Bob Martin’s collection ‘Rocks’

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Martin always wanted to own a dinosaur egg. Here he is, holding a dinosaur egg and standing in front of one of the pieces from his collection of West Virginia art – a Charlie Hamilton still life.
Photos courtesy of Bob Martin
There’s a prehistoric reef that runs through southern Pocahontas County and northern Greenbrier County, which is where Martin collected this rare Agatized Coral.

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

Many people know that Bob Martin is an attorney, but may not know that he has many other serious pursuits.

He and his wife, Melanie, live on 75 acres, which includes a historic home, in Huntersville, of which they are naturally, very proud.

Martin, who has a private law practice, is perhaps the quintessential definition of a modern “Renaissance Man.”

Because of his father’s Air Force career, Martin experienced life throughout the United States and abroad.

“I’ve lived all over the world,” he noted.

Perhaps that’s why he has such varied interests.

Martin’s biography is firmly stitched with threads from his father’s heroic service in the Air Force during three wars.

The family – Martin’s father, mother, Martin and his one brother and three sisters – spent time in many states in the U.S., as well as in Newfoundland, Canada, Nova Scotia, and many European countries, including Morocco and Algeria.

Martin’s father, Major Robert Martin, served in the Army Air Corps in World War II.

After World War II, the Army Air Corps became the U.S. Air Force and Major Martin continued his service in Korea and Viet Nam.

Martin’s parents met in at Concord College in Athens. His mother, Mavis Jean Hamilton Martin, was a Special Education teacher, who was born and raised in Raleigh County.

Martin was born in Montgomery, Alabama, when his dad was stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base.

He graduated from Greenbrier Military School in 1972.

He took his undergraduate degree in Political Science, then earned his master’s in Public Administration and a doctorate in Juris Prudence 1979 – all at West Virginia University.

While Martin values his degrees and his education, he knows that there is more to life than what can be found within the walls of academia.

I asked Martin to tell me a little about his rock collection – the 5,000 or so specimens of rocks and fossils from around the world – including some rather significant finds from right here in Pocahontas County.

Photo courtesy of Bob Martin
Martin says his favorite rocks are agates. They come in many varieties, from various geological periods, and are of many different shapes, colors and sizes. These are called Dragon Agates.

“My idea of a serious collection is one that contains an example of everything you can possibly find,” Martin said.

“I have all my rocks labeled – what it is, what year it was found and where.

“I don’t have any background in geology,” Martin admits, “I’ve just read a ton about rocks.

“I took a couple of classes at WVU while I was there getting my undergraduate degree in Political Science, but no, I wouldn’t say I have any real background in geology.

“I’ve always been fascinated with rocks. I guess it started when I was nine years old.

“We were living in Morocco.

“I went somewhere, and I saw a guy polishing rocks. They were beautiful, and I just took an interest in it.

“He taught me how to make a rock polisher with a motor and a Clorox bottle, and I guess you could say I was hooked.”

“I’ve always looked for rocks wherever I go. I walk along, and I’m looking down at the ground all the time.”

Where has he found some of his best rocks?

“Oh, I’d say Afghan-istan,” he said. “It’s load-ed with incredible min- erals. And China and the Badlands out West are the best places for fossils.”

But West Virginia is no slouch in the rock and fossil department, either.

“My favorite rocks are agates,” Martin said.

“Agates come in many varieties, from various geological periods, and are of many different shapes, colors and sizes.

“I have them from all over. But some of my favorites are from right here in Pocahontas County.

“Rock people will tell you that there aren’t any agates in this part of West Virginia.

“I beg to differ,” he said with a laugh.

“There’s a prehistoric coral reef that runs through northern Greenbrier County and southern Pocahontas County,” Martin explained.

Photo courtesy of Bob Martin
Rock collectors and mineral collectors are sometimes two different kinds of rockhounds. But Martin collects both. Here are a few of his exquisite crystals – what he affectionately calls “the pretty stuff.”

The West Virginia state gem stone is the silicified Mississippian fossilized coral Lithostrotionella, which was alive during the Mississippian Period – about 325 to 350 million years ago when our part of the world was under a vast sea.

