West Virginia’s Best Small Towns
(page 6 of 8)
photographed by nikki bowman
At the base of the northern Panhandle, this small town has figured it out. For decades, residents have been building on what was already there—great architecture, history, art, the Ohio River—and the efforts have paid off. “New Martinsville is its people,” says Sandy Hunt, executive director of the Wetzel County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “And I love the people.”
The feeling in New Martinsville is overwhelmingly positive. It is here where the phrase “best-kept secret” may actually ring true. After all, this writer has heard at least a half-dozen people confuse New Martinsville for other West Virginia towns (think Martinsburg). And yet it’s here, in the valley off of West Virginia Route 7, that there is no clearer identity. The people are passionate, creative, and determined. They do what it takes to improve their town, located halfway between Wheeling and Parkersburg (45 and 65 minutes away, respectively). But the people of New Martinsville don’t need to go anywhere else. They’ve got everything they need. “Our goal was to create a destination,” says Sandy, who also co-owns S&S Jewelry, a local business for more than 30 years, with husband Steve.
With many arts organizations, parks, and creative, local businesses, New Martinsville is well on its way. The Wetzel County town is home to an arts council serving Wetzel and Tyler counties. Called ArtsLink, the organization sponsors concerts, presents Arts in the Park on July 4, and hosts a free coffeehouse series, monthly art shows, and a holiday homes tour. ArtsLink also puts on productions at the historic Lincoln Theater in downtown New Martinsville, including Annie in August 2013. An artist herself, Fran Caldwell is a past president of ArtsLink and wears many creative hats in the community. “We have a lot of artisans in our area,” she says. “It’s amazing.” Sandy says Fran was also instrumental in getting the Florentine Arts Center started downtown. On Main Street, the community arts center hosts open mic nights and has artists and crafters on-site.
But it’s not just the artsy businesses that are doing things right. The cool, casual Barista’s Café and Pub downtown serves up delightfully fresh and original sandwiches during the day while a small, stone basement bar below fills up quickly with regulars and musicians at night. Across the street, Presto Lunch is the quintessential, family-friendly diner with classic booths, the town’s favorite burgers and hot dogs, and, of course, milkshakes and floats. And The Tin Ceiling is everything you could want in a gift shop, with friendly staff and a wide variety of gifts, from candles and jewelry to baby clothes, football gear, specialty food items, and wine. The shop is located in a former 1900s drugstore and now hosts wine tastings and special events.
A strong sense of community keeps the town running, and volunteers are always working on something new. In summer 2013, much attention was turned to another project—the renovated Wetzel County Museum, which had a sneak peek opening in July. The Main Street building used to be the local hardware store and dates back to the late 1800s. When complete, it will also house the Wetzel County Convention & Visitors Bureau. Sandy says the museum will keep the dream of residents who have passed on alive, like that of Jim Fitzsimmons, the building’s namesake. Jim was part of the famed “Lunch Bunch,” a group of history buffs who met daily at the Quinet’s Court Restaurant, a hugely popular restaurant with multiple homestyle buffets and old photos covering the walls. Sandy says, “After Jim Fitzsimmons died, he was basically the only one keeping the museum open, and they did not have the people to keep it going.” In recent months, volunteers have been working to repair floors, catalog artifacts, and install displays calling back to a time of flourishing family pharmacies and local glass industry, among other items.
The community is also big on giving back. Fran says New Martinsville is home to many charities, including Bags of Bounty, which is unique to the small town. On Fridays, volunteers give local elementary school children bags of food to ensure they have enough good things to eat over the weekend. There’s a clearer commitment to health here than in some other towns, as a new farmers’ market in town has taken off and a community garden thrives. There’s a local bicycle club of riders who bike their age on members’ birthdays. Turning 60? Time to bike 60 miles. The Academy for Dance & Theatre Arts keeps locals of all ages active, and Prodigy Wellness Center offers personal training and classes like Zumba. Lewis Wetzel Park has a swimming pool, pond with paddleboats to rent, basketball court, and playground. Hydro Park has a bike trail, ballpark facility, primitive camping areas, and fishing access near the hydroelectric plant and dam. And off of the main drag through town, families line up for miniature golf in Bruce Park.
But most of the town is just plain active in every way. Even the public library has more activities than most and has increased the amount of people using its services. “That’s unusual in this day and age,” Sandy says. Fairs and festivals are in demand, too, with the Festival of Memories in July, Town and Country Days in August, boat races in September, and chili cook-off in October. Sandy says, “To those people who say there’s nothing to do in New Martinsville, I would heartily disagree.”