North Long Street-Park Avenue Historic District
The North Long Street-Park Avenue 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.
Stimulated by the development of Salisbury into a regional manufacturing and commercial center and by the establishment and expansion of Southern Railway's facilities at nearby Spencer, North Carolina, the North Long Street-Park Avenue Historic District is an example of residential neighborhoods that developed in Salisbury during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The North Long Street-Park Avenue Historic District was developed during the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first three decades of the twentieth century by the Central Land Company, which was organized by such prominent Salisbury businessmen as John S. Henderson, Napoleon Bonaparte McCanless, and James Samuel McCubbins. During the period 1891-1896 the district began to develop as a residential area popular with prosperous Salisbury businessmen and merchants. However, after the establishment of the nearby Kesler Manufacturing Company and Southern Railway's repair and maintenance facilities at Spencer during the late 1890s, many middle income residents such as clerks, salesmen, and railroad workers began to build or rent houses in the district. This trend continued into the third decade of the twentieth century and the district developed with an interesting mix of large elaborate houses built by prosperous businessmen, as well as smaller more modest houses occupied by middle income owners and renters. Having developed over a period of almost four decades the North Long Street-Park Avenue Historic District possesses a rich and varied architectural fabric which provides an interesting picture of the interplay of late Victorian, modest turn-of-the century and Bungalow domestic architecture.
Before 1891, the area now comprising the North Long Street-Park Avenue Historic District was vacant land. Gray's 18B2 Map of Salisbury shows that the area now included in the district, as well as much of the land in the eastern section of Salisbury, was owned by Edwin Shaver, the son of John I. Shaver one of Rowan County's wealthiest and most influential landowners. The map reveals that the entire area east of the tracks of the Richmond and Danville Railroad and north of E. Council Street was vacant. The map also reveals that by 1882 N. Long Street had been extended only as far as E. Council Street and that none of the street pattern now defining the district had been laid out.
The historical development of the North Long Street-Park Avenue Historic District begins with Edwin Shaver's sale of much of the land in East Salisbury to the Central Land Co. in July, 1891. Shaver and his brother-in-law E. P. Wharton of Greensboro sold 255 acres of land for $45,000. Although the deed transferring ownership of this property to the company reveals that most of the streets defining the district in 1984 had been laid out by Shaver prior to 1891, there is no evidence that any development had taken place prior to the sale. A map of the Central Land Company's property, drawn in September, 1891, reveals that the area purchased from Shaver was bounded by E. Innis Street on the south, by the tracks of the Richmond and Danville Railroad on the west, by Franklin Street on the north, and by Town Creek on the east.
The Central Land Company was organized in 1891 by some of Salisbury's most prominent and influential businessmen. John S. Henderson, a prominent attorney and U.S. Congressman was president of the company. During the late 1890s, Henderson was heavily involved in land development in Salisbury. He was instrumental in bringing about the establishment of Southern Railway's repair and maintenance facility at nearby Spencer and played a major role in the development of the small town of East Spencer, a few blocks north of the district, and the North Main Street Historic District, a short distance to the west. I.H. Foust, a director of the Rowan Knitting Mill and later cashier of Salisbury's First National Bank, was vice-president of the company, and J. Samuel McCubbins, a prominent businessman and director of the Salisbury Savings Bank, was secretary-treasurer of the company. The company's manager was Napolean Bonaparte McCanless, who also served as a director of the Vance Cotton Mill, an organizer of the Kesler Manufacturing Co., a director of the Salisbury Savings Bank, and president of the First National Bank of Salisbury.
The first period of development began in 1891 and continued until 1895. The district began to emerge as a residential area populated by prosperous merchants and businessmen, much like the Brooklyn-South Square Historic District which developed about the same time. The company began to market the area, which did not have a specific name, soon after its purchase in 1891. In an effort to attract prosperous buyers, the company promoted their lots as, "...beautifully located on high, gently rolling land in full view of all passing trains, many of them near the most populous part of town."
