Initiative hopes to revive abandoned resort's glory

March 13, 2005

Bulletin Staff Writer

Resurrecting the remains of a local resort and creating a recreational area rich in history are among the goals of the Fayette Area Historical Initiative (FAHI).

"We are working with The Harvest Foundation to get the Sandy Beach Resort included in the trail coming down the Smith River," said Floyd Gravely, a member of the initiative.

Located in the Collinsville District of Henry County, just out of the city limits on Appalachian Drive, many people pass by each day the former resort area and few probably realized its historical significance.

"I never knew it existed," said David Davis, who represents the Collinsville District on the Henry County Board of Supervisors. "It's very interesting. I'm going to have to do some research."

The property now is swampy, but with the Smith River located within a stone's throw of block wall remnants of the resort, FAHI hopes to recapture some of the resort's former glory, incorporating a boat ramp and other amenities "to make it a recreation center like it used to be," Gravely said.

The resort operated in the 1930s and was the brainchild of the late Dr. Dana Olden Baldwin, who became Martinsville's first black physician in 1910.

"He was outstanding. Nobody can believe the way he could make things work. He was almost a genius," Gravely said.

Baldwin used marketing tools such as postcards -- something Martinsville lacks today -- to promote amenities that included a motel, pool, an outside "rock band stage" and other facilities, Gravely said.

"It was really the only motel in Henry County that you could rent by the night," he said, explaining that motels differed from hotels, where rooms typically were rented for the week or month.

The resort was built to serve a vibrant community near what now is Koehler Road, according to Desmond Kendrick, a local historian and Henry County archivist.

Like many other railroad towns, with businesses and motels springing up in the Koehler area to serve travelers and tourists, Kendrick said plans existed in the 1950s to build a development called Eldon that would have been "a laid out or planned town to itself."

But the decline in rail travel doomed the idea and the area later was called Koehler.

The resort also fell into a state of disrepair, mainly due to a flood in the 1970s, Gravely said. Today, all that remains of the resort are a few block walls and a lot of memories.

The property remains in Baldwin's estate, Gravely said, and litigation must be resolved before the site can be sold. Once that happens, some members of the Fayette Area Historical Initiative hope to buy the property and begin the task of restoring it.

According to records at the Henry County Commissioner of Revenue's office, taxes have not been paid on the property for the past three years. Its assessed value is $5,000, records showed.

Based on the county's real estate tax rate of 54 cents per $100 of assessed value, the tax bill would be $27 a year or $81 for three years. However, applicable penalties and late fees were not available.

Originally from Chatham, N.C., Baldwin spent 62 years in Martinsville and continued his medical practice until he suffered a stroke in December 1972.

In addition to the pool and resort, Baldwin also started Baldwin's Business Center in 1929.

Known as "The Block," Gravely said the center was situated along Fayette Street and included a theater called the Rex, Baldwin's Pharmacy, the 27-bed St. Mary's Hospital, gymatorium, bowling alley, barber shops, cafes and other businesses.

A 1923 edition of the Henry Bulletin, the Martinsville Bulletin's predecessor, lists "1,500 colored inhabitants" in Henry County. At that time, segregation prevented black customers from shopping in the same stores as white customers, so black shoppers from throughout the region patronized The Block.

"People came from Patrick County, Henry County and Franklin County and other areas," Gravely said.

With desegregation, that changed and "all those buildings are gone now, but it was a private little town," Gravely said.

Members of the FAHI also plan a trial run of the June German Ball, an event held in Baldwin's day which drew entertainers such as Otis Redding, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Little Richard, according to Linda Dillard, FAHI founder.

The ball was held from the Sandy Beach Resort up to Fayette Street and "was a big celebration ... like a big fair," Dillard said.

For additional information or to participate in FAHI activities, call Dillard at 732-3496.


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