McArthur is the county seat of Vinton County. Residents established the town in 1815, and they originally called it McArthurstown after Ohio Governor Duncan McArthur. In 1851, the town became known just as McArthur. Joel Sage built the first house in the community in 1815. He also opened McArthur’s first tavern.
McArthur grew slowly. In 1850, 424 people resided in the town. By 1890, only 888 residents inhabited the village. This low population is surprising, especially since a railroad passed through the town and because McArthur was surrounded by coal and iron ore deposits, which were in great demand in the late nineteenth century as the United States industrialized. In 1888, McArthur contained three newspapers, four churches, and one bank. Most local residents found employment in retail positions or in mining.
McArthur remained relatively small throughout the twentieth century. With a population of 1,888 people, McArthur was Vinton County’s largest community in 2000. The city contained approximately one-sixth of Vinton County’s entire population. Most of McArthur’s residents found employment in providing services and products for farmers in the surrounding countryside.