Source: The Zanesville Daily Courier, Zanesville, Muskingum Co., Ohio
Saturday, March 23, 1878, page 1, cols 2-3
Contributed by Ky Longley
The Early History of Zanesville
For the Courier,
Among the early citizens of Zanesville, and one who was well and favorably known both to the people of the town and country, adjacent, was John Alter. Mr. Alter's with a four horse team, attached to one of those big moving wagons, so well known to early history, passed through the village of Zanesville, bound for the waters of the Hockhocking. He settled in Lancaster, the county seat of Fairfield county, then called New Lancaster. He located on the rich and aguish banks of the sluggish Hockhocking. Shortly after landing at New Lancaster, he his wife and two children were taken sick. He and his wife and children, were sick all fall and winter, and his eldest son died and was buried there. Sickness was what the pioneers had especially to fear in the western country in early times. Physicians were few and far between, and to the pioneer, with his scanty means, in a new country, the bills for attendance seemed exhorbitant.
All outgo and no income, soon exhausted the little means at the command of the settlers. Such was the case with Mr. Alter. He sold his horses and wagon to procure the means of furnishing his suffering family with the necessaries of life, and to pay the physicians for attending upon himself and family during their long sickness. Such experiences were discouraging, and when spring came, and health partly returned, he expended what money he possessed for an old horse, and a one-horse wagon, and turned his face to the East to seek again, the old home in Pennsylvania where health and plenty reigned. He had seen enough of the Hockhocking. On his way back, weak, weary, and discouraged, he arrived in Zanesville in the spring of 1806, stopped at Harvey's tavern. While resting here, Messrs. Convers, Harvey, McIntire, and other influential citizens of the little village, called upon Mr. Alter for the purpose of inducing him, if possible, to settle in Zanesville. Mr. Alter was a chairmaker, painter, and wheelwright. He was just the kind of a mechanic Zanesville needed at that time, and these public spirited citizens held out the following inducements:
They agreed to furnish him with a house to live in, free of rent, firewood and provisions, for one year. The proposition seemed liberal to Mr. Alter, and he accepted the proffered kindness, and moved into a log cabin near the foot of Main street, on First Street. Mrs. Alter informed the writer, a few months before she died, that when her husband arrived in Zanesville from Lancaster, he had only twenty-five cents in money and a shot-gun. If he sold the shot-gun, there would be no way to kill game on the road to support the family, and the money which the gun would bring unto the treasure, if sold, would not be sufficient to support the family until the old home, in Pennsylvania was reached. Doubtless, the inability of Mr. Alter to solve this problem, induced him to listen to the proposition of the enterprising Zanesvillians, for he was heartily sick of the West, and wanted to see again the old home in Pennsylvania, where health and plenty had always greeted him. Mr. Alter manufactured the first hard bottom chairs ever made in Zanesville. He also manufactured the first spinning wheels, both large and small, which were made in this section of the West. In those days, the spinning wheels might have been called one of the necessaries of life. The family must be clothed.
All farmers' wives in those days knew how to spin, which might be called one of the lost arts in these latter days. The daughters were all taught to spin, and their education was not considered complete until they knew how to spin. When the daughters were married they were furnished from the old home, among other things, a spinning wheel. In those days flax was sown and prepared for the wheel, and spun and put into loom and woven and manufactured into necessary household articles. The sheep were pastured in the woodlands and fields, sheared, and the wool spun into yarn, and woven and manufactured into articles to clothe the family. There wasn't many store-clothes in those days that ever found their way into this western wilderness. How sweet was the sound of the wheel around the big fireplace after the day's work was over! How often have the weary youths been lulled to sleep by the humming of that well-known old wheel!
