In the 1790s, a settlement was established at the confluence of the Licking and Muskingum Rivers as Colonel Ebenezer Zane and his son-in-law John McIntire blazed Zane's Trace, the original pioneer trail into the old Northwest Territory. Zane, a Revolutionary War veteran, was commissioned by the U.S. Congress to blaze a pathway into the rolling hills and the dense forests of the Ohio Valley, and to establish ferry crossings at three major rivers including the Muskingum.
McIntire and Zane's brother Jonathan took responsibility for operating the ferry at the Muskingum River and they were the county's first settlers. A town laid out by McIntire called Westbourne quickly grew out of the settlement and in 1801 it was renamed Zanesville in honor of Colonel Zane.
Zanesville served as the temporary capitol of Ohio from 1810 to 1812. In 1814, the city's well-known Y-shaped bridge was initially constructed to cross the junction of the two rivers in the center of Zanesville - the Licking and Muskingum. Today, the fifth Y-Bridge still stands at the heart of the community.
Transportation played a key role in the rich history and development of the community. Zane's Trace later became the National Road, the major east-west artery for trade and travel and one of the pioneer's main routes to the west throughout the 1800s. The Muskingum River with a canal, lock and dam system that is still used today transported steamboats and barges up from the Ohio. Zanesville's pivotal position has made the community a center for commerce, travel and trade throughout its history.
Nature granted Zanesville other advantages. Rich natural resources such as sand, clay and iron made Zanesville and Muskingum County ideal for the manufacture of steel, glass and pottery. Ceramic tile and art pottery are an important part of the heritage of the community, as Zanesville became known as the "Pottery Capital of the World" and the "Clay City." The production of pottery still makes Muskingum County a destination point for visitors from all over the world. Glass, steel and ceramics remain some of the community's most important industries.
Many prominent Americans have called Zanesville and Muskingum County home. John Glenn, a native of New Concord was the first American astronaut to orbit the earth and was formerly a U.S. Senator. William Rainey Harper-founder of the University of Chicago, Cass Gilbert-architect for the U.S. Supreme Court building, actors Richard Basehart and Agnes Morehead, and author Zane Grey are all notable Muskingum County natives.