Saturday, August 1, 2009

National Road Museum

It's actually called the National Road-Zane Grey Museum and it's just off I70 near Norwich, Ohio. It certainly deserves the 'gem' rating that AAA gave it. Did you know that U.S. Route 40 is designated the National Road because it has its roots in the first federally funded road built in the US? I didn't think so. And the National Road has quite a history.

As our guide explained (after he told us this was his first tour,) back in the 1700s, potential pioneers had trouble traversing Ohio because of the thick forest that covered the land. Ebenezer Zane (grandfather of author Zane Grey) contracted with Congress to open a trail for riders on horseback across Ohio which he completed in 1797. Although "it was a tight fit for a fat horse," thousands of settlers journeyed down Zane's Trace to build settlements at St. Clairsville, Cambridge, Zanesville, Somerset, Lancaster, and Chillicothe.

Although this was helpful, it obviously wasn't enough so in 1811 construction began on the National Road. By 1828, the road was completed from Cumberland, MD to New Concord, OH (near where the museum is) and by 1838, it ran all the way to Vandalia, IL. The road was originally just dirt, then crushed stone, and was completely bricked during WWI to accommodate military traffic.

Relating to early travel, the museum had an original Conestoga Wagon. Probably one of the few still remaining after 200 years. The guide told us an interesting story about the brakes. The braking system was a block of wood that rubbed against the wheel to slow it down. Somewhere along the line, it was decided that adding a piece of leather to the block would keep it from wearing down as quickly. Since they had leather soles on their shoes, they started attaching shoes to the block. This is where the term 'brake shoe' comes from. Now I don't know if that's true or not, but you can see the shoes in this picture.

The museum had a nice collection of cars including this steam-powered car from around 1899.

Here's a close up of some of the workings.

They also had an interesting section on Zane Grey's life and a beautiful collection of pottery for which this area of Ohio is famous.

But my favorite part was a simply incredible 136 foot long miniature diorama depicting the progress of the National Road from its beginnings to modern times. I could have spent all day studying the faces on the 1 1/2" figures. Each one was unique and perfect. I'll just post a few of the many amazing scenes.

This was the beginning where the workers built the road by hand.

I blew up a section so you can get a better look at the people. (Keep in mind that I'm taking these pictures in low lighting and through glass.)

My favorite scene was this one where the horses seamlessly flow into the background painting.

They showed an early river crossing.

And as things progressed, a swing bridge that was in Zanesville.

The B&O railroad came through in 1854 bringing a whole new dimension to travel.

To complete my story on the National Road, it was renamed U.S. Route 40 in 1926 and somewhere along the line, sections of the road were straightened. You can still see some of the original brick road in places, which I'll post next time. I've rambled enough for now.


  1. Thanks for this, another very interesting post. Have a good time.

  2. Isn't our country's history great? Thanks for the history lesson!! Happy travels!!

  3. Fascinating! I think you would really enjoy the Great Platte River Road Archway in Nebraska. It has lots of stuff on the first transcontinental road.

  4. We did that two years ago, Diana, but I can't expect you to remember that since it was before I had the blog. :-D

  5. I love the diorama! Imagine the HOURS the creator put into making it. What a labor of love.

  6. I am in Wheeling, West Virginia on the National Road (US 40). Just passed the Madonna of the Trail and drove over the old Suspension Bridge.