LENOIR, NC — The Alexander County Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) visited the City of Lenoir on May 18 to tour historic preservation sites and learn best practices. Alexander County was designated as a Certified Local Government in March 2022.
The visit was hosted by City of Lenoir Economic Development Director Kaylynn Horn, Lenoir Mayor Joe Gibbons, and Lenoir City Manager Scott Hildebran.
The visit began with a presentation from Kaylynn Horn entitled “The Little Building with the BIG Impact ~ Economic Development through Historic Preservation.” Lenoir was selected as a North Carolina Main Street community in 1986. Horn shared the city’s Seven Year Growth Infographics which included $2.3 million in public investment leveraging more than $12 million of private investment, 75 new or expanded businesses, 237 new jobs, and 19,600 hours of donated volunteer time. The “Moving Lenoir to the Second Floor” initiative has yielded 30+ property acquisitions. A $40 million investment in two mills and the train depot mixed-use development is currently underway, plus major renovations to the historic Lenoir High School. Lenoir was one of 12 communities from across the USA awarded a National Park Service Façade Improvement Grant of $48,000.
“Once we renewed our focus on ‘economic development through historic preservation’ we ushered in our first historic tax credit projects within the downtown historic district,” said Horn. “Add this to our continued commitment of ‘together creating a vibrant community,’ we are again seeing an impactful transformation take place in Downtown Lenoir.”
A tour of the Blue Bell at the Lenoir Mills Historic Tax Credit project was guided by owner Yorke Lawson. The Lenoir Cotton Mill, built in 1902, became the Blue Bell garment factory actively serving the community until it closed in the early 1980s. The Blue Bell experienced an adaptive reuse in 2021 and now features 46 modern apartments with many amenities including a 24-hour fitness center.
John Tye shared the history of the Ford Motor Company building while guiding the group. The building has floors strong enough to support the weight of multiple vehicles. A working elevator carried vehicles to the roof to be displayed for passersby. The building has the original pressed tin ceilings, windows, and hardwood floors. Although the building has been stabilized and weatherized, the future use is still being considered to determine the best use for the property in relationship with the vision of the downtown community.
The Alexander County HPC members and their hosts then visited Wolf Moon Salt Cave and Stress Reduction Center in a revitalized historic building. The center has a large salt cave, smaller more private salt caves, a yoga studio, massage rooms, an esthetician suite, and a small retail space with locally made items.
“We aim to create a space that allows both locals and tourists a safe haven to breathe, relax, and reduce the everyday stressors of the world,” said owners Jason and Stefanie Keller.
The next stop was 818 Mulberry Street, where the owners provided a tour of a potential dental lab on one floor and their short-term vacation rental (like Airbnb, VRBO) on the second floor. The couple likes to travel the Blue Ridge Parkway and attend Appalachian ballgames, and their Lenoir apartment enables them to do so, while allowing others to enjoy the area as well.
“The Alexander County Historic Preservation Commission appreciates Mayor Gibbons and the City of Lenoir staff arranging the tours and spending the day with us,” said Lee Sharpe, Alexander County HPC Vice-Chairperson. “We learned a lot from the economic development advancements the City of Lenoir has made through their focus on historic preservation.”