Poynterville: Winchester’s First Subdivision

Following the Civil War, rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the 13th Amendment in December 1865 abol­ished slav­ery in the United States.  Free blacks would expe­ri­ence dif­fi­cult times in post-war Clark County.  The major­i­ty of men worked for wages as farm labor­ers, the women in domes­tic ser­vice, and most fam­i­lies lived in extreme poverty. 

Comparing the 1860 and 1870 cen­sus­es we find that one in four blacks left the coun­ty after the war, like­ly hop­ing for bet­ter prospects in the North.  Enterprising indi­vid­u­als and those with a skilled trade fared bet­ter than oth­ers, and a few were able to acquire prop­er­ty in one of the black com­mu­ni­ties that sprang up in Clark County:  Lisletown, Hootentown, and Dry Ridge.  Housing for African Americans in Winchester was lim­it­ed to an area cen­ter­ing on North Highland and East Broadway, as well as a small por­tion of East Hickman Street (lat­er expand­ed to become Kohlhassville).  These oppor­tu­ni­ties great­ly expand­ed with the cre­ation of Poynterville. 

The man who gave the com­mu­ni­ty its name, Wiley Taul Poynter (1838−1896), was born in Montgomery County, grew up near Frankfort, and came to Winchester at a young age.  At 17 he was the prin­ci­pal and a teacher at the Winchester Academy.  He served with the Union Army dur­ing the Civil War as a reg­i­men­tal quar­ter­mas­ter for the 16th Kentucky Infantry.

Returning to Winchester, Poynter, an ardent Methodist, entered the min­istry.  He pas­tored a church in Winchester for four years, then in 1879 he pur­chased the Science Hill Female College in Shelbyville—the famous school estab­lished in 1825 by Clark County native Julia Ann Tevis.  The build­ings are now occu­pied by the Wakefield-Scearce Galleries.

Bringing our sto­ry back to Winchester, we find that Poynter pur­chased 65 acres of land adjoin­ing the west side of Winchester from William H. Winn.  In July 1867 Poynter had the tract laid out in 52 lots and plat­ted as “Poynterville.”  The tract was bor­dered on the north by Walnut Street, on the east by First Street, on the south by an exten­sion of Washington Street, and on the west by Elm Street, which was then called “the old Paris Road.”  This new sub­urb became the first of many in Winchester’s history. 

It seems Reverend Poynter intend­ed his sub­urb to become a com­mu­ni­ty for black fam­i­lies.  This notion is sup­port­ed by his arti­cle, “The Church and the Black Man,” pub­lished in the Methodist Review.  The arti­cle begins, “I risk noth­ing in say­ing that among the imper­a­tive and press­ing duties of the American Church, and espe­cial­ly of the Church in the Southern States, none is more impor­tant than the duty to the col­ored peo­ple in our midst”... and that first they “must be housed in homes of their own.  There can be no true progress with­out this.”

Wiley Poynter put his words into action.  From July 1867 through the end of the year he sold 19 lots, all to African Americans.  He con­tin­ued the prac­tice after leav­ing Winchester.  Between 1867 and 1890, he made 54 deeds con­fer­ring 66 lots in Poynterville.  All the sales but one were to African American men or women whose names are shown in the table.  The lots sold exceed­ed the num­ber laid out in the plat as some of the sales were for “half lots.”  Poynter also sold lots on credit—an unusu­al prac­tice for sell­ing to freed­men at that time.

Few of the pur­chasers of lots in Poynterville had an occu­pa­tion oth­er than farm labor­er.  John Allen was a house painter, Mason Fry a dis­tillery work­er, Jerry Stephenson a gro­cer, George Miller a butch­er, Aaron Taylor a post-and-rail­er (fence builder), Gibson “Gip” Taylor a rail­road work­er, Samuel Brown (hus­band of Margaret) a har­ness mak­er, and Thomas Webb a black­smith.  Laborers who pur­chased lots must have care­ful­ly saved their wages.

At least four of the buyers—Mason Fry, Reuben Ragland, Joseph Price, Burgess Ramsey—were Civil War vet­er­ans who could have used their mil­i­tary pay to buy lots.  John Allen, Reuben Ragland, and Shelton Jones were trustees of the ME Church of Winchester (on Broadway at Church Alley).  Thirteen of the buy­ers were women; their report­ed occu­pa­tions were house­keep­ing and domes­tic service. 

Purchasers of Poynterville lots
Purchasers of Poynterville lots

Eliza Burch pur­chased a lot in 1869.  She died in 1876.  She willed her house and lot in Poynterville to her son Samuel, who “has for the last four years cared for me dur­ing my sick­ness.”  It was to be “com­pen­sa­tion for his kind treat­ment of me and his lov­ing care and pro­tec­tion.”  She could leave sons Philip and Ames only “a mother’s affec­tion.”  She added, “My oth­er chil­dren were sold dur­ing slav­ery, and I do not now know whether they are still liv­ing or not.  I can only leave for them a mother’s prayer that they meet me in heaven.”

One year after Poynterville was laid out, the heirs of John Bruner, Winchester’s first tan­ner, estab­lished an adjoin­ing sub­urb called Brunerville.  Brunerville lay on the west side of Elm Street and was framed by Walnut, Upper, and Washington.  Brunerville per­sist­ed until some­time in the 20th cen­tu­ry, after which time the area was assumed to be part of Poynterville.

The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia has an entry for “Bucktown,” which states that it is offi­cial­ly a part of Poynterville.  The ori­gin of the name is uncer­tain.  Some cred­it it to Buck Clay, a some­time gro­cer who resided on Upper Street.  Locally, Bucktown is most close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the area of West Washington Street that was once the cen­ter of black busi­ness­es in Winchester.  The area was rec­og­nized in 2008 with the ded­i­ca­tion of Heritage Park at the cor­ner of Washington and Maple Streets.

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