Martin House

Nathaniel Martin House, A Piece of History Nearly Forgotten!

by Director-Curator Meg Davis

(This article first appeared The Village Chronicles, The Gem County Historical Society periodical, Spring, 2007.)

There is a house behind a security fence at the end of Wardwell Avenue. She has patiently stood there since about 1879, and she is pretty much unnoticed by everyone except Denny White, a couple of people in the Historical Society - and vandals. However, she is very important to the community of Emmett. Let me explain what makes this house so special.

Around 1862 the Jonathan Smith family and Nathaniel Martin came west from war-torn Missouri, seeking their fortunes in the newly discovered goldfields. The partners started a ferry crossing on the Payette River and built a hostelry to accommodate the miners coming from Oregon to the Idaho gold strikes and for the emigrants going to Oregon from the States.

The Smith family ran the inn and grew produce to sell to the folks moving both ways across the Payette Valley. "Squire" Martin ran the ferry just west of the present river bridge. He preformed marriages and sold a few supplies from his log cabin. This busy bud of a community was called Martinsville. Martin filed on his homestead in October 1872. The plat was 48.38 acres along the Payette River west of present Washington Avenue. The well-timbered land was remembered by his granddaughter, Pearl, as a great place for family picnics and picking wild flowers and wild currants.

In June of 1877, Nathaniel's son James Madison Martin (known as Matt) came out from Missouri with his wife Sarah and their young family. They all shared the log cabin. Very soon after their arrival, Matt and Nathaniel became interested in building a general merchandise store.

A year or so later, the family built a "pretentious" house, with the assistance of carpenter Clint Brown. Brown was also the first undertaker in the valley, but undertaking business was pretty slow in this new little community. The spacious two-story home was built on ten acres between Martin's Ferry and the low-water ford at the end of Wardwell Avenue. It was built of the best hand-planed lumber available at the Basye sawmill using square, wrought iron nails. The interior was well sealed and painted. The walls in the kitchen sported faux wood-grain panels and the doors through out the house had the same finish. A window frame from Nathaniel's cabin was used in the new kitchen.

Furniture for the new home was built by Nathaniel and later by his brother John Wesley Martin when he brought his family out in 1887. Squire Martin shared the new house with Matt's family until his death in 1884.

James M. "Matt" Martin was a farmer and orchardist. His produce was taken to the Boise Basin to sell. He was immediately active in the public affairs of the village, county, territory and state. Matt served as a member of the 15th legislative session of the Idaho Territory in 1881. He was a longtime board member of the Emmett School District, very active in the Methodist Episcopal Church and The Indenpendent Order of Odd Fellows. In 1903, he was again a legislator - this time for the new state of Idaho, as Segeant At Arms in the Senate Chamber.

Matt and Sarah Martin made their warm home a shelter for travelers to the Boise Basin. It was also a home for the new schoolteahers and the center of the new settlement's social life. The Martin home continued to serve as a comfortable shelter for many families for over 125 years.

This stoic house still stands rooted between the sites of the ferry and the ford - the oldest reminder of our community's beginning. She is now left to slowly deteriorate and has become a target for vandals, who perhaps do not understand the importance of her long history and what she represents for Emmett. She deserves better than this. As our community rushes to change we need her to remind us of who we were and where we came from.


Martin Family History
The Emmett Index, 1948 article by Pearl Martin Burton.

Copyright © 2008 - All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise attributed, all photos and text are the property of Gem County Historical Society

Serving Gem County since 1973.

Wednesday - Saturday 1:00pm - 5:00pm & by appointment    ::    Extended hours during The Cherry Festival in June.