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History of Wetzel County

About Us

“County government as we know it today in West Virginia originated with the passage of the Judicial Amendment of 1880. The Amendment provided for a three-member, elective body; removed most of the county commissioner’s judicial function except limited ones as in settlement of accounts and appointment of guardians and committees;  and retained the county court (now commission) with central authority in fiscal matters as its primary function.

West Virginia’s counties do not possess inherent rights of self government. They are under the State’s complete control as its creation; and their authority to perform even local functions is spelled out in the Constitution or by legislative enactments. In addition to members of the county commission, the elective officials are sheriff, assessor, prosecuting attorney, surveyor, county clerk and circuit clerk.”

—Richard Shelton 1913-2000
Founder of the West Virginia Association of Counties

Quick Facts (Based on the US Census information, March 2013)
• 2012 Population Estimate: 16,422
• High School Graduates or Higher, Percent of persons age 25+, 2007-2011: 83.1%
• Homeownership rate, 2007-2011: 79.4% 
• Mean travel time to work (minutes), 2007-2011: 30.1
• Median value of owner-occupied housing units, 2007-2011: $81,500 
• Persons below poverty level, percent, 2007-2011: 15.6%
• Land area in square miles, 2010: 358.06
• Persons per square mile, 2010: 46.3
• County Seat: New Martinsville

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Early History of Wetzel County
Wetzel County was created by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on January 10, 1846 from Tyler County. The county was named in honor of Lewis Wetzel (1764-1808).

Lewis Wetzel was one of the most colorful characters on the American frontier. He was a famous Indian fighter and guide who was born in August 1764 on the South Branch of the Potomac River in present day West Virginia. In 1769, his father relocated his family to Wheeling Creek. In 1777 or 1778 Lewis and his younger brother, Jacob, were captured by a band of Wyandot Indians and taken about 20 miles beyond the Ohio River. On the first night of their capture, the boys were able to loosen the ropes holding them down and made their escape back to their home. In 1782, Lewis' brother, George, was killed by Indians while on a hunting expedition and that same summer Lewis' friend, Joseph Mills, was shot by Indians but was able to escape. The following summer he was with another friend, John Madison, when he was shot and killed by Indians. That autumn, he heard an Indian imitating a turkey call in the woods near Fort Henry and decided to get his revenge. He snuck up on the Indian and shot him dead. He then resolved to kill as many Indians as possible and was always the first to volunteer whenever an effort was made to hunt down a renegade Indian or to suppress an Indian uprising. A tall, strong man, he reportedly purposively rarely cut his black hair, which, when combed out, fell almost to his knees, in defiance of any Indian who would dare try to take his scalp. He reportedly killed about 100 Indians during his lifetime. Although a legendary figure on the frontier, his zeal and hatred of the Indians sometimes got the best of him. In 1785, he tried to kill a friendly Indian, but escaped punishment because the Indian survived the attack. In 1789, he was arrested in Marietta, Ohio for killing a friendly Indian, but the local authorities could not find a jury who would convict the famous Indian fighter for killing an Indian. He was later arrested in New Orleans and charged with counterfeiting. Although the charges were never proven, he was imprisoned there for several years. After his release, he returned to the Wheeling area for awhile before returning to the south. He died near Natchez, Mississippi in 1808.

The French explorer Rene-Robert Cavalier Sieur de la Salle did not keep very good notes during his exploration of the Ohio River in 1669, but it is very likely that he was the first European to set foot on the present site of Wetzel County. The second was probably Anthony Sadowski, an Indian trader and interpreter who traveled along the Ohio River in the early 1700s. He was followed by Christopher Gist who, on behalf of the Ohio Company, surveyed the area in 1752. 

At various times during the early 1770s, Lewis Wetzel, Levi Morgan, Matthew Kerr and Joseph Dorsey traveled through the county on hunting and trading expeditions.

