21502 Dixie Highway: A-1 Montgomery Auto Mart / Construction, West Point, KY

Off 31W just outside of the understated yet impressively historic town of West Point, KY, is an old building that is falling quietly into ruin.  It’s clearly a survivor from another era, a run-down little structure that has the look of an old business.  Angled to face the Dixie Highway, it’d be a natural office for an auto salesman.  It was on another cloudy winter day that I found a bit of time for a look around.

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From the front, the roof–peeling shingles and all–just out over the first story entrance.  A sign resting against the front window betrays the identity of this former store.

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The sign gives “21502 Dixie Highway, West Point, KY” as the address, listing phone and fax numbers for a car dealership.

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A peek inside the front window (to the right as you face the building) betrays a disheveled office and some mysterious murals that are being stored inside the structure.

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Looking inside the window to the left betrays the remnants of a staircase, now with a ladder to serve as the steps, and more murals.

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Moving to the left, the building starts to show its worst areas of decay.  A hole in the side of the building and a badly deteriorated ad along with falling shingles betray nature’s wear and tear with time and human neglect.

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The back of the building shows a base of cinder blocks and brick.  Covered with plywood and open in other spots, I begin to wonder if the upstairs served as a personal residence while the downstairs was the store/shop.

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A small, unlocked cinder block room enters the base of the structure at the back.  Not much to see here.

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Looking straight up, this shot shows the various materials used in construction.  The obvious cinder block division to the right of the photo begs the question: was this building built in pieces or added on to at a later time?  It would certainly seem that way based on the pattern in the blocks.

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Debris scattered at the base of the back wall.  The remnants of a full set of china and what might be a table further begs the question: what was the building’s upstairs used for?

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Looking across the back of the building from the building’s right (as you’re facing the front).  A steep embankment guards the access from the left side of the building.

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Facing the building and looking to the right.  Heavy overgrowth stands guard on this side of the structure.

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One final view from the front.

This is yet another structure whose history is largely unknown.  A google search brought up the following links to businesses at this address:

http://www.largepro.com/a-1-montgomery-construction-house-and-room-addition-contractors-in-west-point-40177-area
This site gives a description of an A-1 Montgomery Construction business at this address.

http://411dir.biz/6573667_kentucky_west_point.html
A-1 Montgomery Construction, owned and operated by John Montgomery.  Annual sales: 243,080.  Builders and general contractors, single-family housing construction.  No dates given.

None of the searches brought up any information on the auto mart other than the fact that it was operated from the same address.  None of the searches turned up dates for either businesses, either.  Is it possible that the auto mart was the first business here, and when it went out, the owner (John Montgomery) turned to construction and ran a contractor business out of his old auto shop?  That would seem the most likely answer, especially as the building had no information/visible signage about the construction business.

That’s all for this time!  Thanks for reading.

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West Point Independent Colored School: The Julius Rosenwald Connection

As promised, a bit of research on the West Point Independent Colored School, which was shown in a previous post, almost completely collapsed after what appears to have been one heck of a windstorm.

Being that this structure was reportedly a school house and not a home, I headed over to Google and was able to find a few interesting tidbits about this place.

First off, take a gander at the photo below and see if you recognize the now-collapsed building as it appeared shortly after its construction around 1926.

West Point c.1926

According to the all-knowing internet, the speculation about this now-collapsed building was correct: it was in fact the West Point Independent Colored School, constructed specifically for the education of African-Americans during the 1920’s.

http://nkaa.uky.edu/record.php?note_id=2756

The above link is where I found the document that contained this photo and a bunch of information on the man who donated the money to build this school.  Julius Rosenwald was a philanthropist back in the days before it was cool.  Rosenwald was born in 1862 to Samuel and Augusta Rosenwald, two Jewish Germans who immigrated to the US before Julius was born.  Interestingly, both Samuel and Augusta’s families were either merchants or clothiers and were fairly wealthy in Germany, a success that carried into their adopted country.  Samuel and Augusta ended up in Springfield, Illinois just before the Civil War in 1860, living a few houses down from their good friend, Abraham Lincoln.

Samuel and Augusta began a clothier company during the Civil War that was soon known for providing quality uniforms and clothing to Union Troops.  According to the report, they had strong sympathies with Abraham Lincoln, and the family became tightly associated with the Lincolns, especially after the President’s unfortunate assassination.

