Meet the Martins: Relatives of Postmaster James Martin celebrate 110 years of holiday spirit 

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 By Don Steen

The winding branches of the Martin family found their way home to Santa Claus Saturday for a very special reunion. It has been 110 years since Santa Claus Postmaster James Martin began answering letters addressed to Saint Nick, a tradition that is still going strong today. The grounds of the Santa Claus Museum, and historic church where James was married, were filled with his relatives from near and far. 

Martin’s whimsical project of answering letters gained national and international renown in 1930 when “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” featured Santa Claus, Indiana and its Postmaster in a cartoon. By the next Christmas, Martin had to bring on six clerks just to process the load. 

Today, Martin is among the ranks of the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame. However, his was far from the only storied life in the family tree. Jed Inman, who helped organize this grand reunion of Martins and relatives, related some stories of how the family came to be here. 

Jacques Martin, grandfather to James, was a Swiss doctor who left his homeland for America in 1853. He bought land in Spencer County from Congress the following year, settling about six miles from a small town that, at that time, went by the name of Santa Fee. After a few years, the town would oblige to change its name in order to secure a Post Office. Regardless of your preferred legend of how it came about, the town would henceforth be known as Santa Claus, Indiana. 

When the Martins arrived, the town that would be Santa Claus consisted of 20 wood houses and still-wild country. The primary industry was a mill driven by two horses and a wool carding factory, as well as a general store. 

Jacques Martin enlisted in the Sixth Ohio Regiment during the Civil War, where he fought in the Battle of Shiloh and other engagements of the Western Theater. In 1864 he returned to his farm, passing away five years later. His son, Louis, was already working as a farmer at the time and took over the homestead after his father’s death. 

Louis and his wife, Louisa, welcomed the infant James Martin into the world in 1874, and later moved the original family farm to the town proper in 1903, becoming Santa Claus Postmaster as well as a store owner. 

James Martin would follow in his father’s footsteps, taking up the trade of shopkeeping and administering the nascent community’s Post Office. That is, before carving his own very unique path to notoriety. 

Read more on this story in this week’s issue of the Spencer County Leader!

Featured Image: Relatives of Postmaster James Martin gather outside the historic church at the Santa Claus Museum for a reunion and special presentation on the history of the family and the town’s first “Elf”

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