Edward Dulin was the first English settler in the area. He arrived around 1773 (some claim 1780), claimed 1,400 acres as his own, and built two cabins, one for his family and another for his slave. He was killed by Delaware Indians at the door of his cabin several years later. It is said that after killing Mr. Dulin the Indians took his slave as a captive and would have killed Mrs. Dulin and her newly born daughter, Sarah, on the spot, but decided to spare their lives because Mrs. Dulin was considered too beautiful to kill. The Indians informed Mrs. Dulin that she would be taken to their chief and made his wife, but because she was still recovering from Sarah's birth that they would not force her to accompany them right away. Instead, they would return for her and her baby in a few days. At that time, a blockhouse near present day New Martinsville was occupied by a man named Martin (probably Presley Martin). He heard the shots in the distance and went to the Dulin farm to see what was happening. He found Mr. Dulin laying dead in front of his cabin and Mrs. Dulin and Sarah huddled inside, petrified with fear. He took Mrs. Dulin and her daughter up the Ohio River in a canoe to safety. No one knows what happened to the slave. Mrs. Dulin later remarried and moved to Kentucky. Sarah grew up and married Daniel Boone, a descendant of the famous Daniel Boone.

In 1810, Sarah sold the farm in six sections to Andrew Beall (400 acres), Joseph and John Witten (400 acres), Robert McEldowny (300 acres), Samuel McEldowny (100 acres), William Springer (100 acres) and Presley Martin (100 acres). Presley Martin platted a town on his land in 1838 and named it Martinsville, after himself. The town was named the county seat in 1846 by the act establishing the county. The town's prefix, New, was added to distinguish itself from another town of the same name in Henry County, Virginia. The town was incorporated on March 18, 1848 as Martinsville. The town's name was officially changed to New Martinsville in 1871.

The first meeting of the Wetzel County court took place at the home of Sampson Thistle in April 1846. In May, the court decided to buy the Thistle home for $400 and make it the permanent site for the courthouse. The county later built a new court house (in 1852) on lands donated by Sampson Thistle and B. F. Martin.

Roles & Responsibilities

The county commission is the governing body of a county. Fifty-four counties elect three-member commissions while Jefferson County has a five-member commission. Commissioners serve in part-time positions with salaries ranging from $19,800 to $36,960.

The Constitution provides certain powers to the county commission, but these powers are limited to "the manner prescribed by law." This means that the county commissions’ powers must be expressly conferred by the Constitution or by acts of the Legislature. With respect to the powers of a county commission, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has stated that "a county court (now county commission) possesses only such powers as are expressly conferred upon it by constitutional or statutory provisions, together with such powers as are reasonably and necessarily implied in the full and proper exercise of powers expressly conferred upon it."

The West Virginia Constitution, Section 11, Article 9, specifically grants the following powers and duties to county commissions:

  • The custody, through their clerks, of all deeds and other papers presented for record in their counties, with responsibility for their preservation or disposal as may be prescribed by law. 

  • The administration of the internal police and fiscal affairs of their counties, with authority to lay county levies, under regulations as may be prescribed by law. 

  • Serve as the judge of the election, qualification and return of their own members, and of all county and district officers, subject to regulations as may be prescribed by law.

Other duties and responsibilities are specified in chapter 7 of the West Virginia Code, particularly in §7-1-3.


These include:

  • Preparation and adoption of budget for all county offices, except judicial 

  • Jurisdiction in all matters of probate 

  • Appoint guardians for minor children; receive court settlements, generally 

  • Own and maintain county property 

  • Sit as Board of Canvassers 

  • Lay and disburse county levies based on assessed property values 

  • Sit as Board of Review and Equalization in February, to hear appeals on property values for assessment purposes 

  • Appoint Fiduciary Commissioners to oversee and settle certain estates as required 

  • Appoint members of certain county boards, authorities and public service districts 

  • Adopt ordinances and orders in areas of jurisdiction as prescribed by law 

  • Approve purchase orders and payment vouchers for elected county offices, except judicial

County commissions are required by Section 9, Article 9 of the Constitution to hold four regular sessions (meetings) each. These meetings must be held at the courthouse. Special sessions may be held throughout the year if called by the president of the Commission with the concurrence of at least one other commissioner. The number of meetings held varies from county to county, with some commissions meeting once a month and others several times a month. Notice of all meetings must be given and meetings are public, as required by the open meetings law, West Virginia Code §6-9A-3. Executive sessions may be held as authorized by law. Two commissioners in attendance at a meeting establish a quorum. At the first session of each year, the commissioners choose one of their members to serve as president.

Q: Are County Commissions Responsible for Roads & Highways?
A: The Wetzel County Commission is only responsible for the roads and bridges they own. In 1933 the WV Legislature authorized the maintenance and repair of roads to the state government.

Q: Do County Commissions have control over Municipal Laws?
A: No. City governments make up the laws for their jurisdiction and enforce their own rules and regulations accordingly.

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