In this three-part series, our own Grant Joy travels throughout Muskingum County, telling the stories of its places and people. In this installment, Grant visits the John and Annie Glenn Museum, the National Road and Zane Gray Museum, the Muskingum County History Center, the Stone Academy, the Putnam Presbyterian Church, and the Nelson T. Gant House.
The Joys of Ohio’s Winding Road: Muskingum County, an Orbit into History
BY GRANT JOY
Muskingum County comprises the northeastern boundary of Ohio’s Winding Road (OWR) region. OWR’s AmeriCorps member, Grant Joy, participated in the 2020 “Found in Ohio: Traces, Trails, and Tales Media Tour” sponsored through a collaborative effort of the Cambridge Guernsey County CVB, Visit Zanesville, and Morgan County CVB. Over the following days, OWR will be sharing mini stories that Grant has written that make Muskingum County a destination for history buffs, art enthusiasts, and restaurant connoisseurs. Through these mini stories, we hope readers can better understand the authentic assets and experiences that Muskingum County has to offer all while coming to understand why he views Muskingum County as a place where you’ll need more than 4 hours and 56 minutes to fully explore.
It only took John Glenn 4 hours and 56 minutes to orbit the Earth three times on February 20th, 1962. 4 hours and 56 minutes to launch himself and into the annals of history, simultaneously rocketing the village of New Concord to the forefront of the American consciousness. However, visitors to Zanesville and Muskingum County will need far more time to immerse themselves in the storied history and everything else the county has to offer. But visitors to Muskingum County will find far more than just a county rich with history. Perhaps the nation’s most unheralded conservation success story, The Wilds, lies in the southeast portion of the County. Visitors to Zanesville will have a chance to experience the burgeoning art scene and the delightful restaurants that call Y-City home. You can do a lot of things in 4 hours and 56 minutes, but you can’t quite explore everything that Muskingum County and Zanesville have to offer in that amount of time. You’ll need at least a day, or two, or three…
John Glenn once said, “I’ve always believed New Concord and Muskingum College are the center of the universe because if you get your start here, you can go anywhere.” Here, nestled among the hills, along the National Road is the sleepy, idyllic small-town of New Concord, one end of town a distinct S-Bridge flanks the village limits, while the Muskingum-Guernsey County line flanks the other side. The village is home to the John and Annie Glenn Museum. The village would play a large role in the formative years of Glenn’s early life. Moreover, New Concord would be the place where he would meet his neighbor, future wife, and lifetime partner Annie Custor. Thus, to commemorate the importance of New Concord to the Glenns, the John and Annie Glenn museum was established and the museum celebrates the early life and times of the county’s most notable couple.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, The John and Annie Glenn Museum will be closed to the public for the year, with an eye for reopening in the spring of 2021. However, when open again, visitors will be rocketed back in time to the “Dirty ’30s” and the height of the Great Depression. A guided, first-person tour through the home offers visitors a chance to immerse themselves into the life and times of Glenn’s childhood, featuring an immersive, interpretive experience of John’s loving mother, Clara, portrayed by Bev Allen. Visitors can see first-hand how the Depression and growing up in small-town Appalachia helped to shape Glenn’s sense of adventure, fortitude, resolve, and moral character that enabled him to achieve greatness. The house is full of items from John and Annie and is set to reflect the 1930s. One artifact that I noticed was John’s radio tucked in the corner of his boyhood bedroom. The radio, as it did with many young kids growing up in the 1930s, helped bring the news of the world into the living rooms of small-town America. I also suspect that the radio, along with Clara’s advice of “No matter what, always, always try your best,” helped to catalyze Glenn’s adventurous spirit and belief in himself. Perhaps this is the reason parting with the radio was difficult for Glenn. It brought the world and endless possibility to a boy that would become the first American to orbit the Earth. To learn more about the John and Annie Glenn Museum, please visit them online here.
