ALBEMARLE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – Generations ago, companies advertised the old-fashioned way, painting on brick walls to get the word out. 

While those ads may seem obsolete, some still see the beauty in what is now called ‘ghost signs.’

“I love it,” said Jack Williams.

He’s an artist who stepped up for a restoration project at a site on West Main in Albemarle that was ‘as advertised’ and then some.

“It’s really cool because it’s a bunch of different stories in one,” he said.

That particular piece draws attention to the building’s automotive roots.

“Right now, I’m restoring this Davis Motor Company sign,” Williams explained.

The original went up in 1947.

After that, the wording was altered a few times until the mid-50s when Davis Motor Company moved to a new location. As the lettering faded with time, the sign became a haunting relic.

“Whenever you paint over it or try to pressure wash it off, the lead paint never really goes away,” said Williams. “So it’s always an eerie reminder of what used to be; that’s why it’s referred to as a ‘ghost sign.'”

They’re not spooky, but discovering more about them might scare up a better sense of history.

“It’s actually one of the only ghost signs in North Carolina,” Williams added. “That was actually a Hudson sign before they went out of business. Right now, I’m just kind of filling in the letters.”

The last Hudson automobiles were made in 1954, so most these days have no clue about them.

Williams has revived several signs in Albemarle, including a “Greetings from Stanley County” and Nehi Cola sign. He even painted Kool-Aid Man, which isn’t a ghost sign, but “Oh yeah!” 

Williams also did several signs in Anson County, a colorful connection to yesteryear. After restoring the Davis Motor Company sign, Williams went to work on a Dr. Pepper/Nehi sign on East Main St. in Albemarle.

Once restored, these ghost signs become an intriguing talking point in town. In this case, it also carries on a proud family legacy.

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As Williams applied the finishing touches, an elderly woman watched with a gamut of emotions.

That little brush is what put all that green on there,” Miriam Davis of Conover marveled.

Davis, who’s 86, couldn’t wait to get here. Her late father, S.R., owned the business, so she has many fond childhood memories there.

“It’s like my daddy was going to be here; a little piece of my daddy was going to be here with me when I came down here today,” she said. “It was that exciting.”

Signs of times gone by are often overlooked gems.

Walter King is the author of Ghost Signs of North Carolina, which will be published later this year. He’s discovered 1500 pieces of wall art across the state.

“They’re beautiful signs; they’re just works of art,” King said. “People go to a great length and a lot of expense to restore them.”

He was in town to see a ghost sign only steps away from the Davis Motor sign.

“It’s a beautiful sign, “said King, looking at it. “And you can tell it’s an old sign by the phone number, 344.”

It was an advertisement for a trucking company. King imagines it being repainted and becoming a distinctive part of a restaurant or other business.

“This is extraordinary in the fact that it’s been saved, or it’s been sitting here so many decades, and all of the sudden, it’s been exposed again,” he said.

Mrs. Davis’s visit made the restoration of the Davis Motor Company even more meaningful; she proudly asked us to get a shot of her Cadillac because, naturally, she comes from a Caddie family.

Davis also broke out a couple of matchbooks once handed out to spark business. A fresh coat of paint now highlights her father’s name for years to come, and Davis couldn’t be prouder.

“This would be like a shrine to him if he saw it now,” she said.

“You get to unearth stories; you get to find out people’s memories,” Williams said of ghost sign restorations.