The builders of the district's first houses were prominent and prosperous Salisbury businessmen. J.S. McCubbins and N.B. McCanless (424 Park Avenue) and P.H. Thompson (421 Park Avenue), a wealthy factory owner, built elaborate frame homes along Park Avenue soon after the Central Land Company purchased the area. These men were officers and directors of the company and were able to purchase lots for only one dollar while other purchasers paid as much as $600.00 for their lots. McCubbins, McCanless, and Thompson all occupied permanent dwellings in other more exclusive sections of Salisbury and built the houses along Park Avenue for investment purposes. Other prominent residents who built houses in the district during this first period of development included George W. Wright (413 N. Long Street, now demolished), a prominent mortician, and R. Lee Wright (414 Park Avenue), a prosperous local grocer. Initial building activity progressed rapidly as the Central Land Company began to market lots in 1891 but then slowed considerably. Rowan County Deeds and the Central Land Company's 1891 map reveal that six new dwellings were built in the district between July and September of 1891. By 1895, nine houses had been built. These first houses were built along the northeast side of the four and five hundred blocks of N. Long Street and both sides of the four hundred block of Park Avenue.
This initial period of building activity in the district was stimulated by Salisbury's increased economic prosperity during the late 1880s and early 1890s. Because of its good rail facilities and a good supply of cheap labor from the surrounding rural area, Salisbury developed into an important manufacturing and commercial center during the late nineteenth century. The growth of the tobacco, textile, and distilling industries were particularly important to Salisbury's economic prosperity, as was the commerce brought about by its railroad facilities. By the mid 1880s, Salisbury had five tobacco factories, four machine shops, two foundries, a locomotive shop, and fifty other businesses. This economic prosperity was coupled with a simultaneous increase in Salisbury's population. According to the Central Land Company's promotional literature, the town's population had increased 33% between 1887 and 1891.
The next period in the historical development of the North Long Street-Park Avenue Historic District took place between 1896-1899. During this brief transition phase, the district began to experience a subtle change in its physical and social character. During the first period of house-building, the district had begun to develop as a residential area containing large and elaborate structures. However, the transition phase introduced new building patterns that influenced the next thirty years of development. Although a few elaborate houses were built, most of those built in the district were constructed as simple rental facilities, or as the modest dwellings of railroad workers and other middle-income homeowners.
This shift in the physical and social character of the district can be attributed to the establishment of the Kesler Manufacturing Company just to the northeast of the district in 1895 and the establishment of Southern Railway's repair and maintenance facility at Spencer in 1896. The Kesler Manufacturing Company, which manufactured cotton cloth, was established in 1895 by such prominent Rowan County men as Tobias Kesler, Napoleon B. McCanless, D.R. Julian, and Francis J. Murdoch. Kesler was a prominent farmer and landowner; McCanless was a prosperous businessman, banker, and manager of the Central Land Company; D.R. Julian was also a prominent local figure and served as Rowan County Sheriff from 1900-1906; and Murdoch was the prominent Rector of St. Lukes Episcopal Church. The company purchased land for its mill complex from the Central Land Company in 1895. Although the only mill people to live in the district were supervisory personnel, the area surrounding the district began to develop as a neighborhood populated by mill workers.
John S. Henderson, president of the Central Land Company, was also instrumental in the establishment of Southern Railway's repair and maintenance facility at Spencer, just a short distance north of the district, in 1896. Initial construction of the facilities at Spencer began in 1896 and by 1900 the town had a population of 625. As the facilities at Spencer expanded into the largest repair and maintenance shop in Southern Railway's system, numerous railroad employees were brought into the Salisbury area and local residents found work with the railroad. Although most railroad workers settled in Spencer, city directories reveal that many also settled in the district where they could take the nearby train to work, or (after 1904) ride the streetcar line which ran along Council Street and N. Main Street.
Only four dwellings were built during this transition phase of development bringing the total number of dwellings in the district to thirteen by 1899. The dwellings erected during this period were built by railroad workers, carpenters, and other middle-income citizens and were much more modest than the elaborate dwellings built a few years before. Like the houses constructed during the first period of development, these dwellings were situated along the northeast side of N. Long Street and in the four hundred block of Park Avenue.
During the first decade of the twentieth century the district experienced its most intense period of development. Twenty-eight dwellings and one church were built between 1900 and 1909 so that the district contained forty-one dwellings by the end of the decade. The great majority of this construction activity took place between 1900 and 1902 when twenty-three houses were built. The dramatic growth of the North Long Street-Park Avenue District during the first few years of the twentieth century was typical of the town of Salisbury. A report issued by Salisbury's Chamber of Commerce in 1902 stated that the city's population had doubled between 1897 and 1902. The report further stated that real estate investments were earning a return of 12-15%, and that houses were being built during the period 1900-1902 at the rate of one house per week. The city of Salisbury's financial statement for 1907 supports these figures concerning the growth of Salisbury during the first decade of the twentieth century and reports that 145 new homes were constructed at a total cost of $236,845 during the period from December, 1905 to February, 1907. Between 1900 and 1910, Salisbury's population increased from 6,277 to 7,153 with no increase in the town's geographic size.
