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Exploring Ohio’s history

For the past few weeks, I have spent my free days working with a team trying to solve a riddle that has sent people on a scavenger hunt-style mission all over Ohio. (No, I can’t share the riddle or any other details, but those are beside the point, anyway. It’s kept many of us on the road exploring since the beginning of the pandemic.)

It’s been weeks, and most of us have been all up and down Ohio, without solving the riddle. I’m beginning to suspect the author of the riddle knew what he or she was doing. I have been supremely confident I found the right location five times now.

I’ve been wrong five times, too. But in the process I have learned more Ohio history than in all my schooling. It’s been a great adventure.

As the weeks have worn on, I find myself stopping at roadside markers just as much because I might learn something new and interesting as for the possibility that they might hold a clue. Ohio’s got some fascinating history — much of it rarely discussed unless you happen to be seeking out history on purpose.

I grew up learning all about Betty Zane, because I was in classrooms in West Virginia, where I heard tales of her heroism in the attack on Fort Henry in Wheeling. The Zanes were Mountain State figures, as far as I was concerned.

Then, a couple of weekends ago in Aberdeen, Ohio, I read a marker that had the header “Zane’s Trace.” Well. Time to get out of the car and read the rest.

“Fulfilling President George Washington’s desire to ‘open wide the gates of the West,’ in 1796 Congress authorized the Zane brothers of Fort Henry (at present day Wheeling) to clear a path through the dense woods of Appalachian Ohio. Zane’s Trace cut through the forests of eleven counties, reaching the Ohio River at Aberdeen, across from Limestone (now Maysville), Kentucky. The trail roughly follows the routes of U.S. 22 and 40 to Lancaster, S.R. 159 to Chillicothe, U.S. 50 to Bainbridge, and S.R. 41 to Aberdeen.”

But wait, there’s a B side: “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. With the construction of the ‘New State Road’ (authorized in 1804 to improve Zane’s Trace) and the National Road (completed through New Concord in 1828), Ohio’s overland commerce and communication steadily improved. From this point one can see the five major routes into Ohio: Zane’s Trace, the National Road, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, U.S. Route 40, and Interstate 70.”

That means the Zanes are very much Ohio figures, too, and I had no idea. New information, some new perspective –and that’s just one sign. Woohoo!

Ohio is full of fun ways to chase history such as the Scenic Scioto Heritage Trail (85 miles, 44 points of interest). The Ohio History Connection historical markers program has approximately 1,800 spots to learn a little more about the Buckeye State. I joked to a friend that I thought I had stopped at every historically significant spot in southern Ohio on one weekend, but the truth is a family could spend months and not learn everything out there.

Most of my own team and other teams who have crossed our path are having so much fun exploring that we’ve admitted it doesn’t bother us much we have not actually accomplished our goal yet. It’s OK the search has gone on so long.

The rest of you don’t need an internet scavenger hunt as an excuse to join in. Do it safely, but get out there, explore and learn — you won’t believe how much fun it is.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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