When Harley Noland opened his restaurant in Marietta, he began thinking of ways that could bring more tourists into the area. That was when the idea of a trolley struck him. This was twenty-five years ago, and the Marietta Trolley has been making tours ever since.
His restaurant, The Levee House, was located on the Ohio River making it convenient to have a Bed & Breakfast nearby on a historic riverboat, CLAIRE E. Both of those businesses are no longer in operation but the trolley lives on.
Sometimes Harley still gives the trolley’s guided tour, but there are also several local historians that help with that side of the project now. Each of them has wonderful factual knowledge of the area and tells accurate stories of those early pioneers who settled at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers.
This is the perfect way to see the highlights of the city while traveling their old brick streets and learn about its history. The city has an abundance of beautiful Victorian homes, churches, earthworks and historic spots that will have you going back for a second look. There’s history on every corner!
This year the trolley ride begins on Front Street at the Armory, which is the new home of the Marietta/Washington County Visitors Bureau. Then begins the ninety minute narrated tour of Marietta on the trolley made of mahogany with a great speaker system for easy listening.
Coming from the East Coast, the settlers designated the area along the Muskingum River as “The Commons”. Today there stands a monument to the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Northwest Territory Ordinance. This Memorial to the Start Westward of the United States was carved in 1938 by Gutzon Borglum, the same man who carved Mount Rushmore and dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
A stop at the Ohio River Museum focuses on the role of the rivers in the expansion of our country. It gives a chance to view the last shanty boat, which is a complete house that people lived on. There is also the oldest pilot house in the United States close by.
The Adventure Galley was the first flatboat to arrive in Ohio from Pittsburgh. The W.P. Snyder, Jr.. is now docked nearby and the last coal-fired, steam-powered sternwheel towboat to have operated on the Ohio River.
Sacra Via, “Sacred Way”, is an ancient path from the Muskingum River to the earthworks in Marietta. The pathway was surrounded by earthen embankments about twenty-six feet high and was covered with mollusk shells from the river so that it sparkled in the moonlight.
The mounds are the site of a Winter Solstice Sunset Watch and it is strongly believed these mounds were placed here for an astrological alignment. This site has not eroded in 2000 years due to the heavy clay used to build it up.
Mound Cemetery contains Conus Mound, a burial mound surrounded by an earthen wall and a dry moat. This was used for burial and ceremonial purposes. The cemetery surrounding it has more Revolutionary war officers than any other cemetery in the United States.
A bubbling black substance coming out of the ground was put on joints and felt to be a healing compound. It was called Panther Water and used as medicine. When its true purpose was discovered, the crude oil in this town made many men rich. That gives a reason for many of the lovely homes in the area.
An interesting sidelight of the tour are the flood markings on many of the downtown buildings showing how high the flood waters came. 1913 looked like the year of a very high flood. Many times the flood marks were up to the second story of the old brick buildings. Many of the rich built their homes on terraces to avoid the flood waters.
But not all of Marietta’s lovely homes are old. One pillared house was built in the last 17 years by a man who manufactures something you wouldn’t think would be a million dollar business – refrigerator magnets.
The location of The Castle today sets on grounds that were originally used by a potter and his wife. It would have been one of the earliest pottery manufacturing locations in the Northwest Territory. Many prominent Marietta residents lived here including Ohio Senator Theodore Davis. Today it is open as a historical museum to honor the legacy of The Castle families as well as provides educational and cultural activities to learn more about its connection to Ohio history.
The Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption was a stop off the trolley to view the spectacular interior, which takes one back to its European roots. The church was consecrated in 1909. The beautiful stained glass windows were created in Munich, Germany. There are nearly 140 images of angels throughout the church. Large angels bearing palm branches and torches can be found surrounding the sanctuary while cherubs adorn each column.
Beauty like this would not have been normally seen at this time in history or even today for that matter. Many say it compares favorably with Basilicas in Europe.
Fort Harmar, the first frontier fort in Ohio Country, was situated on the Muskingum River, called the easy way west. Built in 1785, it was named for General Josiah Harmar. He had been ordered by the United States Army to build a fort here to discourage illegal settlers from squatting there. It did just the opposite as made them feel protected by the fort nearby. Tall masted sailing ships were later built here.
The Douglas Putnam House sits high on the hill overlooking the river in the Harmar district. He was the leader of the abolitionist society in Marietta. As one of the wealthiest members, his support of the UGRR was not surpassed. From his house, you could see Virginia on the other side of the river, which at that time was not a real barrier as it was shallow enough to be crossed on horseback.
The trolley tour is one of the most popular tours in the Marietta area. Parking is free at the Marietta – Washington County CVB at 241 Front Street. Hop on the trolley Tuesday through Saturday during July and August at 10:00 to experience a glimpse of history.
It’s a great way to discover Marietta!
Take Exit 1 in Ohio off I-77 to Pike Street. Continue west on Pike Street until it ends at the Lafayette Hotel. Take a right and the Visitors Bureau will be at 241 Front Street. Buy your trolley ticket when you get on the trolley.