Editor’s Note: Russell County has a long history that is important to the State of Alabama and its evolvement from an area described in the book “Russell County in Retrospect” by Anne Kendrick Walker as a “barbaric land” to what it is today. Many of the people who set their roots in the county in its early days including the state’s first Territorial Delegate to the United States Congress, important Native Americans who paid with their lives to cede land that created the county, a family that started a place of higher learning in south Russell County that later led to the establishment of one of the state’s most known institutions of education today and a former slave who placed a monument to honor his former owner, are very much important to the formation of Alabama. The story that follows is another of a series to inform you – our readers – about the history of Russell County.
Lyman Waddell Martin was born on May 21, 1834 in Monterey, Abbeville District, South Carolina. He was the son of Charles Washington Martin, a Presbyterian minister, and his mother was Susan Carolina Giles Martin – both natives of the Abbeville District. His family roots may be tracked back to the early beginnings of our country and to several figures who served in the Revolutionary War and to early state governments.
In the 1850s, Martin came to the area and first settled in Columbus, Ga, where he studied law with his uncle Benjamin Yancey Martin. He remained in that position until 1854 when he moved to Crawford – the county seat of Russell County.
Martin read law in the office of Allen Eiland. He was admitted to the bar in 1855 and then practiced law for 54 years before retiring. While he practiced law for 54 years, it was not continuous as he served his new county in many other ways.
The lawyer became the first superintendent of Russell County schools. He stayed employed in that position from 1857 until 1865. He represented Russell County in the Alabama Legislature from 1878 to 1879. He would go on to hold several other important positions for the benefit of Russell County.
At the beginning of the War Between the States, Martin served in the 6th Alabama Regiment. He received a medical discharge, but did not end his service to the Confederacy. He returned to Russell County to help organize the Russell Volunteer Militia. Martin was made a Colonel for the group.
Colonel Martin used his law training and oratorical abilities to successfully defend Russell County and Alabama before a special Congressional Committee appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant to “look into the affairs of the late insurrectionary states” in the 1870s.
While in Crawford, Martin married Anna Lewis Calhoun on November 17, 1859. Her parents were also natives of the Abbeville District, S.C.
When the county seat was moved to Seale, the Martin family moved as well. After two years, the family moved a little further south in Russell County to the community of Villula and into the house known as the “Bird’s Nest.” It was here that Martin “gathered his family to discuss the wonders and beauty of the great outdoors and to talk the language of the stars at evening time.” During the day, his children were given the freedom to play as they wished. Evenings though was the time when the informal freedom of the day gave way to the formal time for the family. This was the time for cultural pursuits.
On September 8, 1935, a story in the Birmingham News-Age Herald said of the Martins, “Everyone dressed for dinner, and the mother, a French linguist, established a rule that French be spoken at the dinner table. A young butler under her capable tutelage acquired the language.”
The children described their mother as a woman of rare talents. She was a great reader, a lover of humanity, a French scholar and an inspiration to all 10 of her children. In spite of the demands he was under, Martin was remembered by his children as a loving parent and teacher.
The Martin family, while there in the “Bird’s Nest,” became identified with the countryside and the “City of Villas” as Martin referred to Villula. Like their parents, the Martin children went on to play important roles in the history of the county. Several of the children and their children went on to become teachers.
The Martin home – which Martin himself named the “Bird’s Nest” – went on to international fame as the Villula Tea Garden, a dining establishment owned by Helen Dudley Joerg for many years. The restaurant served many famous actors, including John Wayne when he was filming The Green Beret at Fort Benning, and many famous generals, including Gen. George Patton and Gen. Douglas MacArthur