Salisbury’s iconic Bell Tower will ring again, hopefully in time for the traditional family New Year’s Eve celebration held at the site. The bell in the tower has not rung for several years because of structural decay. Repair of the 1892 tower has begun, thanks to a grant from the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
The grant was made possible by the 2016-2017 State budget supported by the county’s legislative delegation, which includes Tom McInnis, Andrew Brock, Harry Warren, and Carl Ford. The Bell Tower is located at the corner of West Innes and South Jackson streets on a 3.5 acre city block one block from the square of Downtown Salisbury. The property had been owned by First Presbyterian Church as part of the Maxwell Chambers Trust for more than 150 years.
In July of this year, the Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation partnered with a group of community leaders to purchase the property for purposes of creating a downtown greenspace and park. More than 25 families participated in this unique community partnership to provide a quality greenspace in downtown Salisbury. “As I have spoken with community leaders who desired to be a part of this transformational project, the bell tower consistently came up as a priority for restoration and preservation,” noted Margaret Kluttz, President of the Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation. “This is just the first phase of what will be many more improvements to the park that will eventually grace downtown Salisbury,” she added. The City of Salisbury received a one-time downtown revitalization grant of $94,340 from the Department of Commerce to support repairs to the historic Bell Tower. Salisbury’s City Council agreed to accept the grant at its meeting on Tuesday afternoon. “The Bell Tower is like our own version of the Washington Monument. It is architecturally significant, historic, and unique. We are truly grateful that the State of North Carolina provided funding to help us preserve and enhance this structure that has been a part of our downtown landscape for more than 124 years” said Karen Alexander, Mayor of the City of Salisbury.
The current “Bell Tower Park” is home to many events in the city, including National Day of Prayer, New Year’s Eve family events, Halloween Fun Fest, a part of the city’s “History and Art” Trail, weddings, and Christmas events with appearances by the Grinch. Repair has begun by contractor Alfred C. Wilson and Co. of Salisbury, a company that emphasizes reuse and restoration. Repairs include building an interior support system to ensure that the weight distribution is sound, thereby allowing the heavy bell to ring safely. The church to which the Bell Tower was attached was built in 1892 to replace an earlier building. It was designed by Charles Webber Bolton of Philadelphia, who planned more than 500 churches during his career.
First Presbyterian is the only one he designed in North Carolina. In 1971, the church building was razed, but the unique Bell Tower was left intact in a small park that also includes the 1850 Presbyterian Session House.The wood that serves as the structural skeleton inside the tower is mostly original, and it has been damaged by water and insects over time. “We hope to have the bell tower functional by New Year's Eve, and have it looking better on the exterior in the near term as well,” Kluttz said. “This is a community project, with a partnership between the city, the state, many local philanthropists who love their community, and the Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation.”