Isaac P. Martin

Copyright * All rights reserved
J.C. (Jim) Tumblin, OD, DOS
3604 Kesterwood Drive, East
Knoxville, Tennessee 37918-2557
(865) 687-1948

Fountain Citians Who Made A Difference


Dr. Isaac Patton Martin


As one who has spent some time in various archives in search of information, I have always had a high respect for church historians. Many of us have seen the impressive results of the efforts of Pauline Vineyard Phillips (Central Baptist Church), Mary Sims Huffaker (Fountain City Presbyterian Church), Joyce Bacon Sterling (Fountain City Methodist Church), Margo Lovelace Campbell (Smithwood Baptist Church) and others. Actually, I was so fond of one future church historian, Evelyn (Peggy) Tumblin (Northside Christian Church), that I asked for her hand in marriage 53 years ago.

As impressive as the works of those church historians are, surely no other Fountain Citian has written as much church history as Rev. I.P. Martin.

Isaac Patton Martin was born on a farm near Strawberry Plains on December 11, 1867, the fifth of six children of Robert Patton Martin and Amanda Meek Martin, Scotch-Irish pioneers and devout members of the Presbyterian Church. Isaacís work ethic developed early at age six. He would later say, "It was a proud day when (my father) took me to the field with him." It was a small farm with numbers of livestockócolts and calves, pigs and lambs. Isaacís love for the horses would stand him in good stead later when he became a circuit riding Methodist minister.

Isaac started school in a small school with a single teacher who taught all the grades. The school "year" was only three or four months long but he acquired the 3-Rs and developed a love for his teachers. In later life Isaac also gave much credit to his parents "whose clear, correct speech and love of the Bible and other books" set a pattern for his life.

By necessity his formal education ended in his 17th year. His two older brothers, Zollie and Adam, had moved to Knoxville to work in the same firm. Isaac was needed on the farm as the "chief stay" of his father and mother.

Although only 22, Adam became ill and returned home. One day he asked Isaac to speak with him. Adam said, "Ike, I am going to live but a few days longer and I want to ask you to promise to meet me in heaven." Without a momentís hesitation Isaac took his brotherís wasted hand and said, "Adam, by the help of God I will promise to meet you in heaven." A few nights later, Adam said to him, "I know you are tired with your work in the field; but you handle me more easily than any other person; I want you to stay with me tonight and nurse me." The end came just as day began to dawn.

His pledge took deep root in Isaacís heart and he realized that fulfilling it meant much more than merely living a moral life. He became more serious about his Sunday School class, studied the lesson text regularly, and began to pray both morning and night, a habit that became fixed and continued throughout his life.

Not many weeks later Isaacís true awakening occurred as he was reading the Good Book and read these words, "For Christ is the end of the law of righteousness for every one that believeth (Romans 10:4)." He was moved to seek counsel from his mentors, Rev. David H. Comann of the local Methodist Church and Miss Bettie Lee Trent, teacher of his Sunday School class.

He was surprised, even shocked, when friends began to suggest that he heed a call to preach. Miss Trent and Isaac were working with the young people at the picnic grounds of the church one day when she said, "Do you realize how much good you can do among the young people?" In the coming weeks, as he faced the question, he was in deep confusion.

Rev. Comann was a wise and sympathetic friend. In November 1877, he asked if Isaac would accompany him to Asbury ten miles away where he was to hold a revival. As they walked to the church the following morning, Rev. Comann asked Isaac to close the meeting with a prayer after he had preached. The idea threw him into a panic and he refused. As they walked back home after the meeting, Isaac confessed to his remorse and said, "I will never again refuse to do anything (for the church) which I am capable of doing." Rev. Comann said, "We have a large number of young people here whom I have not succeeded in reaching and I want you to talk to them tonight."

Isaac consented and chose the text, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden." Soon he was licensed and became Reverend Isaac Patton Martin on February 18, 1888, at the Quarterly Conference of the Strawberry Plains Circuit. He studied the books required and accompanied Rev. Comann on his pastoral visits and presided at various churches.

When the Columbia Conference in Oregon called for two ministers to serve there for a year, Rev. Martin and his mentor, Rev. Comann, answered the call. His first pastorate was at a small church in the Willamette Valley near the Columbia River Gorge. When the year came to an end, he had to make a decision. His mother and father needed him back home, but there was also another reason to return to Tennessee. His long acquaintance with the Sunday School teacher of his youth had blossomed into love. He entreated her and Miss Bettie Lee Trent gave her hand in marriage on January 1, 1890.

