A historic move to bring back Elkinsville

A snapshot of Elkinsville when it was known as by the name.

It won’t be just a sign, but one aimed at restoring a community founded by Palmer Elkins, a free slave and businessman who purchased more than 100 acres of land between River Road and Airline Highway in the 1800’s.

Palmer developed an area that included 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th streets in what is now called St. Rose, but there are those who dedicated to setting the record straight.

“This is a historic community because of its age and significance,” said Richard “Ricardo” Smith, co-founder of the Elkinsville Historical Restoration Association. “The name of the community has been lost over time so a part of our mission is to re-establish the name of the community, which is Elkinsville.”

Association members have been working on restoring the historical name and community since 2008.

The Mount Missionary Baptist Church on River Road has donated a piece of land for the sign and fundraisers held to cover the cost of the entranceway, which will mark a neighborhood more than 150 years old.

Smith said plans are to have the sign up by spring, as well as get a community center in the near future.

“Our organization is solely interested in rebuilding and revitalizing the four streets of Elkinsville and surrounding area with opportunities for revitalization to restore the pride, a sense of community,” he said.

Over time, the memory of this community faded as residents died and younger residents left the area for areas like Preston Hollow.

“The name Elkinsville will be on there, reestablishing the name of the community,” Smith said. “We are reminding the residents of Elkinsville that the community is not St. Rose, but it’s Elkinsville.”

Described as a “free man of color,” Smith said Elkins formed the 19th Company, where pulled together 19 individuals to form the company and then purchased the land from him, he said. Those tracks of land became the home of original families to the area, named on a historic marker there, and a deeply rooted spirit determined to preserve the community.

Elkins, who came from the North after the Civil War, bought about 160 acres at an auction for $943.50 and developed a community.

Smith said “freed people of color” bought and developed this land during that time, and started a community with other freed people of color. He called it a monumental task worth being highlighted and never forgotten.

Elkins also helped educate freed men of color in the community. In 1880, he asked several of them to rear their families and receive training.

There are two churches in the community and both are well over 100 years old (Mount Zion Baptist Church and Fifth African Baptist Church). Both of them are in Elkinsville, which also was called “Freetown” because that is what it represents to residents.

“This is a historic community because of its age and significance.” – Richard “Ricardo” Smith

“The Elkinsville Historic Restoration Association has worked for several years to make this happen,” said Parish President Larry Cochran. “And we hope this marker will both identify the area to residents and visitors and give them a brief background of St. Rose history.”

Smith added, “We just bringing light to that reality is part of our mission, along with that sense of pride and restoration of values.”

Saving Elkinsville

  • Palmer Elkins was a freed slave and business owner who purchased more than 100 acres of land to develop between River Road and Airline Highway in the 1800’s. Most of the people in the area are descendants of Elkins.
  • The late gospel singer Rowena Smith was dedicated to preserving the area’s history.
  • Elkinsville encompasses four streets and two churches over 100 years old – Mount Zion Baptist Church and Fifth African Baptist Church.
  • The Elkinsville Historic Restoration Association is a nonprofit with the goal of revitalizing Elkinsville.

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