Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.
If Faulkner County ever gave an award for the best community leader in history, it would have to go to Captain William Wyle Martin.
Martin served on the Conway City Council and the Conway School Board. He became president of the school board and the first president of the YMCA in 1888. In 1890, Captain Martin organized and served as president of the first bank in Faulkner County, the Bank of Conway. He was the first president of the Chamber of Commerce when it was formed that year. That same year, he became Mayor of Conway, serving off and on through 1905. He was also the road commissioner, a volunteer position.
But Martin didn’t even move to Conway until 1885. He came from Springfield, the county seat of Conway County, where he was deputy sheriff for two years. He had moved there at the end of the Civil War when he got out of federal military prison. While serving in the Quitman Rifles of the 10th Arkansas Regiment where he had risen to the rank of captain, he was taken prisoner and remained in prison until the end of the war.
When Martin arrived in Springfield, the town had four saloons, poor roads, no churches and no schools. In 1868, he went into the general mercantile business and became a leader in the community. Seventeen years later, when he left, the town had good roads, a school, churches and the town was free from saloons.
Martin moved to Conway where he and Daniel O. Harton opened up a large two-story general merchandise and cotton buying business at Oak and Front streets. His business did well there so he and his brother, J.E. Martin purchased 1,500 acres in northwestern Faulkner County where they farmed and raised cattle, hogs and sheep. The town of Martinville developed around their large two-story farmhouse and general store.
As a respected leader in the Conway Methodist Church, Martin and the Rev. Edward A. Tabor, pastor of the church, were a formidable force in closing all the saloons in Conway. At the time, there were at least five or six saloons just in the business district. The saloon owners were not very happy with them. It was reported that Martin even had a gun pointed at him at one point but on December 31, 1888, the saloons closed.
Martin and Tabor also led the effort to bring Hendrix College to Conway in 1890. Martin gave $11,000 of the $55,000 Conway bid and supervised the selection of the campus site. He also supervised the construction of the first buildings. He became a member of the Hendrix Board of Trustees and served for 20 years, the last ten as chairman.
Martin was one of the college’s largest financial contributors. He continued to give more money to the school as it was needed. At his death, it was estimated that he had contributed around $75,000 to the college through the years. In today’s money, that would be about $2 million.
In 1910, Martin was elected to represent Faulkner County in the Arkansas House of Representatives. In 1911, he and about 50 other Arkansans took a train trip north to promote Arkansas. He caught cold while on the trip and died of pneumonia on December 13, 1911. Seven hundred people attended his funeral. He was buried at Martinville.
Nine years later, the Hendrix Board of Trustees named a new four-story men’s dormitory after Capt. Martin. With the permission of his family, Capt. Martin was re-interred on the southwest corner of the Hendrix campus. In 1937, a five-ton granite boulder was placed on his grave and another dedicatory service was held to honor the man who had done so much for his church, his community and Hendrix College.