Larry Keel closed the 2021 Back Home Festival and also performed with The Travelin' McCourys as part of the 2019 festival. Keel is an award-winning innovative flat picking guitarist and singer/songwriter hailing from Appalachia. Raised in a musical family steeped in the mountain culture of the region, Keel began from an early age to forge a distinctive sound, taking traditional music and infusing it with modern light. With the acoustic guitar Keel has brought the flat picking form to its highest level of sophistication and sonic power with his muscular, yet refined style of playing. As a composer and singer, Keel integrates raw honesty and charming grit to form a unique brand of music he calls 'experimental folk', songwriting that is filled with reality, imagination, imagery and mood. He has appeared on over 20 albums, 12 of which he produced, and has written songs that have been recorded and performed by distinguished artists including Grammy-award winners Del McCoury and The Infamous Stringdusters. Keel has collaborated and continues to merge creative forces with some of the greatest artists in modern roots music such as Tyler Childers, Billy Strings, Al DiMeola, Tony Rice, Keller Williams and Sam Bush, to name a few.
Morris Raymer “Dinger” Daugherty was born in 1895 in New Martinsville, WV. His infamous nickname was earned after he was spotted running through town and a citizen remarked, “He sure is a humdinger!” Following his third year at Magnolia High School, Dinger enrolled in a business class in Wheeling, WV, and returned to New Martinsville at its conclusion to work in his grandfather’s law office. Dinger was soon trying cases in front of the Justice of the Peace and the Mayor’s Court, but grew bored with his new profession and quickly accepted a position with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad as a patrolman. July 30, 1918, would prove to be a fateful day for Dinger. He had recently been elected constable and was patrolling his rail yard to ensure everything was in order when he spotted two homeless individuals riding in a coal car towards the rear of the train. Somehow Dinger managed to get aboard the train while it was moving, climbed to the roof of the railcars, and then began heading in the direction of the two homeless gentlemen. Since he had been unable to attract the engineer’s attention, the train was running at full speed, which made Dinger’s precarious placement on the roof of the cars all the more dangerous. Dinger lost his footing and fell beneath the train. Although his injuries were life threatening, Dinger managed to stay calm and even instructed witnesses on how to take care of him. Dinger was transported to the hospital in Glen Dale, WV where he would stay for the next 78 days. The accident left him with a broken back and the amputation of both of his legs and his right arm. After suffering these tragic injuries, Dinger took up aviation. With the encouragement of several financial backers, Dinger came up with the idea to make a trans-continental flight from New York City to Rome, Italy. Dinger’s trip to New York was elongated when he was forced to make numerous stops along the way due to his lackluster plane. However, these pit stops fueled his popularity and his fame as the “one-limbed pilot” continued to grow as he made his journey north. Upon reaching New York City, authorities deemed Dinger’s aircraft unsuitable for trans-continental flight. While his planned trip across the Atlantic may have never panned out, Dinger remains one of the most interesting characters of the 20th century. A New Yorker commented, “He was the best no-legged, one arm dancer the city had ever seen.”
Billy Strings has headlined the Back Home Festival on two occasions. Strings is a GRAMMY Award-winning singer, songwriter and musician, who arrived on the scene as “one of string music’s most dynamic young stars” (Rolling Stone). Strings won Best Bluegrass Album at the 63rd GRAMMY Awards for his critically acclaimed record, Home. Produced by Glenn Brown, the record also led Strings to top Billboard’s 2020 year-end charts in both Bluegrass categories—Top Bluegrass Artists and Top Bluegrass Albums—and continues to receive widespread critical acclaim. Wall Street Journal declares, “Billy Strings has clearly emerged as a premier guitar flatpicker of this era.” Since his debut, Strings has been awarded Guitar Player of the Year and New Artist of the Year at the 2019 International Bluegrass Music Awards, selected as one of Rolling Stone’s “New Country Artists to Know” and performed on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and PBS’ “Bluegrass Underground.” Strings incorporates a wide range of influences into his music with elements of bluegrass, classic rock, metal, psychedelic music and more.
1943 MAGNOLIA HIGH SCHOOL BAND
Magnolia High School was founded in 1879. Established in 1926, Magnolia's band is one of the oldest high school bands in the State of West Virginia.
NEW MARTINSVILLE FREIGHT HOUSE
Employees of the New Martinsville Freight House pose for a photo in 1901.
