Muskingum County was created in 1804 from parent counties Washington and Fairfield. it would in turn be the parent county of parts of Tuscarawas (1808), Guernsey (1810), Coshocton (1811), Morgan (1817) and Perry (1818). The county is located 50 miles east of Columbus, Ohio and derives it's name from the Muskingum River which flows through the county. It is an old Delaware Indian name meaning "town by the river." The county seat is Zanesville which also served as the state capitol from 1810-1812.
Muskingum is traversed by many historically significant transportation routes. The first settlers most likely came into the area up the Muskingum River from Marietta. The River had been improved over the years with locks and canals added to help navigation when water levels were low. Flat bottom river boats and paddle wheelers were common sites in the nineteenth century. The river was navigable up to Coshocton and was the reason towns like Coshocton and Dresden became commercially viable.
Zane's trace was established in 1797 by Colonel Ebenezer Zane. He petitioned congress in 1796 to authorize the building of the road and they awarded him the contract which required him to operate ferries across three rivers as soon as the path opened. Zane's proposal was to follow along the northern bank of Wheeling Creek, up the mountain ridge and down its western slope, then along the Great Warrior's Road, the old Mingo Trail, to the Muskingum River and then go southwest to the Hocking River, then from there south to the Scioto River, and across to Maysville in Kentucky. At that time Chillicothe was the only settlement on the route as Zanesville had not yet been established. The road was referred by John Meluish as the "great state road from Pittsburgh" and later as the "Wheeling Road". It was popular among the river men to return by land to the upper Ohio river and also as a postal route from Wheeling to Kentucky. Early on it was only traversable by foot or horseback as it was little more than a dirt path. In 1804, legislature was passed appropriating fifteen dollars per mile for improvements to make a new twenty foot wide road over Zane's route.
The National Road, cut through the center of Muskingum and developed from an old indian trail to the major route taken for settlers through the area. The road originated in Maryland and was originally called Nemacolin's Trail, Braddock's Road or Washington's Road. It was first surveyed by George Washington and Edward Braddock with assistance from an Indian named Nemacolin. It stretched from Maryland through Pennsylvania and into West Virginia to the Ohio which at that time was still Virginia. It was a major route west for many of the early settlers. Those traveling the path before 1800 would find the road little more than a dirt path with many places where oxen carts would not pass. As the western frontier was pushed back, the road would eventually make it's way through the Cumberland Gap to the Ohio.
Those who were adventurous enough to cross the Ohio would find little more than indian paths that at times could not be found or were not able to support the carts and animals used to transport families through the wilderness. It is for this reason many chose to travel by flatboat or barge to Marietta and up the Muskingum. In 1806, Thomas Jefferson and Congress authorized the funding of the National Road to extend into the western frontier. The road took many years to complete and the first leg to the Cumberland Gap followed the earlier paths blazed by Nemacolin, Braddock and Washington. It was not until 1811 that Congress assigned funds to start construction of the road west of the Cumberland Gap to the Ohio. The road reached Wheeling by 1818 and Columbus by 1833. It would extend on to Vandalia, Illinois in the 1850's. A dispute between Illinois and Missouri over which way the road should go resulted in a halt to it's development. It would not be until 1926 when the road would become part of Route 40 and receive major upgrades. Because of the late development of the National Road, most early settlers to Muskingum County either came to the area by water or by Zane's trace. Today the road parallels Interstate 70 through Ohio.
Zanesville was founded in 1797 but was a settlement for some years before that. It became the focal point for trade and business transactions in the early settlement period. A land office was located in Zanesville and it was here that many early settlers laid claim to the land they had bought or received for their military service. Without Zanesville, Muskingum County probably would not have attracted as many settlers as it did.
In 1814 one of the first "Y" bridges was constructed over the Licking and Muskingum Rivers in Zanesville. The bridge was constructed in a way that one could cross over the bridge and remain on the same side of the river. The present bridge is the third to be built on that site and in that configuration. It is nationally known and even appears in Ripley's "Believe it or Not."
Many notable citizens came from Muskingum among them, the Author Zane Gray and astronaut and former U. S. Senator, John Glenn. The area is well known for it's clay deposits and is the home to many potteries. Zanesville is nicknamed "Clay City." Coal is also found in the county and became a profitable commodity. Salt deposits were also found which were necessary for curing meat and seasoning food. The ample water ways provided both fresh water and power for many different types of mills which prospered in the county.
The area is hilly being located in the foothills of the Allegheny mountains. When the first settlers arrived, they found the area heavily covered in virgin forests. Much game was found including many predators that are now extinct. Bears and panthers roamed freely through the county. Many lizards and snakes were found including rattlesnakes, copperheads, water moccasins, black snakes and garter snakes. Most have became rare if not extinct except for the common black snakes and garter snakes. Deer, raccoons, opossums, beaver and squirrels made up some of the early hunting bounty. Many other varieties of animals once existed here including mammoths but have long been extinct by one means or another including being hunted to extinction by the native population long before the white man set foot here.
Many native cultures existed in the area. The Mound Builders, named after the many burial mounds found from that period, once lived in Muskingum. A burial mound can be found near Walhonding in Coshocton County, once part of Muskingum. It was partially excavated and found to contain human skeletons of unknown age. Little is known about this culture except for the existence of these mounds. The more modern tribes known to have lived here are the Delaware, having been forced west from their homes on the coast, the Wyandots, Shawanees, Ottawas, Miamis, Mingoes and others. Most of these tribes were aligned with each other for protection and support but at many times they would fight amongst themselves. The Muskingum valley was mostly populated by the Delaware when the white man first ventured here. A large settlement was located on the Muskingum River at the current location of Dresden. This was their capital and was named Wakotomika. Many of these indians were still living in the area when Muskingum county was formed in 1804.