Baldwin Block (including the Dr. Dana O. Baldwin Memorial Park)

Historical Significance

This 15.5-acre park is named for Dr. Dana Olden Baldwin, Martinsville's first African-American physician and one of its most successful entrepreneurs. The medical practice and multiple businesses Dr. Baldwin opened during the 1920s and 1930s formed the heart of Martinsville's black business district along Fayette Street. At a time when Jim Crow laws made most private and many public facilities off-limits to African Americans, Dr. Baldwin helped nurture an independent black economy. 

A native of Chatham, N.C., Dr. Baldwin opened his Martinsville medical practice in 1910. After a stint with the U.S. Army Ambulance Corps in France during WWI, he returned to Martinsville and, in 1926, opened a private hospital for African Americans. Named St. Mary's for Dr. Baldwin's mother, the 27-bed facility was on the second floor of a building at Fayette and Barton Streets. 

Denied privileges at white hospitals, where blacks were often not admitted as patients, many African-American doctors in the South opened small private hospitals such as St. Mary's. Because many black patients were poor, these hospitals were seldom profitable, and the physicians who owned them frequently operated additional businesses. 

In 1929, Dr. Baldwin opened the Baldwin Business Center in the stretch of Fayette Street buildings between Moss and Barton Streets. The development was anchored by Baldwin's Drug Store, a pharmacy owned by Dr. Baldwin's brother, Sam Baldwin, and located downstairs from St. Mary's. The rest of the block held an eclectic array of businesses: the Douglas Hotel and Cafe, the Rex movie theater, a dance hall, bowling alley, pool hall, several barber shops and an ice cream parlor. 

This regional shopping district, which became known as the Baldwin Block or simply "the Block," provided a foundation for other black-owned businesses. Nearby, a skating rink, brick factory, wood yard, a second hotel and another restaurant opened over the years. One Martinsville resident remembers the area as "a private little town" where African Americans worked, shopped, and socialized.

In the early 1930s, Dr. Baldwin opened the Sandy Beach Resort, a motel and pool with a stage for concerts located just outside the city limits near the Smith River. Around the same time, he inaugurated an annual June German Ball, a dance party that stretched from the Baldwin Block to Sandy Beach. The festival ran for more than 40 years, hosting prominent entertainers including Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Sam Cooke, and James Brown.

St. Mary's Hospital operated until 1952 and Dr. Baldwin continued to see patients until his death from a stroke in December 1971. Remnants of Sandy Beach resort, which closed in the 1970s, can still be seen at the point where Fayette Street becomes Appalachian Drive (Rt. 57). Most of the buildings in the Baldwin Block have been demolished, but are memorialized in the exhibit "Working and Playing on Fayette Street," co-sponsored by the Fayette Area Historical Initiative and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. A few panels may be viewed at the FAHI building in downtown Martinsville.

Physical Description

The Baldwin Memorial park is located on Swanson Street.

Geographical and Contact Information

500 Swanson Street
Martinsville, Virginia
24112
Phone: 276-403-5140

Cite this Page:

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “Baldwin Block (including the Dr. Dana O. Baldwin Memorial Park),” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed June 29, 2017, http://aahistoricsitesva.org/items/show/32.
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