Anyone who has ever visited Fort Payne, Alabama, or vacationed in the area is likely familiar with the hand-painted Martin’s Jewelers sign that has towered over downtown Fort Payne for well over half a century. This iconic fixture captures and preserves a moment in Fort Payne’s history, and one cannot leave without remembering the sign or the nearby historic Strand building and Dekalb Theatre.
As a native of Fort Payne, born in 1975 at the old DeKalb General Hospital, I have cherished memories of the Martin’s Jewelers sign and the buildings that make up the Fort Payne Main Street Historic District. However, this historic sign, which has greeted locals their entire lives, will soon become a thing of the past. The building is currently being renovated, and the sign is gradually being painted over, erasing decades of history from Fort Payne’s downtown skyline.
Some may argue that it is just a sign, but to me, it is a historically significant fixture of Fort Payne and Dekalb County. The sign adds a unique and irreplaceable charm to Fort Payne. Once it is painted over, it will be lost forever.
The district encompasses an area roughly from 2nd Street NW to 2nd Street NE on Gault Avenue and showcases a variety of architectural styles, including Victorian, Art Deco, and Classical Revival. Constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of the buildings have been well-preserved. The district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 in recognition of its historical and architectural significance. This listing provides recognition and protection for historic properties and can make them eligible for certain preservation incentives and grants.
A Brief History of Martens Jewelry and the Building
Constructed in 1910, the Martens Jewelry building has housed various businesses over the years. Initially built as a general store, it once served as a hosiery mill and later as a hardware store before becoming a jewelry store in the early 1900s. The store catered to the Dekalb County community for years.
Founded by German immigrant William Martens, who arrived in the United States in the late 1800s, Martens Jewelry has remained a family-owned business for generations. The store has undergone several renovations and updates over the years, yet has managed to maintain its historic charm and character.
I recently spoke with Dr. Chad Williams, the current owner of the building, who confirmed that the decision to remove the sign was ultimately his, though he hinted it possibly wasn’t his decision alone. Regardless, this will be a truly sad day for preservation and a significant loss to the Fort Payne community.
Many small towns in Alabama have unfortunately erased historically significant signage from their downtown areas, often leading to regret as these signs contribute to the towns’ unique Southern feel and historical flair. Some towns have learned from their mistakes and are now restoring and preserving the artwork that makes them unique. I hope that Dr. Williams reconsiders his decision and decides to save a piece of history for future generations to experience a glimpse of historic Alabama.