Historic Main Street Saluda Like "Going Back in Time"
History buffs take note...
Saluda, N.C.'s historic downtown Main Street was recently awarded a position on the National Historic Register by the Keeper of the Deeds office of the National Park Service in Washington, D.C.
Saluda's mayor, Kim Talbot, pointed out that the "benefits are innumerous. It will be of benefit to everybody, the townspeople, the city officials, the business owners, and the kids growing up. Hopefully, 30 years from now, from the school to the bridge, when you come to Saluda years from now, it'll look just like it does now. That's what everybody wants, the city council and 99.9% of the citizens. I think being on the Register is going to help us realize that dream."
Laura Phillips was the architectural historian who prepared the survey of Saluda's 5.2 acre historic commercial district; Phillips resides in Winston Salem and graduated cum laude from the University of Alabama. She later received an Art History Masters degree from Tulane University, concentrating on American Architecture. Phillips spent approximately one year researching, recording and photographing the downtown area.
Jennifer F. Martin, a preservation specialist in Asheville, N.C., with the State Historic Preservation Office, discussed the effect of the National Register on property owners and the people of Saluda. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is the only private, national organization chartered by Congress to encourage public participation on preserving sites, buildings, and objects significant to U.S. history. National Trust programs are made possible by member dues, contributions, and matching grants from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Martin noted that the nationwide program to "promote, protect and register historic resources" was begun on the federal level, but is managed by each state by the state's preservation office. Both Martin and Phillips say they consider Saluda to be "one of the best nominations in a long time."
Saluda was found to met two types of criteria in order to be eligible for listing on National Register, in displaying significance in one or more of the following areas: which include historic events, persons, architecture, or archeological in which is spread out over 7 hills, and has a year round population of 565 (up to over 3,000 in the summer months), started as a crossroads known as Pace's Gap in the early 1800's. A family named Pace built an inn at the intersection of two busy trading paths--the Winding Stair Road which led to Greenville, S.C. and Georgia; and the Howard Gap Road leading down to Spartanburg, S.C.
The fact that Saluda's Main Street Historic District has remained "to a remarkable degree" intact with its "small town appearance and atmosphere in a world of otherwise rapid change" qualifies Saluda for listing for local significance, Phillips reported. The district qualifies also for its close association with the development of rail transportation in Western North Carolina, and for the famous Saluda Grade, which still challenges trains daily! The downtown district "comprises an excellent and compact collection of well-preserved late 19th century and early 20th century buildings..." The district's significance begins with the arrival of the railroad in 1878 and continues to 1946.
North Carolina has about 1,927 National Register listings, including 261 districts. Over 25,000 properties are registered. In Polk County, there are 11 National Register properties; Saluda previously had two: the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, and the John Howard Johnson house/farm in the countryside; eighteen (16 buildings, 1 site, and 1 structure) more have been added to the National Register.
Among the buildings now listed are: the Gothic-Carpenter Style Presbyterian Church, circa 1895-96; the City Hall/Police Department building, built between 1897-1906, which was once the Carolina State Bank (which failed in the Depression). The building retains its classically detailed pressed metal facade, a common Victorian treatment found in more urban areas, according to Phillips. She declared the M.A. Pace Store to be quite intact, and "absolutely wonderful", especially since the store has remained in the same family since it was built in 1905-10. The decorative brick work, with its corbel brick cornices and panels adds to the character of this building she terms a "treasure".
Thompson's Store/Ward's Grill, too, is an "intact" building that Phillips calls "a refreshing place (to be) on a summer day" with its exterior awnings and friendly look. Also, the original 1910 post office is occupied currently by the Saluda Mountain Telephone Company, which began in brick buildings up on Church Street. These same buildings housed the Saluda Magazine (late 1930's) offices.
The Saluda Depot, typical of early 20th century buildings, is termed "Stick Style"; nearby is the old Robertson Store building on Church Street that is known as the "pebble dash building". The two-story building is beautifully restored and "a real model for other potential work that may go on" said Phillips.
The old Princess Theatre, built in 1920, later housed a gymnasium; underground springs beneath the building caused moisture problems for basketball players who often discovered puddles on the floor, Phillips found. Now housing several businesses, it is known as the Nelson Building.
Along with the Shady Lane/Wise Child, Heartwood Gallery buildings built in the 1930's, the spring park and the railroad track are considered to be historically valuable to the planned district.
The North Carolina Downtown Development Association, when presenting a report on Saluda last year, noted Saluda's "unique mix of businesses, scenic beauty ...high quality of life, small town atmosphere and friendly people." The NCDDA is a state-wide non-profit membership organization that encourages downtown redevelopment/improvement, education, and focuses attention of the "vital importance" of downtowns. The team highly recommended the establishment of a National Register District for the downtown; which now is accomplished. Mayor Kim Talbot said that as a result of having the downtown listed, "The downtown area of Saluda is not going to change much. It's going to stay more like it is now...you won't see any aluminum, or glass storefronts. That's what we were striving for to begin with..."
Also, for those who enjoy the scenic route, Saluda's Main Street which is N.C. Highway 176, is now a N.C. Scenic Byway, listed in the internationally distributed N.C. Scenic Byway Guide. Director of Polk County Travel and Tourism, Jacquie Ziller says, "This will be a valuable addition to Polk County's already growing recognition as a scenic getaway, especially with Saluda's recent inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places."
Bonnie J. Bardos :: parts of this article appeared in The Tryon Daily Bulletin, May 1996