Hacker Martin (1895-1970) was a legendary former resident of the Gray community with some pretty impressive credentials – old-time fiddler, gristmill owner/operator and expert gunsmith.
Hacker and Maude Martin raised a daughter, Betty, and two sons, Raphael and Donis, the latter being longtime owner of Martin’s Jewelers in downtown Johnson City. Betty Thompson recalled that her father learned to play the fiddle from a mail-order correspondence course. His musical prowess inspired her to use music as a hobby and sing in church choirs over the years.
Mrs. Thompson remembered some of the tunes Hacker and friends played: “Turkey in the Straw,” “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” “Billy Boy,” “Goodbye Liza Jane,” “Red River Valley,” “Hand Me Down My Walking Cane,” “Little Brown Jug,” “Oh Dem Golden Slippers,” “Old Gray Mare,” “Coming ‘Round the Mountain” and “Wait for the Wagon.”
Betty discussed Hacker’s gristmill business: “Dad had such a love for cheap power and waterpower was the least expensive form of energy available. Dad’s first investment was the Cedar Creek Mill that he purchased from Grover and Dolly Campbell in 1940. We were living seven miles west in Pleasant Valley at the time. The old mill was in need of repair so Dad and some of his friends put it in operation again. My brothers and I helped build the dam that supplied water to the big wheel. My dad used the mill for corn and wheat. It had two sets of French burr (or buhr) grinding stones. One set was used for animal feed and the other for human needs. Mom used to say: ‘now Dad, when someone comes in with that good hickory cane corn, save me the toll (small amount of product charged as a fee) out of it.’ It made awfully good cornbread.
“When gas rationing went into effect during World War II, traveling back and forth from the mill each day became a problem. Mom made Dad a bed upstairs in the mill where he stayed 5½ days a week. He bicycled home on Saturday afternoons to help with farm chores and then returned Monday mornings. In 1947, my father built a large cinderblock building beside the mill. It has eyebrow windows with arches above each one. He knew that arches were very strong. In 1951, Mom and Dad moved to Appomattox, VA, where Dad purchased the Stonewall Milling Company, a large mill. He and Raphael later bought the Flourville Mill.”
Mrs. Thompson’s conversation then turned to Hacker’s gunsmith trade: “Dad stored large slabs of curly maple tree stock in the top of the mill. “He first sawed it in the general shape of a rifle using a band saw and then rasped it down. It took several months to make each of his beautifully crafted guns. “The mill’s waterpower allowed him to grind the flats on the barrels. The cinderblock building became used as a shop for his gunsmith work and our family’s apartment.”
Hacker was the embodiment of old-time gunsmiths; his stunning looking muzzle loading rifles and pistols appeared to be 200 years old. Today, they are collectors’ items. “Dad loved to sit around with his friends and tell one tall tale after another,” said Betty. “I loved to listen to them and wish I could remember some of their yarns.”
The Smithsonian Institute recognized Hacker for continuing to make rifles for muzzle loading hobbyists during the depression. Daniel Boone High School further honored him by including him on a mural located in the commons area at the school.