When Southern Railway formed in 1894, its first President, Samuel Spencer, began looking for a location for a new repair facility halfway between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, Ga. As Rowan County became the targeted location, former N.C. State Legislator John Henderson became involved. Henderson bought 141 acres and sold the land to Southern Railway for the construction of Spencer Shops.
Southern Railway subdivided approximately 85 acres of surrounding land into 500 lots that were sold to local residents and business owners for $100 each. The community, like Spencer Shops, was named for Samuel Spencer. By 1901, the town had grown to 625 residents. Incorporated in 1905, Spencer flourished, growing to more than 1,900 residents by 1910. A 48-bedroom YMCA accommodated workers own homes or those traveling by train from other terminals. The YMCA was torn down in the 1960s to make way for the current town hall.
Until 1938, a trolley line operated from the original Spencer Shops entrance to downtown Salisbury, giving workers additional access to the surrounding community.
Town life centered around the park built in the middle of town, featuring a baseball diamond and bandstand. In 1963, the park was converted into the Park Plaza shopping center.
Spencer's small town businesses thrived due to their
relationships with railroad employees. Thomas Stanback, a worker at the Rowan Drug Store in Spencer, invented Stanback Headache Powders in 1911, providing samples to railroad workers. The Spencer Watchmaking Company trained 1,300 students over 4 decades in business, servicing railroad watches worn by many Southern employees.
The closure of Spencer Shops in the 1960s and 1970s transformed downtown, as railroad workers and their families moved away and the newly constructed Interstate 85 allowed travelers to bypass the small town.
View of Fifth Street and Carolina Avenue. The large house on the right was used as a boarding house for employees and visitors, and still stands today. Spencer Lutheran Church, seen on the left, later constructed a new sancturary resembling the roundhouse.
This view of Fifth Street shows the Wachovia Bank Building. Several stores were located on the first floor, and the Masons used the third floor for a temple. Other Spencer businesses included drugstores, livery and feed, furniture, grocery, clothing, and women's hats.