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In the wake of America's victory over Great Britain in the Revolutionary War, a new nation looked westward. Conquering the frontier meant a new life for those hardy enough to brave its challenges - and an adventure that inspires us even today. For the first half of the nineteenth century - and again from the late 1800s to the 1950s - the road to adventure was the National Road, America's first federal highway.
The allure of the frontier was celebrated by novelist Zane Grey, whose books helped to create the image of the West that is so familiar to us today. Together, the National Road and Zane Grey typify the American spirit.
After five years of extensive surveying, road crews began to cut through the forests to clear a sixty-six-foot right-of-way. Using pickaxes and shovels, workers dug roadbeds twelve to eighteen inches deep, then filled the beds with broken stone and rolled it to form a level surface.
By 1818, the road had reached Wheeling, in what now is West Virginia. More money was needed to extend the road across Ohio, but a debate over the government's authority to appropriate funds for internal improvements halted construction for seven years.
In 1825, President James Monroe resolved the problem by proposing that the Constitution's "general welfare" clause allowed the government to fund projects - such as the National Road - that benefited the entire nation.
Construction proceeded across Ohio and Indiana, reaching Vandalia, Illinois, in 1840. The road might have continued westward, but controversy over the proposed route and the increasing use of railroads eclipsed the need for a longer road. Construction was ended for good after twenty-nine years, 600 miles, and nearly $7 million.
Signs of a thriving economy dotted the wayside. Inns such as the Sheep's Ear and the White Goose sprang up, providing a place for coaches to stop to "water the horses and brandy the gentlemen." The road became Main Street for many a town settled along its route.
As railroads pushed west, however, the National Road slipped into decline. An anonymous poet lamented the road's passing:
Today, the National Road is a quieter altemative to the roaring interstate nearby. Although sections of the road have been abandoned, most of it remains intact, running through the small towns and cities that prospered along its historic way.
Drawing upon his love of the outdoors to provide a backdrop for his books, Grey wrote several historical novels set in the Ohio Valley, as well as children's books and hunting and fishing stories. But it was his vision of the American West that captured the imaginations of readers worldwide.
Grey produced a number of best-sellers, including the famous Ridets of the Purple Sage. At least one of his novels ranked in the top-ten best sellers from 1917-24. His books have been translated into twenty foreign languages and have inspired more than 100 movies.
Grey's writings and the films based on them helped to shape the attitudes of millions toward the American frontier. To legions of fans who had never spread a bedroll next to a prairie campfire, Zane Grey and his frontier tales exemplified the best of our western heritage.
A diorama portrays the development of the National Road. Exhibits illustrate how vehicle technology prompted improvements in road surfaces, while life-size reconstructions depict typical scenes along the National Road during the nineteenth century.
A collection of Zane Grey's trophies, manuscripts, and first editions of his novels commemorates the life of this unique American writer.
The area's ceramic heritage is featured in an exhibit of commercial art pottery and decorative tile produced by the district's most significant potteries. Although a number of American firms upheld the tenets of the nineteenth-century arts and crafts movement, Zanesville-area potteries sometimes modified aesthetic qualities with commercial production techniques. The quality and popularity of the results made Zanesville the center of American art pottery during the early twentieth century.
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