Julius worked in his father’s store, sold newspapers, and played the organ at his church.  As a young man, he learned the clothier business from his uncles and opened a store in Chicago with his brother.  While Julius was well-known as a benefactor within the Jewish community, it was ultimately his wife, Augusta Nusbaum, who introduced Julius to the plight of those less fortunate–specifically, African Americans–in their community.  Augusta encouraged Julius’s philanthropy, and the couple became unique for their era as Julius became one of the first American businessmen to hire African Americans and their children frequently played with African American children in a time where segregation was the law of the land.

However, Rosenwald experienced a great deal of opposition when attempting to implement his ideals into American society at the time, and when he became the president of Sears & Roebuck in the late 1800’s, he found the challenges only mounting as threatened southern competitors labeled Rosenwald as a “negro” and also used his Jewish heritage as a campaign against his rapidly growing company.

Despite mounting odds and intense opposition, Rosenwald was only encouraged after he met Booker T. Washington in 1911, and upon discovering that the two of them rather liked each other, Rosenwald began to donate money to build schools in the impoverished south, where the illiteracy rate among African Americans remained as high as 79%.  This was largely due to the fact that until 1913, there were no public funds dedicated to the education of African Americans other than those monies remaining from the collection of taxes from African American communities, which especially in the south, provided only meager support for this growing need.  In fact, it was only in 1891 that the Kentucky General Assembly created a segregated school system for blacks, and not until 1913 that this school system started to receive any tax dollar funding aside from the black community’s tax leftovers.

Julius Rosenwald was a generous contributor to the cause of education for black children.  By the time Rosenwald died in 1923, he had contributed to the construction of 4,977 public schools, 163 shop buildings, 128 teachers’ homes, and facilitated the education of over 500,000 black children.

Rather an impressive man by any standards.

With the year of construction roughly established, I looked around to see if I could find anything else about this building.  There was no information that I can find regarding when this schoolhouse’s doors closed for its final summer aside from the general information that educational segregation in the US ended in 1954 with Brown v. the Board of Education.  Interestingly, however, it appears that the Kentucky state law requiring a separate school system for blacks remained in the state constitution until 1996, when voters officially removed that clause from the state law.

Other sources with information and/or photos include a news article dated August 17, 2004 in the Enquirer where a woman named Sharon Cantrell, who reportedly attended the school in the 1950’s, was buying the building with hopes of restoring it.
http://www.enquirer.com/editions/2004/08/17/loc_loc2rosen.html

The next source to pop up after that news article was a report prepared for the Kentucky African American Heritage Commission in August 2007.  A sketch and blueprint for a school that looks much like the West Point school is on page 6.  The school itself is mentioned on pages 9 and 23.

West Point floor plan

Page 9 details the condition of the West Point Independent Colored School along with five other similar structures, listing its condition as “ruin”: “The most common problems were the extensive deterioration of the foundation, windows, roof, and clapboard siding… All areas have failed and require immediate attention if these former schools are to be preserved… based on the physical condition of these schools, each building will need to be partially if not mostly reconstructed”.

Page 23 shows photos taken presumably in 2007 during the year of the report and gives a general description: “…vacant, 1.5 story, front and rear gable roof, tin roof, continuous brick and concrete foundation, weatherboard siding, cost of construction $3,000…”

The photos below are photos that were included in this 2007 report.  Note that in the rear-view photo, the building appears to have been modified and opened.  This is consistent with reports that the structure was being used as a stable for horses.

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Finally, the most recent information I could find was in Flickr from September 2011.

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West Point 1

These photos confirm that the back of the schoolhouse remains open.  Consistent with the floor plan pictured above, you can see the small room just inside the doorway that opens into a bigger classroom.  Comments on the photos include a rumor that a woman had bought the location and was hoping to restore it (likely a reference to 2004 when Sharon Cantrell bought the property), speculate that she was in poor health and unable to carry through on her plans, and also indicate that the ownership of the structure changed hands and that it had most recently been used as a horse barn until the new owner felt it was no longer safe to keep his livestock in the failing building.
Original links for these photos can be found at:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/smc2866/6164993494/in/pool-blacklandmarks/ https://www.flickr.com/photos/smc2866/6164962598/in/pool-blacklandmarks/

That is all I could find about this neglected little schoolhouse.  If you have more information, please feel free to post in the comments below!

West Point Independent Colored School, West Point, Kentucky

It was a dark and chilly afternoon…so it was perfect for a bit of snooping.

Off 31W near West Point, KY, there is a park with a small pavilion and a bridge on the Salt River…and a collapsed building that peeks out of the wintery tangles of shrubs and vines.  It was that location, rumored to have once been a school for African Americans in a post-Civil War Kentucky, that called me out for a walk on a cloudy day.