They soon rode off on horseback to his first pastoral assignment, the Louisville Circuit--eight churches sixteen miles below Knoxville on the Tennessee River. There were no paved roads in East Tennessee at the time and he spent many hours riding over mud roads. Even the oldest and strongest circuits had been retarded and discouraged by the bitterness of the Civil War, which had ended only 25 years earlier. The Louisville Circuit was not spared, but the small groups at each church grimly held together.

Late in his life, in Thoreau-like passages, Dr. Martin described riding into Cades Cove where one of the churches in his circuit was located, "The sun was high in the heavens when I passed the crest of the mountain (Rich Mountain) and began the descent toward Cade's Cove...I had never seen anything quite so beautiful ... Cade's Cove is the dream of the Smoky Mountains."

Dr. A.B. Wing summarized Dr. Martinís life work in a heartfelt tribute to his friend in the Journal of the Holston Annual Conference, 1960:

"At the end of one year in Oregon the young preacher returned to Holston (the Holston Conference) to take up the trail of service which was to wind over the next fifty years up and down the hills and valleys of East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, beginning with the Louisville Circuit in Blount County, Tennessee, and ending at Fountain City in the environs of Knoxville. In those fifty-one years he served God and his church in almost every type of appointment and assignment possible for a Methodist preacher except that of bishop and college president. In addition to his ministry on the Louisville and Maryville Circuits, his pastorates included Pocahontas in Tazewell County, Virginia, in the pioneer days of the developing coal industry; Tazewell and Lebanon in the lush and lovely bluegrass hills of Southwest Virginia; Sweetwater and Morristown in East Tennessee, and culminating in a four-year pastorate at Church Street in Knoxville considered at that time the prize appointment in Holston Conference."

Dr. Martin spent twenty-three years in appointments other than the pastorate: Presiding Elder (now called District Superintendent) at Big Stone Gap and Abingdon, Director of the Christian Education Movement (1920-1926), Presiding Elder in Abingdon again and in Morristown and Presiding Elder in the Knoxville District, just after the Great Depression.

His concept of a Judicial Council for the Methodist Church, South, which was accepted in 1934, paved the way for the Uniting Conference in 1939 and for the first General Conference which unified the three divisions of the Methodist Church in 1940. His wise counsel and his bridge-building work over many years had contributed greatly to making this historic union possible.

Fountain City Methodist Church (1891-1957)

His final appointment was to Fountain City Methodist Church where he served from 1935 to 1938. He retired on October 12, 1940, having served for 52 years in the active ministry. In his retirement, he taught Sunday School at Magnolia Avenue Methodist Church near his home and spent many hours writing five books: the Biography of Bishop Dr. E.E. Hoss (1942), History of the Holston Conference (1954), History of Church Street Methodist Church (1954), his Autobiography (1954) and History of Fountain City Methodist Church (C1956).

Dr. Martinís life span of 92 years covered more than half the history of American Methodism. He was a living link between the pioneering circuit riders and the modern Methodist Church. His summons to higher service came on March 9, 1960. Bishop Paul B. Kern wrote these words in the introduction to Dr. I.P. Martinís autobiography, "It is not given to many of us to live long enough and be creative enough to help build a civilization and shape a regionís destiny." Dr. Martin was given that opportunity. He rose to the challenge.

-The End-

1/6/05 28 para., 1839 words; 11/7/05 (Second Edit); 24 para., 1531 words; 11/9/05 (With Addendum and Bibliography) 48 para., 2031 words.


1. "íHistory of Methodism Unfolds Ups and Downs," Knoxville Journal, January 20, 1940.

2. Hugh F. Hoss, "Dr. I.P. Martin Retires After More Than 50 Years As Outstanding Methodist Cleric," Knoxville Journal, October 13, 1940.

3. Walter T. Pulliam, "Dr. I.P. Martin Writes Biography of the Late Bishop Embree Hoss," Knoxville News-Sentinel, October 18, 1942.

4. Nell Denney, "Dr. Martin Celebrating 60th Year in Ministry," Knoxville Journal, February 18, 1948.

5. Pat Fields, "Minister To Publish New Book," Knoxville Journal, February 27, 1954.

6. Pat Fields, "Methodists to Hold Dr. I.P. Martin Day," Knoxville Journal, July 24, 1954.

7. "Mrs. I.P. Martin, Pastorís Wife, Dies," Knoxville News-Sentinel, June 3, 1948.

8. "Wife of Dr. I.P. Martin Succumbs At Age Of 87," Knoxville Journal, June 4, 1948.

