Zanesville and the National Road Museum.

A couple months ago I was spring birding and made a stop in Zanesville Ohio, 50 miles east of Columbus.  Not far from Zanesville was a museum I always wanted to see, and I finally got there.  Here’s some of the highlights of that trip.


Zanesville is a city in and the county seat of Muskingum County, Ohio, United States. It is located 52 miles (84 km) east of Columbus. The population was 25,487 as of the 2010 census.

Zanesville was named after Ebenezer Zane (1747–1811), who had blazed Zane’s Trace, a pioneer trail from Wheeling, Virginia (now in West Virginia) to Maysville, Kentucky through present-day Ohio. In 1797, he remitted land as payment to his son-in-law, John McIntire (1759–1815), at the point where Zane’s Trace met the Muskingum River. With the assistance of Zane, McIntire platted the town, opened an inn and ferry by 1799. In 1801, Zanesville was officially renamed, formerly Westbourne, the chosen name for the settlement by Zane.

From 1810–1812, the city was the second state capital of Ohio. The National Road courses through Zanesville as U.S. Route 40. The city grew quickly in the 1820s–1850s. In excess of 5,000 Union soldiers, along with hundreds of townsfolk, were stationed in the Zanesville area to protect the city in 1863 during Morgan’s Raid. Novelist Zane Grey, a descendant of the Zane family, was born in the city.

The Muskingum County Courthouse is in Zanesville- I love these old buildings!

The city increased, largely because of factories producing pottery, bricks, glassware, ball-bearings, soap, steel and many other products from the 1880s until the mid-1950s. The city had a booming downtown economy and increase in the northern area of the town. By the 1950s many factories had closed or moved. Pottery, a major industrial employer, slowly waned in demand because of cheaper Asian companies. During the 1950s until the 1980s nearly one-third of the population abandoned the city . By the 1990s the city/county opened industrial parks and several housing developments were built in the northern parts of the city.

The city has two engineering landmarks: the Muskingum River Canal, designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark; and the Zanesville Y-Bridge, the only such structure in the United States in operation. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A three-way bridge called the “Y-Bridge” spans the confluence of the Licking and the Muskingum rivers. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is one of very few bridges of its type in the United States. The unique shape of a three-way bridge makes it easy to identify from an airplane. Pilot Amelia Earhart described Zanesville, Ohio as “the most recognizable city in the country” because of its Y-shaped bridge. It has been rebuilt numerous times since the 1850s. Visitors to the city are often surprised when they receive directions including the statement, “Drive to the middle of the bridge and turn right.”

The National Road

Driving along US Route 40 that runs east-west through the middle of Ohio you’ll notice some interesting sites.  Historical markers and structures abound- this road has been around a while.  Not far from Zanesville there is a museum that will tell you all you want to know about it.

The National Road & Zane Grey Museum

The National Road (also known as the Cumberland Road) was the first major improved highway in the United States built by the federal government. Built between 1811 and 1837, the 620-mile (1,000 km) road connected the Potomac and Ohio Rivers and was a main transport path to the West for thousands of settlers. When rebuilt in the 1830s, it became the second U.S. road surfaced with the macadam process pioneered by Scotsman John Loudon McAdam.

Construction began heading west in 1811 at Cumberland, Maryland, on the Potomac River. After the Financial Panic of 1837 and the resulting economic depression, congressional funding ran dry and construction was stopped at Vandalia, Illinois, the then capital of the Illinois, 63 miles (101 km) northeast of St. Louis across the Mississippi River.

Today, much of the alignment is followed by U.S. Route 40, with various portions bearing the Alternate U.S. Route 40 designation, or various state-road numbers (such as Maryland Route 144 for several sections between Baltimore and Cumberland).

In 2002, the full road, including extensions east to Baltimore and west to St. Louis, was designated the Historic National Road, an All-American Road.

