The small town of Middlebourne, originally called Middletown, was relatively centrally located between Zanesville and Wheeling along the Old National Trail, today known as Route 40. When Benjamin Masters discovered that the National Trail was going to run right through his farm, he laid out a town believing that it would be a prosperous place.
That Old National Trail is often considered to be the road that helped build the nation. It was the nation’s first interstate highway crossing six states as it stretched from Maryland to Illinois.
In 1828, William Hays established Hays Tavern, a hotel and barroom in Middlebourne. It was one of the best known hostelries on the National Trail, also called Turnpike Street, because of its bountiful meals, barroom, barns for wagoners, and lots for the drovers’ stock. Even Henry Clay stopped here occasionally on his way from Kentucky to Washington.
A popular stop along the way just west of Middlebourne was the Bridgewater S Bridge built in 1828. When a bridge was needed to cross a stream at an angle, they built a stone arch at right angles to the stream. Then added a curve at each end to make the road meet smoothly. Thus, the S Bridge, which saved money and was a stronger structure.
Their first post office was established in 1829 and operated unto 1917. At this point, the name was officially changed from Middletown, which was also the name of a larger town in Ohio, to Middlebourne.
By 1850, their population was 267 and it grew for a while after that. The village had several stores, three or four churches, doctors, a lawyer, and even a brass band. But when the railroad was built six miles south of town, population seemed to wane. Eventually Route 40 and I-70 bypassed Middlebourne.
The Middlebourne Methodist Church was founded in 1840, but the church was actually built in 1857. A unique feature of the church is its double doors in the front. At that time, women were to enter the church through the door on the right, while men entered through the door at the left. Inside their hand hewed pews had a divider between them to keep the women and men separate inside the sanctuary. The divider has been removed – in some of the pews.
At that time, preachers who delivered sermons in various towns were called circuit riders. Middlebourne services were conducted by circuit riders in the homes of various members until the church became a reality.
Many walked to church back then, while others drove their horse and buggy. The Old National Road, today’s Route 40, ran in front of the church, so often there might be a herd of cattle or sheep passing by along with a wagon train.
Paul Carter, who grew up in Middlebourne, is the oldest member of the Methodist Churh. When he was a youngster, there were about a hundred people in the congregation and six Sunday School classes scattered around the church sanctury. He remembers delivering the Daily Jeffersonian to his customers in Middlebourne for 18 cents a week back in 1947.
Residents recall hearing stories about people getting stuck on the muddy National Road when rains poured down. Local farmers would then pull those early cars out of the mud with their horses for a fee. One local jokester would sometimes pour barrels of water on the road to make it muddy, so he could make money pulling cars out.
Charles Ellis Moore, a U.S. Representative from Ohio, was born near Middlebourne in 1884. Moore taught school in Oxford Township and graduated from Muskingum College and OSU School of Law. He also served as Prosecuting Attorney for Guernsey County before becoming representative from 1919-1933. Bob Secrest succeeded him.
The only original building left in town is the Middlebourne Methodist Church, which recently celebrated their 160th anniversary. While attendance has dwindled, they still love their little church. Small country churches always hold special memories.
Take a country ride and enjoy the small town atmosphere of Middlebourne. Folks are friendly there!
Middlebourne, Ohio is located just off I-70 at Exit 193 along the North side of the highway.