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Walking up to the building, this was my first introduction to this unfortunate remnant of yester-year.

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This old water pump was sitting inconspicuously nearby in the side yard.

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A close-up of the front door.  Interesting structure as it appears that it had a small inner room just inside the front door, whereas most old schoolhouses I’ve seen are one-room in the most literal sense imaginable.

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Looking to the right of the main door.  The boards appear fairly new on the exterior, which would suggest that it had been renovated–at least on the outside–somewhat recently.

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Looking to the left of the main entrance.

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Close-up of the front steps and the foundation, which appears to be relatively solid in the front of the building.

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At this point, we began to speculate that the building appeared to have fallen into itself–perhaps in one of Kentucky’s infamous windstorms–based on the appearance from the front.

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However, as we walked around the side of the house, we started to see evidence that suggested more than just a pronounced windstorm was the ultimate cause of the building’s demise.  Charred pieces of the roof in the back right corner (as you’re looking at the house from the front) visible even under the shingles suggest that as some point in the building’s history, there was a fire that was largely confined to the top of the structure.  The roof lays directly before you, having fallen somewhat to the right of the house.  Beneath the roof lies a toppled chimney and the associated bricks.

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Looking into the building from the right side and slightly toward the front, this is largely a view of the roof and the interior of the schoolhouse’s front façade.

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Remnants of the chimney under the roof as well as some charred boards and roof struts.

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 The back of the schoolhouse.  A part of the chimney that didn’t collapse and remains upright is visible underneath the ruins toward the center of the photo.

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View of the back of the schoolhouse looking toward the front.  The left exterior of the collapsed building is visible to the right in the photo.  The roof is visible to the left and the front façade that remains somewhat upright is in the background.  Note the two trees that stand like sentries at the fallen entrance, surviving long past the structure they were planted near.

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A close-up of what appears to be electrical wiring near the front door.

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The left side of the building (as it would appear from the front), nicely laid out on the lawn.

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A view of the wreckage from behind, this time a bit further back.

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Interestingly, the front door is still sitting next to the steps, very close to its original post.

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Looking around the side and into the interior of the schoolhouse from the left side.  Original interior boards visible to the right.  It certainly appears from the outside that at least the external portion of the schoolhouse has been reasonably maintained.  Inside…well, not looking quite as cared-for.

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One more shot looking inside from the left.

A quick search on Google would indicate that this post is the first report that this historic structure has finally fallen.  With the way the building’s walls and roof fell, it would be natural to suspect a windstorm as the culprit that ultimately brought about this structure’s demise.  The charred pieces of the roof near the right back side of the schoolhouse bring up questions about the integrity of the structure to begin with, but it would appear that only a very small portion of this building was affected by fire, and it is unlikely that the fire had anything to do with the building’s eventual collapse.

This is quite a unique structure, which, by its very nature, warrants further research.  Keep an eye out for the next installment as I delve into the history of this interesting building!

Marvin & Mary Cunningham: The 8601 Mystery Continues

Research can be tough.

I say that not as a fun opening cliché or an attempt to state the obvious (though, in retrospect, I suppose I have inadvertently accomplished both), but simply as the truth.  There are some projects where the reality of situations years and years ago seems to actively elude the researcher, and unfortunately, I can say with some confidence that I feel the 8601 case is one of those instances.

I have spent a bit of time over the past week or so looking into Marvin B. Cunningham and his wife, Mary, who were suggested as the potential builders/original owners of the home on 8601 Dixie Highway.  It’s been…interesting.  Inconclusive, but interesting.

My first hit for Marvin B. Cunningham on ancestry was his death record.  He was listed as having been born on 21 Jun 1897, died 25 Apr 1976.

I then jumped into the census records and found him almost immediately in 1900 at the tender age of 3, living with his parents, Alexander (40) and Ida (33) at a home at 2318 4th Street, Louisville, KY.  His was a full house with five other children and one servant listed as well: Carl (14), Bruce (12), Alice (9), Margaret (6), and Louis (9/12, born Sept of that year).  The most interesting tidbit from this census record is that in the census, Marvin was reportedly born in May, whereas in his death record and on his tombstone, he was listed as having been born in June.  However, I believe this to a be a minor discrepancy that is likely nothing more than an error on the part of the census-taker–hardly a novelty.

In 1910, Marvin B. Cunningham (13) is still living with his parents, Alexander (52) and Ida (43).  They are now at 1328 South Second Street, Louisville, KY.  In the home are Carl (24), Bruce (22), Alice (19), Margaret (16), and Alex Jr. (4).  According to Ida, she has 8 children, 6 of whom are living.  It would appear based on the number of children in this census that Louis (the infant in the 1900 census) died and another child also was born and died between census years.