Lithostrotionella is almost exclusively found in the Hillsdale limestone of the southeastern portion of West Virginia in Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties.

Martin said the prehistoric reef runs through a farm in Hillsboro. The owner told him about it and invited him to visit.

“I went down and looked at it,” Martin said.

“It’s Agatized Coral – the only Agatized Coral of its kind in the world.

“It’s just beautiful, and I was generously allowed to bring home what seemed like a truck load.

“And I have other Pocahontas County finds. I have a trilobite that I found right here on my own farm,” he said, with a smile.

Trilobites are extinct fossilized arthropods – marine animals – which first appeared during the Cambrian period – about 542 million years ago.

“The fact that you can look down and pick one up from the ground is almost a miracle.” Martin enthused. “I’ve collected a lot of great rocks and fossils around here.

“The creek beds in Pocahontas County are great places for finding fossils, arrowheads, artifacts and interesting rocks.

“I’ve also got tons of amethyst geodes, and a dragon agate and geodes from the Dead Sea.

“But my ‘Holy Grail’ – the rock I wanted all my life – had always been a petrified dinosaur egg and, finally, ten years ago, I bought one out of China.

“My family and my work gave me the opportunity for a lot of travel,” he said thoughtfully.

“So I’ve been able to do a lot of rock hunting over the U.S. and the world.

“One of the greatest things about collecting rocks is that people bring me rocks all the time, and when I travel, I bring back rocks to lots of people, too.”

Martin enjoys sharing his collection with young people.

“When my kids were in school in Charleston, I’d do a show with my rocks every year for each of their classes.

“A teacher asked me to do a presentation at Marlinton Elementary a few years ago for the whole school.

“I gave every child a piece of local Agatized Coral to take home with them.”

Martin’s rock obsession has embroiled him in many types of rock adventures.

“I always find rocks, rock stores and rock collectors everywhere I go. I’m a frequent flyer, and I’ve been through a lot of airports over the years.

“Everywhere I’d go, I’d be bringing back rocks with me.

“To carry them home, I’d have to find a box, tape a handle on top and take it to the airport,” he said.

Which meant taking it through airport security.

“I’ve fought with airport security about my boxes of rocks in every major airport in the country,” he reminisced.

Besides rocks, Martin has several other interests.

He’s a huge movie fan and he’s a voracious reader.

“Right now I’m reading A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens,” he said.

“Next, I’m going to tackle Moby Dick.”

In addition to rocks, Martin has also amassed an impressive collection of original West Virginia art which includes 50 incredible pieces by the likes of Charlie Hamilton, Ann Shreve, Helen Chilton, Steve Edwards, Dutch Hammer and Grace Martin Taylor.

And he cooks.

He does all the cooking at home.

“I love to cook – everything from real simple to real complicated meals.

“When I was in college, I watched a lot of Julia Child on TV.”

“I loved her television show, and I learned a lot from it.”

While we were talking about his rock collection, Martin was minding a slow-roasting Pocahontas County beef sirloin which he planned to serve for supper as chateaubriand.

“Are you expecting company this evening?” I asked.

“Oh, no. It’s just for Melanie and me,” he said. “I guess you could say, we like to eat well.”

But not every meal at the Martin’s is French cuisine.

“I also make my own spaghetti sauce,” he added.

In the past few years, he also become an actor.

“I was never on stage until I was 46 years old, but I found I quite enjoy acting,” he said.

“For some reason, though,” he chuckled, “I always seem to land the bad guy roles.”

Martin has been tapped for his acting abilities by the Pocahontas County Drama Workshop.

In 2015, he played Professor Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure; and in 2018, he played the crooked preacher in Who Killed Preacher Brown?

But Martin’s oldest obsession has been rocks and fossils, and he says he’ll always be fascinated with them.

What is Bob’s advice to those who are interested in starting a rock collection?

“Start collecting right where you are and as soon as you can,” he said.

“Read books about rocks and minerals and learn all you can so you’ll know what you’re looking at when you’re rock hunting.

“There are beautiful books out there that will really inspire you.

“Go out and explore the creek beds, and get in the habit of always looking for rocks, wherever you are.”