Zane's Trace was an early road in the Northwest Territory that connected Wheeling, Virginia, to Limestone, Kentucky (present-day Maysville).
Zane's Trace was a major road in early Ohio until well after the War of 1812. In 1796, Ebenezer Zane petitioned Congress for permission to build a road through the region, with the stipulation that the American government would grant him land where the road crossed the Muskingum, Hockhocking, and Scioto Rivers. The government agreed to his terms and required the road to be open by January 1, 1797. It was widely believed that a road would encourage increased trade and settlement in Ohio.
Zane's Trace was more a trail than a road. Zane used existing American Indian trails wherever possible and cut down trees to create a primitive path. Tomepomehala, a member of the Shawnee tribe, guided Zane and helped him plot the road. Prior to Ohio's statehood, Zane's Trace was not accessible by wagon. It was so narrow and rough that it was only passable on foot or on horseback. Zane built ferries at each of the river crossings and profited from the travel over the road. A small town began to develop where the ferry was located at the mouth of the Licking River. It came to be known as Zanesville.
After Ohio became a state in 1803, the state legislature set aside money to improve the road. The goal was to make Zane's Trace accessible to wagons. By 1804, trees had been cut down to make the road twenty feet wide. Logs were laid across marshy areas to create corduroy roads, and several bridges were built. It was now possible to travel by wagon from Wheeling to Chillicothe, although many tree stumps were still standing in the middle of the road. People who traveled the road began to refer to it by a number of different names, including the Wheeling Road, the Wheeling-Limestone Road, or just the Limestone Road, rather than Zane's Trace.
Zane's Trace encouraged significant economic and population growth in the Northwest Territory and the young state of Ohio. Many people traveled along the road and a number of settlements were built along the way. German settlers from Pennsylvania moved westward along the road and settled in communities like Lancaster, Ohio. A number of Welsh immigrants moved into Licking County.
In addition, many businesses were built along the road. Taverns and inns catered to travelers and ferries transported people and goods across the rivers. Farmers used Zane's Trace to get their crops to market. Stores were opened in nearby communities to sell a variety of items brought from the East to Ohio settlers. The road had a major influence on development in the southern half of Ohio.