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Abbott "Abbo" Martin Collection

 File — Multiple Containers
Identifier: P74

Scope and Contents

Materials related to Sewanee professor Abbott Cotten Martin. This collection is composed of newspapers clippings (the majority), index (some) and notes for his English classes (little). Martin was a gardener who, with the help of WWII POW labor, transformed the ravine on campus into the Abbott Cotten Martin Ravine Gardens, better known as "Abbo's Alley." He was also a staunch segregationist, believer in the Southern Cause and was anti-Communist-- with news clippings reflecting that. One folder of photographs.


  • 1928 - 1968

Conditions Governing Use


Biographical / Historical

Abbott Cotten Martin was born on June 12, 1899 a specialist in Victorian literature and Wordsworth's poetry. He was a 1928 graduate of The University of Mississippi and taught literature at The University of the South. He died on October 22, 1974 in an Atlanta nursing home. He was burned in the University of the South Cemetary. He never married.


3.5 Linear Feet : Two letter-sized boxes, quarter-sized box, full-sized shoebox and one half-sized shoebox.

Language of Materials



Materials have been altered from their original arrangement.


Abbo’s Alley is the affectionate name given to the Sewanee Ravine Garden. The name honors Abbott Cotten Martin (1899-1974), professor of English at Sewanee for over 40 years. Tremlett (Polk) Spring and nearby ATO (Otey) Spring form a stream that runs about a mile before dropping over the edge of the plateau. These springs were the first water source for Sewanee and important in selection of the campus site.

Even today there are clear reminders of rockwork pools, which were used by early students for bathing and remnants of a pump house, which pumped water to a standpipe. One of the bathing pools was recently restored as a Koi pond. A resolution by the Board of Trustees in 1886 states “That the ravine beginning near the Polk Spring, with adjacent slopes as far as may be necessary and the ground near the head of the ravine as far as the Breakfield road be preserved for Park purposes and that the commissioner of buildings and lands be directed to take measures for the clearing and improvement of this space. This reservation to be extended as far as Hodgson’s pond.”

At this same session the trustees called for the continued employment of a forester and the employment of a landscape gardener. The early response of the University’s administration to the strong resolution of 1886 is not known, but it appears to have created little action. For administrations since then it has been an item of low priority, but there has been considerable voluntary activity in the garden.

Just when Abbott Martin first adopted the garden is not known. The story is told that his interest in plants was aroused when he spotted an early crocus after his first cold winter here in 1929. The first record of his activity that can be found is a letterhead stating that the Sewanee Ravine Garden was established in 1942 and that Abbott Cotten Martin was superintendent. His stated goal was to grow “every flowering plant which would grow in our latitude.” As a self-taught gardener with meager resources, Abbo was never able to fully achieve his dreams. With the labor of students and the help of German prisoners of war from nearby Camp Forrest, however, he was able to bring beauty to a place where trash and brush had prevailed. He brought in numerous wildflowers and various shrubs and trees, but the main attraction was an abundance of daffodils, which made the garden a springtime delight.

In 1964, The Sewanee Ravine Garden was officially named The Abbott Cotton Martin Ravine Garden, and the occasion was noted by placement of a plaque on a large stone at the upper garden entrance. It reads: “A soul whose Master bias leans to home-felt pleasures and gentle scenes” (Wordsworth). In declining health even before his retirement in 1969, Abbo could give little attention to the garden in his later years.

In 1972, Vice-chancellor Bennett asked George Ramseur to chair a committee to “revive and reinstate the Sewanee Ravine Garden.” With support of students and community volunteers, progress was steady but slow. In 1975 the group adopted the name “Friends of Abbo’s Alley,” and Albert Gooch was elected president and assumed the role of head gardener. After a request for $1000 from the University was rejected, work continued with volunteers and some student labor financed from dues. Albert left in 1982 and leadership was passed to Don Pippen, and then to Stevens Anderson, who also moved away.

After that, the Alley floundered for several years. In 1990 the “Friends” group was reactivated and Rogers Beasley was elected president. Recently retired history professor Joe Cushman, who had worked for Abbo in his student days, volunteered to serve as head gardener. The University offered support in the form of some grounds crew time and work-study students. Several other recent retirees now volunteer their time as work-study supervisors, and Louis Rice was recently designated head gardener.

The Friends of Abbo’s Alley group has provided funds for equipment and supplies. Several memorials have been received including a gazebo, a sculpture, a butterfly garden, bridges, benches, and a “tool crib.” The dreams of Abbo and the vision of the trustees who set aside the garden area have yet to be fully realized. The daffodils are thriving, and numerous other plantings add to the beauty of the place. But there is much to be done. The grass is mowed, the brush is cleared and the deer-browsed azaleas are replaced. But the Alley still waits for a full-time gardener. -George Ramseur, "The Plant Press" Summer 2003

Abbott "Abbo" Martin Collection
Kris Kallies
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Repository Details

Part of the University Archives and Special Collections Repository

735 University Avenue
Sewanee TN 37383-1000