In 1920, Marvin (23) has struck out on his own.  He’s now married to one Mary Cunningham (21) and they are living on 18th Street, Valley Station, KY (no house number given).  To make things better for the young couple, the newlyweds are hosting Mary’s mother, Emma C. Adams (51).

After 1930, Marvin and Mary drop entirely off the census record radar.  Unfortunately, I’ve also run into this little snag while conducting research, and there are a few possibilities as to why this has happened:

  • 1. Marvin and Mary moved out of state.
    While it’s possible that the couple picked up and relocated elsewhere in the US as there are a few Mary and Marvin Cunninghams in the US in 1930 and 1940, I don’t believe this is the case.  The Cunningham couples that could be our Cunninghams claim to have been born in entirely different states from our Cunninghams.  Their ages also don’t line up very nicely.
  • 2. The census records are incomplete.
    Because ancestry.com is a relatively new site, this happens more than you’d like to think it does.  I’ve been ready to take a bat to the computer in an attempt to coerce the internet into coughing up the record I need only to go to the local library, conduct a manual search of the census records and find the information I need ready to bite me in the face.  After heading home to make sure I wasn’t crazy, I did a second search and hit the same problem–the records just aren’t there.
    Mary and Marvin may be one of the unfortunate couples whose information didn’t make it, wasn’t linked correctly or simply hasn’t been added yet to the 1930s/1940s census records.
  • 3. Mary and Marvin moved locally, but lived in a rural area that wasn’t consistently surveyed by the census-takers.
    This is another possibility.  Because people back then had a tendency to be a bit more casual and arguably a bit more transient to boot, Mary and Marvin may have chosen to live in a rural location–say, 8601 Dixie Highway–before such a location had a formal address.  It’s also possible that if such a location was, say, a hotel, that the census taker skipped it, assuming that no one lived there permanently.

It was with this in mind that I opened the search from the census records to the public directories in Louisville and Valley Station.  What I found was telling.

In the late 1920’s to early 1930’s, the directories show a Marvin B. or M.B. Cunningham whose only address is listed as the “L&N” (railroad line) and whose occupation is listed as either salesman, fireman, or hostler (stableman).  As you may recall, the house at 8601 sits right on the train tracks–the old L&N line–and was rumored to have been a depot at one point.  Was Marvin working on the L&N as a fireman and working at the 8601 location when it was a depot/hotel as a hostler, picking up salesman work when he needed to?  It’s very possible.

After 1933, the records resume in the 1940’s and 1950s.  Marvin is consistently listed as a fireman working on the L&N line, though his addresses are a bit more specific in these entries and place him in Valley Station proper versus in the country.  This would be consistent with what has been suggested about the Hicks family, however–that the Hickses bought and took up residence at 8601 in the 1940’s.

Below, I’ve made up a table with the information I was able to gather from the public directories between 1928-1959.

YEAR NAME LOCATION OCCUPATION
1928 Mary A. & Marvin B. Cunningham Valley Station None
1928 Ida M. % Marvin B. Valley Station None
1928 Marvin B. L&N Hostler
1928 M.B. L&N r Valley Sta Fireman
1929 Marvin L&N Hostler
1929 M.B. Valley Sta KY Auto Parts Co.
1929 M.F. None C,I,L&Ry Fireman
1930 Marvin Lyon Battery Wks Salesman
1931 Marvin B. L&N r Valley Sta Fireman
1932 Marvin B. Route 5 Salesman–Koch Auto Elec Co.
1933 Marvin B. Valley Sta Salesman–Koch Auto Elec Co.
1946 Marvin B. & Mary A. L&N r525 Denmark Fireman
1952 M.B. L&N Engineer
1956 M.B. L&N r RD 3 Valley Sta Fireman mmo
1959 Marvin B. L&N r1807 Whitten Dr Fireman

Having exhausted ancestry’s public directories, I headed over to the land office for Jefferson County and searched for Marvin Cunningham.  I found zero records.  A few popped up for Mary Cunningham, but they are not visible via the internet and would require an in-person investigation.

In many ways, this information just opens up more questions.  Did Marvin work at 8601?  Was he a hired hand for either the family that resided there or the folks who owned the building as a hotel?  Did he build the house at 8601 while working and/or living at a location nearby?  Was he the one who sold the land and house to the Hickses in the 40’s or 50’s?  At this point, it appears that only a trip into Louisville to check out the land records, census records and other related historic documents will tell.