Time to be awe-inspired by Salisbury’s history

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I am writing a book on the history of Salisbury and welcome your help.

For me, it is as much a learning experience as a writing one, learning new historic facts or those forgotten or never known during my time growing up in Salisbury.

For example, it was intriguing to learn from Susan Canfora’s Sept. 25th article that the Feldman building, now under development, was built as a warehouse, then transformed and served as an automobile display and ultimately the Feldman building familiar to most Salisburians.

Of most interest to me in particular are the lesser-known, less-documented histories.

I want to honor and build on the histories that have enriched our understanding of Salisbury — the pictorials and writings by a wide array of local historians who contributed their research to books, special centennials, newspaper articles, Internet and more.

And oh what I have learned.

Did you know that Sem Chung had a laundry on Market Street and Sam Long on Church Street at a time when Chinese immigration was severely restricted?

Or that although the Ulmans were not involved in the creation of Salisbury’s Synagogue, they did practice their faith.

The earliest Armory was not the monolith that was once at the site of today’s library but was on Church Street near the river.

There had been an early African-American bank and Masonic Hall; there had been a strong freedman community, and two businesses had been among those lost in the first big fire of Salisbury in 1860.

And let’s reflect on the day that Frederick Douglass came to Salisbury to speak to a mixed audience members in the courthouse then only 2 years old.

Sit outside at Brew River Restaurant and you are where once the steamer S.S. Virginia and the Victor Lynn docked for commerce.

You can imagine all the boats as the boat captains, ship carpenters and stevedores walked to work from their homes in the Camden and California areas of town. You can see the lumber yards, the box factories, the shipbuilding business that was there before Chesapeake Shipbuilding, and the oyster grocers nearest the bridge.

And nearby music once spilled out of night clubs, where musicians came to perform and learn from one another. And close by was once the town’s first hospital, and later, across the street, the town’s first African American (and possibly only) woman barber.

And did you know that among the residences located quietly on the West Side is a structure dating to about 1820?

The brick buildings you see today downtown sit above the rubble of earlier history.

Simon Ulman did not know fate would intervene when he bought the Salisbury Hotel on Division Street not long before Salisbury’s biggest fire of 1886 which destroyed much of the town. And Salisbury can marvel at the speed it rebuilt thanks to the toil of its laborers.

And as you drive around the park on your way to the zoo or to a concert at the bandstand, imagine there having once been a lake.

Mysteries abound.

There is little evidence of it but evidently there was more than one tavern downtown. And was there indeed a brick road? Who was Benjamin Davis who apparently ran the Davis House of accommodations at the corner of Division and Main, and what was Mrs. Wilson Figgs like, the woman who ran the Salisbury Boarding House on Main?

And what ever happened to the magnificent stone horse head at the Palace livery? Was it destroyed when the building was raised or did it survive?

I could go on and on.

Salisbury has been changing since its founding and this book is expected to describe some of those physical, geographical and social changes.

The book is intended to be limited to the history of the older downtown areas and the changes prior to the 1960s. But today, as the community is infusing new energy and change into downtown, this is a good time to reflect and be awe-inspired by the history of Salisbury.

I am looking for information about the mysteries and the small details of history, about the shopkeepers, the work-a-day employees and the stories of the buildings and of the people who have lived here. So if you have some thoughts, corrections or can fill in some of the detail, feel free to contact me.

I can be emailed or you can inquire at the Nabb Research Center of Salisbury University for my contact information and about my work experience.

Linda Duyer lives in Salisbury. Contact her at lindaduyer1@yahoo.com.

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