In Ohio, there were 5-foot-tall stone mile markers on the north side of the National Road every single mile.  I’ve seen several of these markers still there along Route 40 (83 are still in place).  The markers tell you the distance to Cumberland Maryland (the start of the road) and the distance to the nearest towns to the east and west of the marker (larger towns in the area are also noted).  It’s easy to take such markers for granted now, but back in the 19th century there wasn’t a lot of information available for travelers!

We take roads for granted now, but the National Road was the first federal road project in the United States.  In the 18th century, the only way to get from east to the (old) west was via blazed trails and the Ohio River.  Early 19th century canals in Ohio tended to travel north and south, not east and west. The National Road took nearly three decades to build, but it facilitated travel and transportation of goods in a big way.

The museum’s interior was surprisingly full of all sorts of interesting displays.

Jerry L. Thompson was a very enthusiastic volunteer on duty the day I was there- he loved to talk history, and I learned a lot from him.  Thanks, Jerry!

The centerpiece of the museum is a large detailed 136-foot-long historical diorama showcasing what it was like to be on the National Road in the 19th century.

There were frequent inns along the National Road for travelers to rest and eat at.  Much like canals and railroads, towns and businesses grew up alongside the National Road.  And of course businesses and towns declined as new methods of transportation elsewhere became popular.  Railroads succeeded the National Road as the preeminent way to travel until the highway system was completed by the mid-20th century.

By the way, there was a lot of National Road politics– towns lobbied to be along the route, and Dayton interests even built a counterfeit stretch of National Road so it could get in on the economic boost!

Conestoga Wagons, horse carriages and early automobiles- all seen along the National Road- were on display.

Zane Grey

Also in the museum were displays highlighting the life and work of Zane Grey, a Zanesville native.

Pearl Zane Grey (January 31, 1872 – October 23, 1939) was an American author and dentist best known for his popular adventure novels and stories associated with the Western genre in literature and the arts; he idealized the American frontier. Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) was his best-selling book.

In addition to the commercial success of his printed works, his books have had second lives and continuing influence when adapted as films and television productions. His novels and short stories have been adapted into 112 films, two television episodes, and a television series, Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater.

Grey became one of the first authors to become a millionaire via writing.  Above is a recreation of his study, where he wrote many books.

Local Art Pottery

You can’t study art pottery very long without noticing that many of the great American potteries were in Ohio.  Roseville, McCoy, Hull, and Weller are some of the better known names that came from this region.  Between about 1840 and 1967, Ohio was home to hundreds of potteries, and most of them were located in one of two areas in east Ohio.

…The area around the towns of Roseville, Zanesville, and Crooksville was the other Ohio pottery hotspot.  This southeastern Ohio region is rich in clay, and its pottery history goes all the way back to the Native Americans.  When European settlers came to the area, they set up “bluebird” potteries in their backyards and sheds.  Naturally, there were entrepreneurs who saw the pottery’s profit potential, and an industry was born.  McCoy, Weller, and Roseville were some of the first potteries to establish successful businesses in the area that would eventually be known as the “Pottery Belt” and “Clay Corridor.” 

The World’s Columbian Exposition, which was held in Chicago in 1893, introduced the Arts and Crafts movement to American potters and greatly influenced Ohio’s pottery industry. Potteries began creating art pottery in addition to the utilitarian jugs and crocks they had been producing. After the turn of the century, the art pottery business was booming, and Ohio was a leading producer.

…Most of these companies closed at some point after WWII, when foreign competition entered the American market.  But Ohio remains true to its pottery roots and has many functioning potteries today.

This museum is a great place to learn a ton about Ohio history.  I highly recommend it.  There’s so much to learn about history right in your local area!



  1. What a great post! My mother’s relatives lived in nearby tiny Mt Sterling, next to Hopewell, and donated land for the Mt. Sterling Methodist church.
    And my sweet step-grandmother worked for years at the old Headley Inn, which I think you had a photo in the post?
    We sold clay to some of the pottery makers in Zanesville during the Depression!


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