Although first settled in the late eighteenth century, the town officially came into being only in 1838. At that time, the Virginia General Assembly approved Presley Martin's petition to establish a town on his property where Fishing Creek flows into the Ohio River. In 1846 the town became the seat of the newly established Wetzel County, and in 1848 the boundaries were enlarged. To avoid confusion with another Martinsville, the Patrick County seat in southwestern Virginia, the name was changed to New Martinsville.
Post–Civil War prosperity focused on the wharf, as New Martinsville became an important Ohio River port and regional trading center, but when the railroad arrived in 1884, development shifted from the riverfront to the tracks several blocks eastward. The twentieth century was launched when the New Martinsville Glass Company, later the Viking Glass Company and later still Dalzell-Viking, was established. Soon after the turn of the century, Manufacturers Record, taking note of New Martinsville's prosperity, lauded its “fine new courthouse, a handsome schoolhouse and new bank building.”
In 1925, trading on its prime riverfront location, New Martinsville held its first regatta, which has since become an annual event. The city's location on the flat, low-lying river plain has mixed blessings, however, as New Martinsville has often suffered from extensive flooding. Current development and construction center along West Virginia 2, paralleling the river several blocks east of the railroad. With this shift, older sections that have been left relatively unscathed retain a number of buildings of architectural and historical interest. The town wharf, essentially a paved, sloped continuation of Washington Street lined with stone retaining walls, is similar to many early wharves along this stretch of the river.
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