The area around Salisbury, N.C. has been populated for hundreds of years. Before the white man arrived, the Native Americans of the Guatari and Sapona Tribes migrated around the area and were discovered here as early as the 16th century by Spanish missionaries. Settlers from other colonies coming north from South Carolina and south from Virginia arrived in the mid-18th century. They were Germans, Scotch/Irish, Welsh, and English. Salisbury itself grew up around the courthouse that was built there, in reverse of the usual process of placing a courthouse in a developed city.
Salisbury has a great history and to learn more about it, the best place to begin any visit is to head to the Rowan Museum. This is a hard museum to pigeonhole, it has a little bit of everything including being in a very historic building. The building that houses the museum is the courthouse. Not the original that lead to the building of the town, but the one from 1854 and a magnificent building it is with beautiful columns and a balcony that offers great views of the town. The fact that the building survived the Civil War is a testament to the citizens of the city of Salisbury. Plan to spend an hour or more touring through the vast number of items housed here.
There are three houses in Salisbury that are worthy of a visit. Two are operated by the Rowan Museum and one is owned by the Historic Salisbury Foundation.
· The Old Stone House is located out of town and is a much older house. It was built by a German farmer Michael Braun. It is in amazing condition and the craftsmanship that went into the building is evident to this day. This is the only colonial house still in existence in Rowan County. There is some period furniture in the house and it is amazing how the thick stone walls insulate this home. The family cemetery is a short walk away if you are interested.
· The Utzman Chambers House is located in the downtown area and dates from the early 19th century. It is vastly different from the Stone House. It is furnished with period furniture and has had a very interesting life which your guide will explain to you. It has had several incarnations and been owned by a number of families. A piece of furniture owned by Daniel Boone is one of the treasures in this house.
· The Josephus Hall House is very different from the other two homes and costumed docents will show you around. This house looks exactly what you would think an antebellum southern mansion should look like. It is furnished with period furniture and has the feel of a family home.
Salisbury Historic National Cemetery and Military Prison Site
In order to enjoy this part of the history of Salisbury to the fullest, stop by the visitor center and get one of the driving tours. There is a $5 charge for the tour but it is the perfect accompaniment to the drive around. While you are at the visitor center you can pick up brochures and information about other historic sites in the city and check opening times etc. The staff is very helpful and will make sure that you have whatever you need.
In 1861 the Confederate Government purchased land in Salisbury that included an abandoned cotton factory. This would become the base for the prisoner of war camp. In the early days of the war, prisoners could get passes and were often seen around town and it was all very friendly. Later in the war when financial hardship made feeding the troops an issue, the prison became a death camp and it was a place of deprivation and harsh conditions.
A prison that was intended to hold 2,500 was forced to keep up to 10,000 with no supplies and little food. Over the history of the camp about 15,000 men were housed here and it is thought that about one-third of them died here. The prison was burned in April 1865 and no photos remained, but there were sketches and descriptions that exist.
The area where the prison was located is a residential neighborhood today so driving through is just to get a feel for the scope and size of the prison. The real stop will be at the cemetery where the bodies of the men who died in the camp were buried in trenches. It is a poignant place and worth getting out and walking around. There are many state monuments erected to honor the fallen.
North Carolina Transportation Museum
While the transportation museum is in the next town, Spencer, it is so close that it is best added to any article about Salisbury. For train lovers, this is a must and it is a good idea to pre-book your train ride as that is very popular.
Salisbury, N.C. is one of those surprising cities which are so much more interesting when you get there than you ever expected, no matter how much research you have done. The Main Street has great restaurants and shops and there is plenty of antique shopping and a historic rail station. The local visitor center will be happy to provide you with all the information you need for a great vacation.