In 1796 and 1797, Colonel Ebenezer Zane and his brothers blazed a trail into the Northwest Territory, now Ohio. Starting in Wheeling (which he founded in 1770), Zane's trace was the first road cut into the wilderness. It would be the shortest distance between Wheeling and Maysville on the Ohio River. Zane repeatedly petitioned Congress for permission to build the road, and in his impatience, he started the project without it. Finally, in 1796, Zane received the permission he sought.
Zane made good use of the Native American footpaths across eastern Ohio, using the Mingo Trail in Belmont and Muskingum Counties. South of Zanesville, Zane probably followed the Moxahala Trail. In the first few years, the road was just wide enough for riders on horseback, but not wide enough for wagons or coaches. Many early pioneers used the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers to transport their heavy goods since the road was still impractical.
In 1800, the road was widened from Wheeling to Zanesville. Later, other sections were widened. Still, the road was very steep and rutted, making for a less than idea roadway.
Some, but not all of the National Road uses Zane's Trace as its path. Just west of Old Washington, a section of the original trace diverges from the path of the National Road. Likewise, the trace between New Concord and Zanesville is south of the National Road. Except for a short section at the Zanesville Airport, Zane's Trace between New Condord and Zanesville can be driven in an automobile. It is a very narrow, winding road. In many places two vehicles can barely pass one another. This will give you an idea of what the National Road (and Route 40) were like prior to the era of roadbuilding that began in the 1930's.
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Last updated: 2010-11-04 16:32:49