Marton has always been a service town for the fertile farming region of the Manawatu Plains. Butter, wool, and flour have been among its agricultural products. The arrival of the railway in 1878 led to rapid growth in the area, which soon added industries such as engineering, sawmilling, and textile production to its economy.
The town of Marton is the largest in the Rangitikei district, and began life as a private township in 1866, when shop and housing sections were sold at auction by local land owners.
For three years the small village was known as Tutaenui, named after the stream running through its centre. In 1869 local citizens changed the name to Marton to honour the home village of Captain James Cook in Yorkshire, marking his landing in New Zealand exactly 100 years earlier. It is not known if this change of name was influenced by the fact that 'Tutaenui' is a Maori name combining 'tutae' (meaning 'dung') and 'nui' (meaning 'large').
From the start Marton was an ideal supply centre for district farmers, who first began arriving in the early 1850s. From butter and wool they moved on to growing wheat in 1863, and big crops led to three flourmills being launched in the area in 1864.
After the town itself opened up in 1866, general stores, two hotels and several blacksmiths soon started. Marton became a home base for the horse industry, with saddlers, wheelwrights, livery stables and coachbuilders competing for business, while Clydesdale and Suffolk Punch sires toured the district to build up the population of plough horses needed as new farms sprang into being.
The opening of the railway line joining Wanganui to Palmerston North in 1878, now part of the North Island Main Trunk Railway (towards Palmerston North and Auckland) and the Marton - New Plymouth Line (towards Wanganui), turned Marton into a thriving railway junction, which held that pedestal for the next 100 years.
Timber from Rangitikei forests served the town’s two timbermills, the first from 1889 onwards.
Marton was the birthplace, in 1900, of notable New Zealand ornithologist Launcelot Eric Richdale.
Industry developed quietly at first in Marton, starting with flourmilling, brickmaking and wool presses. By the late 1950’s there was an incredible array of industries and factories in action. They turned out products as diverse as men’s shirts, tractor safety cabs, soft drinks, vegetable salads, readymix concrete, field tiles, dog biscuits, knitwear, dried peas, electronic petrol pumps, vegetable digging machinery.
Not far from Marton was the large Lake Alice Hospital for mental patients, which opened in 1950 and closed in 1999. It included a Maximum Security unit, and once had more than 300 patients.
Employees for the new industries, the hospital and for bigger railway and Post Office establishments meant a steady rise in population, and the shopping centre broadened to match this growth.
In recent years the pace has quietened, reflecting the experience of many other communities around New Zealand. Very recently, however, long term residents of the big cities have been finding out the pleasures and benefits of living the slower paced life of Marton as an attractive small town with all the required facilities in the way of local schools, boarding schools and shopping amenities, so there has been a steady inquiry for housing from city based buyers.
The newcomers are also bringing new types of business with them, so there are benefits all round.
The current Mayor of the Rangitikei District is Bob Buchanan. Marton is served by 4 ward councillors on the Rangitikei District Council. They are Cr Nick Eddy, Cr Lynne Sheridan, Cr Hadley Tattle and Cr Andy Watson.