Martins Ferry Ohio

Martins Ferry is located on the Ohio River about sixty miles south of Pittsburgh, PA and across the river from Wheeling, WV.  It is the oldest settlement in Ohio having been founded in 1787.  From its beginning, Martins Ferry has been a source of attraction from a beautiful as well as from a political and economical standpoint.

The first inhabitants were the Mound Builders who built mounds in the areas near where Walnut Grove Cemetery is located, at Third and Hanover Streets and at Broadway and Adams Streets.  The mounds were later removed to make way for homes for white settlers.  The Indians were next to use the area as their hunting grounds.

Learn more about Martins Ferry Ohio and the fun attractions in the community.

From October to December, 1770, George Washington toured the Ohio Valley by canoe and reported on the beauty and richness of the region.  His reports of luxuriant forests, hoards of wild game and fertile soil attracted adventurous white settlers to come to this region.  The Indians were alarmed over this encroachment of the white settlers on their hunting grounds and appealed to the government for help.  Several attempts were made to evacuate the white settlers.  In 1785, Ensign John Armstrong was sent to this valley to evict the white men so that this land might be made ready for sale to replenish the federal treasury.  He reported that there were large numbers of white settlers in Hoglin’s or Mercer’s Town, as Martins Ferry was know then, and that they had progressed in law and order and had elected two justices of the peace.

Colonel James Monroe (later President of the United States) later visited the area and found that some settlers had remained in spite of the government’s orders and had named the settlement Norristown.  When the federal government opened up this territory for settlement in 1787, Absalom Martin of New Jersey was one of the surveyors and he received 640 acres of land for his work.  He proceeded to build a cabin and, in 1795, he laid out streets and alleys and called his town “Jefferson” after his favorite statesman.  When Pultney (now Bellaire) was later chosen as the county seat instead of his town, Martin was disappointed and vacated the town.

In 1835, his son Ebenezer laid out 100 lots and named the town Martinsville.  The lost sold quickly and farms took the place of clearings in the forests and soon the community became a thriving agricultural area.  A school and churches were established.  Because there was a Martinsville in Clinton County, the town’s name had to be changed to Martin’s Ferry in honor of the ferry that plied the river.  (The apostrophe was later dropped.)   Absalom Martin bought back all the lots he had sold before his son, Ebenezer, had taken over.  He cultivated these broad acres until his death at the age of 44.  He is buried in Walnut Grove Cemetery.

As early as 1814, meetings of the Methodist Episcopal Church were held in Mrs. Martin’s home and in 1823 the first schoolhouse was built.  This was built on land donated by Ebenezer Martin west of Fourth Street on the old County Road (Grant Avenue) leading from the ferry landing to the top of the hill.  With only a few houses in the town, pupils came from all directions with some walking three or four miles.  In case of a storm or snow, the first teacher, Mr. Livingston, was expected to find overnight lodging for his pupils in one of the homes.

As more settlers came to Martins Ferry, more land was needed for homes.  Wallace’s addition, Wood’s addition and Clark’s addition were added, as well as many others, until 25 additions were made to the city by various settlers within a half century.

Martins Ferry was incorporated by the commissioners of Belmont County on August 5, 1865.  Its first municipal election was held on December 15, 1865 with A.D. Rice being elected as the first mayor.

Because Martins Ferry was a part of the old Northwest Territory in which slavery had been prohibited by the Ordinance of 1787, the slaves of Virginia (now West Virginia) looked longingly across the Ohio River to the Martins Ferry port of freedom.  They whispered cautiously as they pointed to various homes in Martins Ferry that served as stations in the “Underground Railroad”.  The Woods’ property on North Third Street, the Van Pelt’s on the hill and the old Haines’ Mill on Colerain Pike provided shelter for the runaway slaves.