During the flood of 1936 the river crested at 54.5 feet. Melville Potts, pictured in the front, helped serve the people of New Martinsville by delivering daily newspapers by boat.
LEVI MORGAN STATUE
Wetzel County Courthouse, constructed between 1900 and 1902 has a life-size statue of 18th century frontiersman Levi Morgan. Local folklore maintains that the statue of Morgan was originally intended to be displayed in Morgantown and due to a mix-up was delivered to New Martinsville instead, with Morgantown receiving a statue of Lewis Wetzel. Although this is a fun tale, it is not accurate. The statue of Morgan was commissioned due to an act of the West Virginia Legislature in 1901. The monument was constructed by the West Virginia Monumental Company whose shop was at the corner of Main and North Streets. With no photos of frontiersman Levi Morgan available, a relative, Aaron Morgan of Porters Falls, posed for the statue, and it is his likeness on which the statue was created.
A group of citizens stop at the court house during the flood of 1913. With downtown streets completely underwater, traveling by small boats was the only way to navigate Main Street.
Hollywood starlet, Gloria Swanson arrived in New Martinsville on August 17, 1925, for the filming of the motion picture, Stage Struck. Throughout the 20th century, Swanson (1899-1983) reigned as one of pop culture’s most notorious celebrities. Swanson transcended the entertainment industry by achieving success in both silent and sound films. For her lead role in the silent movie Sadie Thompson (1928), the Academy Awards nominated her for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Two years later, Swanson was nominated again for her performance in The Trespassers (1929), her first venture into sound film. People swarmed Swanson as she arrived at the train depot in New Martinsville for the filming of Stage Struck. The town presented a bouquet of flowers to her, canceled a baseball game with the town of Sistersville, and held a picnic on the south side of town. These displays of affection became known as “Gloriagrams.” They did not go unnoticed to the actress. After inspecting the area she delighted a group of kids by telling them, “Hello boys, I like your town very much.”
Since its opening in 1920, the Lincoln Theater has played host to numerous films, plays, and community events. In 1925, during the filming of Stage Struck, star actress Gloria Swanson talked to a packed house prior to the screening of one of her previous films, Manhandled. She also returned for the opening debut of Stage Struck. Two years later new sound equipment was installed and the theater fully transitioned out of the silent film era. After closing in 1967, a group of prominent New Martinsville residents purchased the building and leased it back to the city. It is now owned by the New Martinsville Parks and Recreation Department and continues to entertain Wetzel County and its guests. In recent years, the Lincoln Theater has played host to acts such as GRAMMY award-winner Michael Cleveland, Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artists Shawn Klush and Cody Slaughter, and was even the site for a premiere party for season 8 of The Voice, where contestant of the show Anthony Riley performed. The Lincoln Theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Floyd "Piggy" Norris was owner/operator of Norris Tire Corp. in New Martinsville for 27 years from 1959 to 1986. The building is now home to Bee Electric. Floyd Norris passed away in 2015 at the age of 93.
Founded in the early 1920s by Alton Joliff and Jerry Amundson, Wetzel-Valley Agencies has been at its current location since 1963. Once the site of the Henthorn/Esso filling station, Wetzel-Valley Agencies is now owned by Beth Ann Shreves-Strickler.
1938 CENTENNIAL PARADE
New Martinsville's Centennial Parade was held September 3, 1938. An added attraction to the celebration were balloons designed by Jean Abel Gros (pronounced “Groh”). Gros was a marionette showman who, after witnessing the famed Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with its giant balloon figures in Manhattan in the early 1930s, conceived of replicating the spectacle with fanciful, painted balloons that could be paraded down Main Street in middle America. The balloons were made large and colorful enough to be wonders to children and parade-goers in small and mid-size cities, but small enough to fit under trolley and utility lines on Main Street, USA. Much like traveling carnivals and circuses of the day, the Jean Gros Inc. balloon parades, based in Pittsburgh, hit the rails for the holiday season, as chambers of commerce and merchants associations sought to sponsor their own local versions of the Macy’s Parade.
BARISTAS CAFE AND PUB
Baristas was founded in 1998 under the ownership of Jeff Shade, Jill Shade, Dave Bush, and LeeAnn Bush. The original site for Baristas was across the street from where it is now. It originally served as only a coffee shop. In 2001, Baristas moved to its current location. In 2002, under the ownership of the Shades and partners Kate Swisher and John & Mary Ann Yevuta, the pub was opened in the basement section of the establishment. Baristas is famous for their wonderful cafe menu, their gourmet coffee, their premium beers, and their award winning pizza. In 2017, the Smith family purchased the establishment and have added on a marvelous outdoor dining section complete with big screen televisions and other amenities.
