SALISBURY – Switchboard operator stationed in the Southern Bell building in downtown Salisbury, Edith Thompson was at the heart of telephone communications in Rowan County in the early 1940s.

Thompson began working on switches in the three-story West Council Street structure when she moved to town in 1940. She was in the building on December 7, 1941, when the switchboard “lit up like a Christmas tree. With news of bombs being dropped on Pearl Harbor. She was also in the building the day her future husband called, eventually asking her for their first date on the same day.

The stories of Thompson’s exciting and romantic experiences as an operator have become family traditions, passed down to her children and their children, including her grandson, Josh Barnhardt.

About eight decades after his grandmother worked in the building, Barnhardt of Iron Horse Development is now leading efforts to transform the 18,900 square foot office building into 12 apartments.

“It’s pretty cool to renovate a building that (my grandmother) was a part of for many years during the war,” Barnhardt said.

The historic building at 121 W. Council St. will be called “The Salisbury”, the name given to it when it was built by Southern Bell in the late 1920s. Pete Bogle provides architectural services for the project and Vertex Construction helps with heavy lifting.

The building will contain six one-bedroom units and six two-bedroom units ranging in size from 650 to 1,100 square feet. Four units will be on each floor. The spacious basement will be transformed into a resident training room and temperature-controlled storage.

This isn’t Barnhardt’s first foray into a historic downtown residential renovation. He recently remodeled the building at 112 E Innes St. which now houses his family’s jewelry store on the first floor and two apartments on the second.

“By doing the Lofts of Innes project above the jewelry store, I really enjoyed getting involved in Salisbury town center again and saw the opportunity and demand for town center housing “said Barnhardt. “With the park and the growth of Salisbury, I felt like it was a good time to pursue another project.”

Barnhardt was also part of a group vying to redevelop the Empire Hotel on Main Street, but the project was awarded to a Charlotte-based developer in September.

The $ 3.5 million renovation of “The Salisbury” will officially begin on November 1, but Barnhardt gave the public a glimpse of the building’s current condition when he held an open house Thursday afternoon.

After grabbing a free water and cookie (cooked by Barnhardt himself), anyone in the public was free to walk around the building.

Previously occupied by a handful of businesses, the building as Barnhardt inherited it is a maze of white-walled offices, some completely vacant and others containing abandoned desks and filing cabinets. Scrambled electrical wires and small spots of water damage can be seen on broken ceiling tiles.

“It hasn’t been touched since 1985 really, so it’s going to be a complete makeover,” Barnhardt said. “We’re going to reduce it down to the original concrete floors, ceiling, original windows and come back with anything new. We will have all new electricity, all new plumbing, all new HVAC system, new flooring.

While there will be extensive renovations, Barnhardt said the goal is to preserve and accentuate some of the structure’s historic features such as doorknobs, chandeliers and windows.

The project will receive a boost in the form of a grant of approximately $ 150,000 approved by the City of Salisbury as part of the National Park Service’s Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization Grant program.

To give the building a new look while paying homage to its history, Barnhardt hired interior designer Carrie Frye to decorate the building’s common areas and apartments.

“She’s done some of the hottest projects around Charlotte, so we’re calling on her team to add the interior design and bring it back to the 1920s Art Deco look,” Barnhardt said.

Barnhardt said the building will provide many benefits to residents. The rent will be all inclusive, which means that one charge will cover utilities and other services. Parking spaces next to the building will be reserved for residents. In addition to the training room in the basement, Barnhardt said his team was exploring the idea of ​​another “outdoor recreation space.”

“As far as the amenities go, it looks like it would really appeal to a fairly wide range of tenants,” Barnhardt said. “Having other apartments in Salisbury town center I had a mix of empty nesters, people looking to sell their houses and live in the town center for a few years and I had youngsters too. .

In addition to the built-in features of the building, Barnhardt believes its location will be a draw.

“It’s literally a block from the square, but it’s on a side street across from a 200-year-old church,” Barnhardt said. “It’s a beautiful, quiet area that is close to everything.”

The renovation will start on the third floor. Barnhardt said he was optimistic that the first units will be completed by the end of spring 2022, with the first and second floors being completed in late summer 2022.

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