Over Memorial Day weekend in 2011, my dog Gracie and I explored the National Road all the way across Ohio. That road is now US 40 in most places. I’m bringing the long trip report over from my old Roads site.

In 1797, Ebenezer Zane cut a road 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

Imagery ©2022 CNES/Airbus, Maxar Technologies, USDA/FPAC/GEO. Map data ©2022 Google.

When the National Road was extended into Ohio starting in 1825, it was laid over Zane’s Trace in many places to Zanesville. Zane’s Trace runs south of the National Road between New Concord and Zanesville, however. 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.

Zanesville, OH

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, OH

I was impressed not only that this old building still has many of its original windows, but that one of them still opens via the top sash. I assume they’re original, anyway — windows with curved tops like these would have to be custom made if they were to be replaced!

Zanesville, OH

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.

Muskingum County Courthouse

Is it Ohio state law that every county courthouse must have military monuments on the grounds? At least Muskingum County got creative about it.


Because after all, war is hell.

Zanesville, OH

Despite Zanesville’s place in Ohio’s history, its real claim to fame is its Y bridge.

Imagery ©2012 Digital Globe, GeoEye, USDA Farm Service. Map data ©2012 Google.

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.

Y Bridge

I hear that Zanesvillians get a kick of telling out-of-towners to drive to the center of the bridge and turn left.

Zanesville, OH

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, OH

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.

Zanesville, OH

Here the National Road leaves Zane’s Trace, and the challenging terrain of eastern Ohio, behind. It is no exaggeration to say that the entire character of the road changes west of Zanesville. From here through Columbus to Springfield, the National Road is more or less a straight path.

Next: Wrapping up Muskingum County, passing over the last two stone bridges on Ohio’s National Road.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!


12 responses to “The National Road in Ohio: Zanesville and its Y-shaped bridge”

  1. Jerry Thompson Avatar
    Jerry Thompson

    Jim, hello! Jerry Thompson here. I’m with the National Road/Zane Grey Museum. I’ve just viewed your entire album on the National Road; fantastic!!!!!!! What a treasure trove! I’d like to talk with you about your adventure those 12-13 years ago. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch!!!!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Hi Jerry – glad you’re enjoying my travels on the National Road! Click About Me at the top of this page and on the page that appears, scroll down to the contact form, and send me a message, I’ll be happy to chat with you.

  2. Jim Grey Avatar

    Still testing.

  3. brandib1977 Avatar

    As an Ohioan I can officially say we aren’t allowed to conduct government business without a weapon of war on the front lawn.

    Also, the statues are by Alan Cottrill who I wrote about here!


    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s statute! And I love it that you know about the statues.

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        Lol. I’m not sure they ever legalized it but that’s sure how it feels. I go other places and just wonder where they keep their cannons if not on the courthouse lawn. Haha.

        Here in Vinton County, the commissioners were quite pleased when a Vietnam era Howitzer was donated for placement next to the front door. Sigh.

        Welcome to town.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I know a county courthouse in Indiana on the National Road that has a fighter jet on the lawn. It’s a thing, I guess.

  4. Joe from The Resurrected Camera Avatar

    Zanesville was on the way to my grandparents’ house and though I don’t think we necessarily needed to cross the river to get there, we would almost always make a detour to drive over that bridge! I remember reading about the Zane Trail in Ohio history but never made the connection that it was also called a trace…fun little tidbit but there was a high school named Zane Trace, located about half an hour away from where I grew up. The man’s influence was widespread and the name is still remembered!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Was the high school on Zane’s Trace itself? Sounds like Zane was a big man in Ohio history.

      1. Joe from The Resurrected Camera Avatar

        I had to look it up to be sure but it’s in Chillocothe which was the original state capital, and it looks like yes, that was on the original Zane Trail. I honestly don’t remember ever learning about the man himself, just the trail he made.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Oh interesting. I didn’t know Chillicothe is on the Trace. I ought to really investigate the Trace someday.

  5. […] The National Road in Ohio: Zanesville and its Y-shaped bridge — Down the Road […]

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: