Wetzel County History


County Outline Map for West VirginiaWetzel County, West Virginia, was created in 1846 from Tyler County and named for Lewis Wetzel, famous frontier character and Indian fighter.

When the thirteen original states were organized, the Wetzel County area fell within the area of Virginia and remained a part of that state until the formation of West Virginia in 1863. The area was originally within the limits of Ohio County, which was formed in 1776, and at that time included not only all of the panhandle, but extended indefinitely westward and for a considerable distance to the south. After the formation of the state of Ohio, the westward extension of Ohio County, Virginia, became fixed by the Ohio River. In 1814 Tyler County, named in honor of President Tyler’s father, was formed from a part of Ohio County, and included what is now Tyler and Wetzel Counties. Wetzel County was created in 1846 from the northern part of Tyler County.

Lewis Wetzel, called "the Boone of Northwestern Virginia", was born on the south branch of the Potomac River about 1764. He was the second of four sons of John Wetzel who later lived at the mouth of Wheeling Creek in Marshall County. Lewis Wetzel's brothers and sisters were: Martin, George, John, Jacob, Susan and Christina.

No man of the western border was more dreaded as an enemy than Lewis Wetzel. He had been tortured by the Indians and had vowed revenge on the Indians for the death of his father, who was killed when Lewis was about 23 years of age near Captina upon his return from Middle Island Creek. Literally a man without fear, Lewis Wetzel was as brave as a lion, cunning as a fox, "daring where daring was the wiser part, prudent when discretion was valor's better self. For example, when about thirteen years of age, Lewis and his brother, Jacob, were captured by the Indians from their home and made prisoners. Lewis had been hit by a glancing shot which carried away a small piece of his breastbone, leaving a painful wound. Even at this tender age Lewis Wetzel was a true adventurer, brave and cunning; he and Jacob tricked the Indians into trusting them not to escape, then made their escape after the Indians fell asleep without having the boys tied up.

Daringly, the boys walked barefoot for several miles but, realizing that they could not walk as far nor as fast as necessity decreed, Lewis left Jacob in the forest, returned to the sleeping Indians, and made off with their moccasins and a gun. The following day the boys reached the Ohio at a point opposite Zanes' Island, having been taken more than twenty miles down river on the Ohio side, the boys reached safety the same day. Universally regarded as one of the most efficient scouts and most practiced woodsmen of his day, Wetzel was frequently engaged by parties who wanted to hunt and locate lands but were afraid of the Indians. Engaging Wetzel for months at a time, however, they felt safe. John Madison, brother of President James Madison, employed Wetzel to go with him through the Kanawha region.

Early in his youth Lewis Wetzel had acquired the habit of loading his gun while at a full run and hit his mark. These habits greatly facilitated his efforts to obtain revenge on the Indians for the death of his father. The fact that he killed every Indian he was confronted with and his amazing personal appearance made Wetzel's scalp most prized by the Indians.

Having a very dark complexion, and wild black eyes, five feet ten inches tall, very erect, broad across the shoulders, with an expansive chest, and muscular arms and legs, Lewis Wetzel was a striking man. His hair was of raven jetness and very luxuriant, reaching when combed out below his knees. Of course, this would have been a rare scalp for any Indian.

Wetzel County was formed by an act of the Assembly of Virginia. Martinsville, now New Martinsville, was designated as the county seat.  The first session of court was held in April 1846 in a house owned by Sampson Thistle, located at the corner of Main and Jefferson Streets. In 1848, the ground now occupied by the Wetzel County Courthouse was deeded to the county for $1.00 by Presley and Margaret Martin for the purpose of building a court house. The building was completed in 1852 and was used as a courthouse for 48 years when, in the early 1900's it was torn down and the lumber moved to Paden City. In 1902, the present courthouse was completed at a cost of less than $175,000.

Early grand jury records disclose that nearly all indictments found in the early years were for assault and battery, riding in a horse race on a public road or for selling "bootleg" liquor.

S. Bruce Hall, representing the Wetzel County Bar Association as its oldest member, in his presentation of a gavel to newly elected Judge James F. Shipman said: "The article which I am requested to present to you upon this occasion is an appropriate one. It is one of ancient and honorable use. It is the sincere hope of this speaker that you will not have occasion to use it frequently. We assure you that we have not selected this particular article by which to express our welcome for the reason that we think you are, or ever will become, a Knocker. This article carries sentiment with it.  It brings back to fond memory to some of us older members of the bar, the little old square courthouse, its large brick pillars in front, its squatty cupola, its high rostrum and sawdust floors of the courtroom, its stacks of old army muskets, silent reminders of the carnage of former days, stowed away in an upstairs room, like the rusted toys of Little Boy Blue, of the hundreds of swallows who annually returned to build mud nests under its projecting eaves. I have no doubt, Sir, but what you will always live up to the highest ideals, and the finest traditions of the exalted office to which you have been elevated by voters of this Circuit. Please accept this mallet from the Wetzel County Bar Association, in the spirit in which it is given. It is made from timber of our old Courthouse. Lift it with care, hammer with caution, and may neither it nor the Court ever fly off the handle!"

Wetzel County is an Ohio Valley county, located in the northwestern part of the State of West Virginia. It forms the base on which the Northern Panhandle rests. It is bounded on the north by Marshall County, West Virginia and Greene County, Pennsylvania; on the east by Monongalia, Marion and Harrison counties, West Virginia; on the south by Doddridge and Tyier counties. West Virginia; and on the west by the Ohio River and Monroe County, Ohio. Wetzel County is separated from Greene County, Pennsylvania, and from Marshall County on the north by a portion of the historic Mason and Dixon line. The county is principally rolling, with slight hills. The surface is broken in some places by higher hills, which occasionally assume considerable proportions and are steep. The lowest point, 588 feet above sea level is in the southwestern corner of the county at the Ohio River, and the highest, 1,650 feet, at the summit of Honsocker Knob in the opposite corner.

Wetzel County fronts on the Ohio River for about thirteen miles. The largest tributary of this river in the county is Fishing Creek, the whole basin of which lies within the area and drains 220 square miles. The remaining area is drained by Fish Creek, which flows northwest into Marshall County and by several small creeks and runs.

New Martinsville, the county seat and chief town, is located on the Ohio River. It has an altitude of 630 feet above sea level. By road, it is 283 miles from Bluefield, 150 miles from Charleston, 75 miles from Clarksburg, 243 miles from Martinsburg and 38 miles from Wheeling.

Wetzel County, in common with other counties of the Ohio Valley, has extensive agricultural interests, and in addition it has for many years been one of the more important oil and gas counties of the State. Natural resources other than oil and gas have not been developed, though coal at varying depths is present in many sections of the county.

The industrial plants of the county are located in New Martinsville area. These include glassware, sand and gravel plants and lumber mills.


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