A Tale of Two City Names
By Topher Wilson
Martin City, Missouri, was founded in 1887—except it wasn’t. At least, not exactly. The town which would eventually become Martin City was originally christened Tilden, Missouri, and it would remain with this name for the first eight years of its existence.
The founders of Martin City, E.L. Martin and John H. Lipscomb, wanted to name the town in honor of Samuel Jones Tilden, a politician who had died a year before the town’s founding in 1886. Tilden was a popular figure throughout the latter half of the 19th century having served as governor of New York State and narrowly losing a disputed presidential race to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876. (Tilden had won the popular vote but was denied by the Electoral College.) He was known throughout his political career as a man who worked tirelessly to fight political corruption and Tilden’s honorable reputation had made his namesake a popular choice for emerging towns all over the country.
In Missouri, however, this would cause a bit of a dispute. As it was, a Tilden, Missouri, already existed down in Dallas County, having been there since some point in the late 1840s.
After word came that a change of name would be in order, the town chose this time to honor one of the men responsible for its establishment. Edward Lowe Martin was a precocious and enterprising young man of 26 when he moved from Kentucky to Kansas City, Missouri, to start a distillery and wholesale liquor business in 1863. He set up shop at what is today 135th and Holmes Rd. and this would ultimately result in the founding of the town that would bear his name. He would then go on to serve as Mayor of Kansas City from 1873-74 and sit on the city’s Board of Education from 1875-96.
Missouri in the 1800s was a rapidly expanding place and, as a result, these sorts of name disputes were not at all uncommon. Fortuitously, in the case of Martin City, the result was a name that much more directly connects to its own distinct history.