This increase in population and building activity was complemented by Salisbury's continued economic prosperity during the first decade of the twentieth century. In 1896, Salisbury contained seventeen manufacturing firms, including three cotton mills, a knitting mill, three sash and blind factories, a marble works and a rope factory. The town also contained two banks, a building and loan association, a gas company, and a waterworks. Its merchants included thirty general stores, fifteen grocers, four druggists and seven hotels. By 1912, Salisbury had twelve department stores, nine hotels, six druggists, four banks, four lumber dealers, three cotton mills, and an iron foundry, as well as five real estate agents, four insurance agents, three architects, three contractors, and two brick manufacturers.
The influx of working-class and middle-income residents, especially railroad workers; was stimulated by the expansion of Southern Railway's facilities in Spencer in 1904 and 1907. While some prosperous businessmen did build houses along Park Avenue during this period, including C.W. Isenhouer (600 Park Avenue), owner of the Isenhouer Brick Yard in nearby East Spencer; J.L. Fisher (503 Park Avenue), prosperous banker and Salisbury mayor during the period 1927-1931; and L.M. Misenhimer (429 Park Avenue), a successful grocer, most of the houses constructed were modest dwellings occupied by middle-income owners such as railroad engineers and conductors, salesmen, and clerks. Several houses, especially those along the northwest side of N. Long Street were built as rental dwellings and occupied by railroad workers and other working-class persons.
The intense period of growth during the period 1900-1909 was followed by a slower period of growth which took place between 1910 and 1919 despite a general economic prosperity. Salisbury's manufacturing and commercial economy continued to expand during the second decade of the twentieth century. 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 that year. Because of this prosperity, civic boosters began promoting the city with the slogan, "Salisbury's The Place To Be." By 1920, thirty passenger trains and thirty-two freight trains passed through the city each day and its manufacturing firms included five building supply firms, nineteen contractors of various kinds, seven cotton mills, two flour mills, two marble and granite company's, and one mantle factory. Due to an annexation, the city's population doubled between 1910 and 1920. By 1920, Salisbury with a population of 13,884, was the ninth largest city in the state.
Although Salisbury's economy continued to expand, other factors interacted to slow building activity in the district during the second decade of the twentieth century. By 1909, the district was already heavily developed and few lots were available for the construction of new homes, The economic effects of World War I, probably restricted construction activity in the district as well as in other Salisbury neighborhoods during the period 1913-1918. 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.
Only four dwellings, one church, and one commercial building were constructed in the North Long Street-Park Avenue Historic District during the period 1910-1919 and all of these structures were built in 1916 before the United States entered World War I or in 1919 after the war had ended, The houses built during this period were modest Bungalows of middle-income residents such as clerks, salesmen, and railroad workers. The most impressive structure built during this period was the Park Avenue United Methodist Church (500 Park Avenue at the corner of North Shaver Street).
Salisbury's economy continued to expand during the third decade of the twentieth century and other neighborhoods such as the nearby North Main Street Historic District experienced an increase in building activity. The North Long Street-Park Avenue Historic District, however, was already heavily developed by 1920 and few lots existed for the construction of new homes. Only four dwellings were built during this period and by 1925, the district had assumed much of the appearance it has in 1984. As in the previous two decades, the houses built during this period were built by middle-income residents. 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.
The North Long Street-Park Avenue Historic District remained relatively stable for almost three decades after 1925. Only one other dwelling was built in the district during the late 1930s, however, the economic, social, and racial character of the neighborhood began to change. During the late 1950s, however, the economic social and racial character of the neighborhood began to change. As the physical condition of the neighborhood began to decline, many of the long-time white residents moved to other sections of the city and many of the homes were purchased or rented by low to moderate income black citizens. Several of the North Long Street-Park Avenue Historic District's houses were purchased by absentee owners and converted into low-cost rental housing. Surprisingly only a small number of houses suffered substantial deterioration or alteration and the architectural fabric of the neighborhood survives with a high degree of integrity. During the early 1920s, two dwellings near the intersection of N. Long Street and Park Avenue were demolished and two modern intrusions built on these sites. In 1984, many of the North Long Street-Park Avenue Historic District's houses are owned by absentee owners and rented to low-income black and white residents. However, some of the houses are owned and occupied by low to moderate income older black and white citizens.
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† Ray Manieri, North Long Street-Park Avenue Historic District, Rowan County, NC, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.