In 1797, Ebenezer Zane cut a trace from the Ohio state line across from Wheeling in what was then Virginia, west across the densely forested countryside 230 miles to what is now Maysville, Kentucky, an Ohio River town about 60 miles upriver of Cincinnati. It was a post road, just wide enough for a horseback rider carrying saddlebags full of mail. When Zane cut his trace as far as the Muskingum River, he liked it so much that when his trace was complete, he followed it back to that river and settled. The town that grew out of that settlement was named Zanesville, of course.
When the National Road was extended into Ohio starting in 1825, it took advantage of Zane’s Trace. I know of several places where the National Road’s builders chose to lay the road over new terrain, however, including most of the route between New Concord and Zanesville. Zane’s Trace still exists between these towns, running about a mile to the south of US 40. If you want to go looking on Google Maps, just look for Old Wheeling Road and Zane Trace Road. You’ll find that the Zanesville Municipal Airport obliterated some of this historic road, unfortunately.
I got a little lost as I tried to follow the National Road into Zanesville. I noticed St. Nicholas Catholic Church’s great building, though, and headed off to have a look. It was my good fortune that this put me right back on US 40. I wonder if Nicholas is the patron saint of road trippers.
US 40 follows Main Street into town. What a beautiful town it is! Lots of old architecture still stands, and much of it appears to be in very nice condition.
Zanesville became Ohio’s state capital in 1810. It was always intended to be temporary; by 1812, the capital had moved to the new city of Columbus. State business was never conducted in this courthouse, however, as it was completed in 1877.
Despite Zanesville’s place in Ohio’s history, its real claim to fame is its Y bridge.
The first Y bridge was built here, at the confluence of the Licking and Muskingum Rivers, in 1814. It was a crude affair that fell into the river. The second, a wooden bridge, was condemned after being badly damaged in a flood. The third bridge, a wooden covered bridge, killed its builder during its construction. I haven’t been able to find out why, but it was torn down in 1900. The fourth bridge opened in 1902. By 1979, its structure above its piers had fallen into such disrepair that it was removed and rebuilt. This, the fifth bridge, has been open since 1984.
I hear that Zanesvillians get a kick of telling out-of-towners to drive to the center of the bridge and turn left.
A railroad bridge straddles the Y bridge. As I explored, a train came through.
After I crossed the bridge, I noticed this mosaic in the sidewalk in front of a vacant lot. A Chevrolet dealer used to stand on this site; it went into business in 1914. Could this tile be that old? Zanesville was home to a famous mosaic tile producer, and I assume this was their work.
Zanesville is also well known as a pottery center, so I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find these vases on the vacant lot. They are part of a 2008 community art project. Each vase is seven feet tall and weighs 170 pounds.
Here the National Road leaves Zane’s Trace, and the challenging terrain of eastern Ohio, behind.
I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.
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Last updated on 11 August 2020 by Jim Grey