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Rock Martin House turning 200
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The Rock Martin House, located on Old Rock Island Road, is undergoing renovations as it turns 200 years old.
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Some of the Rock Martin House woodworking has intricate detail.

One of the oldest houses in Warren County is turning 200 years old this year.

The Rock Martin House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Tennessee Century Farm, was built in 1820, according to information provided by MTSU.

The home is owned by local resident Raleigh Miller Jr., who purchased it in 1990 to keep it in the family. Only two families have owned the home since its construction.

“It’s a sentimental place,” said Miller when asked why he purchased it. “I lived there a year during World War II while my father was in the South Pacific. My favorite part of the house is the beautiful fan-shaped window over the front door.” 

Today, Miller has a small herd of cattle there and visits the property daily to check on a massive restoration project that’s underway. 

“There’s always restoration work to do and you have to do it again in another 25 years,” said Miller’s daughter, Susan Foote.

When asked about plans to celebrate the Rock Martin House turning 200, Miller said there won’t be a celebration. He said he didn’t want a lot of hoopla. He is tremendously proud of this milestone and keeping the home in the family, but he is concerned about the liability and safety of visitors coming around to view the property.

The two-story brick home, which was a mansion for its time, was built by William “Rock” Martin, who was originally from North Carolina and moved to Rock Island in 1797 at the age of 16. The home doesn’t have running water or electricity.

Shortly after arriving, Rock Martin married Virginia “Jennie” who was the daughter of Thomas Bradford Sr. They were blessed with seven children.

William purchased the Rock Island ferry and lands from John Armstrong in 1813. By 1815, settlers in the area associated William and his wife with Rock Island and began to refer to them as “Rock.” Their ferry and corn crops were prosperous enough to assist William and Jennie to invest in more real estate and chattel. They also ran a distillery and kept an inn for overnight travelers. 

The inn and distillery were located on land that is no longer associated with the original farm. It has been noted that Andrew Jackson had visited the home in the 1820s when it was new and partook of the distillery’s product. 

The Martin family acquired more than 1,000 acres and soon thereafter decided to build a brick home in 1820. The year was determined by a study performed on the building materials by the Center for Historic Preservation at MTSU.

In 1820, much of Middle Tennessee was still a frontier with few amenities of any kind. The construction of a dwelling such as the Rock Martin House was a milestone for the time.

The home consists of two floors with four large rooms and a kitchen unattached to the house. The five-bay south façade faces Old Rock Island Road just north of Mud Creek.

The construction style of the home is late Tennessee federal. The inside of the house was decorated with carvings and moldings. John Duncan, Rock’s son-in-law, provided his wood crafting skills to the four distinct fireplaces, mantelpiece, the dining-room cupboards, the interior window-shutters and doors, and the decorative stairway. He fell in love with the Martin’s older daughter Mary Ann while hired to do the woodworking labor.

The story handed down from generation to generation states a fire damaged a large section of the west part of the house. It is estimated the fire probably took place during the Civil War between 1862 and 1865. Rock Martin died on June 20, 1866 and was buried at the Shiloh Cemetery, where many of his family members were already buried. 

The land where the Shiloh Cemetery is located was part of the Martin farm and was given to the Presbyterian Ministry to establish a church and cemetery by Rock Martin. It is located across Rowland Station Road. Wife Jennie passed away later that same year on Oct. 28, 1866.

In early 1867, James Wiley Miller (1825-1893) and his second wife, Ellen Bray (1838-1900), purchased the brick house and 396 acres. The Miller family at this time consisted of seven children. They took on the task of a major remodeling effort including the repair of the fire damage during the Civil War.

After Ellen Miller passed away in 1900, William Van Dorn Miller (1862-1932) and his wife, Emma Mary Dunlap (1867-1949) acquired the house and the surrounding 420 acres from the James Wiley Miller heirs in 1901. 

Will was a colorful character who served as the last hanging sheriff in Warren County from 1898-1902 and as Justice of the Peace (magistrate) from 1918-32. Will and Emma had four children named Euclid, Eugene, Everett, and Raleigh Miller Sr., the father of the current owner.

In the late 1920s, Will’s health started to fail and his son Everett “Tip” Miller (1892-1990) took over the management of the farm. Tip continued to run the farm after his parents died. He followed his father’s footsteps and served as Justice of the Peace from 1944-1968. 

In 1972, Tip sold his herd and farm equipment then rented some of the land for agricultural purposes. He moved a house trailer to the property and lived in it until his death in September 1990. Raleigh Miller Jr. (b. 1932) purchased the house, farm buildings and 237 acres north of Old Rock Island Road. The rest of the farmstead was divided and sold.

Raleigh Miller Jr. has been the groundskeeper and restoring the Rock Martin House ever since his purchase in 1990. Several current projects involve repairs of the chimneys, even rebuilding one chimney. Also, repointing/ replacing the mortar in places of the home’s exterior to ensure it is structurally sound and safe. 

There is much more information regarding the families, home and property available at the Warren County Genealogical Association.