Three pieces of history are superbly woven together at the National Road – Zane Grey Museum between New Concord and Zanesville, Ohio along old Route 40. Learn about the road to the West, famous author Zane Grey, and Zanesville potteries.
Way back in 1811, Ebenezer Zane discussed with George Washington the need for a road across the newly settled country. Washington agreed it was vital to the future of the country so proclaimed, “Open a wide door, and make a smooth Way.” That began Zane’s Trace, which became part of the National Road.
The museum presents a detailed 136′ diorama depicting life on the original National Road, often called “The Main Street of America”. All the figures are hand made from clay and accurate down to the tiniest detail. The first road was dirt, followed by the Corduroy Road made of logs, making it very rough. Eventually a stone foundation was in place with crushed stone on the top, and finally bricks
Every mile a stone mile marker gave travelers information on mileage to various towns along the way. A Gunter Chain, 66′ long, was used to measure the distance of one mile time and time again. If you moved the 66′ chain X 80 times = 5,280 ‘, the distance of one mile. The Gunter Chain also measured the distance across the road – 66’.
After WWI, Dwight Eisenhower led a convoy of trucks across the National Road, and during WWII, General Eisenhower discovered the Autobahn in Germany. When he became president he felt it of high importance to develop better highways in America. Thus began our interstate highway system.
Pearl Zane Grey, being born in Zanesville, traveled this road frequently. His early writing attempts were squelched by his father, who insisted that Zane attend the University of Pittsburgh so he could be a dentist and follow in his father’s footsteps. Zane did graduate with a degree in dentistry after enjoying a time of pitching his great curve ball on the college baseball team, where he enjoyed a full baseball scholarship.
When he married Dolly, her encouragement and editing abilities, along with a nice inheritance, made it possible for Zane to abandon his dental practice and begin following his passions…writing and fishing.
His first book was Betty Zane, the story of a young girl who helped save Fort Henry. But it was Riders of the Purple Sage that put popularity into Grey’s writings. His books sold like hot cakes. Zane wrote all his stories in long hand, then his wife, Dolly, typed them and had them published. Many were turned into movies.
Zane enjoyed fishing more than anything else and spent over 300 days a year at that sport. He split the money from the books with Dolly, and he spent his half on fishing, boats, and travel. When he traveled out West, he filled his tablets with descriptions of the scenes he saw, for use in his stories.
The only books that sold more copies than Grey’s at that time were the Bible and school primers. Hemingway was quite jealous of Grey, not because of his successful writing career, but because of his great fishing ability. Zane’s love of the great out-of-doors can be seen in all of his books through his detailed descriptions.
Now how does the fantastic collection of pottery fit in? The perfect clay for making pottery could be found in this area quite easily – in dirt roads, such as the National Road, which had clay as their base. Potters would go out to the road and dig up a small portion of clay to make a vase or bowl. This became known as a “potters’ hole”. Thus the term we use today for a hole in the road – “pot hole”.
But the collection goes beyond those humble beginnings and includes the work of over 132 potteries in the Zanesville area. Thousands of workers contributed to this large display, which was originally the collection of Mr. Downey, the owner of Conn’s Potato Chips. Upon his death, half of his pottery was given to the Zane Grey Museum for display, while the other half is in the Zanesville Museum of Art.
Next time you travel along the Old National Road, today’s Route 40, stop at the National Road – Zane Grey Museum and watch a film about the life of Zane Grey. The knowledgeable guides will lead you down the road to books, movies, pottery…and some surprises along the way.
National Road – Zane Grey Museum is located on old Route 40 about a half mile from I-70, Exit 164, Norwich Exit. The museum is located between New Concord and Zanesville, Ohio.