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Teen Years in a River Town

New Martinsville in the 1950's

By Edwin Daryl Michael

New Martinsville Ferry
These ferries were the primary means of transport across the Ohio River at New Martinsville for many years, until a bridge was built in 1959.

It was my good fortune to be a teenager in New Martinsville during the 1950's. I moved there in 1953 from Shinnston, when my father, Edward Michael, along with his brothers-in-law, Hugh Garrison and Brooks Gump, opened G.M.G. Plumbing & Heating Company. Those were kinder, gentler, more innocent times.

In the 1950's, this Ohio River town — the seat of Wetzel County — was nearly ideal for a teenager. With a population of 4,084 in 1950, New Martinsville provided almost every recreational opportunity a typical teenager could desire. The centerpiece was the city park, where one could enjoy the swimming pool, tennis courts, lighted basketball court, and lighted softball field. Two other ball fields were located in Brooklyn, that portion of town south of Fishing Creek. There were organized high school sports and American Legion baseball. More casual baseball, basketball, and tennis playing at the city park involved pickup games, with little or no adult supervision. George Woods, who coached high school football, basketball, and baseball, provided limited supervision at some of the summer nighttime basketball games.

I had no opportunity to play tennis until moving to New Martinsville, but after discovering this challenging sport, I spent many summer hours playing on the city park courts. The park was only three blocks from my house, so I could ride my bike there in almost no time. I have vivid memories of beating Johnny Joe Mensore in singles and then later teaming with him to win the city championship in doubles. One summer, we were invited to play in the state tennis tournament in Charleston and ended up being narrowly defeated in the doubles finals.

New Martinsville has historically been a leader in providing recreational opportunities for its youth. As early as the late 1800's, this progressive town offered a large fairgrounds, complete with a racetrack for harness racing and bicycle racing. By 1907, Magnolia High School fielded the first football team in Wetzel County.

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