Martinsville is an independent city near the southern border of the U.S. state of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 13,821. It is the county seat of Henry County, although the two are separate jurisdictions. The Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the city of Martinsville with Henry County for statistical purposes.
The paper clip-shaped Martinsville Speedway, the shortest track in NASCAR stock car racing and one of the first paved "speedways," built in 1947, is located just outside the city in the town of Ridgeway.
Martinsville was founded by American Revolutionary War General, Indian agent and explorer Joseph Martin, born in Albemarle County. He developed his plantation Scuffle Hill on the banks of the Smith River near the present-day southern city limits. General Martin and revolutionary patriot Patrick Henry, who lived briefly in Henry County and for whom the county is named, were good friends.
The city's chief industry for many early years was the manufacture of plug chewing tobacco. The Henry County area became known as the "plug tobacco capital of the world." In the wake of the collapse of the plantation economy following the American Civil War, the local economy was reeling. Stepping into the breach were several thriving plug firms which sold their merchandise across the nation beginning in the nineteenth century.
Local families were heavily involved in these companies, bestowing their names on them and reaping sizeable profits until the early twentieth century, when the tobacco monopolies created by R.J. Reynolds and James Buchanan Duke bought out most firms. (In most cases, in bold anti-competitive moves, the two tobacco titans simply shut down their acquisitions overnight. These actions resulted in a U.S. government lawsuit against American Tobacco Company.) Among the earliest of these firms were D.H. Spencer & Sons and Spencer Bros. Other families soon joined in founding other early firms, including the Gravelys, the Comptons, the Ruckers, the Wittens, the Lesters and the Browns.
The city's main industry for a century was furniture construction, and today Virginia furniture makers still reside in the region. Martinsville declared itself an independent city in 1928, while retaining its status as county seat. (In the 21st century however, it is a county seat in name only, as all of Henry County's administrative and judicial functions are carried out from the administration building and courthouse in nearby Collinsville.)
DuPont in 1941 built a large manufacturing plant for producing textile nylon filament, a vital war material. During the Cold War, the city was identified as a target for strategic bombing by the Soviet Union. This nylon production jump-started the growth of the textiles industry in the area. For several years Martinsville was known as the "Sweatshirt Capital of the World."
In the early 1990s, changing global economic conditions and new trade treaties made Martinsville textiles and furniture manufacturing economically unsustainable. Many firms closed shop and laid off thousands of workers; the production moved offshore to other countries. The city is repositioning itself long-term as a center for technology development and manufacturing. Due to the local government's inability to fund certain services, in the near future the city of Martinsville may decide to legally convert into the town of Martinsville.
MZM, Inc. opened a facility in Martinsville as part of the Cunningham scandal.
The Martinsville City School District has Martinsville High School, which averages about 900 students. As of 2009, the high school had the second-highest teen pregnancy rate in the state, along with the highest S.T.D. rate. The high school chose to make contraceptives available in school, in order to reduce the rates of both pregnancy and STDs. The Martinsville City Public Schools system has 1 high school, 1 middle school, 2 elementary schools, and 1 preschool.
Additionally, there is a private P.S.-12 school near Martinsville in Henry County, Carlisle School. The school serves approximately 600 students, about 130 of them high school students.
Martinsville is also home to the Virginia Museum of Natural History, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. It was founded by Martinsville native Dr. Noel Boaz, and Piedmont Arts Association, a nonprofit art museum and affiliate of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Memorial Hospital of Martinsville serves the greater Martinsville and Henry County area. The earliest local hospital was the 50-bed Shackelford Hospital, founded by Dr. Jesse Martin Shackelford, who was later joined by surgeon son Dr. John Armstrong Shackelford, an early graduate of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Founder of the Hospital Association of Virginia, Dr. Jesse Shackelford was an early advocate of comprehensive care for state citizens. Shackelford Hospital was sold in 1946, and Martinsville General Hospital subsequently opened with Dr. John Shackelford as its first chief surgeon. In 1970 Memorial Hospital of Martinsville opened its doors, replacing Martinsville General.
The Beaver Creek Plantation, John Waddey Carter House, Dry Bridge School, East Church Street-Starling Avenue Historic District, Fayette Street Historic District, Little Post Office, Martinsville Fish Dam, Martinsville Historic District, Martinsville Novelty Corporation Factory, and Scuffle Hill are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Liberty Fair Mall opened in 1989.