Material, Clark Memorial History Room, Rowan County Public Library.
Phillips, Mrs. Annie. Interviewed June 7, 1984.
Rowan County Deeds. Register of Deeds, Salisbury, N.C.
Rowan County Wills. Clerk of Superior Court, Salisbury, N.C.
Salisbury Industrial Club Annual Report, 1913. Located North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Salisbury, 1902. Salisbury Chamber of Commerce. Located North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"Salisbury's The Place." Skyland Magazine. December 1913, 335-346.
Salisbury-Spencer City Directory, 1901. Chicago: Interstate Directory Co., 1901.
Salisbury-Spencer City Directory, 1907-08. Asheville: Piedmont Directory Co., 1907.
Salisbury-Spencer City Directory, 1910. Asheville: Piedmont Directory Co., 1910.
Salisbury-Spencer City Directory, 1919-20. Asheville: Commercial Service Co., 1920.
Salisbury-Spencer City Directory, 1922-23. Asheville: Commercial Service Co., 1923.
Salisbury-Spencer City Directory, 1928-29. Asheville: Commercial Service Co., 1929.
Salisbury-Spencer City Directory, 1940. Asheville: Piedmont Directory Co., 1940.
Sanborn Insurance Maps of Salisbury, 1885, 1890, 1896, 1902, 1907, 1913, 1922, 1935. Located Clark Memorial History Room, Salisbury Public Library.
Smith, Mrs. Belva. Interviewed May 20, 1984.
The Wachovia, XIX, No.6 (June 1926), Salisbury: Wachovia Bank and Trust Co.
Veiller, Lawrence. "The Housing Situation and the Way Out." The Architectural Record, XCVII, No. 6 (December, 1920), 532-541.
Wallace, Mrs. Leo. Interviewed June 2, 1984.
† Ray Manieri, Urban Research Associates, Brooklyn-South Square Historic District, Rowan County, NC, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.