The good house wives, who kept the old wheel moving, have for long years, been sleeping under the sod, but the memory of those familiar faces, and the reccollection of the well known hum of the old wheel, is still sweet to many an inhabitant of the Muskingum Valley. The young ladies prided themselves in those days upon their ability to use the spinning wheel. Gentlemanly young men were accustomed at times, to put up a wager upon the ability of their sweethearts, to spin a certain amount in a certain time. The large wheels were used for spinning wool, and the small wheels for spinning flax or tow.
Mr. Joseph Pierce, now living in Duncan's Falls, told the writer that in the first settling of this county, his oldest sister when a young girl, was considered the best spinner in Salt Creek township. Mr. Alter employed a number of hands to aid him in making chairs and spinning wheels. He was often compelled to work half the night to supply the demand for spinning wheels. Persons would, at times, come from 25 to 30 miles for a spinning wheel, and oftentimes were compelled to wait a day or two until the spinning wheel could be manufactured. Oftentimes the settlers would take the small wheel upon their backs and carry it to their homes miles away.
The people who came to purchase spinning wheels were compelled to wait their turn, like farmers do when they go to mill. Mr. Alter continued the manufacture of spinning wheels until William Calhoon came to Zanesville, and entered exclusively into the manufacture of spinning wheels, at his establishment on Seventh street. He followed this business until his death, in 1834 or 1835. After Mr. Calhoon commenced the manufacture of spinning wheels, Mr. Alter turned his attention to the manufacture of chairs and painting. Mr. Alter purchased the lot on Third street, west side, between the property of Mrs. Dr. Johnson and Mr. Clinton, from Dr. Robert Mitchell, giving him one dozen rush-bottom parlor chairs for it, valued at $75.00. The lot had a front on Third street of sixty-six feet.
In the winter of 1807 and the spring of 1808 he erected on the lot a two-story hewed-log house and removed into it before the windows were in or the doors hung. The floors were laid with loose boards and quilts were hung up for doors. In this log house Mr. John Alter was born before there was a door hung or a window placed in position. Samuel Goff built the large brick chimney in it for Mr. Alter. Mrs. Alter told the writer that when her husband first moved with his family into this house the log jail on the public square was in course of erection and at the time was about five feet high, as she had full view of it from the house. In this house, Mrs. Alter told the writer, the first sermon delivered by a Lutheran Minister in Zanesville, was preached.
This log house weatherboarded, is still standing, and is one of the landmarks of Zanesville. During the war of 1812, Mr. John Alter went to the Lakes in Captain Benoni Pierce's Light Horse company which was organized in 1809 by Samuel Thompson, and was the first cavalry company formed in this part of the West.
Benoni Pierce was a fine looking officer, fully six feet high, and well proportioned, full of life and energy. The company formed on Sixth street, in front of the Captain's residence. One of the oldest citizens of Zanesville informed the writer a few days ago, that he lived at that time with his uncle, next door to Captains Pierce's, and remembers well of seeing the company form on Sixth street, and march from that point down to the ford, and cross over the river. The banks on both sides were lined with enthusiastic citizens, cheering and waving handkerchiefs.
The company, going to the seat of war, passed through New Lancaster and Chilicothe, to Cincinnati, and from that city north to the Lakes. They heard of Bull's surrender to the British, at Detroit, while on the march. Some time after they arrived at the seat of war, Mr. Alter got a furlough to come home to look after his private affairs. While at home, his foreman, Mr. Peter Bowermaster proposed to Mr. Alter, to go to the war in his place, if he would give him his horse and uniform and accoutrements, as he wanted to have some sport. Mr. Alter accepted the proposition, and the foreman started for the war, reached the Company, and was accepted, served during the war, and returned to Zanesville when the war was over, and worked several years for Mr. Alter. Mr. John Alter, our fellow citizen of the present day, has in his possession one of his father's horse pistols, some one having stole the other. The barrel of the pistol is fourteen inches long, with a flint lock of English make. Mr. John Alter was a good mechanic, and honest man, and much respected by all who knew him. He died September, 6th, 1850, aged 78 years.
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