Martinsville, African American hamlet in Shelbyville, KY

St. John's United Methodist Church

                         Martinsville Timeline

1803         –    The land where Martinsville developed was included in the Western Addition to Shelbyville in 1803.

1867         –    H. H. Martin sold land in City Lot 114 of the original city to three speculators named Kinkle, Frazier and Rothchild. They in turn subdivided the land into standard city lots of 100’ by 25’ and in 1871 the three also purchased six additional parcels within Lot 114.

1867-1882    According to life-long resident Mrs. Eunice Marie Payne Reed, many of the original houses in Martinsville (in Phase I) were built by white employers for their black servants and former slaves. Homes and land were given to the residents and were then passed down to their descendents.

22Apr1877 – Andy Wilson sold Elijah Marrs a tract of land in Martinsville on the street back of College Street at the SW corner of Charles Clark’s 60 foot east lot, north 121’6”, thence 121’6” south thence 60’ to the beginning, lot known as 24 and 25 on Platt                  signed by Andy and Margaret Wilson recorded 02Aug1878.         On 06Aug1878 this same lot was deed to Martha E. Gordon to satisfy a bastardy claim instituted against Elijah P. Marrs by Mattie E. Gordon.

1882  –           By 1882 when the Henry and Shelby County Atlas was compiled by D. J. Lake & Company, Martinsville was a distinct subdivision with many houses located between Ninth and Eleventh and Union and High Streets.

1896-1897 –   St. John’s Methodist Church obtained land for $125.00 on College Street in Martinsville from David H. Wayne by trustees L. Coleman, Charles Davis, Alfred Buss, Peter Gordon, Davis Riggs, F. Mason, Lazarus Howard, Henry Wilson Jr., and M. Stewart. The building was completed at a cost of $3,000.00 in 1896. It had                   30 stained glass windows, double entrance doors and a tall steeple with one of the largest bells in Shelbyville.

1920         –   Residents of Drewsville, located just off the Louisville-Shelbyville Pike, began to sell their properties to whites and move into Martinsville.

1928     –      Alice Edwards, her sister Helen Wheatley, and son Otis Ellis, owned and operated a  grocery at Tenth and High Streets in Martinsville. Otis drove an ice truck taking block ice to residents before the days of electric refrigerators. They also had a radio                    that would attract large crowds during the 1940s listening to the Joe Louis fights.

1946-1948     –   High Street School constructed at Eleventh and High Streets in Martinsville after the Bradshaw Street Graded Elementary School burned. The High Street school was built on an old city garbage dump, and served as the elementary and middle school              for African-American children in Shelbyville.

1940s-1960s – A substantial number of locally owned African-American businesses served the Martinsville area including the Kinser, Ellis, Lanter, and Duncan groceries, the Rendevous Club, Henry Robert’s Contractor business, and residents were employed    at the Creamery, Logan’s Laundry, and a local coal yard.

1966 –         The Kentucky State Legislature closed both Lincoln Institute and High Street Middle School to force full integration in the Shelbyville school system.

1981 –        Shelby Community Center Gym founded in 1981.

1984  –       Congregational Methodist Church moves into the old Saffell Memorial Hospital/Retirement Home building on Tenth Street.

1989   –      First application for federal and state housing and renewal grants for Martinsville.

1990  —      First of the rehab projects completed, Clara Lee Wilson’s house one of five homes upgraded, sidewalks improved and some new homes built.

1991 –        Phase II survey done of 31 properties in the Martinsville Gardens which by this time reached all of City lots 112, 113, 114, 115, 120 and 121. However, the survey does not indicate which properties were rented out or owner resident.

1992-1993  –   $1,255,000 in grants from federal and state agencies for major urban renewal of Martinsville. Martinsville Appreciation Day in September brings out a large crowd of local residents.

1996       –  St. John United Methodist builds a new church building and fellowship hall on Tenth Street.

Martinsville Appreciation Day 23Sep1992 Sentinel News1992 Martinsville Appreciation Day, Sentinel News

Notable Citizens of Martinsville

Reverend George Smith (1894-1895) led the effort to construct St. John’s Methodist Church on College Street in Martinsville. Services were held at the Lodge Hall by Reverend John Russell until the new church was completed in 1896.

Reverend H. H. Greene  (1926) a legend within the Methodist Church, Reverend Greene preached first at St. John’s in Martinsville in 1926 and was ordained in 1929 in the Lexington Conference; he was the grandson of a previous pastor, Rev. W. H. Bloomer (1906-1909), Rev. Greene returned to St. John’s in 1969 after a division of membership created the Congregational Methodist Church, leaving St. John’s in turmoil. Rev. Greene is credited with providing healing and renewal.

Dr. John W. Robinson, born in Shelbyville KY, ordained into Lexington Conference and served as District Superintendent, then served in the pulpit of St. Mark in Chicago and St. Mark in NYC.

Mrs. Zora Clark ,  aunt of Reverend Greene, was the first African American woman in Shelby County to receive a nursing degree.

William Baxter, restaurant owner, church pianist, and member of a traveling band.

Mrs. Verna Chinn, first person to establish a kindergarten for African American children.  She also served as Sunday School Superintendent. She also tutored children from the neighborhood after school.

Mrs. Rebecca Smock Tilley – wife of Civil War veteran Joseph Tilley, was Church School Superintendent of the St. John’s Sunday School.

Beulah Roland, church organist for many years and succeeded by her sister Dollie Roland Miller who moved to Chicago.

Ethel Dirks, president of the Choir for many years and a trustee of St. Johns.

Lula Rucker Thomas, taught elementary school at Finchville for many years and opened a catering business and a restaurant at Martinsville.

William H. Payne, Chairman of the Administration Board for 35 years, member of the Board of Trustees and the Choir, Chairman of the Board of Education for the Colored Schools prior to integration.

Ollie Murphy,Secretary of the Finance Commission, trustee, and church treasurer.

Julia P. Wilson and Mary White,  Served as Communion Stewards, active in Finance Committee, building fund, Choir president, trustee.

Etta Roland, President of the Choir for many years, active in the Church School, put on a Christmas pageant for many years.

Bessie Fleming, Recognized as Mother of the Year, seven children, 25 grandchildren and 14 great grand children.

Willie C. Fleming, First black attorney graduated from the University of Louisville.

Arthur Ashby Jr. ,First black electrician in Shelby County.

Henry Roberts,  Owned and operated a contracting business on Tenth Street.

Nettie Hawkins, President of the Choir and chairperson of the Finance Committee.

Rev. George Cottrell Sr.  Served as assistant pastor.

Rev. Robert Marshall Sr.  Served as pastor when the congregation was deciding to rebuild and relocate.

Alice Edwards, Helen Wheatley, Otis Ellis, operated a grocery at Tenth and High Streets. Otis drove the ice truck bringing block ice to residents of Martinsville. And large crowds would come to their store to listen to the Joe Louis fights on their radio during the 1940s.

 Mack, Lee Nor (1914-1985) Lee Nor Mack was a contractor who in 1965 was the first African American councilman to be elected in Shelbyville, KY since 1904. He served as a councilman from 1967-1985. He was a veteran of WWII. Lee Nor Mack Street is named in his honor. Lee Nor Mack died in Jefferson County, December 7, 1985.

Moses Dale  (November 1971) land donated by the L&N Railroad on Union Street was developed into a mini-park and named for Moses Dale, long time resident of Martinsville  associated with youth programs.

Sources:  Griot Mattie Bray, longtime resident of Martinsville, and newspaper articles from the Shelbyville Sentinel and a short history of St. John Methodist Church.

Martinsville community Gym
Martinsville community Gym

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