9. "'Dean' I.P. Martin Celebrates Birthday (Ex-Methodist Pastor is 92)," Knoxville News-Sentinel, December 12, 1959.

10. "Methodist Dr. Martin Dies At 92," Knoxville Journal, March 10, 1960.

11. "Dr. Isaac Martin, Dean of Area Methodism, Dies (Minister, 92 Known as ĎBeloved Servant of Godí)," Knoxville News-Sentinel, March 10, 1960.

12. "(Tribute to) I.P. Martin," Journal of the Holston Annual Conference of The Methodist Church (137th Session, June 10-13, 1960).

Books by Dr. Isaac P. Martin:

1. Elijah Hembree Hoss (Ecumenical Methodist), 1942.

2. Methodism In Holston (History of the Holston Conference), 1945.

3. Church Street Methodists (Children of Francis Asbury, A History of Church Street Methodist Church, 1816-1947), 1947.

4. A Minister in the Tennessee Valley, Sixty-Seven Years, 1954.

5. The History of Fountain City Methodist Church, C1956.

Addendum I:

Dr. Martinís autobiography summarized his 52 years in the ministry in these words:

"I have a deep sense of gratitude for the fact that I began my work as a circuit rider, in the lovely Willamette Valley in Oregon and along the Tennessee River in Blount County. I am equally grateful for the privilege of sharing life with the coal miners at Pocahontas (Va). These two periods covered seven years of diligent study and labor. The next seven years were spent among the sturdy families of farmers who dwelt among the rounded hills of the loveliest bluegrass regions of the South. They gave me their love and confidence. From the Bluegrass Hills I went to the great Sweetwater Valley, one of the fairest spots in Tennessee. I have carried them in my heart through forty years. Ö The work which has been assigned to me by Holston Conference has made it necessary, and possible, for me to preach in nearly every county, city, town and village from New River to the Sequatchie Valley, and from the Alleghenies to the Cumberlands. This was not by my planning, but the call of duty. In a rather mysterious way it has, nevertheless, enabled me to carry the message which has been given to me to every part of Holston Conference."

Addendum II (Great Depression in the Holston District):

Dr. I.P. Martin's book, "A Minister in the Tennessee Valley" (1954) on pages 192-3-4 there are these paragraphs:

"There had long been need for several Southern Methodist Churches in Knoxville; but the building of needed churches had been delayed by the active conservatism of the older leaders of the stronger churches. As money became easy, after 1924, the pressure to build increased, and spread to all of the larger churches. About this time, two of our largest churches were destroyed by fire. Church Street and Broad Street must build. Centenary united with Broad Street and they built Central Church. Then followed Magnolia Avenue, Washington Pike, Lincoln Park, Epworth, and Emerald Avenue.  The aggregate cost of these churches was about $1,775,000.00   When the dust cleared away after the collapse of 1929 they found themselves faced with indebtedness amounting to $760,000.00. They owed the Board of Church Extension, insurance companies, banks, R.F.C., etc., etc. etc.  There was stark amazement!  No one saw how these debts could be paid. It was widely believed they would never be paid. The churches had borrowed huge sums from insurance and trust companies and banks, with the expectation of being able to collect pledges, which had been made while money seemed plentiful. Churches had mortgaged their properties and many of the laymen of the church had made joint notes for borrowed money."

Then several paragraphs later:

"Although our people saw no way of meeting the heavy load of debt, they did not fall into panic. Many asked the question, 'Shall we lose our church?'   I was able to say to them, in perfect sincerity, that I was of the opinion that no church would be sold for debt. I reached this conclusion from the fact that there was, at that time, little market for real estate. If the insurance or other loan companies should take over the properties, they could neither sell nor rent them. On the other hand, they would have to pay taxes and upkeep. Few churches could be used profitably for other purposes without expensive remodeling.

"Our people did not lose courage. They reduced expenses whenever possible and made whatever payments they were able to make, however small. It was a long hard pull for several years; but gradually the drag was not so heavy. The large churches were not able to help the smaller churches because they were the most heavily loaded with debt.   After twenty years, some of them still have heavy indebtedness, but they have all things well in hand and in a few years the last debt will be wiped out.

"I shall always be grateful for the privilege of having shared in the stabilizing of these churches during the agonizing years of the great depression."

A little later are these words, "The four years of my service in the Knoxville District, 1931-1935, were the worst years of the great depression."   Those were the years when he was District Superintendent (maybe by the old title of Presiding Elder).