A 136-Foot-Long Diorama Leads To The Study Of A Dentist Who Wrote Westerns

Drive 15 minutes east from Zanesville on the U.S. 40 National Scenic Byway to Norwich, Ohio, and you’ll polish off my third and final “hidden gem”: The National Road and Zane Grey Museum.

At this Ohio History Connection site, discover three things that made this region of Ohio famous: its art pottery; the National Road; and Zane Grey, the author of almost 90 books, including Westerns, novels about fishing, and a biography of the young George Washington.

The sand, clay and iron that naturally occur in southeast Ohio allowed for so much manufacturing of steel, glass and pottery to take place around Zanesville and Muskingum County that it became known as the pottery capital of the world. Art pottery, ceramic tile, and utilitarian stoneware crocks were created around Zanesville during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Eye-catching decorations and unusual glazes made these affordable machine-made creations especially beautiful.

Just as the Zane Trace helped the pioneers blaze a path through the frontier, the National Road enabled transportation of crops, goods and people from the east coast to the heartland of the United States. Stretching from Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois, the road was authorized in 1806, but construction on it began in Ohio in 1825.

An incredible 3/8ths-scale, 136-foot-long diorama of the National Road illustrates what it was like to travel on the 600-mile-long National Road from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century. Beverley Harris Moseley, a graphic designer who made museum exhibits for the Ohio Historical Society, created the diorama for this museum’s opening in March 1973. Born in Columbus in 1926, he graduated from Linden McKinley High School and Ohio State University, where he served as the university marching band’s drum major in 1946. He passed away in 2011.

Moseley carved hundreds of figures for the diorama in just two and a half years. He consulted with an historian and studied the clothing and tools of the period. From the backdrop to the figures that populate it, Mr. Moseley created the scene in amazing detail.

The diorama begins with the creation of the road itself, showing local men breaking pieces of rock by hand until it could pass through a three-inch iron ring. To create the roadbed, the broken rock was covered with smaller stones to create a uniform surface on which Conestoga wagons could travel. All of the grading, filling and hauling had to be done with hand tools and the help of oxen, mules and horses.

The thousands of wagons, stagecoaches, riders on horseback and livestock droves that traveled on the National Road helped Ohio’s industry and commerce develop. Taverns and inns were constructed about every 10 miles. The Five Mile House, later known as the Headley Inn, was built in 1835 and is still standing about three miles east of Zanesville. The Searight Tollhouse, one of several still in existence, collected tolls to maintain the road; its unique shape and abundance of windows provided the gatekeeper with a fine view in all directions. Stations for the drovers that directed the livestock along the road did not offer sleeping accommodations; they were early versions of today’s highway truck stops.

The diorama continues to the banks of the Ohio River at Wheeling, which marked the end of the first stage of the National Road. Before a bridge was built over the Ohio River, traffic from Wheeling was pulled across on barges and flatboats. Vehicles and animals alike piled up on both sides of the river, sometimes causing such congestion that travelers waited two or three days to cross.

To depict the motor car’s arrival on the National Road, the diorama shows how unused schoolhouses became the first highway rest areas, as families made summertime pleasure trips along the National Road and pitched tents on schoolgrounds.

It illustrates how highway travel developed along the National Road, from the Standard Oil Company’s “oil stations”…

…to the farmhouses that were transformed into tourist homes. As farmers who lived along the National Road began serving travelers’ needs, farmhouses were transformed into tourist homes. When they were regularly filled to capacity, little cabins were built in neat rows nearby, and the motel industry was born.

At the end of the diorama, spot a miniature Madonna of the Trail statue. Twelve of these statues depicting a pioneer mother and her children were placed along the road to commemorate the nation’s westward expansion. Ohioans can see one in Springfield.

In another section of the museum, Moseley made three historic displays with exceptionally lifelike figures. A blacksmith, wheelwright, and a tavern waitress serving dinner to two arguing men were modeled from homeless men and carnival workers that Moseley paid $20 each to pose for him.

Finally, the museum honors Zane Grey, best known for his Western novels. Born in Zanesville in 1872 —  and a descendant of Colonel Ebenezer Zane, who blazed Zane’s Trail through Ohio — Grey won a baseball scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, first practiced dentistry, and then decided to become a writer. His first novel, Betty Zane, was published in 1904 and was inspired by stories of frontier Ohio.

In 1907, Grey traveled through the American West with a retired buffalo hunter and was inspired to begin writing Western novels. Riders of the Purple Sage, which he published in 1912, is considered to be the best, most popular and most influential Western ever written.

Grey and his family moved to Altadena, California, in 1920. The museum recreates his study there, where he sat in a Morris chair near the fireplace and wrote his books on a lap board until he died in 1939. The room is filled with its original furnishings, including books, magazines, manuscripts and trophies of hunting and fishing.

To learn more about the National Road, start with “The National Road: Helping Build America,” Glenn Harper’s article in the October-December 2006 issue of the Ohio History Connection’s TIMELINE, and A Traveler’s Guide to the Historic National Road in Ohio: The Road That Helped Build America: An All-American Road National Scenic Byway, by Glenn Harper and Doug Smith. For more on Zane Grey, read Zane Grey: Romancing the West and Maverick Heart: The Further Adventures of Zane Grey; both by Stephen May; and Dolly & Zane Grey: Letters from a Marriage, edited by Candace C. Kant.  Watch episodes of Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre. The Ohio History Connection’s Archives/Library has even more resources, including manuscripts, galley proofs and comic strips of Grey’s Western novels and short stories, as well as correspondence between Zane and Lina Grey, in The Zane Grey Papers, 1919-1973 (MSS 376), and silent black-and-white film footage of the Grey family (AV 233).

This entry was posted in Books, History, Ohio, Ohio History Connection (formerly the Ohio Historical Society). Bookmark the permalink.

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