The City of Martinsville is located centrally in Henry County within the southern Piedmont region of Virginia. Our rural community is located within a one day drive for 60% of the U.S. population and within 50 miles of Roanoke, Virginia and Greensboro, North Carolina.
Henry County consists of 385 square miles and shares its borders with Patrick County, Virginia to the west, Franklin County, Virginia to the north, Pittsylvania County, Virginia to the east, and Rockingham County, North Carolina to the south.
Nestled in the foothills of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, our region is home to spectacular views of wooded hills, plush green valleys, pristine rivers, and tranquil lakes. With its beautiful location and rich history, Martinsville and Henry County is home to some of the finest recreational and cultural opportunities in the country, including one of Virginia’s six original state parks, a world-class trout stream, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum of natural history, a first-class art center, and an emerging artisan community.
In addition to outstanding natural and cultural tourist attractions, one of Martinsville’s greatest assets is the Martinsville Speedway. Opened in 1947, this infamous paper clip-shaped short-track features tight turns and 800-foot straight-aways. The Speedway currently hosts two Sprint Cup races, the STP 500 and the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500; two Camping World Truck series races, Alpha Energy Solutions 250 and Alpha Energy Solutions 200; a NASCAR Late Model Stock car race, and a NASCAR Whelen Modified Race. Each event brings thousands of people into Martinsville and Henry County.
With a combined population of around 68,000 people, Martinsville and Henry County is home to three high schools, three middle schools, twelve elementary schools, and one private school welcoming students from ages preschool to grade twelve. While our community has faced many economic challenges and changes over the years, we are once again rallying with renewed hope. In the past decades, the community has celebrated the development of the New College Institute and its new state-of-the-art facility located in the heart of uptown Martinsville, the opening of the Virginia Museum of Natural History, the announcement of new recreational opportunities, including The Smith River Sports Complex, walking and biking trails, as well as significant corporate investments. Even though Martinsville and Henry County may be small, as a community we are ecstatic to watch this place we call home prosper.
The Martinsville and Henry County area originally was inhabited by Native Americans who traveled the “Great Warrior Path” and created seasonal villages within the valleys and along the creeks and rivers of the region. The path, which would later be termed the “Wilderness Road” and the “Great Carolina Road,” roughly followed the current route of Highway 220 and was used as a hunting and trading route by the Native Americans. Although historians don’t know which tribe originally settled in this area, archaeological evidence suggests that later tribes were likely of the Siouan linguistic group, including the Saura, Tutelo, Saponi, and Occaneechi.
The initial European settlement of this area was in the early 1700s and consisted of a diverse group of settlers including Germans, Welsh, Scots-Irish, and English, as well as Africans, and coincided primarily along the road. The first documented accounts of the area were by William Byrd, who surveyed the border between North Carolina and Virginia in 1728. Beginning in the 1740s, thousands of settlers traveled through Henry County on their way to the Moravian Wachovia Tract (currently Winston-Salem, North Carolina) from Pennsylvania.
In 1756, Fort Trial was built along the Smith River in order to provide protection for frontier settlers during the French and Indian War. The fort would later be visited by George Washington in 1757 during his time as the State Militia Commander. In the following years, settlements in the area increased greatly, and the region soon became known for its tobacco production.
Henry County was officially established in 1776 after its population reached a size that warranted the development of a new judicial seat and the separation from Pittsylvania County. Previously named Patrick Henry County after Patrick Henry, who lived in the area from 1780 to 1784 while serving as Governor of Virginia, the county was separated into the two individual counties of Patrick and Henry in 1790.
Originally known as Henry County Court House, the City of Martinsville was later named after American Revolutionary War General Joseph Martin, who built Scuffle Hill Estate on the Smith River within the city’s southern limits. The city was incorporated as a town in 1873 and reached city status in 1929. As the county seat, Martinsville quickly grew as the cultural and social hub of the county, especially for the African American community, which centered around Fayette Street.
Originally an agricultural community producing mainly tobacco, Henry County and Martinsville soon became one of the world’s foremost producers of furniture and textile items. The earliest manufacturing in Martinsville came from tobacco factories including; The Penn & Watson and J.S. Townes Tobacco factories, the Spencer Brothers Plug & Twist Tobacco Factory, and the Wm. Semple & Co. Leaf Tobacco Factory in the 1800s. Due in part to these early factories, the construction of the Danville and Western Railroad, and the relocation of Freed Men following the Civil War (the fifty years from 1900 to 1950), led to rapid growth within Martinsville, from a population of 3,000 people to one of 17,000. This population boom supported the additional industries of furniture and textiles, which helped the community survive the great depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Shortly after World War I, DuPont built a chemical manufacturing plant in Martinsville. The subsequent booming chemical industry played a critical role in Martinsville declaring itself an independent city in 1929. Later, DuPont would play another significant part in the development of Martinsville, by establishing a large manufacturing plant for nylon and jump-starting the growth of the textiles industry in the area. Once known as the “Sweatshirt Capital of the World,” Martinsville would later lose the majority of its textile industry due to the changing global economic conditions in the early 1990s.
Over the past 20 years, the community of Martinsville and Henry County has completely transformed its economy from a predominately furniture, textile, and agricultural economy to a more diversified economy that includes plastics manufacturers, food processing facilities, and high-tech metal productions. The county’s homegrown companies of Bassett Furniture and Hooker Furniture still remain today and have been joined by new technology businesses, including Arrington Manufacturing, Drake Extrusion, Mehler Engineered Products and Eastman Chemical Company.
Additional efforts to revitalize the Uptown district and preserve the history of the community have taken place with the development of The Fayette Area Historical Initiative, the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society, and assistance from the National Trust of Historic Preservation and the Virginia Foundation of the Humanities.