Martin City Old West Roots
Martin City has unofficially been around since 1887. That’s when Edward L. Martin helped map out the promising stretch of land near the Blue River along fresh tracks laid by Kansas City Southwestern Railway. Mr. Martin was known for several interesting things, including the rise of the Kansas City Distilling Company and E.L. Martin & Co. Wholesale Liquor, making him an appropriate symbol of the kind of rough and tumble town we would become. We officially took his name in 1895. A decade later, construction of Wornall and Holmes Roads reached Martin City as stores sprang up like prairie flowers.
By the time The Roaring Twenties arrived, roughly 250 people called Martin City home. You could see them waiting at the Martin City Train Depot and browsing inside the general store. A hotel welcomed visitors and discreetly served liquor without a license (until they got caught), and a blacksmith still pounded out horseshoes down the street. The Martin City Bank, built in 1909, watched its assets swell like the kick of the local whiskey, year after year.
During Prohibition, as the story goes, there was a drugstore in Martin City where customers could ‘get a little nip’ at a window around back. Not far from that window, you could walk into the dry goods store, head upstairs, and cut a rug inside the dance hall on the second floor. On occasion, they let you roller skate yourself sweaty up there too. Clubs were organized around popular past times, like shooting guns and playing basketball. You might say our rowdy reputation got rolling in those days. We’ve always been known for the pursuit of good times of our own making.
Martin City Spirit of Survival
The Great Depression was just as unkind to Martin City as any other little town. The Martin City Bank went under in 1933, surviving only a few years after the stock market crashed. But the trains and a few businesses kept chugging along somehow, keeping us going, and continuing to define what we still are today. A welcome boost came in 1938 when Jess and Jim’s Steakhouse opened (more of a bar & grill back then) and gave visitors a new reason to experience Martin City. The restaurant remains in operation, and in the same family.
We’ve always been a train town.
The Methodist Church in Martin City dedicated its church building in 1890 on land donated by Edward Martin himself. A well-constructed basement took years to complete and became a gathering place for town meetings. Angels must have been watching over that church when the worst tornado in local history blew Martin City apart in 1957. Miraculously, the building survived. Dozens of people hunkered down in the basement during a church supper as the storm rattled the sanctuary above. When the sky cleared, the church stood tall on a landscape of devastation, inspiring locals to rebuild when they may have been tempted to just pack up and move away.
The church congregation stayed put all the way to 1975 when they partnered with another congregation to build Red Bridge United Methodist Church way up the road at 117th and Holmes. After they moved out, their old building sat vacant for awhile until Martin City restaurant pioneer R.C. Van Noy came along and boldly double decked it with a honkey tonk bar upstairs and a Mexican restaurant below.
“Turning a church into a restaurant and bar was a very R.C. thing to do,” Mike Van Noy once told us. He’s R.C.’s son and longtime owner of Jess & Jim’s Steakhouse. “My Dad saw dramatically different possibilities and wanted to give that historic building new purpose in Martin City. He kept the interior wooden arches intact, and you can still see indications of the original church’s architecture on the outside, too. It’s s survivor.”
Martin City picked itself up after the 1957 tornado disaster as ties with Kansas City, Missouri strengthened. By the 1960s, some of our businesses were drawing customers from across the region. Kansas City annexed Martin City in 1963 and we settled into a ‘neighborhood’ profile. Our ‘city’ status was gone, but the independent identity we shared, and our penchant for doing things our own way, remained.
The 1970’s ushered in the era fondly remembered as ‘Restaurant City,’ when Martin City boomed with a variety of good food, strong booze, entertainment, and occasional bar room brawls. The neighborhood’s nightlife caught fire from the spark of Jess and Jim’s popularity under R.C. Van Noy’s management, and his ambition seemed insatiable. Knee-jerk decisions to open, close, and rearrange restaurant spaces kept his two sons working round the clock. ‘Jess and Jim’s Annex’ opened to corral the overflow of customers from the main location. There was also the Pasta House, the Country Junction bar, the El Charito eatery, R.C.’s Cantina, and of course, a pub. At the end of the wild ride, only his beloved Jess and Jim’s Steakhouse and R.C.’s Restaurant and Lounge ultimately survived. The latter still bears his name and was managed for decades by his son, David.
Unrelated to Van Noy’s endeavors, the original location of Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue first got cookin’ at the corner of 135th and Holmes in 1974. Great Plains Drilling Inc., of Martin City drilled the foundations for both Jack Stack and R.C.’s Restaurant, and were paid only in stacks of restaurant meat.
Through the 1980s and into the 90s, Margarita’s Martin City, Sidelines Custom Floral, Dental Care Center of South Kansas City, Pearce Construction, and other newcomers expanded our business community and put down permanent roots, while a grocery store, the Martin City Melodrama, and other attractions came and went. Life settled into a steadier pace that calmed down and continued into the early 2000s as highways and suburbs popped up all around us.
Martin City Community Pillars
Martin City still has a school by the same name. It was originally established in 1910. The school grew to accommodate 80 students by 1926. Enrollment these days is nearing 700 as the current location expands with more classroom and gym space to support sixth through eighth grades. Martin City School K-8 is now part of the Grandview School District.
We’ve had a U.S. Postal Office since 1888, seven years before we officially became ‘Martin City.’ Back in those days, it was crucial for convincing entrepreneurs that the community was here to stay. We still consider it a symbol of stability as times change.
Martin City Today
Our boundaries now include 300+ acres with 90+ thriving local businesses, including our own hometown newspaper The Martin City Telegraph, and craft beer giant Martin City Brewing Company, launched, owned, and operated by R.C. Van Noy’s grandson, Matt Moore.
An array of high-volume businesses including Volleyball Beach, Mac N Seitz, Eagles Gymnastics, Cyderes, Suburban Lawn & Garden, Rosehill Gardens, Reno’s Powersports KC, Habitat ReStore, Lukas Wine & Spirits Superstore and others, draw thousands of people to our neighborhood every week, and contribute key pieces to our unique culture and destination appeal. Our parades and special events are well-known crowd pleasers, and people are moving into our neighborhood like never before where they’re finding new opportunities to live the Martin City lifestyle.
The Martin City Community Improvement District, a self-taxing entity formed by local business owners in 2005, guides our revitalization effort and pays for key support propelling a community on the upswing. The modernization of 135th Street, our ‘Main Street,’ is the crowning achievement so far. Sidewalks for the first time, hanging baskets, curbside parking, and a brand new street. Up next: Holmes Road.
Future of Martin City
Martin City’s future improvement plans include additional beautification and landscaping, more sidewalks, new parking, and other public amenities. New signage along entrances to our neighborhood and bike lanes are also in the works, and trails will eventually wind through the area as part of the greater KCMO Metro Trails Plan. Martin City is a place to walk, run, bike, drive, or catch a bus, and a regional destination for friendly service, good food, and of course, a good time. We think Edward Martin would approve. 🍻