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History of Spencer

History of Spencer
The material contained in this report is the result of an inventory of Spencer’s built environment and of research conducted to place the evolution of building practices in a broader historical context. The survey was supported by a grant from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, through a grant from the Heritage Conversation and Recreation Service, U.S. Department of the Interior and by local matching funds. The purpose of the inventory was to record for historical purposes the present built environment of Spencer, to document, where feasible, the structures destroyed preceding the inventory, to study how the building patterns in Spencer reflected the history of the town and to consider boundaries for a possible district nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

During the spring and summer of 1982, the author, as principal investigator under contract with the town, examined approximately 275 pre-1950 structures within the original town limits. Survey forms, photographs, and slides were completed and are on file with the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. Additional information (written descriptions, historical data, and previous and current ownership) was added to the forms. Research was conducted concurrently with the survey and two essays were written concerning the social, economic and historical forces which helped to shape Spencer’s built environment. Upon completion of the report early in 1984, Paul Fomberg, historical preservation consultant, was hired to incorporate the author’s material with additional data of a descriptive list of buildings within the proposed district, maps, additional photography, recording of additional sites and blocks, and other technical information into a district nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination was completed in June of 1984.  

This report is divided into three parts. The first is an essay describing Spencer’s history and the author was aided immeasurably by the historical writings of Spencer resident, James W. Cooper. The second section is an overview of Spencer’s architectural history and of how the town’s built environment evolved in relationship to its own history and to state and national trends. The final section, the inventory, contains descriptions and photographs of 74 structures and blocks. Entries were selected on the basis of significance, uniqueness, or the ability to best represent common building forms and types found in Spencer form 1896 through the 1940’s. The descriptions are preceded by the name of the structure which was derived from those persons historically or commonly associated with it, the address, the date or approximate date of construction, and the source or sources for the dating.  

Spencer grew from an empty field to a bustling railroad-oriented town in a relatively short period of time. Its’s history is unique to North Carolina in that the inventoried and nominated district mirrors the social and economic forces which created and shaped a white, middle class, southern railroad community in just thirty-four years (1896-1930). The Spencer Shop site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the buildings are being converted into a museum of North Carolina transportation. A core group of Spencer’s citizens and the town government initiated the endeavor to preserve the commercial and residential area f Old Spencer. This inventory was the direct result of their efforts. The district nomination to the National Register has heightened citizen interest in the possibilities of a preservation movement in Spencer. A lack of sound knowledge of preservation techniques and of an appreciation of her assets has allowed Spencer to loose many of her significant buildings to decay, destruction and unsympathetic renovations.

It is hoped that increasing interest in preservation in Spencer will focus on the means of dispersing sound information concerning sympathetic rehabilitation techniques, the value of preserving old buildings, the new tax laws which provides substantial benefits for preservation projects, and an awareness of the wealth of remaining historically and architecturally significant buildings which is necessary to establishment of a sense of place and a pride in the community.  

The constraints of time during the research period have undoubtedly led to errors of omission and misrepresentation; this inventory was intended to be only a foundation of or further research. It is hoped that the inventory and district nomination will serve as catalysts for further investigation and for the development of a sense of place for the citizens of Spencer.  Marti Dreyer June, 1984