Group seeks community’s help in restoring historical structure


The Rev. Edgar Maddex had strong connections to the building at 208 S. Lynn St. in Seymour.

Growing up in the city, he attended the Lynn Street School for African-American students, and his grandfather was a teacher there.

He later moved the Goodwill Center into the building, providing free clothing, food and other services to anyone who needed it.

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After he died June 22, 1973, his daughter, Blanche Maddex Smith, carried on his legacy by maintaining the center until ill health forced her retirement.

Since its closure in the 1980s, the 35-foot-by-50-foot brick building had deteriorated, and the Shelton family used it as storage.

When a Leadership Jackson County history project team learned about the history of the building, the five members jumped into action to help Maddex’s descendants restore the 147-year-old building so it could once again serve the community.

A committee formed, including Ron Duncan, a member of the Leadership Jackson County project team, and members of the Shelton family. Last fall, it became a nonprofit organization.

The group received a grant for the project and continues to seek other funds to restore the building, which is estimated to cost around $300,000.

There also are plans to rebuild the south portion of the building that fell down years ago, and that is expected to cost even more.

Ultimately, Duncan said they want to link it with the Seymour Museum Center and Jackson County History Center.

“What we want to do is hopefully make all three a connecting part,” he said Sunday during a Black History in Indiana program at the Jackson County Public Library in Seymour.

“This has its own history tied to it specifically, but it’s a large part of the Jackson County history, and it’s a large part of Seymour history,” he said. “So hopefully, all three groups can work together.”

The plan for the building that’s still standing is to include a museum and working classrooms so local students can come in and experience life in a one-room schoolhouse.

“Everything that you see inside the building, that all has to come out, but before we can take it out, we have to make sure that the bricks that have been on these walls since 1870 are all still safe and secure,” Duncan said.

A glass corridor would connect it with the south building that needs to be rebuilt.

“We would like to open that up as a community center for anyone who wants to use it, and then also use that in there to display artifacts from the time period that this building was in operation,” Duncan said.

A GoFundMe page has been created, and the committee also will seek donations from local businesses and individuals to make it all a reality.

Maddex sought help from the community and received it, so the committee is following the same approach.

“It’s a place in need, and it needs help, so we’re going to ask the people of the community to help,” Duncan said.

The Lynn Street School opened in 1870, the same year Meedy Shields gave property along Sixth Street in Seymour to build Shields School.

The sand bricks on the outside of the Lynn Street School were made onsite by Travis Carter’s company. Duncan said Seymour grew really fast from the 1850s to the 1900s, and Carter’s company was responsible for the construction of several other buildings in the city, including the Carnegie library and a school on Laurel Street.

John Newby and William Maddex started the Lynn Street School.

For a period of 10 years, it had more than 125 students. And at one time, the church next door served 219 families.

The Great Depression and later World War II, however, caused some African-American families to leave Seymour for jobs in larger cities, like Detroit and Chicago.

The school only had 11 students in 1929 when the state board of health condemned the building because it had poor ventilation, heating and lighting, no water supply and no sanitary system and was unsanitary.

State officials gave the school board three options: Remodel the building and bring it up to code, tear it down and start all over or sell the property and integrate the students into other schools.

The board went the latter route.

“At that time, with the number of kids, it was costing the school board $225 a student a year to teach and educate those kids,” Duncan said. “And for the tax money that they were getting for the schools for the population at that time did not warrant it, so the school building got closed.”

The three pieces of property were purchased by the Maddex family for $610.

In the former school building, one of the rooms was used for church services at one time, and the building was turned into a dormitory for African-American men helping build Freeman Field as a military base during World War II.

Edgar Maddex and Adabelle King Maddex started the Goodwill Center in the basement of the church. By 1960, it had outgrown that space and moved into the former school building.

All services at the Goodwill Center were free to anyone, no matter their race, and the Maddexes did what they could to help people.

“(Edgar) would go to the river and fish all day, come back and then let friends know, ‘I have food. If you need it, come get it,’” Duncan said. “It was more than he could eat, more than his family (could eat), but he assisted those people.”

Edgar also would take some of the donated furniture to Indianapolis to sell and use the cash to buy food and clothing and provide assistance to Seymour families.

The center also provided annual holiday dinners at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Duncan said Edgar didn’t want to get paid for running the center or serving as a minister. The only money he accepted was for his jobs as a barber and cleaning places with his daughter, and his wife ran a restaurant.

“That was God’s work, and he said, ‘I take no money from that,’” Duncan said of Edgar’s efforts in helping the community.

In the 1980s, a lack of funding forced the closure of the Goodwill Center.

Kay Shelton Welton, her mother, Thelma Shelton, and her brother, Irvin Shelton, have been able to keep the property in their family.

Welton had approached Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman with her vision of the property. The former school building once was on the Seymour Heritage Foundation’s list of most endangered buildings because of its condition. That group is no longer active.

Terrye Davidson, director of Leadership Jackson County, learned about the family’s vision and thought it would be a great project.

The history project team of Duncan, Amanda Lowery, Luke Schnitker, De Gamroth and Daniel Taskey led the charge.

They helped the family fill out applications for nonprofit status and grants, worked with Indiana Landmarks to have architects assess the building and establish a plan and arranged cleanup days to work on the inside and outside of the building.

Now, it’s just a matter of obtaining the money needed to put the committee’s plans into motion.

The project is special to Duncan because he grew up around the area of the Lynn Street building.

When his family moved to Seymour in the mid-1960s, he became friends with other kids in the area and at one point was invited to attend the nearby African-American church.

“The friends I was running around with, some were black, some were white, all living in the same neighborhood,” he said.

Duncan said he was glad his mother allowed him to attend the church because over time, he was able to grow his friendship with the other kids.

They are his inspiration for helping preserve the important piece of Seymour history.

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The Lynn Street Colored School Center of Goodwill committee consists of Kay Shelton Welton, Aaron Shelton, Coleen Shelton, Xaviera Elrod, Sondra Gentry, Ron Duncan and Shawn Malone.

For information, find the nonprofit organization on Facebook, donate at or email Ron Duncan at [email protected].


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