Empire Hotel Block
Salisbury, North Carolina
The Empire Hotel Block holds court over nearly half the block on 200 South Main Street in Salisbury, NC. While construction began in 1855, the Empire actually began life in quickly changing times when the first of the combined three buildings’ doors opened as the Boyden House in 1859. The railroad, which would become the central path of travel and commerce for the town, had just arrived. In its youth, the hotel was known as grand accommodations for sleeping during train stopovers and offered a fine breakfast for those looking for a meal when just passing through. At the end of the 1800s, the impressively featured ballroom was hosting local high society’s social life, attracting the attention of Napoleon Bonaparte McCanless.
By the 1900s, the hotel needed a facelift to stay current with the times. Famed architect Frank P. Milburn, who designed the Salisbury Depot, expanded and rejuvenated the hotel with a Beaux-Arts facade, and it took a new name, Central Hotel. Even Charlie Chaplin is believed to have swung by with his legendary, comedic style while on a tour for WWI Liberty Bonds. When jazz came of age in the 1920s, the ballroom hosted dance classes and then social dances before falling into the austerity of the 1930s. With the crunch of World War II, the hotel transitioned into a sensible housing option with most of the rooms being converted into apartments and the ballroom being necessary short-term housing.
In the 1960s, after many of the location’s most colorful residents had passed on, the hotel closed. It was purchased by Mary E. Ragsdale who lovingly had the remnants of storefronts removed and the brick facade restored. While the portico and roof domes couldn’t be saved, the building was, fortunately, saved. Downtown Salisbury, Incorporated (DSI) purchased the building in 2007 and is hoping to continue preservation efforts toward the restoration of the Empire Hotel with several proposals, allowing an important and unique structure in the center of Salisbury’s downtown to once again contribute to the town center's vitality.
2 Investigations at this location: