Darwin was born in 1865 in Bouckville, NY (the geographic dead center of the state), and was raised largely by his brothers and father, leaving school and going to work for the Larkin Company as a door-to-door soap salesman in 1878. While working his way up in the company in Buffalo, he met and courted Isabelle Reidpath, the daughter of a grocer, and they were married in 1889.
Darwin developed a card ledger system for company accounts which transformed their mail order business and led to a steep rise in the company’s fortunes as well as his own. Just after the turn of the century he became Secretary (Chief Operating Officer) of the Larkin Co. and in 1903 met Frank Lloyd Wright and began the start of a string of Buffalo commissions – the Heath House, the Larkin Administration Building, and the set of houses in the Prairie Style designed for he and Isabelle and family members on Jewett Parkway in Buffalo.
With little formal education himself, Darwin’s interests revolved around work, family, and home, with occasional forays into the cultural life of Buffalo. Widely read, and an avid diarist and correspondent, his life and that of the Martin family is well documented. Isabelle suffered from eye trouble and failing vision from her teen years onward, yet the family traveled often throughout the country and Europe and their two children, Dorothy and Darwin R., went to the best private schools and colleges in the east.
Darwin took stock of his personal net worth at the end of every year and noted the amount to the penny in his diary. After cashing his stock and retiring from the Larkin Co. in 1925 after 47 years to the exact day, 1926 proved to be the peak of his fortune at $2.7 million. There was a considerable streak of charity within the Martins over the years with interests tending toward troubled children and higher education. In 1928 they endowed a chair in mathematics at the University of Buffalo for $100,000. Good fortune would not last, however, and the stock market crash in 1929, coupled with personal investments in new real estate development at the time, wiped out his liquid assets, yet by all outward appearances, Darwin and Isabelle soldiered on as he continued his work on local boards and commissions and together they continued to travel and enjoy and develop both of their Wright-designed homes. Darwin died of a stroke in 1935 and Isabelle left the city house in 1937 but continued to summer at Graycliff until 1943. She died in 1945.