By Diane Euston
As you walk down the manicured main street in Martin City, it becomes vividly clear that the path has been walked by many before us. The roaring trains, the bustling businesses and small-town feel remains 120 years later.
Just like many towns of the time, Martin City was founded due to its location on a newly-laid Kansas City Southwestern Railway Line.
Ambitious businessmen E.L. Martin and John Harris Lipscomb put their heads together and platted the town of Tilden January 4th, 1887. Martin was mayor of Kansas City in 1873 and served on the Board of Education. John H. Lipscomb was a lawyer and land dealer in Kansas City who had deep ties to southern Jackson Co. His father, Joel, was one of the original settlers of the area and barely escaped the Kansas Jayhawkers during the Border Wars.
John actually watched as his father was hanged from a tree near present-day Red Bridge Road and State Line by the Jayhawkers. Remarkably, Joel survived.
Tilden was chosen as the town’s original name after presidential candidate Samuel Tilden. Its name changed just as fast as the town sprung up along Kansas Ave., now present-day 135th St. Just a year later, the town’s name began to be referred to as ‘Martin City’ in the newspapers; it was discovered a town named Tilden existed in Missouri already.
Interestingly enough, many of the present-day lots in Martin City still hold Tilden as their legal land description.
Martin and Lipscomb were quite confident in the success of the town; hundreds of lots were carefully numbered and up for cash sale.
Descendants of pioneers were thrilled to see a town develop nearby, especially with the easy access to the new railroad line. A depot sat just south Main St, now known as 135th St. Other street names, including Knoche St., were named for pioneer residents of the area.
Martin City really put itself on the map of Jackson Co. when it opened its first post office on January 23, 1888, the first postmaster being Nicholas McPherson. A post office was the golden ticket for a sprouting town – it gave confidence to investors. It stood near the current post office and served the southern Jackson County area.
The Methodist Church building (now at 135th & Holmes Rd.) was established on land donated by E.L. Martin and dedicated in 1890.
Businesses quickly followed and roads needed improving. Even in 1905, the roads identifiable today from Olathe to Martin City- or Martin City to Greenwood- didn’t exist. But the two main roads (one originally named after founder Lipscomb), Wornall and Holmes, had made their way to the town as paved roads.
George Lee operated the first hotel in town. Lee was even arrested in 1906 for running ‘a joint’ that served liquor without a license.
It sounds as if Martin City was becoming an interesting place.
An advertisement in the Kansas City Star in 1909 called for merchants far and wide to come to the “flourishing suburban town on the Wornall Rd.” They were in need of a bank, dry goods store, harness shop and other modern conveniences of the time.
Ask and you shall receive.
In September 1909, the first bank, Bank of Martin City, opened for business. In that same month, Charles W. Landreth, a resident of the dwindling town of New Santa Fe, jumped at the chance to be the first rural mail carrier in Martin City. Ironically, he lived in a house that was once the post office in New Santa Fe, a faltering town on the old Santa Fe Trail near State Line. He was a postman for decades.
Stories surround these early settlers that were looking for a way to make a dime. In May 1910, Martin City resident H.C. Brown brazenly followed a gray timber wolf into its den in the woods near his home. He found four cubs inside.
He captured the cubs, brought them to Kansas City and sold them to Woolf Brothers “for exhibition purposes.”
By 1915, the business opportunities were endless as travel by motor car became the wave of the future. R.M. Cumins sensed the need for swift travel and opened up a seven- passenger bus line from Martin City to Dallas (103rd St.) and Dallas to Waldo. For the price of 30 cents, a Martin City resident could take the bus four times a day.
The beginnings of Martin City are as rich and fascinating as its recent rebirth in the community. As the years following would prove, Martin City would endure and now stands as a landmark in southern Jackson Co.
Diane writes a blog about the history of the southern Jackson Co. area. To read the stories, visit www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com.