Continuing the adventurous spirit personified by John Glenn, visitors will also want to check out the National Road and Zane Gray Museum in the Spring of 2021. Perhaps another reason John Glenn viewed New Concord as the “center of the universe” was that the nation’s first federally funded highway went through the heart of Muskingum County. The National Road and Zane Gray museum are unique in that they offer a range of historical stories to visitors. Most prominent is how the nation’s first federally funded highway system came to be. I suggest checking out the chronological ⅜ scale diorama which is 138 feet long. The colorful and vibrant diorama visually showcases how the National Road came to fruition. From the felling of the first tree, to numerous inns and taverns that sprang up along the way servicing large Conestoga wagons, to the gradual improvement of the roadway itself, I found this display to be the highlight of the museum. It provides a great visual understanding of the National Road and the improvements made to it over time. I also found the National Road to serve as a microcosm for understanding the modernization of America more broadly. The construction, implementation, and improvement of America’s Main Street is a physical manifestation of the country’s innovative spirit, the dogged determination of its people, and the importance of transportation systems, as they’re the arteries of American commerce.
Aside from the colorful history of the National Road, what makes the museum especially unique is that it also provides visitors a chance to learn about the life and works of writer Zane Gray, as well as displays of local pottery, which pushed the county and Zanesville further into national notoriety. When opened back up in the Spring of 2021, visitors will get to hear about the exploits of Zane Gray’s baseball playing days at the University of Pennsylvania in addition to his adventures deep sea fishing in Florida, New Zealand, and Australia, and his trips out west that helped shape his western novels. The museum also houses an impressive collection of local pottery; Zanesville was once known as the Pottery Capital of the World.
While the Muskingum County History Center is currently closed to the public with an eye for reopening in October, the center provides a great resource for history buffs to dive deep into the Abolitionist movement. Visitors can take a self-guided walking tour of the Putnam Historic District. They can do so by downloading a self-guided brochure here. The Putnam Historic District, located just across the Muskingum River from Zanesville, pays homage to the settlement’s deep roots in the Underground Railroad movement. Putnam was a distinct community, seperate from Zanesville, across the river until the late 1800s. In playing an integral role in the Abolition movement, Putnam represents a physical area where America strives to meet its highest ideals of equality and freedom for all. Visitors to the Putnam Historic District should make sure to visit the Stone Academy, located at 115 Jefferson Street, the Putnam Presbyterian Church, at 467 Woodlawn Ave, the George Guthrie Home located at 521 Woodlawn Avenue, and the Increase Mathews House, located at 305 Woodlawn Academy, just to name a few.
History and architectural lovers should pay special attention to the Stone Academy and the Putnam Presbyterian Church. The Stone Academy played an important role in shaping the area’s abolitionist roots, as Ohio’s Anti-Slavery Society held its state convention there in 1835 and 1839. Theodore D. Weld, a seminal figure in America’s early Abolitionist Movement, spoke just before the 1835 convention and had the meeting at the Stone Academy that was broken up when a group of Zanesvillians heard about the meeting and came across the Muskingum to disrupt it. Putnam Presbyterian Church played a large role in the town’s Abolitionist Movement, as William Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, served as the first minister of the church. The Putnam Historic District is also home to some of Zaneville’s oldest buildings and represents a good mix of late federal-style, Greek Revival, and Victorian-style architecture that physically represents the historic character of Zanesville. To learn more about the Muskingum History Center please visit them online here. In addition, history lovers visiting Zanesville will want to stop at the Nelson T. Gant House, located at 1845 West Main Street in Zanesville. Gant was a freed-slave who achieved notable upward socio-economic mobility through farming of specialty vegetables. He also was able to collect enough money, following two unsuccessful attempts, to secure the freedom of his wife Maria. To learn more about the Gant House click the link here.
About the author: Grant Joy was the 2019-20 AmeriCorps member serving last year for Ohio’s Winding Road. This was his third AmeriCorps service year. He spent the past two years serving in Colorado and Vermont before deciding to come back closer to home in southern Ohio. After AmeriCorps, he is looking forward to continue sharing stories of the people and places that make Ohio’s Rising Appalachia a unique and vibrant region.