The town of Martin was layed out on September 22, 1874 by a surveyor named H. C. Draughon. Two days later on September 24th, G. W. Martin, A. M. Clemons and H. C. Draughon filed a petition seeking incorporation of a township. Later that same day the County Clerk, W. R. Ross, endorsed a a writ of election which called for a vote to be held on November 27, 1874. A majority of the thirty-six inhabitants living on the proposed land voted in favor of incorporation and appointed John L. Smith the first mayor. On January 22, 1875 the County Chancery Court called for a special election to be held on February 5th to elect a mayor, six aldermen and a constable. B. F. Crawford was elected the first mayor of Martin.
Within two years Martin had a population of 500 residents. That same year the town contained six dry-goods stores, four groceries, two drug stores, one furniture store, three saloons, one millinery shop, one watchmaker, two marble yards, one cabinet and undertaker's shop, two blacksmiths , one shoe and boot shop, one saddle and harness shop, one hotel, one livery stable, one grist/saw mill and one steam cotton gin. The population continued to grow until 1878 when the a yellow fever epidemic struck. Over 400 cases were to be reported and the death toll reached 52 before the end of the summer.
The service business to the railroad industry brought prosperity to the growing town in the early part of the 20th century. With the town's prosperity came a burgeoning population. By 1920, the population of Martin reached over 3,300. In the Spring of 1927, the University of Tennessee purchased the Hall-Moody Institute and began a state supported junior college which now is a successful four college appropriately called the University of Tennessee at Martin. During the Great Depression and pre-war years the population grew steadily. In 1937, Martin would serve as a haven for flood victims and as a training center for Army and Naval Aviation Cadets from 1942 to 1944. In 1970, Esquire magazine labeled Martin as one of the happiest towns in the United States. Since that particular issue, many people in the region have given Martin the nickname "Happy Town". Today, Martin is the largest city in Weakley County with a population of 8,600 (1990).