ST. JOHN'S UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
The cornerstone for St. John's United Methodist Church was laid in 1909. The original location for the church was on Maple Avenue. Born during the strife of the Civil War, the church was originally organized by 25 people. ACTS Charitable Mission moved into the former building that housed St. John's in 2019.
LOCAL GROCERY STORES
Big box stores have replaced local mom and pop stores throughout the United States. That wasn't always the case though as businesses such as Herrick's IGA and Witschey's were mainstays in New Martinsville for decades. Witschey's made a name for itself by staying open 365 days a year regardless of the weather. During big floods, patrons would use paddle boats to get essentials at Witschey's. In 2020, after 76 years of providing quality foods and service to the local area, Witschey’s turned the keys over to the Reisbeck family to carry on the tradition started by Harold and Ethel Witschey in 1944.
Renowned bandleader, violinist, and hydroplane racer Guy Lombardo (pictured in his racing suit on the left) made trips to New Martinsville in 1942 and 1945. At the time, Guy had won every hydroplane trophy given driving his Tempo boats. Musically he was known for starting his band, The Royal Canadians in 1924 and his New Years Eve radio shows which ran between 1929-1955. In 1956, CBS began broadcasting Guys' shows and they were the New Years Eve staple on TV until the mid 1970s. To this day The Royal Canadians rendition of Auld Lang Syne is played at midnight in Times Square on New Years Eve.
BURLING BROS. CIRCUS
Clarence E. Burlingame founded the Burling Bros. Circus and later sold it to Herman Vonderheid in 1951. Vonderheid changed the name of the local circus to Bailey Bros. Circus, but later changed it back to Burling Bros. Circus due to the popularity the circus had obtained under its original name. The circus featured acts such as "Betty Lee and her Wonder Dogs," as well as pony and monkey acts.
Bruce Park, formerly known as City Park, was founded in 1942 under the guidance of Mayor Robert Bruce. The park was financed by an $18,000 bond issue. Generations of aspiring basketball players have honed their skills on the courts just off of Route 2, including Wetzel County's all-time leading high school scorer Preston Boswell who finished his career at Magnolia High School in 2016 with 2,519 points.
MAIN STREET IN 1945
This bird's eye view of Main Street was captured in October of 1945. The percentage of American households who owned an automobile exploded following the Great Depression. By 1945, approximately 80% of families in the United States owned an automobile. The average cost of a brand new two-door sedan was $920.
With a history of flooding in New Martinsville, residents have become accustomed to cleaning up the aftermath of Mother Nature's fury. These men take a break in front of what is now the All Valley Dance & Gymnastics Studio to pose for a photo during the cleanup of the 1936 flood.
Since 1941, Quinet’s Court Restaurant has provided great tasting food that is prepared fresh daily with the highest quality of ingredients. Now under the third generation of ownership, Quinet's walls are adorned with photos spanning many decades of memories in New Martinsville. Former boxing light-heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Dempsey, once dined at Quinet's.
NEW MARTINSVILLE BANK
OLD CITY HALL
The current THA building has worn many hats since first being dedicated as Wetzel County Bank in 1894. The Wetzel County Bank conducted business in the building until 1921. The City of New Martinsville acquired the building for use as City Hall in 1954. This beautiful piece of architecture served as City Hall until August of 1989. The building has also previously served as the headquarters for the Wetzel-Tyler Chamber of Commerce.
MAYOR ROBERT BRUCE
Mayor Robert L. Bruce served as mayor of New Martinsville from 1939 until 1969. Bruce was instrumental in making Bruce Park, Bruce Pool, Bruce Lanes, and the Regatta mainstays in New Martinsville. Bruce was instrumental in acquiring the electric utility owned by New Martinsville. He also established air mail service to the town. He was invited to light the first fires in the stacks of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Plant, in recognition of his efforts to bring the plant to the community. Bruce was a trustee for the Community Theater. He was President of the Wetzel County Hospital Board for 24 years. The New Martinsville Jaycees gave him their first “Citizen of the Year Award” in 1964. He received the West Virginia Distinguished Citizen of the Year Award in 1969. Bruce also served as President of the West Virginia League of Municipalities and was charter member of the American Legion Marne Post 28.