north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

      The Maxwell Chambers House, a Federal-style timber frame construction, was built in 1819 for Lewis Utzman, a Salisbury businessman. The house is a two-story building, three bays wide and two deep, with gabled ends. Maxwell Chambers, planter and merchant, purchased the house in 1847. In the 1850s, he donated it to the Presbyterian Church, who used it as the church manse until 1913. The building then served as a private residence, and as the Rowan Museum in the 1970s and 1980s.

      Born in Salisbury in 1780, Chambers moved as a young boy to Charleston, South Carolina. He returned to Salisbury in 1825 a wealthy man. Exactly how Chambers attained his wealth is a mystery. He claimed honest business dealings; however, his name is completely absent from Charleston census or business records from the period. There is some indication that he trafficked in the illegal African slave trade. A brother operated a slave business in Alexandria, Virginia. If he had been a slaver, Chambers appeared to have become reticent in later life. In 1842, he corresponded with a free black in Fayetteville concerning helping other freed slaves reach the north, and in 1854 manumitted sixty-six of his own slaves, providing them with passage to Oberlin, Ohio.

      Upon his return to Salisbury in 1825, Chambers lived with his widowed half-sister, Rebecca Nesbitt Troy, in the former Salisbury Academy building (now the Josephus Hall House). He became a one-man bank, offering loans to the prominent citizens of the city. Through these dealings, he acquired several homes and businesses through defaulted loans.

      Although not a member of any church, Chambers gave three homes to Archibald Baker, the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Salisbury. One of these, formerly the Lewis Utzman house, would become the manse for the Presbyterian Church in Salisbury. Chambers strongly supported education as well, and gave $250,000 to Davidson College, making it for a short time the wealthiest college in the South.

      In 1848, Chambers purchased the Salisbury Cotton Factory; however, he was no more successful at operating it than his predecessors. He sold it to family members, who later passed it on to Davidson College. In 1861, the college sold it to the Confederate government who turned it into part of Salisbury prison.

      Chambers married Catherine B. Troy in 1836, but the marriage resulted in no children. Catherine died in 1852, followed by her husband in 1855. They are buried beneath the Lecture Room of the Presbyterian Church in Salisbury.

William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 351-352—sketch by James S. Brawley
Davyd F. Hood, The Architecture of Rowan County (1983)
Chalmers Davidson, “Maxwell Chambers,” Davidson College Bulletin (June 1969)
Jethro Rumple, A History of Rowan County (1881)
Maxwell Chambers Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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north carolina highway historical marker program

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