Formed on September 1, 1801, Belmont County was one of Ohio's earliest counties. It originally was a county in the Northwest Territory. Residents named the county Belmont after the French term for "beautiful mountain." Thousands of settlers migrated westward through Belmont County along Zane's Trace. The National Road also passed through the county. Quakers were among the county's first residents and many of these people became outspoken critics of slavery. Among them was the famous abolitionist Benjamin Lundy.
Belmont County is located in the east central part of Ohio and borders the Ohio River. The county's 537 square miles are part of Ohio's Appalachian region. The county is heavily rural. St. Clairsville, the county seat, was named for Arthur St. Clair. This city is the second largest urban place in Belmont County with just over five thousand residents in 2000. Martins Ferry is the largest community with approximately 7,200 residents. Typical of other predominantly rural areas in Ohio, Belmont County experienced a declining population between 1990 and 2000. The county averages 131 people per square mile and had a population of 70,226 people in 2000.
Despite its rural nature, most residents do not earn their livings through farming. Approximately twenty-five percent of the people are involved in sales, with another fifteen percent employed in service industries. Historically, many Belmont County residents found employment in the coal, iron, and steel industries. These businesses remain important employers today. In 1999, the per capita income was just over 20,500 dollars. More than sixteen percent of the county's residents were living in poverty.
Most voters in Belmont County claim to be independents. William Dean Howells, an author and diplomat, was among Belmont County's most famous residents. The county also was the birthplace of Ohio Governor Wilson Shannon. He was the first man to serve as governor who was born in the state of Ohio.