Road Trip: Zane’s Trace

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Downtown Somerset sits on the historic Zane's Trace.(Photo: Scott Spears, producer)
Downtown Somerset sits on the historic Zane's Trace.(Photo: Scott Spears, producer)

Zane’s Trace – now Rt 22 – is one of the earliest roads in Ohio. And one of the original towns here is Somerset, originally known as Middletown because it was midway between Zanesville and Lancaster.

“The great thing about Somerset in that it really fits that Jefferson Ideal 200 years later,” says Somerset resident and historian David Snider.

“Zanesville became a manufacturing center, a powerhouse. And Lancaster and Chillicothe to a lesser degree. They still have a large agricultural component to them certainly. But Somerset remains to that Jeffersonian ideal.

That “ideal” of a nation of small farmer-landowners can still be seen around Somerset. The town square features historic two story, brick buildings that have about anything you need, a hardware store, restaurantt, and barber.

You handle city business in what was the Perry County Courthouse, now Somerset’s town hall.

David Snider says Somerset was first settled in 1803 and one of the first buildings built was an important part of a town along Zane’s Trace.

“The first two families that settled Somerset were brother in-laws, Jacob Dittoe, Jonathon Finck.”

“(Finck) bought a half-section of land and he built a log cabin about a year or two later. He built what was called a Finck’s Tavern, which was in operation for probably 40 years. It was a major landmark on the Zane’s Trace and it was also served as town courthouse, the jail and the meetings, the township meeting hall and anything else, even a schoolhouse.”

Finck’s tavern is long gone, but the building that housed Miller’s Tavern still stands at the corner of West Main and North Market Street on the northwest corner.

In those early days of Ohio, taverns were places for travelers along the Trace to stop for a meal or spend an evening.

“The accommodations along Zane’s Trace would not be very desirable by our modern standards,” Snider says.

“However if it’s raining outside and you’ve had a long day on the road, you might be entirely comfortable in sharing a bed or a floor space with somebody that you knew nothing about. You know, it was a pretty simple life and most of us are not used to that kind of thing.

“Just imagine a 400-mile hiking expedition and you carry it with you or you drag it along in a wagon along with you.”

In 1807, traveler Fortescue Cumings wrote about his travels along Zane’s Trace about his stay at the tavern.

Cumings wrote “After supping at the inn where the stage stopped, I was shown to bed up stairs in a barrack room the whole extent of the house, with several beds in it. One of which was already occupied by a man and his wife from the neighboring county, who both conversed with me until I feigned sleep. I was soon awoke in torture from a general attack made on me by a host of vermin of the most troublesome and disgusting genii.”

The tavern of the 1800s was not the motor lodge of today.

Modes of travel have changed as well, but Somerset is still a destination for those who want to visit an historical town on an historic road.

You can download copies of all of The New Ohio Guide driving tours at seeohiofirst.org.

The New Ohio Guide is produced by the Ohio Humanities Council, , a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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